Category Archives: Arseholes

Discussion of the Short Story with Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Mike McCormack

Sorry to have missed this interesting discussion in Smock Alley yesterday on the short story. Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s latest novel ‘Closet of Savage Mementos’ is available here: http://newisland.ie/product/the-closet-of-savage-mementos/

Susan Lanigan

Taken by Carrie King - authors discussing short story Taken by Carrie King – authors discussing short story

Today I was at a very interesting discussion led by Thomas Morris, editor at The Stinging Fly magazine, as part of the Dublin Writers Festival. It was a colloquy about the short story between two practitioners of that form, Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Mike McCormack, the latter my tutor during my MA in Writing twelve years ago (God, I feel old. Again.) I felt like a bit of a poacher-turned-gamekeeper as I haven’t written a short story in well over a year, and one of any considerable length in more than two. But it was interesting hearing what the short story had to offer and where short story writing, particularly in Ireland, might have lost its way somewhat.

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Cadaverus

A flash fiction piece I wrote is published in the Spring 2014 issue of THE STINGING FLY, a literary magazine I really love. This particular issue is guest-edited by Irish writer Nuala Ni Chonchúir and features an eclectic mix of flash fiction, short stories, poems, literary criticism and reviews. An obvious play on words with the title and the rest should be plain sailing!

cadaverous
kəˈdav(ə)rəs/
adjective
adjective: cadaverous
  1. 1.
    very pale, thin, or bony.
    “he was gaunt and cadaverous”
    synonyms: (deathly) pale, pallidwhitebloodlessashenashen-faced, ashy,chalky, chalk-white, grey, white-faced, whey-facedwaxenwaxy,corpse-like, deathlike, ghostly;

    very thin, as thin as a rake, bonyskeletalemaciated, skin-and-bones,scrawnyscraggyraw-bonedhaggardgauntdrawnpinchedhollow-cheekedhollow-eyed
    informallike death warmed up, like a bag of bones, anorexic
    datedspindle-shanked; 
    rarelividetiolatedlymphatic,exsanguinous, starveling, macilent
    “his cadaverous face”
    antonyms: rosyfloridfatplump

 

Image
by June Caldwell

There’s a fan whirring and a smell of slag intestines snaking through to where I sit waiting to see a dead body for the first time, yours, of course. And that Remains of the Day arsehole in full hat-tip regalia telling me it’s a good idea to sip some water before I go in, like I might not even recognise you, uses the word ‘Madam’ from the Co-op Funeral Book, abbreviated ‘Mme’, plural Mesdames, who happen to be walking about outside smoking at the corrugated bins, talking about cheap cuts. You’re fucking dead. Straight as a pea shoot. Let’s get that out of the way from the getgo. Barley brushes of hell tickling sky-chin of a giant torn tuna with a blood clot at the end of your nose for sucking brains through. White jelly shoes a gardener might like to stick small plants in to cheer someone up. Tumour mash scoops, mole hills, speed bumps, a face of sheer beaver. Wax hands, ten embedded wicks, historically used as a method of timekeeping and picking up flame-grilled chicken tits layered with emmental cheese and back bacon, hickory-smoked BBQ sauce, seasoned fries and buttered peas. I walk outside. The roofs of Britain are pretty much cardboard same, piss ball up in the sky shining down on an awful lot of dogs and scratched cars, those street shores small children throw cutlery into all summer. Seems pretty meaningless to me. So I suggest we go for a pint. It’s the icing bar the two neon trannies from Blackpool own, where they bring other trannies for card games, dress-up nights and tin-can karaoke. The barman eyes you up pretty mean as if you’ve stolen the celebrity supplement of the Sunday paper, though he gets ‘the look’ back from me and serves us both to avoid some sort of face-off. You say nothing, gooing all around you, Mr Magoo, as if already, only twelve hours into rock-clot, you’ve forgotten the drama of being alive, the shit-arse boredom of it, the handing out of small change and tiny snatches of courteous dialogue in places like this that always have a launderette and enormous drive-in gizmo nearby with ATMs and small bags of rip-off coal. Ah sure, where would ye be going without a bell on yer bike? Better out than in. Like. If I don’t see ye I’ll see ye when I see ye. Phone calls have been made, sure, cos the door keeps beepin’ ‘n’ creakin’, a series of nods, string-boom of ‘It can’t be him!’, followed by what I would call collective anger not felt since the skinny nurse of war years sucked off a German soldier behind a plum tree in a public park and tried to keep it quiet. ‘He’ll have to go!’ the barman says. ‘Oh yeah, really?’ I say, turning around to take them all on, one by one if needs be. ‘Out!’ he says. You were gone, I was there. I could not have hated you more.

The Lotus Eaters (Deliverance)

Pain in me love spuds. On Moore Street the aulwuns are wailin’ bananas four for €1.50! while Madikane is tryin’s to drag me ta’ Wire Corner where Ruskies in blacked up four by fours drop off bags a’brown under the gawk of a goon with binos above in the unwashed windows of the apartments over Tesco. Slug killer she said to nab to mop up fat, black slime-balls trailing across the carpet. There’s an iPhone booth stuffed with hookers’ ad-cabs offerin’ smartin’ arse cheeks for bad-boy trainin’ and a fat pleb sweepin’ up nose gravy.

Not even the dill pickler Poles providin’ brassers for horny and abandoned nugs inside Jury’s Inn, or the Somali crack-hustlers <”Meth €20 a rock!> stop off at this spot. Best ta’ get out of dis hole Madikane I tells her and keep yer whims about marryin’ a gangy for a baby, bling alive as hive any which way you want it.

Two hefty yanks in tartan shorts and puke green & yellow polo shirts butt in. “Excuse me sir, where’s the spire, the O’Connell Street spire?” squashed nose asks. Scuzze me, scuzze me, are ya’ blind or wha? roars Midikane with her anti-Gathering gobbin’ and her pointing backwards. Doin’ me bit for da country I jump in: Ya see that giant needle stickin’ straight up God’s jacksey, right there..that’s it! Oh my, yankee doodle says. Oh my.

Before Madikane has de tramp’s claw out for da price of a cup a tay me head jerks and turns to a horsebox of knocked up wimmin outside da Rotunda; balloon-bellied in frog pyjamas puffin’ away while scangie-gangies in Adidas play rocks, scissors, paper guns with each other. Air bullets in the atmos. Gulls plop their spunky payloads on the pavement, King Leers smirk from taxis and bus stops, kids squashing their kidneys in railings, drills and beeps and howling, cranking umbrellas open on the dozen.

slugThere‘s no slugs I says to her dat morning. Eyes on me like it’s ten seconds to go on the X-Factor final. Hoppy hoppy. Curse ders bleedin’slugs I ain’t no thick mo-fo she says. I says it’s the garden. You’re not used to having a garden and the shed going in is after freakin’ ye right out. I can ask the landlord to get rid if you’ll only calm down a minute. It’s not the fucking shed I’m not mad she says I’m skiing on the fucking things. Ders something wrong with you not clocking dem! Slugs on her legs. In bed. On saucers. Inside the hotpress. They’re even in the high gloss kitchen she says. Wot? Your head is blowin’ since ditching de skank with my noggin’ taking a right rumble on top, not easy doing it like this, I says, maybe we were better off back then in de squat with half-o-nothing. It’s not my fault you’re blind as a crow, she says. I never knew crows were blind, but I’ll take your word for it I says. Off I go.

