Saturday 27 September 2008

Are conspiracy theorists the new ‘Them’?

Jeepers, there’s a lot of scared people out there. A few weeks ago this colyoom was a-ranting and a-raving about some of the less attractive side-effects of mobile phones, Hardly ground-breaking stuff, but enough to attract an army of conspiracists to my email in-box.
They stuffed my computer with dire warnings about microwaves and phone masts and cancer and and and ... and indeed, yes, the list is endless, because fear has no bounds.
Despite their best efforts, I learned nothing new, because over the years, my much-loved friend Yoda has lucidly and intelligently explained just about every known conspiracy theory to me.
Gradually I realised that far from burying conspiracy theorists, I should be praising them; not because I agree with all their theories, but because they are out there, asking the questions, obstinately and wonderfully refusing to believe what they are told is the Official Truth.
Thanks to their efforts, I don’t have to. In fact, I’m in cushty-cushty land, happy to try to massage and suckle the Establishment in order to enjoy a happy life with lots of free time, whist also equally delighted and appalled by the ‘Truths’ being produced by these Warriors of the Internet.
It was Yoda who told me how four ringing mobile phones in a circle can make popcorn; about the carcinogenic dangers of phone masts; that these masts emit a low-vibration wave pattern that affects our mood. In the same way that a high vibration or a major key makes us feel elated, so too apparently a low vibration can sedate and depress us.
He explained the theory of Chemtrails, those powdery expanding exhausts that fall from the jet engines of planes, that started, for some reason, to spread across the sky and fall slowly to ground, spreading or spraying goodness knows what.
Conspiracy theorists believe 'They' use Chemtrails to immunise some populations against diseases that 'They' are spreading in other areas. Some think that 'They' want to wipe out everybody in Sub-Saharan Africa, because 'They' just aren’t cost-effective, while others think the Chemtrails are a sterilising agent for genetic codes that can neutralise certain sectors of any given population.
I rather like the way that 'They' go for the basic elements. Through the air that we breathe come these terrible microwaves and dumped chemicals, and in the water, we are fed Fluoride, which, ironically, appears to a conspiracy theorist as pure gold dust.
Fluoride is, so 'They' say, a terrible chemical, harmful in a number of physical and mood-altering ways. By infiltrating our water supply, 'They' are able to mess with our minds, bodies and resilience to subjugation.
Of course governments around the world have at times acted to harm their own populations. I think that Cable TV was nothing but an underhand SOMA injection to dummify the Proles of America.
But seriously, it makes perfect and even reasonable sense for those in power to keep their masses a little scared, a little weak and thus totally reliant on their masters.
What I can’t quite grasp is why, beyond these simple aims, 'They' might want to wreak havoc, in so many different ways, over so many seemingly randomly-chosen millions of disparate and indefinite populations.
I think that conspiracy theorists overestimate what 'They' can do. There is, of course, the argument that 'They' can do so much more than 'They' ever show us, but even if 'They' can, what will they do with it?
Take a look at the conspiracy theorists biggest chestnut: 9/11, the trashing of the Twin Towers, and, of course, Building 7, the third and most-studied edifice to fall to the ground that day.
Entire industries are now devoted to the singular task of proving that 'They', in the shape of the U.S. Government, toppled the World Trade Centre towers, in an effort to kick-start the War on Terror and invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
Most of these conspiracy theories are centred around the way the buildings fell, and backed by expert opinion, 'They' make a cogent and credible case for the use of demolition explosives in all three cases.
Err, hang on a mo. I just lost track of which ‘They’ was ‘They’.
Maybe the theorists are looking as weird as the other ‘They’, whoever they may be.
But if 'They' had laden the building with enough explosives to bring them down, if 'They' could have just blown up the buildings and blamed whoever 'They' wanted, why on earth did 'They' go to the ridiculous trouble of flying two planes into them?
Quite apart from the fact that it is pointless to destroy three buildings twice in one day, my major bone of contention with the entire 9/11 conspiracy theory is this:
Why would 'They' want to do it?
It’s not about an American fear of bombing other sovereign territory. President Clinton had bombed Al-Qaeeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990’s, and anyway, we all know that the US Military go exactly wherever their Commander-in-Chief decides that American interests are at risk.
They don’t ask permission. They don’t wait to be attacked first. If the Americans wanted to invade Afghanistan, they would have. If they wanted an excuse to invade Iraq, they would have produced WMDs when they went looking, but they knew it was immaterial. They were going to invade anyway.
Maybe all the theories are wholly correct, and equally, maybe the converse is entirely true. My desire is to know all the possibilities; to understand as much as I can; and to live, as I said, a happy life.
Because if you become burdened by the fear of conspiracy and live governed by your fears, 'They' have won.
Just the other day I was checking the statistics of the online version of this colyoom, when I noticed one visitor who showed no information at all. Who were 'They'? Why were 'They' being so secretive? Maybe the CIA were checking out why there had been so many hits on the blog looking for “George Bush Terrorist.”
Mind you, I don’t know why I’m worried. If 'They' are the CIA, 'They' are surrounded by nutters. The preceding visitor found the colyoom by searching for: “Silly, George, Bush, Penises, Are, For, Girls”.
The one after hit my site by looking for: “Big Fat Pig In Wheelie Bin.”
Good luck to them all, whatever they hoped to find. In comparison to these modern freaks, the good old CIA, in the shape of ‘They’, look barely scary.

