Sunday 29 August 2010

Umberto Eco meets Fabio Capello!

When the England football manager Fabio Capello today announced his squad of players for the European Championship qualifiers, little did he realise he was keeping my dream alive.

The day may soon come when the England team takes the field armed with two strikers named Crouch and Bent. Medievalists rejoice. It's the Name of the Rose all over again.

Friday 20 August 2010

Hoteliers of Ireland - remove your plastic sheets!

After a few minutes lying on my hotel bed in Clifden, I started pouring sweat from all over my body. 

Ooerr. Not nice.
Maybe I’d overdone the delivery of toxins into my body. 
Maybe I’d drunk too much alcohol too quickly in too short a space of time. 
Maybe I’d failed yet again to escape from the craic that is Race Week.

Each year I decide whether I’m going to embrace the 7 crazy days Galway plays host to the entire nation. Where the Galway Races are concerned, you have to be either immersed in it or run away from it. There is no happy medium.

This year I fled, heading off across the sea to inis Mor, to spend some time with Soldier Boy. The last time I went to visit him I brought with me Grumpy Chef and another friend who had recently been through a major trauma. 

Reliable as ever, Soldier Boy delivered a splendidly mad time for all of us, cramming as many macabre and bizarre experiences into our first 40 minutes on the island as the Universe might provide, should it conspire to do its deadly best.

I’ll spare you the details of that true yet highly unbelievable story and instead just share the ingredients: a very hungover ex-soldier covered from head to foot in freshly-ripped flesh wounds; a mobile phone that barked like a dog; a savoy cabbage; several bottles of wine, some bacon and a steep corner on a bohreen by a stone wall, eight foot above a hundred yards of tightly-packed bramble bushes.

As the Americans so quaintly put it: ‘Go figure.’

This time it was going to be different, calm, quiet, just me and my mate sitting outside his gaff for hours under cloudy skies, looking down on the small harbour town of Kilronan.

Off the boat, it felt natural to fall into and out of a few pubs, and then polish off a few tinnies outside his home. Then we strolled back into town in the evening for few more and then a couple or three by the side of his fire pit, under the stars in the evening, talking gentle bollocks into the early hours.

It was one of those days when you hardly noticed how much ye’d been imbibing, but a flow of beer as steady as the rain that falls on da Wesht was delivered into my bloodstream, so it was only when I stood up that I realised I was exceedingly drunk. 

Mind you, sitting down had not been easy either. As soon as I lowered my substantial frame into one of Soldier Boy’s Director-style chairs on his deck, it slowly and wholly disintegrated, sinking beneath me like a lift in an elevator shaft towards the ground, very much as an ex-chair might. Sorry about that, mate!

Next morning we both awoke with sunburned faces, rigid and peeling. Despite the fact that we looked like a pair of grated beetroots, nobody seemed too troubled. In fact, everywhere we went to eat and drink the service was great and delivered with a smile. But sadly the recession was hitting hard, and at 8:30 on a July evening, when the pubs in Kilronan should have been kickin’ major tourist butt, there was myself and himself in Joe Macs, a table of Yanks visiting their family and a few locals at the bar. The place was deader than dead, and if it was like that in high season, gord help the people of the Arann islands.

Mind you they’ve seen worse times, and doubtless will yet again. 

The next day it felt great to turn Shaaanny car left at the crossroads after Rossaveal, heading west for Clifden. I’d forgotten just how mouth-wateringly beautiful is the road that cuts through Roundstone bog. Stopping the car, I stepped out into the sounds of the silence of a Connemara day. 

The wisssshh and shusshhh of the breeze; the gurgle of the streams running off the bog; the fwwwummm fwwwummmm sound of a ...  oh thank you thank you Universe ... a single black swan in flight, cutting low and magnificent across the face of the distant hills.

My hills - the Twelve Pins, God’s own fruit bowl, sensual peaks and swirly valleys smoothed by glaciers, looking perfectly majestic and commanding in a comfortably moderate Irish way. 

My good friend The Goat had been called off to play in Tully Cross, so upon arriving in Clifden I checked into the Alcock and Brown Hotel, where new owner Mike was just the right side of incredibly enthusiastic, managing to resist the temptation to ask me if I’d recently walked through a forest fire, or did my scarlet scabby face always look like that?