There’s a church in Parnell owned by the prods. Black calp, dark in rain, murky baked banana cake. Backwards after midnight under full moon, devil’s yours. Not the kind of gizmo for a priest with a beard and guitar singing Stairway to Heaven to make the likes of me feel all furry. I don’t bash grannies no more, dat’s gone. Clean as a spleen five dom2hundred and thirty three days, going backwards, learning about computers and plants, painting walls and budgeting. I go there to pray, ye can laugh yer nebs off but it’s been happening sure as shit, and him talking back sayin’ he knows I’m taking some gamble, appreciates what I’m going through ‘n all, but I gorra shun the bad road ahead, narrow, strewn with thorns; dem people who walk along it, spine tears and all kinds of suffering befalling, big cunting wheelie-bin of vile words, curses and blasphemies, each eye ball looking on to another of the eyeballs, twice the size of earth, gummy as honey, seeing on to nowhere. You don’t want to be doing that son. No way hozzay, I says, no way Mr Righteous, Top Man, you know more than most, took the bullet for us. Well keep coming back here to pray then he says.

It’s hot as snot in here. She’s never in the mood and me forever on the soft. So I took the Moore Street card into the church, Deirdre the Dominatrix. Wonderful Corporal Punishment. Tie & Tease. Guaranteed Happy Ending. Sitting on red sofa red tartan slippers red PVC red sky. Has Peter been a naughtie boy? Well, yeah, I suppose. Suppose is not enough she says. Suppose is for morons. Has Peter been a naughtie boy? Yeah, a dreadful boy, totally banging I says. And then him hanging there kinda implying I’d take the lad out and sorta sayin’ I’d be cottoned onto, with the caretaker coming in, his big lumpy head, asking what I was doing. Me putting the lad in an envelope on my lap, one of those church offering envelopes with a flower stuck on it. Well give it ‘ere then he’d say, me scarpering, wood and musk laughing, candles burning, God’s pantyhose worn by a thousand shitarse clerics, all them fuckers gooing. He’s only gone and wrecked me buzz, and there was me hiding from da’ slugs in me head by playing fingermouse down the crotch, thinkin’ of Deirdre-the-Dom swaggerin around the pulpit, all proddy-proud and in full control. The lad’s no longer at half mast, flyin’ the flag now, upright and uprooted, on the road back to Phibsborough.

I get back and she says, dead casual, have ye got the bleedin’ slug killer? I left it in the church I says. You’re a stupid bollox she says. I know, I says, but I’m learning.

Ireland’s dirty washing

Magdalen-asylum

Pic from liberapedia.wikia.com

We knew about it, heard about it, sensed it, listened to the battenburg gossip as kids in shit brown velvet dining rooms: wayward girls, missing aunts, those forever gone to a ‘London’ somewhere, women who went off ‘nursing’, ones who were ‘a bit touched’, wanton, promiscuous (“there’s a want in her”), the ones who returned comfortably dumb, “not all there”, the bastard smug carbo nuns, angry priests, grey institutions that cost a bob or two, we knew because it was roared red on church podiums what would happen those who tempted men in raincoats, hapless lads, civil servants, men with prospects, farmer’s sons, those who pissed in lane-ways, felt your arse at bus stops, spat in betting shops, bent over shop counters at pre-pubescent bumps, pulled skirts up at weddings or taught in schools but liked a yarn or two with girls after 4pm, the ones who dropped the hand, made a squeeze, chased on lawns, tapped a window or two, unzipped, insisted, grabbed, cajoled, raped, spunked and ran off besides. Women were to blame, no matter, and sure God on earth is in a dress just to keep an eye. Shock. Horror. No official apology. Misogynistic Ireland…Quelle Surprise.

It is possible that a lack of modern awareness of these Acts may have contributed to confusion or a mistaken sense that the Magdalen Laundries were unregulated or that State referrals of girls and women to the Laundries occurred in all cases without any legal basis.

Government memo from 1942 seeks advice on dealing with ‘immoral’ girls, from TheJournal.ie

Government memo from 1942 seeks advice on dealing with ‘immoral’ girls, from TheJournal.ie

  • The first Magdalene asylum was established in Ireland in 1767 by a Protestant benefactor as a home for ‘penitent prostitutes.
  • The first Catholic home was founded in Cork in 1809.
  • Penitents were required to work, primarily in laundries, since the facilities were self-supporting and were not funded by either the State or the Religious denominations.
  • A newly published report estimates that 10,000 women and girls were incarcerated in Magdalene laundries since 1922 with more than a quarter of referrals made or facilitated by the State, but other estimates are saying 30,000.
  • Irish laundries were run by the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of our Lady of Charity of Refuge, and the Good Shepherd Sisters in Waterford, New Ross, two in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and four in Dublin at Dún Laoghaire, Donnybrook, Drumcondra and Seán MacDermott Street.
  • The report states that the women were sent to the laundries via: referrals by courts, mostly for minor or petty offences; by social services; from industrial and reformatory schools; rejection by foster parents; girls orphaned or in abusive homes; women with mental or physical disabilities; poor and homeless women and girls placed by their families for reasons including socio-moral attitudes.
  • Referrals were made or facilitated by the State made up 26.5 per cent (2,124) of the 8,025 cases for which reasons are known (as reported in The Irish Times).
  • Almost 8 per cent were referred from industrial schools, another almost 7 per cent from health and social services and almost 4 per cent from mother and baby homes. Some women were referred to laundries by the health and social services because it was cheaper than State-run facilities.
  • Average/Median age at time of entry 23.8 years/ 20 years, age of youngest known entrant: 9, age of oldest known entrant: 89.
  • 26% of the women who entered the laundries were referred there by the state. The authorities also inspected the laundries, funded them, and registered the departures and deaths of the women there.
  • The state gave lucrative laundry contracts to these institutions, without complying with fair wage clauses and in the absence of any compliance with social insurance obligations.
  • Routes of exit included women who “left” or “left at own request” (23%), who returned home or were reclaimed by their families (22.2%), who transferred to another Magdalen Laundry (10.3%), who left for employment (7.1%) and who were dismissed or “sent away” (7.1%). An additional 1.9% were recorded as having run away, while others are recorded as departing for homeless shelters, hostels or other places.

