Monday 26 July 2010

We're all winners in the 21st century quiz show!

If somebody asked me what kind of TV progammes I enjoy most, I’d have to say game shows and quizzes. In times gone by this might have defined me as a shallow and combative type, but these days my favourite quizzes offer witty, cerebral and satirical material in completely non-competitive style.

There’s QI, lorded over by Stephen Fry as the benign omniscient being, challenging all that we thought we certainly knew. 

In Shooting Stars, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer borrow from Monty Python and Spike Milligan to create their own 21st century version of 'zany’. 

Have I Got News For You is now a fully-fledged British institution of political satire, while Dara Ó Briain’s Mock The Week follows in that tradition, adding the improvisational flair of Whose Line is It Anyway?

Never Mind The Buzzcocks might not be the same since the loss of its excruciating host Simon Amstell, but it still serves to raise a smile as it plays with world of modern music, while Jimmy Carr’s 8 Out Of 10 Cats has improved and become sharp enough now to cut the burlesque mustard.

Watching the above I’m entertained by parody, mayhem and mirth, informed by caricature and educational truffles. Nobody in any of these shows gives a toss about scoring points or who wins or loses. 

Not sure why that makes me feel so good, but it does. Maybe there’s hope for us all.

There's more than one ecstatic person in the Snapper's life!

The Snapper was given a MacBook for her birthday, and has since become somewhere between absorbed and obsessed with organising 5,500 images of her life in iPhoto.

The natty face recognition software prompts the user each time it thinks it knows a person already, so that you can organise your photos into folders for people, times and events.

At our wedding party, somebody took a splendid photo of my excellent friend Dennis. Swept up in the elation of the day, his unique smile beams exuberant and radiant, his arms outstretched as is to say 

“Life doesn’t get much better than this!”

Trouble is, each time the computer finds anyone equally intoxicated by the joys of life, it now asks

‘Is this Dennis Quinn?’

Sometimes it is, but more often it’s simply yet another victim of the craic.
So Dennis, my man, it seems you’ve become her computer’s default setting for rapture. How does it feel?

Saturday 24 July 2010

No water, no minerals, just lashings of love and humanity!

My friend is disappearing into a hole in the ground. 
“Pass me the empty bottle of Coke now Charlie!”

A few minutes earlier we’d been standing in the sunshine, chatting with his wife by a stone wall by a field in north Mayo, when a young fella came up and whispered something into my friend’s ear.

He looks over to his wife, both of whom have worked for a month to help organise this wedding.
“There no water left. No water and no minerals. All the dishes have emptied the well.”

“Well, we did three courses for 70, so that’s 210 dishes, and that’s a lot of water.”

No water and no minerals. 
Only alcohol then. 
Classic stuff. 
Great for the grown-ups, but what about the chil--

“Ah now, there’s another well just down the way there. I’ll go down now and draw some water.”
“I’ll come with you” says I, ever eager to do manly primal things. Bring water ug.

The Londoner in me expects to see a Hans Christian Andersen wishing well, but instead there’s an old pallet which we lift from the grass. 

He dives in head first, enthusiastically grabbing great handfuls of grasses and weeds, which he scoops out, only then to assuage my doubts and thirst by producing bottles of clear-(ish) water from the hole in the ground. 

The well. 

Three older locals meet us on the way back to the farm, and as soon as they find out the water came from the lower well, they raise the bottles to their lips, as if in eucharistic ecstasy.

“Now that is beautiful water. Didn't it keep our families alive not so long ago.”

The bride and groom have travelled all the way from their home in the Far East back to the village where I used to live in north Mayo, to celebrate their wedding with the groom’s family.

As if the great distance is not reason enough for emotion and love to run amok, there is also a tragic illness for the courageous couple to live with, and as the horse-drawn carriage takes the bride to the family home, I feel all passionate and think to myself 
‘Ah, that’s Killala at its best.’

Several hours later, I’ve gone past the ‘Killala at its best’ stage, straight on through the ‘This is the Irish at their best’ phase and settled finally and certainly for 

‘This is the human race at its best.’

Admittedly by then I am ver’ ver’ drunk, but I know what I’ve seen, and I know what it means. 

All the walls around the farm have been whitewashed; the garden has been cleared and planted; the barn has been transformed from ... from, well, from a barn, into a wedding fantasy land, with thousands of metallic twirly doodads hanging from the ceiling, a thousand tea lights lit and bails of hay lining the walls to reassure our spirits that we haven’t all lost the plot. 

