Tuesday 25 June 2013

There’s nothing wrong with negative thinking!

Why on earth do we expect our brains to work perfectly? If you bang your knee on the corner of the bed it hurts like hell, swells up and a few days later a bruise spreads out. Your body responds to trauma, repetitive work and strange sudden movements.
When you’re reaching over all the junk in the cupboard under the stairs, trying to grab the hoover at the back, you’re not shocked when a pain shoots up your back (who is this ‘you’ guy? 
He sounds like a complete idiot!) You know that your body has its limits; when you push past them, there are anatomical mechanisms like synapses that tell you you’re doing something stupid.
So why do we imagine that our brains are different? For some reason we expect our brains to be perfect. We believe our brains will survive the horrors that each has to absorb: the vile images and cruel injustices that everyone experiences, in their own individual way.
Anything construed crassly as ‘bad’ has to go. All good. It has to be all good, happy, positive, lovely-dovely stuff. Out with that bad negative thought. You don’t want that dreary darkness dragging you down, oh no. You’re in control of your brain, and you’re saying it all has to be good.
Get yourself a dose of Mindfulness. Be aware of who you are right now and appreciate your life as it happens. Fight the fear and pack a parachute. Load up your quiver with a fistful of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) arrows and let those babies fly as soon as you feel the slightest bit of anxiety bubbling up from your soul’s abyss.
Or not.
Maybe we’re trying to cure something that isn’t unwell. If it ain’t broke, don’t spend your children’s inheritance at the psychotherapist and the rest of your life on SSRIs that you don’t need.
This is not about depression. That’s another story. This is about you out there, battling with your own brain. You’re not depressed. You’re just trying to be a better person. They tell you to be mindful, aware, positive, appreciative: all good stuff, without question, but life isn't like that. 

More to the point, you’re not like that. Sure, part of you is at least a little of all those yummy things, and sometimes you’re zippeddy-pip with life and the universe. Sometimes you can go for months without losing a single sock in the laundry.
Yet there are periods when life all goes nasty, like a wet toothbrush falling into the cobwebs down there behind the sink, beyond where your cleaning powers go.
Oh goody. My toothbrush is full of other people's cruddy putrid waste, several species of insect larvae and oh, splendid, a black bic biro top covered in hair.
Inside you want to scream and wail and give out to the Lord of the Dance, but hang on, you’re meant to be all calm and see it for what it is. It’s just a dirty toothbrush. A mere peccadillo in the universal order of things.
So how do you react? Can you react in a positive way?
No, you can’t and you shouldn’t even try, because you’re not built all mindful and positive. You are human. You're just a unique beautiful bloody ridiculous human. As a human you are part of a species blessed with this colyoom’s old favourite: The Four Effs Of Humanity:
We are Fallible; Freaked Out; Fucked Up and Fantastic.
‘Fallible’, obviously, in that we all make mistakes. Freaked Out’, in that it’s a very rare person, or more accurately a liar, who purports never to have been scared by this perilous journey of life. ‘Fucked Up’, simply because we all have families. Nuff said there, and ‘Fantastic’ because yes, we are, we’re blooming amazing. We are generous, loving, caring and sympathetic. Hell, we even went the extra mile and became empathetic. We plan surprise birthday parties and laugh and cry at adverts on the tele and yes, we’re just absolutely Fantastic, with a capital F; but we are not perfect.
Surely it’s the contrast with sad that makes happy so great? However trite that might sound, a good amount of awareness seems to have been washed away by the tidal wave of Mindfulness going on. Nothing against it. In fact I think it’s terrific. I love Tai Chi and Yoga and Meditation and anything that brings you Peace and Joy with even more Capital Letters.
Yet by focusing on your aspirations for positive enlightenment, you’re ignoring the mental elephant in the room, which is never a good idea. Ignored elephants are notorious for causing crazy damage to your brainbox.
We are fallible, so we’re going to make mistakes. We’re also probably going to hate someone. We’re going to feel gut-squeezingly terrified by a challenge. At some point in our lives, we’ll feel absolutely bewilderingly confused.
We have evolved over millennia to feel a vast range of emotions, so why do we now choose to avoid them? I’m not suggesting that we ignore all curative therapy. I’m just saying that maybe it’s vital to feel sad and blue. On a rare day, a little bit of hopeless is okay.
There’s a reason that constant 100% Positive Thinking doesn’t come naturally to us humans. It creates conflict by its own insisting existence. Life is not all good. Alongside all the jolly fun in the sun custard cream stuff, each of us is constructed with differing amounts of anxiety, fear, dark moods and depressive tendencies.
How self-aware can you be if you seek to ignore who you are, by refusing to acknowledge several vital facets of your own make up? How mindful is it possible to be if you deny what is an intrinsic part of you?
Surely, if we’re going fulfil our potential as sentient human beings, it’s best to know what we’re made of and accept it. We need to stop trying to cure ourselves of simply being ourselves.