Two of the victim’s stories from The Guardian yesterday:

Maureen Sullivan was first sent to the Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry in New Ross, County Wexford, in 1964. Two years later she was moved to Athy and finally to Dublin. She left in 1969.

“I was 12 years of age and my father had died, my mother had remarried and my home situation was abusive.

“They told me I would have a great education and I went off to New Ross from my primary school, actually in a laundry van. When I arrived there they took my books from me that my mother had bought. That was the last I saw of them; that was the last time I had a decent education. From then on it was laundry every day, where it was horrible, where you were not allowed to talk to anyone. All it was there in the laundry was work, work, work.

“There was physical abuse where they would dig you in the side with a thick cross off the rosary beads, where you got a thump on the side of the head and where there would be constant putting you down, shouting, verbal abuse. You got the cross in the side of the ribs if you slowed down on your way around the laundry.

“[The nuns] ate very well while we were on dripping, tea, bread. I remember another torture – one when we were all hungry – we could smell the likes of roast beef and cooked chicken wafting from where the nuns were eating. That was like another insult.”

“I had no education, no means of applying for a job and for several years I was on the streets. It wasn’t until I tried to take my own life in the 70s that I went for counselling and then it all came back, all the abuse and exploitation I had suffered in those places.”

Mari Steed is a second-generation victim of the Magdalene Laundry system. Her mother, Josie, was transferred from an orphanage to Sundays Well laundry, Co. Cork, when she was 14. She was there from 1947-57. Mari became a third-time victim of the system because she, too, eventually gave up her daughter to a Catholic charity in the US in 1978.

“She lost me to adoption after spending the first two decades or more of her life in these institutions. So when she was released into the world she was vulnerable and susceptible to any man that paid her attention. She was in her mind 10 years old rather than a mature woman. And as fair prey, she found herself pregnant and then got sent down to a home for single mothers and was forced to give me up.

“It was a generational chain reaction and … a cycle we see often in the Magdalene woman. The vicious cycle tends to continue.

“It was slightly less miserable than what my mother experienced, but it was still pretty bad with a lot of stigma, a lot of shame. This was the chain reaction going on.

“I tracked my mother down in the early 1990s and she was open at long last to talk. She had had no other children because she feared having any more. She told me right out: “Mari, I was just so afraid that if the nuns didn’t take another baby then God would.’ So out of fear she and her husband decided not to have any more children.”

Pro-life propintoiletganda

prolife2
prolife1I’m not going to say very much about these *vile* posters that were on the inside of the toilet door in my local pub in Glasnevin, except to say they are utterly bizarre. Fetal arm that looks a tad photoshopped (reaching up for a latte in Cafe Sol or even the plastic property of a Sindy doll), the kooky ‘fridge magnet’ lettering, and perhaps most disturbingly, the text of the main poster which intimates if baby-in-the-making is saved from hideous pointless abortion, s/he will play for Ireland one day! Really! What does it say about the notion of ‘traditional values’ according to the pro-life sect? Will it be cuddly-toy anti-abortion embryo key-rings in branches of Carroll’s Gifts and Souvenirs next to remind us what is and isn’t fundamentally Irish?

So, I’m sitting there pissing some Guinness & Jägerbombs into the bog of this traditional conservative Fine Gael type bacon/carvery kip. Having been recently impregnated by a Denny-eating GAA red-pubed boyo, I’m pondering a quickie Nilfisking or what the pro-lifers are now calling a ‘social abortion’. Obviously I’m a selfish whore and don’t want the hassle of having a kid, what other explanation is there? I see this poster and start re-imagining the future. Tadhg in some Éire Óg prefab jobby on the outskirts of a sprawling housing estate training five times a week or perhaps it’s even Caoimhe (with her gentle graceful beauty, yet mysteriously able to knock the living shite out of any Buachaill on the field) and the day arrives for the All Ireland Final, when the joblot of worry and ire pays off. My precious non-aborted torso scoring a magic game-clinching goal, zoomed around the world by Setanta Sports (available on multiple platforms including Foxtel and Austar). Everything in the Universe making sudden peculiar sense, a cosmic arrow right out of God-licking supernovae. How lucky was that stray Christmas night in 2012 when I paid close attention to the poster on the toilet door! Proud father now spilling his giant bag of limited-edition Tayto all over the stands. He’ll be looking for a celebratory ride [no doubt] when we get home. It’s 2032 and still no male pill on the market and Ireland the only Catholic country in the world without female bishops or gender equality in the workplace or even in the government, where sentences for rape and sexual abuse are on a par with stolen designer jeans. But sure where else would ye be living and what kind of roguish craic would you be having and isn’t it grand altogether we did away with that silly notion of the individual a long time ago? Begorrah!

Strange times; sharp sickle peaks

Three months since my brother died, laid out in his naff crocs & Hawaiian shirt, coffin stuffed with kid’s presents in a flat-pack funeral shed whiffing of piss, ulcers, Airwick and necrotic tissue. Since then there’s been a number of misadventures: his mate was found dead in the Orwell river a month later, an early morning gynae plunge from a doctor in Cathal Brugha Street after bleeding for a month (stress, it turns out), low-blood pressure blackout in the Botanics, an easily forgotten triptych, frenzied attack from a phlegminist with duck eyes, drink binges with a purple cauliflower and an unpleasant encounter with an S&M coked-up oily intellectual I mistook for a friend. All of it: a dance with neutrons and protons. The kind of weird shit ghosts probably do with each other. Grief is not what I imagined it would be. Some mornings I wake up kicking like a frog.

Days when I cannot slink out of bed at all. Ceiling seals me in and I crave the very thing that’s set to ruin me. Lanky spiders dangle as doom so often does, perilously, timidly, lowering and hiring like arcade claws.

I didn’t see my brother for months on end as he lived in the UK but I always went over for New Year, booking a flight around now. This year it’ll be early-February for a fund-raiser to pay for his headstone. Everything and everyone in the ever meantime is getting on my tits. Junkies sucking jam at the ATM, flat cap aulfellas snailing on crutches smelling of tobacco and cabbage, gym bunnies, crusties who tie terriers to the trolley train outside Tesco, colleagues talking incessantly, cultural crusaders who turn up to events blah-blahing for litre dollops of free wine, nosy neighbour frog-sprawling the compost bin to scavenge for news, backpedal/backtrack/capsize, geriatrics sky-diving into scones in the cafe. Isn’t it well for them, long life!? Remembering how shit and old and thin and tumoured my bro looked, dead in his 40s, neat little blood clot at the end of his nose where they’d drained him. “Madam, would you like a glass of water before you go in?”. Will I ever forget that day, limping into the cheap shit-arse industry job-lot of death, intestinal stench, tiny lobby where the receptionist filed her nails, fan buzzing on the desk, being led through a door to a pencil-case line of collapsible booths – one open at a time – other refrigerated bodies waiting for family members to park-up. Back home in Ireland, the witch in the off-licence around the corner counting the bottles of wine & winking, headless woman struggling to goo out her own body, forgetting she no longer has eyes.

