Monday 31 October 2011

Why did the Irish make such a mess of democracy?

Fair play to you Irish. What a great election! The thrilling campaign careered from the gay Joycean scholar candidate being accused of defending a Palestinian child abuser to the Eurovision Song-winning Christian Fundamentalist candidate screeching about car crashes, slashed tyres and attempted murder. The nation watched  as the ex-IRA leader shot down and killed the corrupt and greedy Dragon’s Den ogre, and that was just the Live TV debate!

At the start of the campaign all the presidential candidates lined up on the lawn outside Áras an Uachtaráin, and I wondered where else on earth I’d ever seen such a disparate collection of fading celebrities and ageing politicians gathering to do battle.

And then I was confused. Was this the Irish Presidential Election or the new series of Strictly Come Dancing?

Thanks goodness for Martin McGuinness for metaphorically knocking some sense into the Irish people, who were unbelievably yet again drawn to the guy with the big car and fat cigar. When will you ever learn?

Well, maybe you have, because you voted in the right man. On a national level, Michael D. is a proven humanitarian, peace advocate and a champion of the arts. On a personal level, it feels great that the Head of State of my adopted country is somebody who I have chatted with on the street several times. However sad and egocentric it may be, I’m delighted that the new President knows me by name. We have collaborated together on a few occasions when I was working with teenage Travellers, and way back in 1993 I interviewed him for this colyoom, (excerpts from that interview can be posted here soon, if any colyoomistas would like to see them!).

The diversity of the candidates reflects well on the growing enlightenment of this republic, but the process that they had to undergo to become candidates appears farcical to this Englishman.

After all those years of oppression you had a blank canvas.
After all those years of colonial masters dictating the limitations of your freedom, you had the freedom to deny yourselves any limitations.

Depending on which Irish person happens to be chewing my English ear off, you Irish suffered either 400, 700, or 800 years of brutal colonialism. After all those centuries of having alien overlords imposing their laws upon your country, Irish people could finally choose their own constitution.

You did not have to pander in the slightest to the political model that had been harshly visited upon your country for aeons. You were free to build a fair and just electoral system. You had the chance to devise simple political models that might draw joyful breaths from hearts of every free Irish citizen. Instead, you made an absolutely shabby and disgraceful mess of your democratic processes.

Significant problems arise in both England and Ireland with the elections of the Upper House and Head of State. The English rather ingeniously avoid any controversial democratic practices concerning these two bodies by avoiding elections altogether. Unfair and anachronistic it may be, but at least they don’t pretend that in these areas democracy is at work.

Much as I dislike the House of Lords and feel at best ambivalent about the monarchy, both arcane institutions are starting to compare pretty favourably with the way you Irish have chosen to elect your Upper House and Head of State.

Do you, an educated Irish person, have a clear understanding of who represents you and why? I doubt it. I made some effort to understand how the Seanad is elected, but instead decided you couldn't make it up.

Of the Seanad's 60 members, 11 are elected by the Taoiseach, 6 by university graduates, while 43 are selected from 5 panels, which have a number of members allocated as 5; 11; 11; 9; 7 respectively, with a minimum to be selected from each sub-panel allocated as 2; 4; 4; 3; 3.

You had a blank canvas, but instead chose that good old 11:6:43 ratio that you find naturally occurring absolutely nowhere in nature, mathematics or common sense.

Skipping over the entire debacle of which particular privileged sectors of Irish society are allowed to elect Senators, we arrive at the happy fact that if you want to become President of Ireland, all you have to do is be an Irish citizen, over 35, and nominated by at least 20 members of the Oireachtas or at least 4 local authorities.

Why pluck these seemingly random and pointless numbers from the ether, and apply them to your constitution? Why does your Head of State need the approval of at least 4 local authorities? What possible advantage might people who plan roundabouts and organise wheelie bin runs have over your own decision-making abilities?

You had a blank canvas. Why make it all so complicated and elusive? Why not choose a number, any number, say 1,000 signatures, and a person can run for President?

After 20 years of living here, I suspect that the needless involvement of local authorities has a great deal to do with gombeen politics and nothing more. If Sean Gallagher had not been able to take the ‘Roundabout’ route he’d have had to parade his true Fianna Fail colours, at a time when that is political suicide.