Monday 17 June 2013

Has this Londoner finally become a culchie?

Last Friday evening I rolled down the blinds in my living room to block out the blazing sunshine, so that I could watch the Ireland game. Not the slightest trace of guilt ran through me, even though I could have joined the Snapper, who was sitting outside, drinking a glass of wine and revelling in the beauty of a Summer’s evening in the West of Ireland.

To be fair to myself, I’d spent many hours working and walking outside during that beautiful spell of weather, and know my own signs of having had enough: a slight sting from the skin on my forehead when it meets the salt in a bead of sweat and it’s time to seek shade.

No offence to your boys in green, but as a lover of football it’s unusual for me to either look forward to or subsequently enjoy watching Ireland play, yet for some inexplicable reason I’ve watched pretty much every game they’ve played in the last 21 years. Mind you, I’d have to be a cynical bore not to have loved being crammed into Keoghs pub in Ballyconneely, like a nut in a bag of beery muesli, experiencing the beating of Italy in Giants Stadium back in 1994. When Ray Houghton’s goal went in, the pub and nation went mental as one, creating a truly memorable sporting thrill in my happy pantheon.

While I cheer for your lads, I’m loyal to my own. If England are playing and on tele at the same time as an Ireland game, my loyalty is to your auld enemy. Sadly, my love of football is rarely sated significantly more by my lads in white than your own.

Almost as soon as last week’s game started, my brain switched off. The Faroe Islands players made it abundantly clear that they had no desire to score a goal. In their minds victory existed within the parameters of how great or feeble might be their defeat. The game was going to be a non-competitive bore. 

To pass the time I sent a few texts to some of my Irish friends who I imagined must be watching, but no: Dalooney was playing on Inishturk, the Quinnster was having a barbeque and quite rightly, everyone else was out, living their lives, enjoying the wondrous evening that was in it, as you are wont to say.

So why was I feeling a loyalty to the Ireland team that so many of my Irish friends didn’t?Indeed, why was I repeating a pattern of behaviour that once brought me much pain when I lived in north Mayo?

Back then, on another baking hot Summer’s evening, I sat alone in the empty McHale’s pub, watching the crushing bore that was Ireland v Andorra, as surprised then as I was last week to discover that the Irish celebrate being Irish by being outside when the sun shines  in Ireland.

Months after, when Ireland met the mighty Spain in the World Cup itself, I drove to the pub excited with anticipation. This was why I’d watched all those qualifiers. Today was the stuff of footballing dreams. The pub was packed to the gills, and as I walked in a hulking great eedjit at the bar  - a Hoops fan with more cider than cerebellum - raised his arm, pointed his finger at me and bellowed as a clap of thunder

“No! You! Fuck off!”

Even though there were a plethora of friendly faces around the bar, the thug had disarmed me. Never mind the fact that I’d watched every game his national team had played, while he’d been out bush drinking or picking his teeth with his toenails, I was defeated by the first blow. 