Monday 22 September 2008

Now over to Amy Winehouse, who thinks Sir Alex should play Wayne Rooney less deep!

Even though we’re getting all autumnal, my poor old noodle-bonce is still troubled by horrific and deeply disturbing images that infected me one midsummer’s evening.
Channel-surfing I was, as is my testicular right, when I came upon dear old Amy Winehouse singing at Glastonbury Festival.
As we all know, the tabloids have gone into a feeding frenzy over the extraordinary singer’s generally decadent lifestyle, but when I first heard her album, ‘Back to Black’, I was blown away by her talent, style and loved the music she made.
So I let my finger slip from the Channel Up button, and sat back to watch her set.
Oh dear.
The wee lass was completely off her tits, and although the overall effect was melodic and pleasant, it was painful to watch her trying to dribble out the lyrics:
“Sheeez sooorrrrrrhadda balloooobby bubdeesha essha eesha hayyyyy!”
Nevertheless, the crowd loved it, and then Amy went crazy, jumping falling down off the stage to handclasp the crushed sweaty fans leaning over the first rows of the barrier.
“Kushha bubba dededed-deerryyyyeeeeeeeee!”
“Yeh Amy! Over here Amy! I love you, Amy!”
Despite the spaghetti of security men running around her in circles, one of the crowd threw something at her, to which she responded by throwing what looked like a pretty useful left hook in somebody’s face.
Pained to watch such a great talent disappearing down the twinned plug holes of instant gratification and addiction, slightly offended by her dribbling masquerading as singing, I returned to my channel surfing, hoping to find safer waters.
Instead I dropped the remote control, as my jaw fell and stayed open in shock. There was Eamon Dunphy, standing on a stage, singing ‘Stardust’ to Miriam O’Callaghan on her rather dodgy chat show.
As a football pundit and journalist, Dunpho is everything he should be: outspoken annoying, controversial for the sake of it and enormously entertaining. I rarely agree with what he says, but by god, he makes you listen and laugh and better still, he winds up Liam Brady, forcing the pompous droning Gooner to show some signs of life, which is no mean feat.
But here, on my telebox, all hell was appearing before me. Oh, please mumma, help me. This was Car Crash TV at its worst. From being confronted by a tripped-out screwed up young star, I’ve now been ram-raided by a sad old man who should know better.
The only pitch Dunpho has ever known was the one at Milwall.
Thank god, he’s finally stopped, and is soaking up the applause like it’s his first drink of the day, which plainly it is not. God forbid I libel the man, but looking at his stretched smile, I’d venture that Dunpho’s first sup of the day came a very long time ago, quite possibly before the sun rose after the night before yesterday, if you’re with me.
But lo, what new horror is this? Why oh why has Eamon passed the microphone to Johnny Giles? Oh sweet Jesus, is this car crash going to turn into a multiple pile-up?