A pair of giant love hearts are mowed into the lawn, where the children’s swing has been wrapped with freshly twined leaf and summer flowers, so that poems and blessings can be exchanged under them  

There has been no ‘wedding organiser’. Nobody has been paid a penny. This is people acting out of love, friendship and community. There have been no caterers ‘In’, just neighbours and sons and daughters of friends who have worked their fantastic arses off creating a beautiful wedding, alongside having cooked, served and cleaned up a sit-down 3 course meal for 70 hungry punters in the barn

And then the well ran dry.

As the day drifts into evening we all drift back into the barn, to drink and dance and be entertained by the youngest lads, who climb bales of hay and delight us with their crazy belly-rippling dances, as 70s disco divas pump from the sound system.

Water has now arrived, but for me the day was made in that pure country moment:

No water, no minerals. 
Ah so, that’s the way it’ll be then.

And then again, I didn’t really need any alcohol.
Drunk on humanity, just for a few hours. 
Oh boy it did me good.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Imagine that your eyes can see what's in front of them!

As this World Cup draws to a close, it's time to confess that the thing I most enjoyed had nothing to do with football.

With 45,000 spectators packed into the magnificent Cape Town stadium, an advertising hoarding suggested

'Imagine Football in 3D'

Like er, yeh, imagine you can see the game going on, right there, in front of your eyes.

There can be no better metaphor for the way the Beautiful Game has distanced itself from the people who actually go to games. Unless you're watching on tele you don't count.

Sunday 4 July 2010

My London cocktail: Love, fun and fear, shaken and stirred!

The driver of the shuttle bus that runs between Luton Airport and the car rental centre smiles at me and says “How’re ya doing?”
The bloke behind the Hertz car rental desk also smiles and wishes me a good weekend as I walk away.

‘Blimey!’ I think to myself. ‘Maybe I’ve been too hasty in the past to condemn England. Maybe it isn’t that violent place I’ve so often written about.’

Hurtling down the M1, I turn off at Edgware and head towards my Mum’s place. Just before you drive through Stanmore there’s a crossroads with traffic lights, and as I slide into the left-hand lane, the car on my right suddenly moves across to change lanes. He’s coming straight for me, so I slam on the brakes, and thinking he hasn’t seen my car, I give a short ‘pip’ on the car’s horn to let him know I’m there.

As the old Renault moves into the space in front of me I can see its driver looking at me in his rear view mirror. His neck is as thick as mine, his hair cropped short and both he and his missis are resting their arms on the car’s open window sills, flicking fag ash.

He knows that I know he’s looking at me in his rear view mirror, so I shrug my shoulders in an attempt to say ‘Sorry, I just rented this car and didn’t want to prang it!’

He shrugs his shoulders too, but stays staring at me in his rear view mirror, his hand still agitatedly flicking fag ash, even though there is no ash on his fag to flick.

I try to ignore him, and look out of the window, but I can see him in front of me, mimicking my every move. I scratch an itch on the back of my neck, and he does the same. I gesture with my hands towards my windscreen, trying to let him know that I got it, ha ha, now grow up and leave me be.

He gestures towards his windscreen just as I did, and I can no longer pretend that this is an amicable routine. He’s winding me up, or at least he’s trying to, but I have a really busy schedule, and being beaten up before I get to my Mum’s isn’t really on my agenda.

I don’t need this. I don’t bloody need this right now, not from him, not from anybody. I’m starting to feel a little bit scared. The traffic lights turn green, but as all the cars move off, he rolls his towards the light at a snail’s pace and then stops, right in front of the green light, with me stuck behind him. 

Oh shit. Oh fuck. He’s looking for trouble, and I’m starting to feel real fear. While the alpha male in me wants to get out and tell him to grow up, I know I’m a lover not a fighter. What kind of pathetic sad character is he? What pale imitation of a life must he have if his idea of fun is to pick a fight with an absolute stranger because somebody pipped a car horn in his direction?

His missis has not moved an inch. She sits slumped in her chair, relaxed and evidently well used to this type of behaviour.

As the rest of the cars go past us he sits staring at me, challenging me, wanting me to do something that’ll let him vent his fury. 