I just couldn’t be bothered. Miserable and wretched, I went home to watch the game on my own.

Sometimes I feel so English here in the West of Ireland, yet nowadays when I go back to London, I feel far from home. A couple of weeks ago myself and the Snapper went over for my lovely sister’s 60th birthday lunch. Giving consideration to our funds and work timetables, we figured out that the best way to do it was to spend the night before at an hotel near Shannon airport, catch the early morning flight to Heathrow and the evening flight back. We’d be home by midnight and could take the next day off to recover. We even joked that we were flying to London for lunch. Dwaaaahhling, look at us and our jet set ways!

I was so pleased to be there. We had a fantastic time among my small family and sister’s close friends, but the otherworldliness of the setting blew me away. In the heart of the plush gardens of Holland Park, the restaurant appeared to me exceptionally grand and splendid, whereas to those who lived in London it was just another nice place to go. 

At times, even though I was in the city of my birth, the place seemed somehow alien and utterly remarkable. I was less impressed that Marco Pierre White was the executive chef than I was with the old building’s sweeping arches, huge ceilings and gigantic artworks. Apparently the place had been a huge hit in the Swinging Sixties, and I could just imagine Marianne passing a joint to Keef while John and Paul tripped the acid fantastic right 
where we were sitting.

“So when are you flying back, Charlie?” asked one of my sister’s friends.
“Oh we’re going back tonight! We just flew over for lunch actually!” I replied, laughing along with the Snapper at the very idea of it.

But the Londoner just nodded and smiled, because to him there was nothing unusual about such behaviour.
It struck me then and occurred to me once more during that Ireland game that I have become neither more Irish nor less English after 21 years of living here, but the Londoner I once was has become more of a yokel. 

Or should that read ‘culchie’?

Monday 10 June 2013

Droplets of bigotry turn into rivers of blood!

In my mind I see a vast flood delta being fed by streams and rivers, small and vast, flowing thick with blood, bullets and bombs, propelled by bigotry and bile.

The vision first appeared in my brainbox whilst watching a Sky News report about Michael Adebolajo, the suspected killer of the British soldier Lee Rigby. My eyes dropped to the news banner running along bottom of the screen, which declared that 50 people had been killed in a wave of car bombings in Baghdad.

Each family will mourn their dead with equal love and loss, but sadly each death will be exploited by others to speed the flow of the river.

There’s enough hate around at the moment to fill an ocean. The dangerous idiots at the English Defence League (EDL) have taken Rigby’s murder and turned it into a pogrom, attacking mosques in England in a bid to incite civil war.

English society usually enjoys an innate acceptance of differences, but bigotry buds are collectively buzzing at the moment, because bank balances are empty.

In Greece the Troika’s austerity programme has spawned xenophobic hatred in the shape of the fascist Golden Dawn party, while here in Ireland reaction is tempered by the same conservatism entrenched in the minds of Middle England, which dictates that when things go wrong, you blame your societal fringes.

Blaming foreigners comes quickly and easy to the English and the Irish. Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) performed incredibly well at recent local elections, because UKIP say exactly what small-minded people think but dare not speak out loud.

Standing outside a pub with a pint in one hand, a ciggie in the other, Farage talks engagingly and clearly about how he has nothing against them personally, there’s just too many people on one small island, and it’s only fair that English society prioritises jobs for the English, because you have to look after your own first.

It’s a horribly tortuous river that flows from Farage’s pint to the destruction of Fallujah, onwards to Helmand Province and the murder of Lee Rigby, but the painful truth is that war will come home. You simply cannot wage war in foreign countries and expect no reprisal in your own. I learned that as a teenager, when the IRA brought their bombs to my London school route.

When hatred flows, common sense and perspective disappear. Violent young things with more balls than brains go out and sign up to the EDL, so they can burn mosques, because the flow of their ignorant hatred tells them that Muslims have it coming, because they killed that solider on the streets of London.