I walk 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, calling me a slut.

My head has been [and is] a tin of mushy peas. As of this week I’ve told friends to piss off till mid-2013 and have dived back into the novel. It’s about junkies squatting above an abandoned bank in D.7 who get mixed up with the Russian mafia. There’s a rake of Band-Aid fleeting characters; Beamer the old tramp with no veins. Hasslebat, his ginger eyebrows lighting up hot worms in a snow of forehead. Widearse Wendy: ‘Scuzzz me scuzzzz me scuwizzzzmeee. Do you want me to be like you? Is that it, do you want me to be like fuukin’ you?’ There’s end-of-rope junkies all over the city and everyone’s ignoring it in literature. Writers are still concentrating on haybarns, finches, the country-girl’s lightening exit to London, angry farmers and the phasing out of EU quotas, lonely men sitting on Calor Gas barrels in winter! That’s the global impression of Ireland in books.  There are amazing Irish writers like Kevin Barry who are beautifully pissing about with form, with language, Mike McCormack’s dazzlingly strange short stories, Mary Costello’s quiet collection of small agonies. Few are writing about Shit City with the exception of maybe naff detective novels. I grew up in the city so I feel compelled to write about it. I was a Mod at 14, roaming the streets when the first heroin users were struck down with AIDS, that sliver of time when girls were still sent to laundries but the morning after pill was just available if you knew where to go. This novel is about Gonzo & Carol and their Jack Russell, Phib, a story of second-generation drug use, turgid love, the grisly struggle to survive. It’s grim, hairy, stupid, and it’ll be told from three different points of view. I’ve no idea if it’ll work but am determined as hell to give it a good go. Here’s a [wee taster!] on how they got together, part of the back story late in Chapter One:

The city tipped down in a duck beak towards the Garden of Remembrance, rain scattering Swarovski beads on the path as he plonked along. He thought of Carol’s fresh face at 18. Cement angels leaned chin forward from Georgian chimneys. Dogs of light barked down. ‘I’m out of me bleedin’ nugget!’ he said, out loud, pissing himself. Pains fostered out elsewhere, he felt boundless, happy. Met her roight here with a gang of inner-city boys from de flats around Dominic Street, drinking cans and dancing to U2 songs on a ghetto-blaster sometime in the middle of 1994. She’d weight on her then, chubby sweet smile, horse-tail of hair whooshing from end to end in de sunbeams. They kissed for an hour without stopping: wet balmy tongue slosh he’d never done with any other bird. Sometimes he still felt guilty, but Leather Joe said, ‘There’s no stopping some, and ye never forced her to take it.’ The counsellor from NewPaths also explained that ‘damaged people have a knack of stumbling on one another no matter what, in the way that water always seems to meet its own level.’ It made sense that first time they tried to get off it together. Both their dads were alcos and bashed them. Both their Ma’s couldn’t see anything wrong with their Da’s, and bashed them. Few weeks later, they fumbled and gorged and slopped into one another under the flat-leaf bushes in the Gardens. ‘What ye doin’ to me boy, wot ye bleedin’ doin’ to me!?’ Lads circling the railings, clutching chimps, uuumphin’ them on. ‘Slapper! Do her one!’ Afterwards they said Gonzo was a right grunter, like those fuckin’ mating seals on RTÉ. ‘It’s you and me babe, no-one else babe, you’ll do me babe.’

How to punch your child comfortably

Sitting in Abrakebabra last week – waiting my turn on an internet terminal in the loudest library in Ireland – I witnessed the most extraordinary event that heaves human life back to the Neanderthals. A young mother insisting her [3-yr-old?] son hit himself repeatedly in the face, for the amusement of her friend, who’d joined them for some high-fat food and low-content conversation. “Go on, show Mary!” she roared, while scoffing a burger. The kid started whacking himself on his left cheek, but kept his eyes peeled on the adults, who were shaking with laughter, slapping their hands on the formica and ‘whooping’ American baskteball-style. The more they shook, the more he battered himself on the chops. Soon his left side was sore, so he moved to the right. Whack, whack, whack. This was just the funniest thing, a tiny person beating himself up. As gut-busting as seeing puppies jumping up in the air for biccies or kittens swinging on sitting-room curtains Tarzan on the vine, except better, because as the mummy mid-way declared: “It saves me from having to bash him!” A lone man shoving onion rings in his gob looked on from the next table, two taxi men smoking outside looked around for a moment to clock what was happening, but seemed uninterested…the Chinese guy behind the counter saw what the boy was doing, but soon got back to grilling slabs of red pepper and stabbing the rotating kebab cow to see if it was cooked. No-one it seemed, cared, and who was I to run on over and start mouthing? Me, years older and with no sprogs of my own, onlooker, not a social worker, cop, counsellor, vile Jeremy Kyle or even just a concerned citizen. Instead, a hapless neurotic with chin on the table not quite fathoming what was going on. By this time the child’s face was red raw and he was clearly in pain, but this is how he’d learnt to get attention, to get his mother’s approval, her grotesque excuse for love, so was bound and determined to carry on smashing himself, to an orchestra of cackle.

Ten years later, when he’s kicking the brown out of other kids & robbing branded goods to order, 15 years later: sticking needles in his arm and drinking himself into oblivion or 18 years on (acting out his own scenario, just to get rid of it as Alice Miller says), knocking his bird around or breaking bones elsewhere – because it is that achingly clichéd – his mother will holler that she did her very best and can’t understand why her son chose the route in life he did. She’ll likely declare herself a victim and attest to anyone who’ll listen that he’s a good lad, with a huge heart, but got in with the wrong crowd. Anyway she didn’t have a good childhood herself. School of hard knocks, blah blah. I couldn’t say or do a thing, just stared in utter disbelief. Maybe ten or twenty years ago, when people roared out castigations on buses and squalled at this kind of thing in the street, the odds were relatively low for getting stabbed in the face for interfering. Or maybe it’s just easy for me to think that. Shame on the likes of comfortable commentating modern-day me for doing nothing. What must this kid go through behind closed doors and what will he continue to go through for the remainder of his kiddiehood, however short that’s destined to last? Two days later, a similar scene in the local social welfare office, a young boy around eight years old or so, trying to wriggle free from his mother’s lap to go and stand with his father, was slapped so boxing-ring hard in the face, words simply stopped flowing. Stunned, silenced and overpowered, exactly like you see in Barnardo’s ads. “You just wouldn’t shut the fuck up!” his mother roared, by way of explanation for what she’d just done, comfortably, in front of everyone. This time I managed a: “For fuck’s sake!” out loud, looking straight at her. A tad braver in the queue, with a gaggle of people around me. I hoped others might show signs of the same. Most ignored it. Few cared. Desk jockeys kept jockeying. One or two looked around at me and tutted, as if to say: “That’s not what you do here, you don’t butt in on other people’s business here.” I walked right out of there and kept going. In Ireland, people batter their kids in the street, and it’ll always be done with passion.

