Monthly Archives: August 2014

The non-state-sponsored exhibitionist mind virus

I don’t know who/what I loathe more: the grandstander goons hopping about on the nation’s paint-chipped bargain patios or the government and health agencies who’ve pulled much-needed funding for life-sapping human diseases, but either way I’ve a pain in the proverbial with the ice bucket challenge (IBC). I found the ‘no make-up selfie’ frenzy aggravating enough [women reassuring other women that they still looked ‘pretty’ or ‘lovely’ without the splat while being utterly convinced of their own sincerity] but there’s something about this latest on-line delirium that marks the end of autonomy as we know it. What would’ve been considered ugly chain mail in more saner times is now a marker for cyber success and skewed social acceptance. If you don’t comply, you’re anti-charity, a spoilsport, uncompassionate, selfish, a schismatic ne’er-do-well.

ALS Association didn’t create the hare-brained fundraising idea, but now it wants to own it…

Hysteria began at the digi-site of the ALS Association in America in mid summer. It’s the foundation that supports research and care for people living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a muscle disease that’s also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease here. Once the bucket is tipped, a squealing mutton head challenges others to lob iced water on their heads via phasebook/facebook. They usually have 24-hours to take the challenge so as not to donate (though the rules are constantly warping, according to taste). Here donations have been going (mainly) to the Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association (IMNDA) though other charities have also benefited. Most people don’t get that the actual premise is anti-funding and errr could be construed as offensive? If you are nominated and don’t take up the challenge, you’re supposed to suffer a fine of €100 to the charity instead of whatever you were going to fling their way (text MND to 50300). There’s no way to monitor who pays and who doesn’t and lots of people have both partaken and refused the challenge without donating a cent.

Let’s be fair, hundreds of thousands have been raised in Ireland since July (thewintercrab government slashed funding by €90,000 to the IMNDA this year) and by today it hopes to top the €1 million mark. In America the ALS Association confirmed it raised $94.3 million since July 29, compared to just $2.7 million during the same time period last year. It has also confirmed that only 27% of donations are actually allocated to ‘research’ – senior staff earn healthy six figure sums – the vast majority of its funds go on administration, education and other expenses. Incidentally it’s worth noting that there is NO CURE for ALS. It is a ferocious disease. From the time of diagnosis, most people live only two to five years. Now ALS has filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office seeking to trademark the term “ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE” for use in charitable fundraising. If successful, it would allow the ALS Association to stop other outfits from using the phrase for their own fundraising. It’s beautiful and strange and greedy and vile, like winter crab flavoured Doritos on a rabid dog’s tongue.

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Breakdown of the ALS Foundation’s Financials

In Ireland a total of 25 disability organisations had their funding cut this year. ‘Charities providing essential services, which the State declines to offer, should not be expected to rely on viral videos to keep the roofs over their heads,’ writes columnist Colette Browne in the Irish Indo. ‘At the very least, charities that people with disabilities, and debilitating illnesses, depend on should be able to count on a guaranteed minimum income stream each year without having to bow, beg, scrape, plead and cajole. Instead, the State has outsourced its duty of care to hundreds of thousands of citizens and is 
happy for social media to pick up the bill.’

iceMeanwhile supermarkets and off-licences have run out of ice, far-flung charities are bitching about water shortages in the third world, Chen Guangbiao, one of China’s leading philanthropists, is accused of faking his IBC video and a rake of urban myth horrific deaths are doing the rounds (broken necks, large buckets falling on children, blah blah) to add a bit of mounded fear to the mix. And of course there have been dozens of dramatic IBC #fails: the Belgium man who was seriously injured after having nearly 400 gallons of water dumped on him by a fire-fighting plane – as part of a catastrophically unsuccessful ice bucket challenge. As you’d expect, there’s new mutant more dangerous challenges sluing around all the time, such as The Fire Challenge, where blockheads douse themselves with an accelerant, ignite it, put the fire out, and then post the video on-line challenging like-minded blockheads to do the same. Possibilities = incalculable = never-ending.