Such circuitous Irish behaviour as the Presidential candidature process is often excused as a post-colonial reaction to years of trying to secure freedom by keeping secrets from the Powers-That-Be. Now your very own Irish Powers-That-Be are able to deny freedom to the Irish people by obfuscation within their own constitution.

After all those years you had a blank canvas. Your electoral systems could have been gloriously simple. Yet the very same Celtic twirl of thought that created the Back Door system in the GAA Championship, whereby a team can beat another in a knockout competition and later lose to the same team in the final, has created an electoral Jackson Pollock.

Monday 24 October 2011

One for you, Jon!

Decided to ease my Chelsea blues by going to see Billy Bragg play a stonking set to a packed house at the Roisin Dubh. Good to see all Galway’s old lefties come out of the woodwork, as well as those who appreciate a good song well sung.

As the set built I felt pounded by waves of nostalgia for my teenage London years back in the 1970s, and when he played 'Levi Stubbs Tears' I felt a rush of emotion and strongly and suddenly missed my dear departed friend Jon Lewin, who was by my side at so many gigs back then. He would've been should've been and maybe was in spirit by my side tonight.

Miss you Jon, did tonight, do often. This one goes out to you mate. X

Saturday 22 October 2011

All Hail The Magnificent 7!

For those of you who complained that the link to my Irish Times article (17.10.2011) didn't work, here is my spermy tale of woe once more...

8.05: Good, she's awake. In 40 minutes she needs to be at the clinic, where the egg collection procedure must go ahead at precisely 09.00. Timing is vital today. She needs tea and toast before the procedure, so I'll make that and go upstairs.

8.20: Lying on the bed. All I need to do is something I've done countless times. How difficult can it be, compared to what she's been through over the last few months? She has sniffed hormones up her nose, swallowed hormones in tablets and injected her own belly with yet more hormones, stoically suffering a panorama of nasty side effects. Day after week after month her mobile has chimed reminders to take another nasty drug, so that she might produce fertile eggs and prepare her womb for carrying.

All I have to do is produce a sample. That's all. Over the last two years almost everything about this process has quite rightly been about her body. My sperm count is a low but tolerable 2 million, however my lads are no longer lively young things. They have little chance of fulfilling their natural destiny, so rather than IVF we're doing ICSI, where the sperm are injected directly into the eggs.

8.25: As I look down on my mature meat and two veg, they visibly shrink. I'm watching a time-lapse film of my own puberty in reverse. Over the last two minutes my penis has shrunk to the size it was when I was seven, while my testicles are on a mission to rise up through my body and hide in my rib cage.

8.30: Time is ticking. My mind is all over the place. Can't concentrate. Can't relax. No, this isn't going to work. We have to get going. I'll just have to provide my sample at the clinic. Not a very appealing prospect.

I'm silently hoping I'll be able to have my sample done and out of the way before the egg collection process starts. That would be great. The last thing I want to do is make a fuss. It's only a bloke knocking one off, so what's the bother? Try being a woman, Sir, and have someone put a foot-long stiletto needle up your netherly noodles.

8.45: I hold her hand as they sedate her and do unspeakable things to her in a gentle and professional way. And lo, her body has produced miracles! There are now eggs in a container, waiting to be inspected for quality; maturity; whatever it takes for life to begin.

By now I just want to scream out loud: “I'm feeling under massive pressure! I must get my sample done as soon as possible!” but not one part of me feels comfortable saying a word.

: She's safe in bed. I ask a nurse if I can finally give my sample.
“Sorry, no!” she says, “There's another man using The Room at the moment.”
The Room? Oh yuk. How absolutely not sexy.
I sit by her bed, hold her hand and try not mention how much I dread letting her down; about how devastated I'll feel if I can't do one simple thing, after all she's been through.

11.15: The nurse tells me The Room is free.

11:17: I'm in a dimly lit sperm collection room designed by women. There's a chair, a pile of fairly unpleasant soft porn mags and a specimen jar that's way too fiddly for the job in hand. My bare buttocks are stuck on the same plastic seat that was occupied by another man's buttocks a mere few minutes before. I could not feel less able to produce a sample, but I simply have to, otherwise, quite apart from all the major life factors, we've wasted a massive amount of money. Nothing small at all. Just life-changing issues and huge amounts of money.