Meanwhile, the self-styled ‘silent majority’ who live behind the privet-hedges of Middle England have their darkest suspicions and deepest-felt grudges legitimised by UKIP’s electoral success.

Rivers of bigotry flowing in all directions.

Here in Ireland I see friends posting on Facebook how the act of one Muslim doesn’t mean that Islam as a whole is bad. I write and then delete a comment asking why that simple truth escapes them each time they post articles about Israeli actions against Palestinians?

Do they really think that the opinions of a crazed West Bank settler or the military actions of Bibi Netanyahu truly represent the wishes of the entire Israeli population? Just like the rest of us, my friends are being selective in the application of their truths.

If they are humane enough to care about the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, then they can at least imagine what it might be like to live surrounded by countries sworn to your destruction.

This reflexive anti-Israeli movement in Ireland appears to care only for the Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank. Maybe it's more important to hate Israel than it is to support the Palestinian people as a whole, because nobody here seems to care about the poor Palestinians coming under fire from all sides in Syria.

I say ‘all’ sides, because nobody's exactly sure of what constitutes the Free Syrian Army. Even the BBC have reverted to calling them ‘Rebels.’

Tragically the Palestinians are only one of many Middle-Eastern populations being bombarded by hate. As Assad tried to unite his severed country by inciting hatred against Israel, the Druzes in the Golan Heights are stockpiling food and water, preparing to be flooded by war. The Kurds have the most hopeless of homelands, crossing so many lines drawn in the sand by old European overlords their dreams of independence appear impossible. All of a sudden the safe haven that Syrian refugees once found in Turkey exists no more, as the people of Turkey are at last fighting back against entrenched government corruption.

Fresh blood bringing new death flowing down our rivers of hatred. From the tragic spew of a drummer’s blood on a London pavement we arrive finally at the delta of this putrid river.

Just before it empties into the ocean of all-out international war, our swollen blood river splits in two.
One branch is the Iranian river, armed with support for Syria’s President Assad and the regime it has supported for decades. Flowing downstream here, alongside Assad, come Hezbollah, funded and armed by Iran, fighting the Free Syrian Army alongside Assad’s forces. Far away, the source of this river hides in a vast range of dark Russian mountains.

Gushing along in the other river branch flows the blood of the rebels that fight Assad and Hezbollah, covertly supported by Israel, the USA, and those bloodthirsty countries of the EU who just can’t wait to get involved in another war, even though they have no idea who they might be arming.
The two rivers meet and flood the delta with a messy tragedy of hate, where NATO can back the rebels as an excuse to wage war with Iran.

It might seem a long way from your well-intentioned post on Facebook to Armageddon, but from such misplaced droplets, fearsome rivers of destruction flow.

Monday 3 June 2013

Please prove me wrong once again, Jose!