According to The New York Times people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between 1 June  and 13 August and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter (that figure is up to 4.48 million now). The #nomakeupselfie hashtag has only been mentioned 221,488 times on Twitter by comparison, raising £8 million for UK cancer ibccharities. Likewise #Movember received 1,658,950 mentions on Twitter – and one in every eight of these was from the UK. So the IBC could well be the most successful on-line charity campaign of all time (more info @ The Huffington Post). If you watch this you will see where the ALS ice bucket challenge startedBaseball is a clue. Red Socks fan afflicted. Boston College player. Love story. Sport. Celebrity. Inspiration. Feverishness.

Other charities are criticising and challenging the ethos behind the IBC, calling it slacktivism, something that’s basically easy to do, funny to watch, populist and narcissistically self-promoting. Viral memes shouldn’t dictate our charitable offerings (especially when driven by celebrity or gimmicks). They point out that in 2013 ALS killed 6,849 people in the U.S., and attracted $23 million for research (a ratio of $3,382 per death). Heart disease, by contrast, killed 596,577 but only raised $54 million (a paltry sum of $90 per death). That ALS research is not an especially great need in public health compared to other nasty diseases. It’s classified as a rare disease and as such, doesn’t really need a lotto-load of funding. Charities such as Macmillan [cancer] in the UK have been accused of shamelessly ‘hijacking’ the ice bucket challenge for financial gain, and there’s also enmity regarding ownership of the Twitter #icebucketchallenge hashtag! Another general criticism is that participants of the IBC seem totally disconnected from the bleak reality of the disease, with little or no comment on the work of associations helping those living with it. In their keenness to lop about playing with water, they haven’t bothered to find out.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a stupid idea – a form of moral bullying – and it’s working brilliantly. So both the pro and anti camps can get a lot of satisfaction from this PR pathogen and rest easy in the knowledge that it’ll mutate into something more substantial and hideous before Halloween. Charity, which traditionally began at home, has abandoned the counter-top buckets and tins of suburbia and is colonising our plug-in selves in typhus time. Those of us with some small trace of self governance left continue to donate sporadically and in serene silence. In the end we all get sick and die.

Football fans – give your local team some support!

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Henry McDonald takes Patrick McDonald to the match

As the Premiership kicks off today, lifelong Everton and Cliftonville supporter Henry McDonald appeals for true fans to forego the plasma-screen TV and go along to a match.

by Henry McDonald

On a freezing late-November afternoon last year, with a stinging Arctic wind whipping off Cave Hill, I uttered a blasphemy inside the old stand of Solitude stadium.

Amid fellow Cliftonville fans celebrating the Reds carving Linfield to pieces in a 3-0 drubbing, I objected to a small section of our support haranguing and ridiculing our rivals, tightly packed and frozen behind the goal to our left.

By which I meant the hordes of so-called football “fans” in Northern Ireland, whose idea of following their club is to don the colours of the Premiership’s billionaires – the likes of Chelsea or Manchester United – and head down to watch the big game on Sky, or BT Sport, in the warmth and comfort of their local.

For if there is one element of those who watch the beautiful game that I find contemptible it is those who prefer to line Rupert Murdoch’s, or BT’s, pockets every weekend of the season, while never darkening the door of any soccer stadium on either side of the Irish Sea.

Although we will all succumb to temptation and watch our preferred English and Scottish teams on the bar’s big screen some time this season, if you call yourself a true supporter you should at least once in 2014-15 (or even once in your life) walk through an actual turnstile, whether that be to see Liverpool or Lisburn Distillery.

None of the above is meant as an attack on the fans of the mega-rich clubs, like Manchester United or City, Arsenal or even our friends from across Stanley Park on Merseyside that play in a place called Anfield.

There are legions of local fans who board boats and planes every weekend, spending large amounts of cash to watch their teams in action, rather than take the easy option and stay in the local.

There are authentic fans of Manchester United, for instance, whom I have known for decades, who have made the journey over to Old Trafford, in some cases even when the Red Devils were playing in the old Second Division back in the mid-1970s.

There are also supporters of Liverpool I am, ahem, acquainted with who kept supporting the Kop side during the years of Manchester United domination. (Although among the many mysteries of Northern Ireland Premiership fan culture is where have all those Chelsea supporters been hiding all the pre-Abramovich/pre-Mourinho years?)

As a lover of the game, I particularly admire the Rangers fans who have stuck by their team even after the Ibrox side were relegated into the third tier of Scottish football and who follow, follow the ‘Gers to every small stadium at away matches every fortnight.