I headed straight to the bar in Terry’s, for a pint of Guinness and some excellent fish and chips, but despite the time of year and the exceptionally friendly and efficient staff, the place was empty. I’d expected the posher places to be suffering, but thought that the capital of Connemara’s pub grub would be hitting the high season tourists’ bellies aplenty, but no. All the crowds I’d seen that afternoon had been day trippers, now disappeared, leaving four French tourists to wander disconsolate, looking bored and hard-done by as only the French can.

D’Arcy’s was closed and Malarkey’s was empty. It was just too early for the locals to be out in Clifden, so I took my sandpapered face off on a Stations of the Triangle Tour. Into Griffins to watch some sport, then to Vaughans to sup a few whiskies, then into Lowry’s to talk to a fisherman or two and drink some more black, and back to Terry’s for a couple more, followed by another excursion to Malarkey’s.

By the time dusk had fallen, I was quietly and privately bombed, so tired and weary I fell upon the bed in my hotel room, to read my book and grab an early night.

All was fine.

Well, no, all was not  fine. I felt sweaty. All of a sudden I felt yuckysweatyhorrible and pooper, please tell me I’m not coming down with something!

No. I wasn’t ill, I was just lying on a plastic bottom sheet. What a vile and patronising practice that is. Hotel rooms are not cheap, and if you’re a hotelier you simply have to treat your guests with respect. We’re paying handsomely precisely for a good night’s sleep in a bed we don’t have to make ourselves, and yet, there I was, having to strip the bed entirely, remove the wretched sweat-inducing placcy precautionary device and remake the bed from top to bottom. 

Instead of feeling all special and mollycoddled, I now resented having to pay to sleep in that bed. It was no longer an object of comfort and luxury. 

Hoteliers of Ireland, stop treating your punters like 6 year-old bed-wetters. Take off your plastic sheets and help the tourists feel at least as comfy as they do in their own beds. Otherwise they will day trip and go home.

Next year I think my liver and I will stay home for Race Week. I’ll just give in, let it eat me up and burp me out.

Thursday 12 August 2010

The oxygen is free!

Sliding into a taxi after one of the most cataclysmically bad days I've had for years, I start chatting to the driver, who comes from the Congo. 

Just like me, he has lived and worked all over the world, but arrived at a polar opposite conclusion. 

Whereas I have been lucky and found the vast majority of humans I've encountered to be good, he feels that 80% of people are bad. He says they all have a selfish agenda and are out for what they can get.

However, he has not lost his faith in humanity.

“When someone comes into my home, I welcome them and give them food.” he explains.

I tell him about my day, explaining how, at times such as this, I latch onto my 4 ‘F’s of humanity.

“We are all 4 Fs, my friend. We are all fallible, freaked out, fucked up and fantastic!”

He pauses to take in this theory, and then smiles. 
“Yes, and the oxygen is free, my friend. The oxygen is free.”

I thank him for his excellent counsel and tell him what my wise and good friend Dave Rainger said to me decades ago, when I was in a similar state.

“The sun will still come up tomorrow, Charlie!” said Dave, and as I relate this to my cabbie, he smiles and we share a splendid silent moment.

(By the way, to see the genius of the aforementioned Mr.Rainger and his partner in creativity, Jyl Millard, hit this link  and then visit his website listed over there in my 'worth an eyeball' listings.)

Saturday 7 August 2010

Levy shmevvy - I don't want to live in a world of base idiotic cruelty!

The Galway City Tribune ran a story last week under the most shockingly ill-judged headline (something approximating ‘Amputees left out on a limb by the cruellest cut of all.’) There are many apt places for wonderful puns, but that story, concerning the complete lack of funding for children’s prosthetic aids in the West of Ireland, simply wasn’t one of them. 

On Friday I was shocked by the City Tribune once more, but this time by Darragh McDonagh and Dara Bradley’s excellent reporting of an internal HSE West document leaked to the newspaper, revealing the terminally ill state of our local Health Services, following the moratorium on staff recruitment imposed in March 2009.

I found the following revelations terrifying, desperately sad and damning. 
Damning yes: an indictment of all of us, for putting up with such base idiocy.