Rioting as a form of sexual gratification

© Kelvin Boynes/Press Eye

Riot addiction is a tad controversial in the six counties ‘up der’ and the syndrome tends to be denied by social workers, priests, shrinks, do-gooders, politcal counsellors and grant-guzzling NGOs. Typically, it’s a term used to describe the feral behaviour of a person who has an obsession with rioting to the point where it becomes clinically and politically significant. Addicts will usually resort to risk-taking to get their fix; often progressing to illegal activities such as throwing bricks at police, burning cars, shooting at members of the media, flinging petrol bombs, general scuzzbucket shenanigans, filmed on YouTube for added bravado & ‘craic’. Despite this release they are rarely ever satisfied. Causes of riot addiction are difficult to pinpoint. Some moccassin-clad Buddhist psychology experts, on paid government boards, point toward biochemical causes, while others cite familial conditioning or social issues such as unemployment. Either way, it’s a symbolic enactment of deeply entrenched unconscious dysfunctional relationships with self and society. Eeny Meeny Miney Mo: what housing estate did you grow up in, combines with incendiary socio-political factors. Hyperhatred of those who pander to a different religion might also be linked to prologned use of Nike tracksuits, designer-label baseball caps, large bottles of Blue WKD and headshop drugs. Just before a riot kicks off, you’re likely to hear a lot of this kind of thing: “Waddafeck ya doin yacuntye? Gis a sup of yer bucky…got any fegs? I’m gonna smesssh up de peelers, me, hate dem fuckers”.

Every year, the same senseless street carnage ensues when one idiotic group beats drums and the other idiotic group hurls random objects and abuse. Like I said this time last year, children of the ceasefire are definitively learning the bad lessons of the past. Unless someone takes an axe to the root and tells a new generation all that violence, both terrorism and street disorder, is futile and wrong, others will keep emulating it. This year’s damage will cost millions all over again but to a generation brought up to expect that the state will pay for everything, financial considerations mean nothing. The rioters won’t have to foot the bill!

pic from The Independent

The Troubles, per se, are not over at all: a big dirty unsaid fact. Even after the ceasefire paramilitary organisations on both sides fought a culture war over the legitimacy of their murder campaigns. They sought to portray them as heroic and glorious, and tried to conceal the reality of sordid vicious struggle. So, a new generation of baby blockheads, reared on folk memory, who’ve no grasp of what it was really like, how awful it actually was, think it’s legitimate to keep conflict chugging. Add to that the propensity to solve disputes, any dispute, be it political or even domestic, by violent means which is imprinted in the N.I. DNA and you have a toxic mix that can explode at any time. “Idle hands, idle minds,” a local priest in Ardoyne described the summer-fruit lawlessness last night. But mindless violence is the only way the youth of Northern Ireland can get its rocks off. In consequence, there’s no known cure for this type of riot addiction, so expect the same next year and every single year after that.

Attempt at debate between rival factions of riot addicts and their supporters usually goes something like this (pinched from an online chatroom earlier today):

  • Fuck up! Im a Catholic, and I have no problem with the orange order or the psni. Its because of bitter bastards like you, this country is in tatters. Grow the fuck up, this has nothing to do with you, so don’t get involved you silly little prick.

  • Here we go again, catholics start a riot and then try to blame it on the orange lodge. At the end of the day doesnt matter if the band didnt walk past the Ardoyne shops (dont forget Ardyone is mixed mostly catholics but still mixed) those scumbags would still riot, it happens every year and they try to blame everyone else for the riot. They mess up their own area then yap about it WHY yas done it urselves dont start riots then moan about it.

  • Why should we let loyalists parade in our area’s? Youse wouldn’t like it if we marched up the shankill during the easter parades.

  • Get a big pipe climb to the top of the watercannon and bend the cannon upwards.

  • Fuck the orange order and fuck the psni, they shouldn’t be parading in catholic areas!!

  • It’s simple, no orange parades in nationalist areas and you won’t have riots like this. What do the they not get about that?

  • Gerry Kelly is a stinking tout!!!

  • Another plastic paddy openly supporting terrorism…

  • Up the Ra!

  • The resistance lives on……….

  • Let’s face it, this shit’s never going away. Never will, it’s been implanted in our heads. The scum can riot, because it happens all too often. Obviously it’s wrong, but it’s now way too much of a traditional, and it’ll continue even when the marches stop, even when no one knows why they are doing it.

  • Do you think they might have been better prepared BECAUSE of the rioting in east belfast? Plus the police were getting attacked by both loyalists and nationalists in east belfast. You are looking for something that isn’t there.

  • It took police two days to use a water cannon in East Belfast after some of the most violent rioting in belfast for years. Why two days?? Because it was the loyalists rioting. But water cannons had already been deployed in Ardoyne two hours before the parade even passed. One law for 1 fuckin orange bastards

  • Knock the chip off your shoulder. Six policemen got hurt by the hijacked bus alone.

  • This is just ceremonial at this point. They have no viable cause cause, their just going through the motions, it’s part of the culture now.

  • Get a life kids.

  • Let’s wait till ardoyne tonight! more rioting.

  • How else are they gona get the next day off?

  • Fuk the british konts maggy thatcher can stick a didldo up her fat hole and toy herself to death the dirty bitch. protesting tomoro 😛 up the ra we will never be defeated.

  • Why don’t they just shoot the Animals they are Pure Scumbags Destroying the Ardoyne Community?

  • What you lads need to do it get something that can go over the shields, buckets of frying oil would be a good idea, burn the basterds out, or water ballons filled with petrol and cover them, then use a lit petrol bomb to ignite it. Think smart. And fuck the police.

  • fuck the orange order people wouldn’t expect the kkk to walk through harlem unopposed. orange order,kkk,nazis,facists they’re all the same white-trash inbred rednecks.

  • if the orangies wud just fuck off back to scotland but then again scotland doesn’t want them either cuz they’re fukkin trailer trash and there’s to many neds there already.

  • I bet none of you assholes have worked a day in your lives. It’s a disgrace, you should be shot by the police.