They remind me of the Man City supporters who stuck by their club when they were mired in the old English Third Division at a time in the 1990s when the oil riches of the Gulf sheikhs that took them over were as chimerical as a desert mirage.

But if you are looking for one exemplary supporter who epitomises the authentic fan, then take the example of Ormeau Road man Pat McGrath, one of the greatest Evertonians I have ever come across.

McGrath has been following Everton all his life, through the glory days of the 60s, the fallow periods of the 70s, the conquering of England and Europe in the 80s, the relegation-threatening 90s and far beyond.

Now based on Merseyside himself, this Belfast Evertonian has followed the club even on pre-season tours of Scandinavia and the United States, and criss-crossed the continent on Everton’s adventures in the European Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup, the Uefa Cup and, latterly, the Europa League.

Just one example among many will tell you how devoted “Paddy”, as he is affectionately known by the Everton faithful from around the world, is to the club.

About 15 years ago we were sitting in the lounge of John Lennon Airport, waiting for a delayed flight back to Belfast in the period when our club hovered just above the relegation zone. We passed the time over a few pints, following a home win that Saturday over Sunderland, musing on the away grounds we had been at to see Everton over the years.

One stadium had always intrigued me and it was one I had never been to: Molyneaux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers. On mentioning the Black Country team’s ground, Paddy recalled, “Ah, Molyneaux, yes. Boxing Day 1975. We lost 2-0.”

When I butted in, asking how the hell he got there, given the paucity of air travel from Belfast back in those dark days of the mid-70s, he regaled us with a travel-story that involved taking the boat the day before Christmas Eve and sleeping over the Christmas in Birmingham’s New Street rail station so he could get a ticket for the Wolves game on St Stephen’s Day.

There are other possibly more stranger-than-fiction, true-life stories Northern Irish Evertonians could tell about Paddy’s journeys, which together would make for a great cinematic or novelistic study in sporting devotion.

And there are other local Evertonians too who constantly fly and sail across the sea to follow the Mersey Blues, including a very close group of friends from the village of Coagh who are among the most decent, amusing and kind people you would have the pleasure of attending a football match with.

Some might object, rightly, that the rising costs of Premiership tickets, as well as the extra burden of paying for flights, boats and hotels, will deter most from putting their money where their mouths are most Saturdays, Sundays, or even Mondays.

Looking around Goodison Park sometimes, I see parents with a couple of kids beside them, all wearing the royal blue and white, and you can’t help wondering how financially crippling it must be in the age of austerity to take your family to a game; or, conversely, how much cheaper it would be to take them somewhere else to watch a live match on a giant TV screen.

Yet, if you call yourself a true follower of the game, and really can’t afford this season to support your English, or Scottish, team in whatever division they may be, then here is a challenge: at the very least, to demonstrate your love of the sport, ditch the comfort zone of the Sky screen, the central heating and the clink-clink of the pub pint glasses just this once and give your local team in the Irish League some support.

Do yourself and the clubs struggling to survive here a favour and, perhaps, even turn up a few times this season.

Meanwhile, some of us will go on enjoying the best of both worlds and escape the pressures of life outside for 90 minutes inside the two old grounds whose names alone can still lift the heart – Solitude and Goodison Park.

** This article was originally published in The Belfast Telegraph on 15th August 2014.

Berry Nide

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Adrian on hols in Amsterdam in late 1980s, before he moved to London.

Bro, you havent bothered getting in touch since you died a year ago today. In my headthe barmy idea that you still look like a slab of Edam and that I never got to say goodbye. The chipmunk breeder Alice you shacked up with in terminal time, when Duck Arse left for a pub bouncer with a metallic fourbyfour, has now lost over six stone, inspired by the story I guess. Alcohol & gluten free; shes even ditched the sloppy pillow burgers in blood sauce, the ones from your holiday pics when you told us, Bad days are in the post but for now its business as usual! Half the kids, the older ones, are fine. Edel is on her way to becoming a science buff in London even though, well cmon, we must be honest here, you expected her to be a hairdresser or something low-key but Christ has she started to fly! Saul is taller than you ever dared imagine, as if when you went skyward he did a Jack & the Beanstalk to get you back down again. At sixteen it was more than he could bear. Ive kept all your emails, eyeballing them from time to time.