So that they might be spared the long wait alongside all the eedjits who’ve accidentally sawn off their arms after the pub, cancer patients attending UHG’s A&E Unit were due to be able to use a new Oncology Assessment Unit. The new unit aimed to reduce the length of time cancer patients have to be hospitalised, and cut down on the number of cancer patients waiting around on trolleys. 
Cancer patients on trolleys? Aye, sadly so. Two weeks ago, a 65 year-old patient suffering from ovarian cancer had to wait on a trolley in UHG’s A&E for 25 hours before she was admitted to a ward.
Now the HSE refuse to confirm an opening date for the unit.

Why are we putting up with this?
4c out of each euro you earn is going to NAMA, to pay off the banks to pay back the developers, who are still living it large in their affluence, stuffed to the gills with private health insurance.

The only topic more emotive than cancer is babies. Plans for the Paediatric Orthopaedic Clinic have been blocked, while the proposed Early Pregnancy Unit has been put on hold. Now a harrowing trend has emerged: due to the loss of 225 nursing posts from acute hospitals, more Caesarian Sections are being performed than ever before, to maximise the turnover of beds.
But but but that’s insane. That’s messing with a woman’s right to a natural delivery, now and forever after.
Whatever happened to that Hippocratic Oath? That good ol’ ‘First do no harm’ thang. 
Don’t think that meant
‘Do no harm to the banks.’

Why are we putting up with this?
4c out of each euro you earn is going to NAMA to pay off the banks to pay back the lenders who are still living large and still selling sub-prime mortgages to people who can’t afford them.

The Tribune’s special report goes on to reveal that nurses are so overworked they are unable to receive mandatory training, while staff morale is at a most despondent and miserable all-time low. 

The loss of nursing posts has meant that despite the allocation of a Lung Services Unit, all dedicated respiratory services have been stopped, while the cutting of 100 jobs from HSE West’s Mental Health Services has brought about a marked increase in the number of violent incidents from patients in the service. 

Why are we putting up with this?
4c out of each euro you earn is going to NAMA to pay off the banks to pay back the speculators and traders who are still free gamble and win on our losses.

So what about the kiddies? Please tell me the kiddies are going to be okay.
Of course they will. As long as they never come into contact with TB, mumps, measles or rubella. 96% of children due to be immunised against TB are now walking the streets as potential victims, because there just aren’t enough nurses employed any more to administer the injections. Over 50% of the children who should by now have received their MMR vaccines will never do so. 

I’ve seen the tragedy of a hospitalised infant with a bad case of measles, her parents wondering if she’d still have her sight after the illness abated. 

Why are we putting up with this?
4c out of each euro you earn is going to NAMA to pay off the banks to pay the salaries of bankers who are well able to afford accountants who will save them from paying taxes because they are still awarded ‘bonuses’, which are doubtless less prone to tax, while you and I, should we be lucky enough to have a job, just have to pay good old-fashioned income tax along with all the other proles.

Oh and the levy. Did I mention the 4% levy that goes from your wages to NAMA....? Levy shmevvy, it’s amazing the amount of words they can find to describe taxes on the poorest when they need to save the arses of the richest.

After losing 135 jobs over two years, services offered to older people by the HSE have been decimated. Programmes and activities for older people have been slashed, resulting in a lack of social interaction, participation and inclusion of older people, and subsequently their loss of good health.

Okay, so that’s amputees, older people, babies, cancer patients, pregnant women, children and the mentally ill. 
Damn right. 
Hit them first and hit them hardest. 

Why are we putting up with this?
4c out of each euro you earn is going to NAMA to pay off the banks to pay back the developers who paid off the politicians who made the cuts so that they can pay off the bankers who ... yes, it’s a corrupt profiteering cycle, given whiter than white acronym respectability by those who will gain the most by plundering our losses.

“ ... another 230 positions will go in the HSE West area.” said Labour Councillor Colm Keaveney, “Nothing is sacred, only the Budget and the bottom line.”
Good man yourself. At least somebody else said it. 
I was starting to feel lonely over here.
Colyoomistas, don’t just sit there and accept this as the status quo. 
These priorities do not represent the kind of society any of us should be proud to live in.
Yet by virtue of our inertia and silence we allow it to happen in our names.