A papier-mâché of condemnation always follows though nothing is ever really achieved in time for next year:

A SENIOR PSNI officer has defended the decision not to carry out large-scale arrests of rioters at Ardoyne after the father of a woman police officer who was hospitalised when a large stone slab was dropped on her head complained of police inaction. Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland said police had identified the man who attacked the officer and would be seeking to arrest him. Rioters would be pursued, arrested and charged, he added. PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott briefed First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont yesterday on the trouble. (©Irish Times)

“It is hugely regrettable that we get to this situation each year. There are a large number of people across community groups, government and faith groups doing a huge amount to reduce the impact and change things for the better. We all need to redouble these efforts and sustain them to get a real and meaningful change for residents of these areas. That is the very least they need and deserve” – Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay (©Belfast Telegraph)

North Belfast Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds condemned the rioters. “These people have been intent on attacking the police and wreaking havoc in their own community. Such violence is senseless and has clearly nothing to do with protesting against a parade but is just futile rioting,” he said. (©Breakingnews.ie)

Alliance Party Belfast City Council member Billy Webb said the riots in Ardoyne had caused enormous damage to the local community. “Residents in the area are the ones who suffer the most with people feeling trapped in the own homes, scared to go out. Bus services are also affected in the area which the vulnerable rely upon,” he said. “This trouble is putting Northern Ireland in the headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons.” (©Breakingnews.ie)

Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Féin assembly member for the area and former IRA Old Bailey bomber, said he was concerned at the rising tension in this corner of north Belfast. “We have a situation where we have two parades at one time,” he said. While Kelly and Sinn Féin oppose the loyalist march, they have appealed for peaceful protests against the parade. He condemned those nationalist youths behind the violence but also blamed the Orange Order for failing to reach a compromise with Catholic residents along contentious parade routes. (©The Guardian)

“A peaceful marching season would be a far better value than stunts like cutting corporation tax. As far as the outside world is concerned it does not matter which side is rioting. What counts is the perception that Northern Ireland is unsafe and unstable,” said Peter Bunting, the northern secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. (©The Guardian)

Expensive foundation for some, coleslaw for others

Impossible not to comment on the Harrod’s outdated  personal grooming code in the papers this week. Melanie Stark, a former employee claimed her bosses ruled she must wear make-up to work every day and this is how she should do it: Full make-up is to be worn at all times: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy), lipstick, lip liner and gloss…maintained discreetly (please take into account the store display lighting which has a ‘washing out’ effect). In addition, ‘pearl or diamond stud’ earrings are preferred. ‘One ring per hand with exception of wedding & engagement rings…No visible tattoos, sovereigns, mismatched jewellery, scrunchies, large clips or hoop earrings’. And perhaps my favourite, footwear should be of the ‘smart black leather’ variety, but stilettos and ‘kitten heels’ are welcome on this sexist-posing-as-suavity menu.

Melanie Stark, photographed by Sarah Lee for the Guardian

“I was appalled,” Stark told The Guardian. “It was insulting. Basically, it was implying it would be an improvement. I don’t understand how they think it is OK to say that. I know what I look like with make-up. I have used it, though never at work. But I just could not see how, in this day and age, Harrods could take away my right to choose whether to wear it or not.” Last week she resigned rather than comply with the code after working at the store for five years, three of them part-time while a philosophy, religion and ethics student at King’s College London, and the last two years full-time after completing her masters. Legally speaking, it’s perfectly hunky-dory of employers to impose dress codes with different requirements for women and men provided there are “equivalent” requirements. Employers however, are supposed to be able to show ‘good business reason’.

The code for male employees, by wieldy contrast, is any manner of ‘slick, sophisticated and debonair’…Clean shaven or full beards…Sideburns no longer than mid-ear length or wider than one inch, nails manicured (which here probably just means ‘cut’). Now this got me thinking. In 1995 when I returned from London to Dublin with my BA, I joined a rather prestigious job agency that specialised in mining female graduates to large corporate gaffs with a taste for pretty receptionists and ‘intelligent’ secretaries. I was promptly told ladies who joined this agency had the best of hairstyles as well as opportunities and it’d be good thing in the Utilitarian sense if I got to grips fairly pronto with cuticle health & purloined as many fashion tips as my degree’d brain could plow. Also, in preparation for crossing the threshold of this respected Gargantua, I learnt that important busy men are easily irritated by trivial womanish chit-chat, and that perhaps a quiet confident smile would add to the male day in a much worthier way. “Some of our lucky placements were even successful in finding husbands at this establishment,” the millionairess job agency owner shrilled.

Sure enough when I got there, it was a teeming nest of pencil-skirt secretaries hopping about with lever arch files mysteriously matching nail shades, whitening smiles akimbo, year-round tans, perfume wafts snaking after men at lift shafts in that Mmmmm BISTO style of old. New secretaries like me were lickety-split told of romantic successes – ‘Tania is now with Mr XXXX who’s soon to be in charge of the Banking Division, she’ll want for nothing’ – while the remaining wifeless were clearly tagged as potential connubials. It was the start of the ensuite loo era, but just before the holiday home & €30K car crapulence, if you played your gynic cards right, you were in with a chance of grabbing a lucrative cock: metaphorically & literally. At lunch time de wimmin nibbled tiny rye crackers barely touched with low-fat ‘philly’, in their measureless crusade to stay sexy-slim. They huddled in corners jabbering about graphic package triumphs and whose was a bit substandard-lacking and why and what could be done to fix it. They drank calorie-free drinks and resisted the microwave for fear of stinking up corporate air. By contrast the men – cordoned off by fabric partition screens – sluiced and slopped on factory lots of smelly coleslaw & egg mayonnaise. They savaged hot breakfast rolls filled with squirty fried eggs and overgorged on huge slabs of Quiche and meat pastry pies, often to combustion point.

Inevitable malodours of post-carbo-binge afternoons were treated with a type of 19th Century fartlore fondness. ‘Oh Joe is a right auld divil, always blowing off after his lunch, pooouuggghhh weee, what a whiff!’ I noticed too that the men, while clean-shaven and shirt-starched to bejaysus, often wore the same suit for the entire week and sometimes for weeks on end. Some stank of bovine sweat and could not have been daily communicants of the shower hose. They didn’t care what they looked like at work because they didn’t have to: their personal worth was solely aligned to intellectual ability and women would find them attractive regardless. On Friday evenings, the secretaries laminated themselves to bar-stools in snazzy hotel bars, sipping cocktails and laughing hysterically at everything male uttered, picking bits of fluff off suit shoulders, being fabulous and interesting. There were more personality splits than the banana variety; precious minutes being snatched in-between talk of University achievements to repaint lips & eyes. I realised in the sub-celtic-tiger cubby holes of corporate Ireland, men could look & behave in any state of [dis]grace, while women were mannequins of deliciousness and delicateness. It was a culture of wank-off Vs bank-off, and while most of these women were educated to degree level (and beyond) they were treated as marriage fodder, and disappointingly, put great effort into looking and behaving that way. It seems, this was normal work culture and I better get used to it. Except I couldn’t. Pretty soon my appetite for low-level anarchy kicked in, so of course I did something momentous to cause a turpitude of horror (details another time!) for the ritzy job agency lady, who never found me work in Dublin office blocks again. My escape from corporate Ireland was steadfast and complete.