11.45: Simply by being a male of the species, hotwired to be able to prioritise sex, I have somehow produced a sample. Thank God! Oh good grief! Relief floods over me. I'm so happy not to have let the side down. Phew!

12.45: A nurse pops up by her bedside.
 “Well, there's really great news! You've produced 10 mature eggs! Fantastic! You can go home now, but take it very easy for the rest of the day. Now, Charlie, not such great news. There was nothing in your sample, I'm afraid!”


“Nothing at all. There's no reason to it. Last week a fella gave one sample that had zero and another he delivered two hours later had 90 million. It just goes like that. We don't have a clue why. Thing is, time is now a factor.
We need another sample in the next two hours? Can you drive her home and bring another sample back to us?”

Another one? Please no. I am utterly wired. Another sample, with added real time pressure? Great!

13.15: Back home, I'm trying to avoid a panic attack, whilst trying yet again to supply a sample. Knowing there are now 10 eggs out there and that her body has worked magnificently is not diminishing the pressure I'm feeling.

14.15: Back at the clinic with another sample. The nurse suggests I wait while she tests it. I sit in the waiting room, surrounded by women thumbing magazines, feeling tremendously lonely. Any minute now somebody will walk into the room and tell me whether I've written off any hope of parenthood for good, or that everything is back on track. Of course she will use delicate rational language, but I'm not feeling the slightest bit rational.

15:15: Back at the house, relieved and exhausted. I tell her how the nurse managed to find 7 healthy lads. Not 90 million. Not 2 million. 7. Already my infantile male mind has named them The Magnificent 7. She reminds me that throughout the process, we were told that 'Quality not Quantity' was the maxim whenever eggs and sperm were mentioned.

I love her for reminding me of that. Now we are in the hands of fate. Despite the way that as a man I felt marginalised throughout this process, the boy in me feels rather proud of The Magnificent 7.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Does Largely Cloudy beat Mainly Cloudy?

We all drop our chins in wonder at the popular myth that the Inuit have 40 words for snow, but right here at home in Ireland there’s a subtlety to the vocabulary of our weather forecast that has me flummoxed.

Despite what you see as evidence here in this colyoom, I tickle fancies of being a man of words, but all my scribbly instincts and blathering verbals proved useless when I looked at the weather forecast in the paper on Tuesday (it’s broken down into Ireland’s four provinces, roughly west, east south and north respectively).

Connacht: Generally cloudy today with spells of rain.
Leinster: Largely cloudy today with occasional rain.
Munster: Mainly cloudy today with outbreaks of rain.
Ulster: Largely cloudy today with periods of rain.

You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know that for at least 300 days a year we enjoy a mixture of sunshine and showers, and this colyoom has in past years romped with agitation about forecasts predicting ‘Rain at times, sunshine in places’, because with the only details we actually need to know having been rather ingeniously omitted, we have no idea at what times it might rain and in which places.

But this is a different matter; a question of language. I need to understand words and their uses in my adopted home’s vernacular, and also I need to be outside for those brief periods when the sun might shine down on my sorry soul.

So, does Largely Cloudy beat Mainly Cloudy?
Or is Generally Cloudy the biggest baddest adjective in the Irish cloudy lexicon?

As for rain, are Spells of Rain shorter than Periods of Rain?
Do Outbreaks of Rain come less often than Occasional Rain?
I haven’t a clue. What the bloomin’ ‘ell are they on about?

Perchance the poor bored artisan who had to fashion something readable out of a messy map of uncertainty made their lot less heavy by entertaining themselves with a dash of creative flair, in an effort to help the forecast appear less dreadfully repetitive and oppressively rank.

Or maybe I just don’t understand the power order of the words.
Help me out. I need to know.
Or maybe I just need help...

Tuesday 18 October 2011

I was strangely proud of my 'Magnificent Seven'!

thanks to

All summer my colyoomistas have been brushed aside with excuses. You've had apologies about long gaps between colyooms and enigmatic allusions to a period of stress and pressure.

Well, now you can read about what was happening by going out and buying a copy of today's Irish Times, or clicking on the link below.