With Dunpho swaying like an over-excited five year-old on the sofa opposite him, and Miriam trying to look like the show is going so well, (please Mister RTE Producer man, I can do this, honest I can! Please don’t send me back to responsible straight journalism, please! Please!) Johnny Giles says he’ll sing two verses of Nat King Cole’s ‘The very heart of you’.
Wish I wasn’t alone in the house. I’m scared, but equally gripped.
Yet such is life, so strange and wondrous a thing, it turns out that Gilesy can actually hold a tune.
Eschewing the stage and the chance to hog a moment under the spotlight that Dunpho could not resist, the ex-Leeds United man sat relaxed and sang well, wobbling a little but overall holding it all together better than either Amy and Eamon.
Who knew?
If Johhny Giles can sing so well, seems to me that, instead of hounding Ms. Winehouse for details of her druggy and drinkie lifestyle, the British tabloids would do better to ask her if Robbie Keane was right to move to Liverpool, or if she thinks Big Phil can cut the mustard over the long haul of the Premiership season.
Our household loves to shop at Marks and Sparks whenever it can afford to. You like to believe that their ingredients will be good, their sources trustworthy and their products chemical free.
But last night I took a look at some of its labelling and was left mightily unimpressed.
This isn’t any lemon mousse. This is a Marks and Spencer’s ‘Count On Us’ lemon mousse. You can count on it because each wee 70 gram pot has only 80 calories, and is less than 3% fat.
‘Dieting never tasted so good!’ says the smily wording on the lid, and why might that be? Could it possibly be something to do with the fact that 18.9% of the tasty treat is made up of sugar?
You’re right. Dieting was never like that, ever.
Meanwhile, there’s a rain forest of information on my ethical-sounding M&S ‘Fair-trade Lightly Roasted and Salted Cashews.’
“Guarantees a better deal for Third World producers” declares the Fair-trade logo on the packet. Sounds great. More, there are no artificial colours, flavours or MSG, and no hydrogenated oils. Oh, and it’s suitable for vegetarians.
Now though we go through the Chicane of Absurdity, in which we are informed that this bag of nuts ‘may contain traces of nuts....’; and out the other side into a mad bad place, where further inspection of the overloaded over-worded over-labelled packet reveals that it was prepared in a factory where sesame seeds are used (useful to the three people who have sesame allergies); that small children might choke on nuts (depending on how you shove them down their throats); that the package itself is ‘currently non-recyclable, which is completely unbelievable, utterly reprehensible and somewhat nullifies the fair-trade benefits; and finally, that this well-meaning healthy-sounding profit sharing lethal-dose-bearing packet of nuts came to Galway having been produced in India, then for some reason packed in Italy, then transported to Chester, in England, and then finally, brought to Galway.
Even as they dare to suggest that these cashews might benefit the world, they work on them in 4 different countries You tell me what’s nuts?

Friday 12 September 2008

The most dangerous thing in Galway City? A coffee on Monday at 4 o'clock!