You might think that after winning 11 trophies in the 10 years since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea FC I’d be a happy fan.
There are football teams all over the world who play each week with passion and fury in their quest for glory, who never win anything.
Since 2003, we have won (yes I use that pronoun, because in a primal, personal and faintly pathetic way, I am Chelsea and they are me) 3 Premierships, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, the Champions League and the Europa League. 
Enough silverware to sate the dreams of any football fan; any, except this Chelsea fan. Yes of course I’m happy, but I’m frustrated too. You see, within those 10 years Roman Abramovich has hired and fired 9 managers, and here’s where my madness lies.
Being a lifetime follower of English football I - along with most other Chelsea fans - like to think I know more about what works in the Premiership than the owner of the club.
The Russian oligarch fell in love with the game years ago, watching Manchester United playing AC Milan, and ever since he has degenerated into a latter day Captain Ahab, desperately casting his fortune into the deep blue sea, hoping to catch that whale which he saw at Old Trafford. Never mind if the team win loads of cups and leagues, the man’s only going to be happy when we win it in style.
It’s an admirable aspiration, shared by any true Chelsea fan. Before Roman took over we were an inconsistent team capable of great performances when the players felt like it.
His first manager was Claudio ‘The Tinkerman’ Ranieri, a bespectacled Italian who, as the Snapper quite brilliantly observed, had a facial expression akin to someone who had just had his bicycle stolen.
Claudio built a great team that came 2nd only to Arsenal's ‘Invincibles’, who won the league unbeaten. Yet on a night of high dudgeon, at the very same time that the players were running their hearts out in a Champion's League semi final, Roman was meeting with Ranieri’s successor.
Needless to say we lost the match and gained a new manager, in the shape of Jose ‘The Special One’ Mourinho. When the charismatic Portugeezer announced soon after his arrival that Chelsea were going to win the league I shouted at the TV. I yelled at this handsome bigmouth to shut up, because he didn’t know what he was talking about.
He didn’t know how hard the Premier League was compared to all the other leagues in Europe. He didn’t understand that in the English game, a mid-table clash of no apparent consequence between, say, Swansea and Fulham, would be played with pride, sweat and not a little skill, in front of a packed crowd who really cared about the result.
But I was wrong. We won the league and the next one the following year, and now that Mourinho seems to be coming back to Stamford Bridge, I want him to prove me wrong once more. Chelsea fans are almost universally elated at the prospect of his return, yet I cannot help but feel some caution.
The night Roman fell in love with football, Andriy Shevchenko played a blinder, yet by the time the owner bought him for Chelsea years later, the player was a spent force. Oligarchs are notorious for lacking insecurity, so unperturbed, he dragged Chelsea through Ambramovich’s Antique Roadshow, buying old stars at inflated prices, while serially pissing off managers by insisting that his jewels were placed in the crown of the team.
Jose’s a great manager, but I want him to prove that he’s not also past his best. He didn’t exactly have a glorious time at Real Madrid and while I’d never question his tactical ability, I do wonder at his hunger. 
The prospect of returning to a place where the fans already adore you, picking up a massive paycheck on the way, can’t fail to look attractive.
Prove my doubts wrong, Jose. I don’t mind being wrong, if it means we’re playing lovely football. I don’t even mind if we don’t win trophies, as long as we play beautiful football.
Mind you, as I write I’m not even sure Mourinho’s coming to Chelsea. Such is the capricious and self-destructive nature of my chosen football club, we might end up signing Popeye the Sailor Man as our new manager.
In fact Popeye would fit right in. Chelsea is a club that has consistently been laden full of characters, and throughout Abramovich’s reign it has been simple to award each manager a moniker. After The Tinkerman and The Special One, we had Avram ‘Eeeyore’ Grant; Luiz ‘Garfield’ Scolari; Guus ‘The Potato’ Hiddink; Carlo ‘The Eyebrow’ Ancelotti; Andre ‘Bish-Bosh’ Villas-Boas; Roberto ‘The Hood’ Di Matteo; Rafael ‘Spanish Waiter’ Benitez and now, who knows? Another Special One or a spinach-eating sailor? To be honest, I don’t care, as long as our Ahab lets him sail the ship for at least three years.
Yet once again I’m wrong. This frustrated pompous fan who claims to know more than the owner insists that we have to have a secure long-term manager to win things. Look at Fergie and … okay, don’t look at Wenger.
But why would Abramovich listen, after winning 11 trophies in 10 years? He could reasonably insist that his policy of hiring and firing managers works. All I can think of is the dynasty we might have become, had Abramovich not fired The Eyebrow, with whom we won the League and Cup Double, whilst playing wonderful football.
Without Alex Ferguson’s colossal presence at Manchester United, the race is more open, but thanks to Nick @chelseablog and Micheal O’Morain of Shed na Gaillimhe, I can finish by reminding Manchester United’s retired man-monolith what playing against Chelsea felt like:  
Last Defeat in the Premiership: Chelsea. 
Last defeat in FA Cup: Chelsea. 
Last defeat in League Cup: Chelsea. 
Last defeat at Old Trafford: Chelsea. 
Last defeat in Champions League … Jose Mourinho …