Sadly the fates didn't bless us with a child, so we're going to buy a puppy instead!

Friday 14 October 2011

Can an Adult Burger legally change its name to Cherry Pie? Does an Adult Burger have the right to Same Sex Partnerships?

image from

There are Burger King leaflets all over town, offering
Free Fries And Drink When You Buy An Adult Burger.

Does the beef in an Adult Burger have to be 18 years old?
Can Adult Burgers marry the fries of their choice?
Can an Adult Burger legally change its name to Cherry Pie?
Does an Adult Burger have the right to Same Sex Partnerships?
When oh when will the day come that all Adult Burgers have the right to vote?

Now, my loyal colyoomistas, we can hide no longer.
We must turn and face our fear.
There can be no more procrastination.
This is the time we have to confront that most profound and perplexing question, the very conundrum that all the above flippancy works so hard to avoid.

Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. There is still one tiny and slight tangent we must travel. Before we’re ready to delve into the massive philosophical quandary of
‘Why is an Adult Burger?’
we must know the answer to
‘What is an Adult Burger?’

At this juncture all I can tell you is that we know precisely what it is not, because on the voucher is printed ‘excluding Hamburger, Cheeseburger, King Deal Meals and Breakfast menu.’ So we can safely conclude that an Adult Burger is anything that’s not a hamburger or a cheeseburger or breakfast.
Limitless options open.
That’ll do for me, Tommy.

Now ponder well and let me know, is an Adult Burger a burger for adults, or is it a grown-up burger?
Do Burger King want adults to buy Adult Burgers, thereby making them loyal and frequent customers with or without their kids? If so, methinks in a valiant effort to pinch punters from the Golden Arches, the Home of the Whopper is rather missing the point. Adults eat in McDonald's and Burger King because apart from it being cheap and fast, by doing so we relinquished all adult responsibilities. For a short time, we don’t have to think about cooking, washing up, or worry our tiny minds with such minor trifles as nutrition and health. No, we get to feel a lickly bit childish as we tuck into our American Franchise sandwiches.

Eating burgers is nothing to do with being grown up.
It’s about knowing that as far as your food goes, you don’t have to be an adult at all. In this mind frame of reckless abandonment, you don’t even have to feel the slightest bit embarrassed hearing yourself say out loud in public

“Double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a vanilla shake, please!”

Maybe the folks at the Home of the Whopper have some understanding of psychology. Maybe Adult Burgers were invented so that kids could pester adults by pleading...

“Pleease paaaleeeease can I have an Adult Burger? Papapaaleeeease mum paaaleeeese?!?!”

... so that they can feel really grown up and choke on jalapeno peppers.

Sure, there’ll be some Joe the Plumber types out there who’ll want to order the most Aberdeen Angus USDA-Approved Hairy-Chested Adult Burger smothered in hot pepper and so-not-a-Kiddie Meal that simply ordering such mature fare just proves he must have a huge penis, but mostly, for the rest of us meek and sensible creatures, we’ll order a Whopper and have a little giggle that it’s just a bit rude.

Thursday 13 October 2011

When does a Blow-in become a Local?

Not wanting to overdo the legwork after my knee operation, I dive off Shop Street and take a few minutes to sit down and relax outside Buon Appetito Café on Upper Abbeygate Street.

When I arrived in Ireland there was no talk of Immigrants. I was just another Blow-in, and as such felt envious of those locals who could righteously claim they had a history with the place.

I look to my left, towards Lynch’s Castle and Powell’s Four Corners. I look up at the ancient buildings opposite and to my right, towards Newtownsmith and

and all of a sudden my mind is filled with a gushing flood of memories. Down there on the left, that’s where I converted, opened and ran a charity shop. That was a mad period of time, just back from America, working my bollocks off and living in the Claddagh. Tired after a full day in the shop, I had to build two fires after work in that house, and the bathroom was an icy cupboard, but in the summer, ahhh, the garden at the back was a rambly paradise.

Right here, opposite this café in the narrow cobblestone street, up in that window there, above the Barber’s Shop and the Organismical Seaweed Mermaid Massage Baths, there used to be an office occupied by a Galway free sheet newspaper. As well as scribbling this very same colyoom for the Tribune papers, I was back then also writing for the inestimable Seamus R.(vot a schnozz! Oy!). Can’t for the life of me recall the name of the paper (The Bugle? The Word? The Execrable Screech?). But I remember exactly how good life felt then.