Neachtains Bar
Weekend nights have never figured much on my social map of Galway. Everywhere is packed, and many of my friends are busy working, keeping the city pumping with great food and foaming pints.
So by Monday this scribbler is in need of some kind of human interaction. I'm not looking for a major session. I just want to sit and watch the people go up and down Quay Street. A cup of coffee, maybe even one pint, and then back home for a quiet evening, to be followed by a productive day's work unhampered by heinous hangover.
Pretty soon after moving to Galway I discovered that there is nothing more dangerous than arranging to meet a friend for coffee at 4 o'clock.
By five the second coffee is kicking in and then a wee whiskey appears, and the next thing you know you're waking up at 10:30 the next morning on a sofa in a strange house, wondering who you are, why you're not dead if you feel like this, and maybe you are dead and this is hell.
These days I am more careful. The auld fella jus' can't take it like he used to, d'ya'know?
That's not to say I don't occasionally take the risk of enjoying myself.
A couple of weeks ago I wandered innocent into Neachtain's at 4 o'clock, and was as surprised and delighted as an ingenue to find the place packed with eclectic bunches of friends, from all strands of my life.
Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with my strange head, I couldn't handle it, standing there frozen like a Fianna Fail minister in the dock suffering from Memory Loss Syndrome.
How am I?
She only asked how I am. For god's sake Charlie, get your act together,
Sorry love, can you start with the easy ones, please. I don't know how I am, and believe me, if I try to explain how I might be, you will truly regret ever asking.
Even though I still l consider myself a non-smoker, I carry a pack of fags. Not only can a sly smoke make me feel wonderfully and instantly sick and jangly, but going outside for a ciggy can make for a pretty handy escape.
So I turn and make to flee, when I suddenly hear a voice calling my name from the cubby hole. Ignoring it, I press on, but the voice calls again, with the unmistakable Northern brogue of my esteemed colleague and talented artist Allan Cavanagh: he wot herein visually makes me look like a complete twerp each week.
Excellent! Allan I can deal with, and dive into that wonderful little snug square at the front of the pub. Whiskeys, pints, and gentle craic flow as steadily the soft rain outside.
The Snapper arrives. More whiskey and oh my goodness what a surprise - I now find myself well able to go and talk to the crew with whom I abjectly failed to communicate earlier. Now we are all operating on the same level of intoxication, and my oh my, how could I ever have felt alienated?
I love it!
I love you and you and you!
Allan, the Snapper and I dive out and head to Dominick Street to avail ourselves of the excellent Spanish food available at Cava. Obviously it's not like the Spanish food you eat in Spain, any more than bacon and cabbage in Lanzarote is the real deal, but it is as delicious and authentic as might be possible in Galway. The service is excellent, the company witty and acerbic, and by the time my belly is full of chorizo marinated in sherry, the world looks fluffy and cute.
Then I decide to have a second espresso with my cartoonist colleague, which tips me over the edge and leaves me babbling like an asinine idiot on steroids. Thankfully, my company find it amusing, but I should have known better. A half hour later my head is splitting with a caffeine comedown, while the alcohol is still pumping merrily around my bloodlines, unable to be processed by my poor old overtaxed liver.
I hate it when somebody doesn't know their own limits, especially when it's me. By the time you make 'adult' you're meant to know what is enough for you. Of course we all need to fall off our controlled perches of responsibility once in a while, but what on earth was all that throwing up for when you were a teenager, if you learned nothing about where to draw the alcoholic line? Caffeine I underestimate, and even though I am unable to stop my mouth blah blah blabbering at the restaurant, deep inside I sincerely wish I would shut the fuck up and stop being such a prat.
Now is the time to say "Well Done!" to Alan Williams, the chef-proprietor of Abalone, who had the balls to open his restaurant on Dominick Street a few years back, when that end of the road was dying on its feet.
Since Abalone's arrival, and subsequent deserved success, the entire block has come back to life with a vengeance: Hehir's have opened a branch of their bakery/cafe; Arabica have opened next to them; Cava has opened next to Abalone, and just up from a recently-opened Mocha Beans cafe; E Brun's excellent pub has opened on the other side of Abalone and Galway Taxis have moved their base to a few doors up.
Cava is a welcome addition to Galway City, as indeed is all that inner-city regeneration off Quay Street.
What time did we get home? I don't know, but those 4 o'clock coffees, man, they're lethal.
The day after that night's excesses, I met a friend for lunch at the Racing Lodge in Doughiska, and took the opportunity to do my shopping at the new-(ish!) Dunnes in Briarhill. So great was my alertness and well-being that I drove all the way back to Salthill before I realised that I'd left half my shopping in the bloody supermarket. Having trudged through the rain and endless traffic back to Briarhill, I was delighted to be greeted by smiling caring Dunnes staff.
The Dunnes girls had put my bags to one side for safekeeping, and even thought to store my dairy items in the fridge. Ladies, thanks so much for your smiles, and for giving a damn. You made my recovery much less painful!

Saturday 6 September 2008

Life becomes worthless if you choose not to live it!