Driving to France on Saturday with the kids just for a long weekend, Paddy cancelled his summer camp in York with the scouts so he could come and yer one is a complete cunt (Sorry, I just had to add that). Really looking forward to my first holiday with the kids only and staying on a campsite near Calais so a short drive will be better to contain Princess Laras immense puking skills. Saul & Edel are making their own way, old enough to travel solo would you Adam & Eve it? Booked a three bed mobile home this time so we are all a little excited! Divorce is ready to go, Duck Arse admitted in writing to adultery. How are you and your pet mice? And why 10 months off the booze?

Etch-A-Sketch of a year where I still ride the blanks and hope no one in the library notices. I set off most days with Arvo Pärts Spiegel im Spiegel playing in my head. Out past the squiggle of purposeless shops and homeless men who nudge their heads up like broken birds from splintered eggs in the basement of the church, and on to the Tolka Bridge where an orange city fox once followed me in the first draft of morning. Conversations become cataracts of sorts. Wouldnt it bite the toes right off ye? a woman said at the bus stop in October. I cant be doing with this heat! the same woman said the following summer. Only then did I realise so much time had slipped by.

Im booked in to see the oncologist at 9.30am Monday morning to discuss an action plan involving chemo and some new drugs on trial. Ill take anything thats going if it means squeezing a few more years, if possible. Remaining focused and positive. It was a hell of a shock for everyone as we were all expecting a routine operation and the surgeon was pale faced explaining to me why he could not operate. I will know more Monday afternoon. Been one mad year or what?

Aul ones on buses constantly bitching about fluoride in water, men in pubs, chemicals in clothes, joyriders in cars. Itd do your bake in. Aside from the militia of junkies in Phibsborough, idiot bankers, gym bunnies, people who tie terriers outside Tesco, absolutely nothing in Oirish suburbia changes. Theyre still slamming car doors, hauling kids to over-priced crèches. Sometimes, stupid I know, I find myself getting jealous of the ones who stayed and did it all by the smug pudgy bookbought houses with the charmed approval of grannies and aunts and far-off oil-owning uncles in Australia, purged children into the world and who now stroll through parks laughing their freshly-washed heads off, pull perfect shepherds pies out of high-gloss ovens, who know what theyre about, really about,, what they were planted here for. Little girls with springy curls, tubby-bellied boys full of, But mammy look! and Daddy look!

I think if we hadnt of gone to London, you know, if wed stayed and done it properly, rewrote the late eighties, jobs in IBM or IDA or any abbreviation of anything that would pay the way to a Semi-D and a bit of stability. But over you came and I was never stable anyway! Kipped on my couch, slept with nearly all my friends, laughed into the early hours too many nights to recall. Do you remember when a load of us went on the piss in Richmond, there wasnt enough room in the taxi, so you said, me being your little sister, I had to go in the boot!? God, yes, bombed out of my brain, roaring at the driver, Turn left now! and Turn right here! even though I couldnt see a damn thing.

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As a baba, 1966

A year later we lived in Jersey where you worked the bar and I the lounge of a rundown pub, dolling out terrible abuse to geriatric millionaires whod travelled the world ten times over but had nothing left to do except grow holes in their jumpers and get pissed all day. She was the worst barmaid ever! you told the chipmunk breeder Alice later. Its true, I was. A year after that again we shared a cockroach-infested house in Stratford in Londons east end. Your stunt as a cappuccino salesman was a dreadful failure but we had machines steaming away in every room of the house, every night was a party. When I was at uni, you ran a pub just up the road, we were never far away. Two kids with the first wife (but she had great thighs!) and later, more disastrously; it was round two and another two kids with Duck Arse and her litany of hell. Your snooker buddy Darren told me before the funeral. He told me it all, out in the back garden with a stack of San Miguel. I wanted to bash your head in for keeping it all a secret. I wanted to dig you up and kick the crap out of you for never letting me know how bad it all was.

I cant have another disaster, you told him, I cant lose my kids again.’ Water meets its own level, our ma used to say, but your women were never bobbing anywhere near your level and somehow all of it mustve dragged you down. 