I was living in a tiny wee house in Connemara, a few country miles between Slyne Head and Ballyconneely, driving a transit van and delivering to Seamus four different columns under four different names each week.

There was Pink O’Bum - the Petulant Politico; there was Swami ben Carpenter - the Muse with the Views; there was Poor Little Greenie, a Bowie-Inspired Ingenue; and of course, ever popular whenever I’ve dragged his wretched bones back from the dead, there was Freebase Kevin, the drug-crazed cider-fuelled foul-mouthed biker, who went down a storm with Galway’s lads, just as he had in Cambridge and Bradford, 20 and 10 years previously respectively.

I was living my dream -  my dream of that moment. I believe that life is not a one way street, but rather a series of journeys, and in each we must pursue a dream. If we focus strongly, we’ll arrive somewhere very close to that dream: possibly better, maybe simply different to what we’d imagined, but I knew at that time that life was perfect, and realising joy is what matters.

You have to be aware of the happy times, because hard times, by their nature, let you know they are there, whereas happiness can pass by undetected, like a cooling zephyr on a summer's evening. You neither notice it nor give thanks for it.

Oh, and the memories keep flowing over me. In a tiny room high up in the medieval building opposite this café, there’s that jeweller, one of Galway’s old-fashioned expert craftsmen. I only found him because the owner of a High Street jewellery shop told me to go to him, and with his skill he repaired my father’s watch, the one that Mum game me after Dad died.

Around the corner there’s the Tribune offices and an Tobar and countless other chapters from my Galway storybook, but it feels good, right now, sipping my coffee, resting a while. Not swamped by my past, very much in the present, just pausing for a moment in life, drifting off in reverie outside the café, my mind awash with the happy history I have with this place.

Friday 7 October 2011

I don’t believe in God, I’m ashamed of successive Israeli governments, so why am I proud to be Jewish?

The answer’s in the question: I’m ashamed of how Israeli governments have behaved. I wasn’t ashamed of the abomination of South Africa’s apartheid régime: I just loathed it.

Not one part of my being seeks to be allied with the brutality that’s going on in Israel and the Occupied Territories, but still, for a reason that neither this colyoom nor any other piece of writing can fully explain, despite being an atheist, I feel it personally.

When I call myself Jewish in Ireland people assume I am some kind of Zionist fascist racist anti-Palestinian bastard. In London, I am seen by some members of my family and the wider Jewish community as an embarrassing Arab-loving Palestinian hugging Hezbollah kissing terrorist.

Why does everyone seek black and white solutions to problems? Why search for absolutes, where none exist?

A old friend of mine insists that I have no right to call myself Jewish. He tells me that he could convert to Judaism, just as easily as I could become a Catholic, and that would make him Jewish. He says that as I don’t believe in God, it makes no sense to claim membership of a religion.

I try time and time again to explain to him that my Jewishness is not a preference. I don’t call myself Jewish in the same way that I call myself a Chelsea fan. It’s not a lifestyle choice.

Why on earth would I seek membership of a club that has been attacked for thousands of years? Why would I align myself with a group of people that every conspiracy theorist blames for all the banking ills of the world? Why would I choose to belong to a people that has survived despite its history, rather than because of it?

If Judaism was about believing in God then I’d be stuck. But it’s not, and I’m one of the thousands of living proofs. I feel my Jewishness in my bones; in my heart; in my head and on this evening of Kol Nidrei, the holiest night of the Jewish calendar, my thoughts will be with my family in London and my late Father, for whom a candle will be lit in my living room.

Being Jewish means a lot to me. Judaism is so wrapped up in the fabric of family life that I cannot see my mother, brother or sister, or myself in the mirror, without knowing, feeling, living my Jewishness.

Judaism starts, ends and lives in the home. Every Friday night throughout my life, the family gathers at the dinner table to break bread and drink wine and welcome in the Sabbath  Prayers are read and blessings made, but the occasion is infinitely more about the family being together than giving thanks to an ill-tempered God.

Every Jewish festival starts in the home, usually around the dinner table, and such is the importance of food within Jewish culture that each festival brings different food traditions in different families.