In the years since I’ve never failed to notice this same unwritten rule – that men can look like pure shite in the course of their jobs but women must be groomed, painted-gorgeous and preferably slim…it applies to broadcast media, publishing houses, governmental offices, newspapers, radio stations and other jobs I’ve bobbed in & out of. Harrodsesque politesse is very much alive and pricking away at is own subliminal pace. Is it any wonder that some employers feel it’s OK to formalise these idiotic gender expectations? Hurray for geisha! Hurrah for the office slob! Even in the most low-level hellhole it’d be noticed (& talked about readily) if a woman turned up to work wearing the same clothes all week or was habitually untidy or hygiene lacking. I’ve been in jobs where the male equivalent was seen as charming, even hilarious! Nothing quite like the tousled armpit-stinking IT hippy in a Star Wars T-shirt for cutesy factor but don’t dare turn up like this if you’re female. Moronic workplace prejudices thrive at the top end of the spectrum too. I’ve a friend who worked in a very senior role in a government department in Dublin, who only wore trouser suits to work, so as to feel & be on an equal dress footing with her male colleagues. It became a kind of after work joke with her  peers that she was somehow doing this on purpose to ‘seem more aggressive’ and unfeminine, even ‘competitive’. She felt she couldn’t win. A lot of these cultural conjectures are facilely sinister…

There are companies whose dress codes for men and women are equally ‘formal’ or even purposely casual (Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel demand staff look as ‘natural’ as possible, including very little make-up). All staff requirements are at least on an equal footing. An entire caste of dress codes is out there ranging from: ‘relaxed casual’ to ‘smart casual’, ‘professional’ and ‘formal’. Having them in place is not illegal. But asking something very different of women to men is another matter altogether. Just to be pedantic here, let’s remember that Harrods also has a ‘dress code’ for mere mortal shoppers too – prohibiting ripped jeans, high cut Bermuda or beach shorts, swim wear, athletic singlets, cycling shorts, flip flops or thong sandals, dirty or unkempt clothing…exposure of ankles or midriff – despite selling these very fashions. Since inception of this shopper’s dress code in 1989, the store has refused admittance to various people including: a soldier in uniform, a scout troop, a woman with a Mohican, a fifteen stone woman and FC Shakhtar Donetsk‘s first team for wearing tracksuits. However, to demand that make-up as uniform for female employees in the way that shirts or ties are for men, serves only to reinforce the idiotic gender stereotypes that I for one had assumed were left behind with asbestos and tinned carrots.

The Harrods Dress Code for staff seems hilariously Victorian on first reading, but I guess for someone like Melanie Stark, losing your job due to lack of bodily bedecking & garnishing is as unfunny as it gets. She may argue indirect discrimination – under the UK’s Equality Act 2010 – she’d have to show that the application of the provision, criterion or practice (PCP) put her (and other women?) at a particular disadvantage when compared with men in the same circumstances. Harrods could argue in return that it also practices a dress code for members of the public and therefore it cannot be deemed as discrimination to extend this to employees. Either way, I hope she siphons a ton of crisp notes off the sexist snobs…enough for a few decades-supply of make-up, should she ever choose to wear it.

I swear not to screw around on the Irish Constitution

Good folk of the world who want to make Éire their full-time home will soon have to swear an Oath of Fidelity to the nation. The exact nature of this newfound fealty isn’t specified in Alan Shatter’s plans, though there’s yabbering aplenty about an eventual ‘citizen test’ to see if non-natives can fit in with our indigenous way of strife. Before I laugh my knickers off or launch into a jeremiad of what it means to be truly Oirish, it’s worth noting that other EU nations do similar.

Britain insists that new citizens must adhere to its values of toleration, democracy, etc., while in Germany multiple choice questions are answered on history, language and culture. There too migrants must fulfil other conditions such as having sufficient command of the German language, no criminal record and an income independent of social welfare. In Portugal you’re requred to have sufficient knowledge of the language and ‘show the existence of an effective link with the national community’. It’s generally the same (with differing years of residency requirement) in Finland, Sweden, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, and Slovakia.

Theo: murdered in 2004

The Dutch however push this to the limit. Their citizenship test is designed to weed out fundamentalists as like it or lump it, Holland professes to have a big problem with migrants (the country has a 1,219,753 muslim population for instance, at last count earlier this year). One guy after all, born and bred in Amsterdam, murdered Dutch artist and ancestor of Vincent Van Gough, Theo Van Gough. So when foreigners apply for Dutch citizenship they have to sit through, among other things, pictures of gay men and lesbians kissing and their reaction to the same sex love is monitored. They only become Dutch citizens if they agree that gay love is acceptable.

Flash forward to the non-rebellious Dystopia of 2016, when IMF bureaucrats regularly appear in Kerrygold butter ads, apartments on Dublin’s quays are forced to sell for €55,000 if unoccupied for longer than three years, Job Agencies are replaced by Internship Houses, the HSE is bought by an American health insurance company which bans all forms of cancer from its policies, FÁS is a souvenir Facebook page and crack cocaine is dispensed free on library cards in areas where unemployment exceeds 92%. The newfangled Citizenship Test is now fully in place and today, for the first time, 498 people will sit through three papers on Irish culture, begrudgery and history, in a ‘Reduced To Sell’ embassy building on Raglan Road. When the stern looking ex National Library archivist blows the fireman’s whistle to begin, there’s a bulk sigh of relief that Question One is such a sinch:

In an Irish stew, would you use two gigot chops or three?

Gone are the lean days where applicants took an oath before a District Court judge during court business and received their certificate by post. Now would-be Irish men and could-be aulones had to make sense of all of Ireland, from the first faux republican graffitis of Dorset Street shutters to the unwashed men sucking seaweed on bar stools on bleak islands off the coast of Cork, where car insurance and television licences no longer exist. Lucky for this lot the lion’s share of the Culture Paper seems very manageable overall:

  • Name a tasty dark beverage found in most Irish pubs, fridges & security huts.
  • Under what circumstances would an elderly Irish female use the term: “He has his glue!” and/or “There’ll be wigs on the green!”
  • Which Sunday Independent journalist won an award for not talking about themselves in every single article for a period of 14 months?
  • Is it true that Irish males born with carrot red hair are forced to play hurley up to the age of consent?
  • What does ‘may the road rise with you’ mean?
  • Was Cost Plus Sofas responsible for the famous Irish economic boom?
  • Are leprechauns real? [See exam notes on ‘making up truths’. For example, if you consider merchandise available from branches of Carrolls Irish Gifts & Souvenirs to be ‘realistic’ , according to your own unique culture & customs, adjust answer to suit].
  • Are Jedward real?
  • Is Penneys the same as Primark?
  • Is the consumption of Denny sausages considered ‘the norm’ on the morning of a traditional Irish wedding? Would your average Irish bride-to-be still have her hymen intact on this day?