I drank water before I went in. I would recommend it, Madam, top hat man said and you wouldve laughed at the whirring fan receptionist with the bovine ankles whose job it was to spray disinfectant when no one was looking. Viewing chamber the size of a High Street dressing room: yoghurt stale & browner than a bum moon.

A dance with neutrons and protons. Thats what I imagine it is for you now. Sliding up and down wallpaper. Watching us in our daily drudge. Can you see me and the other women working in the library? We all pretend to get on, but aside from readjusting each others hormones into an assemblage of demented bitching and chocolate splurging, weve bog all in common. The building is Georgian, a carved wedding cake, crafted cornicing, walls of tedious green and piercing yellow, corridors cropped in spiderweb wigs where the elderly shuffle through to read or snore or attend literary readings upstairs. Almost everyone who strolls in wears glasses and carries a spiked umbrella. Theres a small cafe in the basement that serves tea, fair-trade coffee, tray bakes and ham sandwiches made at the curvature of dawn by an old crooked cook who reeks of rotten lilies. I always meant to show you around.

In the quiet clammy armpit of early afternoon Im haunted by the grammar system we made up as kids berry nide a kind of warning system for people who might do us wrong. Hes not berry nide. But youre berry nide. No, youre nider! Youd already been through it by then. Bogeyman in a house, up mountains, on holidays. Oh he got a mass said for you afterwards, your own special mass, hows about that! Dirty hypocrite, cheddar cheese chin of a wife, curse their life! Mass to make themselves feel good, exonerated, whole. No one speaks to them anymore. Not that we can make sure-fire connections. Medicine is a long way off that kind of jump.

Thanks for your long email and words of advice. Yeah, I was happy and loyal and Duck Arse is the most horrible person Ive ever met and I care not a jot about her now. Saw her today when I dropped the kids back. Still not allowed in her tiny house whatever thats about? I just felt relief. The look on her face on Sunday was priceless when she dropped Lara & Paddy off. I told them in advance not to eat as I was cooking a Sunday roast on the phone the night before. I could hear her howling in the background, But your Dad cant cook! like, even at this juncture, she still wants to put me down. When they got dropped off Lara ran back out the front door screaming at the top of her voice: Alice is here with her chipmunks and shes cooking, not Daddy! Duck Arses chin hits the ground and she boots off like a rocket drive on Top Gear. Yet I know shell poison their heads when Im gone. The older ones will be fine, but try your best to sort the younger ones. You are welcome here any time, nice spare room with a new double bed. Ill pick you up at Stanstead and spoil you rotten while youre here!

Hubby-One-Day will be up soon, singing in the shower, shuffling after me in the kitchen, soggy, smelling of boy spray. He talks about you every time theres a football match, especially when Liverpool is playing. The hell he gave me! he says. He called me blue and white shite! Still hasnt the energy for his own divorce, but like Duck Arse, yer one is living with someone new: A, B, C, D: to the soulless it hardly matters. Hubby-One-Day makes me curtsy for him in my Victorian nightdress in the mornings, up and down the kitchen, crab sideways, around in circles, a slice of McCambridges toast in my gob. Hey, its the little things!

1916444_1859763370917318_2783708549230401987_nThe town peacocks, de geezers, your Hawaiian shirt Jägerbomb mates, the ones you told (only towards the end) what happened, they never did smash up the Bogeyman when it was over. Somehow it didnt feel like you to insist they would. That bit jarred with me. There was rumour, conjecture, but a great big nothing happened. No grand retribution. No staged revenge. Instead your friends stood in a line outside the church, over half a mile long, hands behind their backs. Ive never seen such colour, ever, even though the colour has seeped from my life since. Aero & acid blue, amber, blush and violet. A woman head-to-toe in cameo pink. Duck Arse and her gombeen family. First wife and the older kids too. All there. Who knows where Bogeyman was, but at least he wasnt invited. His vile-denial Catholic wife, a headless woman struggling to gawp out her own body, forgetting she no longer has eyes. You dont need me to tell you, especially at a time like this, but people like that, theyre not berry nide. Not nide at all. But you? There just couldnt be nider. No one in this giant shit heap of a spinning world is nider than beautiful gone you.

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This story was published in The Moth in March 2014, in memory of my brother Adrian Caldwell who died aged 47 (from cancer) in 2012.