For New Year we used to eat roast lamb, and at Pesach or Passover we eat matzos and small yeast-free cakes like cinnamon balls, almond cake and coconut pyramids. At hannukah we eat doughnuts and latkes. Tonight my family will take the Yom Kippur fast together and then 26.75 hours later, they’ll break that fast with a selection of deli items, like rollmop herring, chopped liver, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and cold fried fish (delicious, despite how vile it sounds!).

Possibly as a result of Jews being excluded from society for so many centuries, my Jewishness gives me a sense of inclusion. I’m part of something ancient and vast, even though it operates best at a tiny domestic level. For me, it’s neither a religion nor a way of life. There’s nothing I do every day that makes me know I’m Jewish.

Hmmm, well, I call my mother every day. Good Jewish boy. And when I see Jewish comics on the TV I feel I can relate to their humour better than a non-Jewish person might. I feel a part of Larry David and Woody Allen running through me. Their angst is mine.

I feel proud of Einstein’s genius, proud of Menuhin and Chomsky and Roth and all the great Jewish thinkers, scientists and artists, musicians and inventors (although the atom bomb was less than a good idea); proud that Jews have survived long enough to allow someone like me, an atheist living in a Catholic country, surrounded by millions of non-Jewish people, to be part of the Tribe, but cannot tell you why or how it feels.

As I say to my friend after I’ve become exasperated: “If I’m not Jewish what am I? You can philosophise all you like about whether being Jewish is a religious or racial matter, but I can tell you from the inside, that’s what I am: God or no God!”

So as we enter this Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement, when Jews remember their dead and ask for forgiveness from sin, I’ll think of my family, of their Fast and how long the day feels when it has no meals to mark its progress.

I’ll remember long Yom Kippurim spent in our family living room, with the TV off and all of us forced to make conversation, no choice but to to discuss matters of life and meaning. Weighty and philosophical discussions were not commonplace in our lounge, so it always made a welcome change to hear how crazy we all were; how different were our outlooks on life, and yet there we all were, bonded together by ... by what?

A culture? A race? A people? A religion? A nation?
Being Jewish can be all and none of the above. It’s an identity that you know you have, from which there is no hiding. And why would you want to hide?

Well, history has shown us why, and now with the crimes of Israeli governments lighting the fires of hatred all over the internet, a subtext of anti-Semitism is showing through the cracks. The word ‘Zionist’ has been hijacked by those who would do us damage. It fuels all the conspiracy theories and will eventually fire up hatred against people like me once again.

So am I Jewish because I’ll be persecuted as a Jew, atheist or believer?
No. That’s far too negative an assumption. In the words of the Jewish God (or was it Popeye?):

“I am who I am!”

To be Jewish, you need to have Jewish humour. So as a way of saying ‘Yes I’m Jewish, no I don’t know why, but strangely, I’m proud of it!’, and as an antidote to the hatred, here’s a wee Jewish joke.

So two Israelis, Avi and Motti, are wandering around the Amazon Jungle, trying to hunt down Nazis. They stumble upon a clearing in the trees, where there sits a beautiful marble mansion, with towering pillars and vast formal gardens.

Nodding silently they slip inside unseen, and climb the huge white staircase, higher and higher, passing an unparalleled collection of rare and stolen art.

Finally they reach a gallery, and looking down they see below a long table, around which sits twenty young men and twenty old men. The young men look strangely like the old men, as if they might be their sons, and all the old men look suspiciously like notorious Nazi leaders.

The young man at the end of the table stands up to speak. Avi points out to Motti that this bloke looks a lot like a young Hitler, and then they listen to his fierce speech.

“Ziss time ve vill make no MISTAKES! Ziss time ve vill not be so SOFT! Ziss time ve vill kill ALL za JEWS and ALL za HEDGEHOGS!”

The men sitting around the table sit back in shock, and then start shouting back:
“Why kill the hedgehogs?”
“What’s that about hedgehogs?”
“Hedgehogs? Why hedgehogs?”

Looking down from above, Motti turns to Avi and whispers:
“You see. I told you. Nobody gives a shit about the Jews!”