Maybe he can’t get it up. 
Maybe he’s had a terrible childhood and cannot be held responsible for his actions. 
Yeh, and maybe I couldn’t give a bleeding heart liberal damn about him and his pathetic existence. 

Slowly my fear is turning to anger. My England buds are awaking, losing their veneer of Galway chilldom, and starting to pump with adrenaline. He’s a big bloke, and clearly no stranger to fighting. If you go around behaving like this, you don’t only know how to fight, you enjoy it too.

Resisting the strong desire that is rising within me to sink to his level, to get out of my car and face him and beat four shades of crap out of him, I sit instead calmly and wait for him to drive off. We sit in our cars and watch another full traffic light cycle, during which time I restrain myself, somehow managing not to give him the finger or any other reason he might grab to get out of his car and have a go at me. 

Then he sloooowly drives away, with me behind him keeping a good distance, in case he slams on his brakes and causes me to rear end his car.

Five minutes later I’m at my mum’s, and back in the green and pleasant land of my birth. There is tea in bone china cups, Wimbers on the tele and a great weekend ahead of me. 

But despite an hour earlier wondering whether I’d been unfair to write all those features about the latent violence inherent in English society, I now feel justified. Shaken and stirred, happy and sad, excited and fearful, the cocktail of emotion that runs through me every time I return to London is as powerful as ever. 

Saturday 3 July 2010

Catalan mayor's doublespeak piffle lifts the veil and sets me free!

This colyoom has made its position on the banning of the burqa very clear, but it is the imperative of the colyoomist to appear single-minded. Moderation doesn't make good copy, yet I am human, so it lurks within me, alongside doubt and flexibility.

My conscience has wrestled with the stance I'm taking. When I find myself opposing groups who claim to stand up for gender equality and human rights, I have to wonder if I'm just plain wrong.

The right to worship over the right to be equal? Ridiculous. Nobody should have to choose such disparate and subjective abstract notions, just as nobdoy should try to legislate whether we choose more kidney transplant programs or MRI scanners.

Lots of big words and big ideas, but no nearer being sure that my strong instinct that these bans are evil and phenomenally dangerous, is correct.  And then I saw my answer sitting there, on page 23 of today's Guardian. Giles Tremlett's story reports the banning of the burqa in Catalunya, and includes a quotation that set me free.

Thank you thank you thank you to Socialist mayor Ángel Ros of Lleida, who attempted to explain why he was doing the right thing:

"This is not Islamophobia. When the Right does this it is guided by xenophobia, but we are guided by equality."

Fantastic. Free free, sets me free. Code Blue. This bullet comes to you courtesy of the good guys. Yes we killed you but we only did it 'cos we love you. By taking away your human rights I'm allowing you to be free. Orwell eat your heart out. Hate Week finally came about, but it's not Goldstein, it's the other mob that's getting it in the ear.

Stick my fingers in my ears and hum. Laa laa da daaa daah. Going to sit in the garden and feel smug.

Friday 2 July 2010

Never Mind the Footsie index, I've got the Elbow Index!

My Dad used to say that it was never good when the Dow Jones index dropped below 10,000 and the Footise index fell below 5,000.

Last night on the news I saw that both had tumbled below these guidelines, but I didn’t care.

Why not? 

Well, apart from the fact that I don’t live my life in fear of what greed-crazed capitalist gamblers do in far-away cities, I have my own index - the Elbow index - and right now it’s looking petty good.

In my bedroom there are two tall Jameson bottle holders. Into one I empty my small change, and into the other I drop €1 and €2 coins. The former I never touch until it's full, when I empty it, bag up the coins and cash them at the bank. The other, the €1 and €2 jar, is the one I live off, dipping into it and feeding it up as much and as often as I can.

Sometimes it’s a long reach into the jar to find the level of coins.  When it’s nearly empty, I have to put almost my entire arm into it, before I can scrape a few coins out for a treat or a trip into town. 

When I only have to reach into it up to my elbow, things are looking good, and right now, there are so many coins in there I’m hitting metal just above the wrist. So the Elbow index is looking good, immune from speculation and international degradation.

This message was brought to you by Keeping Life Simple Enterprises. Coin jar levels may go up as well as down. The term ‘Elbow index’ is the trademark of the entity known as Charlie Adley and no other individual or corporate body. No terms and conditions apply. Just drop coins into the jar when you take your trousers off, and then reach into the jar and take money when you need it.