The word on the street is that this colyoom has been rather depressing of late, so with that in mind, I feel the time has come to lay to rest my grieving process.
Clearly I'm not ready to stop missing my Dad. I will always miss him, love him, and I fully expect further surprising apples of grief to float to the top of the barrel over the next few months and years.
What I can do, to help myself and liberate you loyal colyoomistas from the endless references to his death that have been littering this space recently, is to draw a line in the sand; finally let out that which I have as yet been keeping in.
When somebody dies, everybody wants to help and nobody knows what to do or say.
The most ubiquitous piece of advice handed out is that it is good to talk. Well, there's good common sense like that, and then there's the reality of how you feel. Even though my life is blessed by a plethora of loving and supportive friends, I have pretty much kept my process to myself. Unable to hide my feelings, even when I want to, my emotional state has been there for all to see, but inside, I have been dealing with everything as well as I can, whilst not reaching out as one might.
Despite the universally-accepted stages of grieving, we are fantastic fallible and freaked-out humans, with processes as individual and different as we are ourselves.
Having said everything I needed to say to Dad, I had no denial, acceptance or bargaining to deal with. Instead, I encountered the effects of the 11 year-long process of flying back and forth to be there when he was in and out of hospital. Everyday life became traumatic; affeared of the telephone ringing; at any given moment off to Galway Airport and away.
I always knew there'd be a payoff for that, and boy, so there was, in the shape of months of bewildering exhaustion.
Then, out of nowhere, the other night I was watching tele and started to cry. I cried and cried and cried, finally feeling the pleasure of pure unadulterated sadness flowing through me. No longer the confusion of utter fatigue.
Just tears.
What a shame Dad couldn't have been at our wedding day. How strange it will be when the football season starts and there's no Dad to call. What's the point in reading the cricket scores any more, what with Dad being dead and nobody else giving a damn?
Sad, at last. Sitting on the sofa, finally free and able to miss my Dad.
Up until then my grief had taken various forms, all of which felt completely unsurprising and understandable. These differing emotions and thoughts appeared, one at a time, in my heart or head, allowing me to deal with them each in a gentle and private way.
There really didn't seem to be any need to talk about it all with other people, because none of it was a mystery. I felt confident that I could best deal with it all on my own.
Without doubt, the hardest stage was when my usually optimistic, fearless and confident nature started to be bombarded by morbid thoughts.
When you're young, your grandparents are the first to face their fate, and then your parents move up a notch. With Dad gone, I suddenly saw nothing between me and my own death, and dark defeatist thoughts filled my head and deadened my heart, placing a chill into my soul that froze me for a while, forcing me to re-evaluate dreams and ambitions that had been, up to that point, as solid and permanent a part of me as my life itself.
Ever since the age of 25, I have known that I wanted kids, but when Dad died, and I was recovering from the brutal hell of his gradual decline, I deeply doubted my desire to procreate.
Even before Dad died, I had been only too aware of how demanding being a new parent might be as I approach my 50th year, but for the first two months after his death, I was besieged by terrible fears.
How could I possibly put any other person through this dreadful, long and painful period that I had just endured? How could it be in any way responsible to have a child so late in life, thereby leaving the Snapper with a young thing after I had gone? How dreadful would it be never to see my children grow up? How difficult would it be for those children to live with an old and ailing father?
The great thing about emotions and irrational thoughts is that they exist alongside and despite all our knowledge, experience and ability to think rationally. Even though I knew what a load of old tosh these thoughts were, they were as real to me as my tired baggy-eyed phisog in the mirror each morning, and to some extent I have still not rid myself of them completely.
Such is the utterly personal nature of grief, I felt it pointless to discuss these thoughts and feelings with my nearest and dearest, because I recognised them for what they were: wholly natural and understandable parts of my own process. I didn't need to be told that such thoughts were nonsense, because part of me knew they were, while another felt they warranted some merit, which in small doses they do.
But I have never lived as one paralysed by fear, and I'm not about to start now. I know that in time these thoughts and feelings will have disappeared, only to be replaced by other doubtless challenging and draining stages of grieving. But while I have breath and while I am able to love and be loved, I will continue to embrace the new and face the unknown with high hopes.
Well, because, at its basest, life becomes worthless if you choose not to live it.
So there'll be no more colyoomistic references to my Dad's death. At least, not until such time as memory has allowed me to see the man I knew and loved so much before he was ill.
Then it will be a pleasure to share my memories of him with you once more.
Until then, this colyoom will endeavour to wrap a smile around your lips more frequently.