I wish you all Well over the Fast, and please, don't not only pray for peace: believe it might happen.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

The Welfare State makes me proud to be human - so why are ‘Benefits’ being used as a weapon against the poor?

There’s not much that makes me proud to be human, but the Welfare State was Britain’s finest creation, as compassionate and civilised a route as any society might hope to choose.

Clement Attlee's 1945 Labour government went to war on what the Beveridge Report called ‘The Five Giant Evils’ of squalor; ignorance; want; idleness and disease. They introduced laws to provide for the people "from the cradle to the grave”.

Nobody ever need be homeless, hungry, or uneducated. Why you fell ill, you were cared for. Wonderful.

(Sorry, colyoomistas - just have to pause here and say ‘Health, housing and education. Health, housing and education. Health, housing and education.’ for the umpteenth time in my life. Write it off as a nervous tic, a Socialist Obsessive Compulsive flicking his moral light switch three times, to make himself feel better.)

There was no need for Communism. Give everyone a safe, informed and healthy start, then let the human race rip. We’ll all go off in different directions, but we’ll live without fear. Well, we would, but the rich like to hold on to their riches, and the Tories turned our right of support into a privilege.

Now Cameron's Conservatives are throwing lumps of bloody red meat to the wolves baying for rioters’ blood. If you riot, your family loses its benefits. If you play truant from school, your family lose their council house. That’ll bloody show the scum, eh chaps! Can’t sit back and let the anarchists control the streets, what!

Quite apart from the simple fact that hundreds of middle class rioters and truants have families with neither benefits nor council houses to lose, there’s an elephant in the room: the real cause of the riots, which was simply rampant materialism.

These kids have grown up in a society where stuff counts and to be a face, a hit on the street, you need the bestest most superlative hyperbolic all-new must-have stuff at all times. Come the recession, come the heinous Conservative cuts, and the kids ain’t getting their stuff.

This week at their party conference, the Tories blamed the riots on poor parenting and ‘Benefit Culture’, but ironically it was the very same acquisitional Capitalist society that the Conservatives have always encouraged which drove those angry young people to steal trainers and TVs, and all the other stuff they can’t afford.

And what of this ‘Benefit Culture’? The only people who say how easy it is to live on the dole in England are those who never have. Over here in Ireland the dole is set at €188 a week, but in the UK you get £65, and still politicians talk of benefit culture. It drives me crazy. Yes, of course, there are out there some few professionals who screw the system for every penny they can get, but mostly it’s just poor decent people trying desperately to keep their heads above water.

Those who talk of ‘Benefit Culture’ tell their researchers to look up how much you can get with a family of four on full housing benefit, full family credit and all the other benefits they can find, and then come out with absurd stories about how the poor are living it large on the backs of the middle classes.

What they might not know, and certainly have no desire to find out, is that you might well claim for all that stuff, but you’re a rare person if you actually get it.

Murdoch’s Irish Sunday Times last week ran a front page piece under the headline ‘Welfare Wage €28,000. According to the piece, there’s no point in getting a job for less that €28,000, because you’re better off on the dole. If you have 4 children and are in receipt of every possible available benefit to its highest threshold, that may be the case, but what the journalist doesn’t bother to explain is that the partner of that recipient will only receive a pittance in proportion to the main claimant, who most likely isn’t getting half of it anyway.

Most likely that recipient is sitting on a plastic chair, in a soul-sapping queue, watching the numbers go round, deciding whether it’s the wife or the son who’ll receive no birthday present this year, waiting to be called, and the rich call that ‘Living It Large’? They dare to threaten the poor with the withdrawal of these cash dribbles while they award themselves gold mountains ...oh  ah eeee I’m starting to feel angry.

Calm down calm down. I experienced the UK’s Welfare State system during the Thatcher years, and I’m ready to admit that once, at Shepherd’s Bush Dole office, they made me cry. The Irish attitude is thankfully more respectful of the poor, but when you hear on the news those stats about the numbers claiming benefits, never ever assume the people are actually receiving the money.

This practice of using welfare as a weapon comes, of course, from the USA, and just as when Washington sneezes, London catches a cold, we here in the West of Ireland run the risk of droplet infection.

Let’s hang on to our precious values and never use the most wonderful creation of the almost civilised world as a weapon to beat the least guilty.