What a pity the two other papers on begrudgery & Irish history were so tricky by comparison. Questions such as: Should farmers continue to illegally lend one another their sheep/cow/pig stock when getting assessed for EU grants? From what year were ‘selfish career women’ blamed on male suicide rates in rural Ireland by male columnists in the media? Approximately how many centuries will it take for Ireland to pay back its private-sector-generated debt? How many terrorists and killers help run the country and get paid for it? In your opinion, is Cromwellian-type violence linked to Limerick gangland’s abysmally low literacy rates? Can you list 14 characters from Tuatha Dé Danann? What is the ratio of smack-warbling heroin addicts on the Liffey boardwalk to sparrow-legged receptionists and wage-cut public servants with alcohol problems? Do you think a Citizenship Test such as the one you’re sitting now is an unnecessary waste of time and resources? How long do you plan on staying in Ireland and did you wipe your feet when you came in the door?

 
 

Saturday Poem #1 – I love drunks

Poetry makes me giddy but sometimes my bum muscles clench in the same wrung manner as a bad Eastenders story plot. Cringe factor heightens when poets with berserk eyes retch feelings onto the page, without any care for how layfolk should attempt to translate. At the same time guesswork of meaning is aerobic for a mind overbrimming with cabbage leaf. Good poetry, for me, is a platter of desserts that keep only the soul fat and the heart floating. You simply can’t go wrong with a shiny new Bloodaxe ensemble or the beautiful crazed utterings of a dead genius like Miroslav Holub. Just a pity that most living poets are brazenly, unabashedly mad and nearly always dreadful company.

I unwittingly fell into a poetry class on the MA in Creative Writing, chosen by mistake as I’d read the course criteria incorrectly (pick two of the following: poetry, prose, playwriting – I read that as ‘pick two subjects’ – when in fact it was pick two classes under the same topic umbrella to specialise in). As a result I did poetry and fiction, learning little from either, but finishing both to the worst of slipshod. Even now it’s hard to fathom what those two maniacal hours of attic neurosis actually entailed. The sheer torture of hauling my billowed boobs and cement hip up five flights of stairs, reading aloud the tutor’s Christmas cards for no apparent reason and being compelled to listen to jingling bells on a random lunatic’s skirt. Even the honeycomb brittle egos of the ‘serious’ poets falling apart when criticised didn’t get to me as much as the complete lack of instruction or learning did. That somehow being so near the curtain in Oz with this ‘revered’ poet who’d made it to a level we’d never lick, was enough of a résumé-adventure in itself. What did it matter if every single poem any of us wrote was construed and metaphrased as just another fold in a big menstrual minge? Even when a [male] classmate wrote a poem about views of Belfast a la whizzing bicycle, the tutor still managed to turn it into a sheela-na-gig blood cake. No difference at all between Dorothy, Scarecrow, Toto or whoever else was sitting on the other side of this soiled drapery. Most of us left none the wiser and twice as disoriented. I raved as if brain-burgled, after every single class. In the end I wrote my ‘project’ in one night and bastardised everything in sight from TV ads to antiquated indexes in out-of-print bird watching books. Not that it made any difference to the marks: in bought MAs nearly everyone ends up in the same passable, plastic category. It’s almost poetic, come to think of it.

Thankfully that naff experience hasn’t turned me off reading poetry or even occasionally, writing it. Last autumn, I sat through a truly delicious course at the Irish Writers’ Centre – taught by Peter Sirr – who recently won the 2011 Michael Hartnett Poetry Award. The course was a wonderful grounder and all-rounder. Peter showed us where and how to source poetic material, blurring boundaries between poetry and prose, the beauty and diabolism of staying with a poem until done. Brief interesting snippets too of poet lives and the conscionable lonely journeys to publication. I was introduced to poets I’d never heard of: Penelope Shuttle, C.P. Cavafy, Jane Hirshfield, Les Murray. “Terrible things happen and people reach for poetry to deal with it,” he told us. Poetry can make sense of horrible events but can also illuminate life’s brief thrills. You can goo the weekly schedule, complete with resources and tips, here. Meanwhile, I thought it’d be a good idea to post a poem on the blog every Saturday. I like this poem by Fay Hart for its elegant no-bullshit simplicity!

I LOVE DRUNKS

by Fay Hart

I love drunks, I always have.

I love guys that laugh,

hairdressers that gossip,

bouncers that scowl and tv presenters

that wear stupid wigs.

And I just love has-been rock stars that

blubber into their bourbon

about some distant drum solo

that I vaguely remember from

Ricky Munch’s bedroom on acid.

I like new young designers

and entrepreneurs

who always wear the right stuff

and have cute chicks with them.

I like big homos who call me

dahling and step back,

shaking their head in admiration.

Miss Thing, one of them once said,

we have just got to get you

your own talk show.

I like somebody’s dad

who spends half the night

trying to pick up girls

his daughter’s age

and the other half crying into his beer

about how his little girl never

calls him anymore.

I love caterwauling women

who take their tops off

just before last call

and shake about the place

like goddesses with bourbon breath.

I love drunks, I always have.

Wrongly accused cucumbers

Poor cucurbitaceae! Creeping vine cultivated lovingly for 3,000 years, shining star of many a modern porn shoot, healer of skin disease, longtime slug killer, cellulite remover, wrinkle chaser, hangover alleviator, cleanser of faucets, sinks and stainless steel, fertility charm, carrier of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, dragged to Europe by the Romans…in 2009, an international team of researchers announced they’d sequenced the cucumber genome…this week the green watery flagpole is the subject of intense diplomatic battle between two European hyperpowers.

Fear of Killer Cucumber Grips Europe, proclaimed the Times of IndiaBelgium Blocks Spanish Cucumber Imports, a German newsagency declared. 16 Dead From Killer Cucumbers, said The Sun. Full transmission of media plague. Cucumbers infected with E.coli allegedly may cause the deaths of a few dozen people by week-end, leading to a rake of retailers withdrawing cucumbers from sale in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Hundreds were also thought to be ‘critically ill’, the outbreak of hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which affects the blood, kidneys and, in severe cases, the nervous system, was the largest ever in Germany and the biggest of its kind worldwide. Health officials advised people in Germany to avoid eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce immediately. The cucumbers were initially thought to have been sourced from Spain, however subsequent tests failed to show contamination in the imported Spanish cucumbers which lead to the Spanish Government demanding compensation for Spanish farmers who had been forced to destroy huge quantities of cucumbers. Germany, in the mainstay, was to blame.

Let’s just take a quick breather to browse relations between the two countries in recent history. While Spain was neutral in the Second World War its dictator General Franco was indebted to Hitler. The Nazis provided him with air power and armaments during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) which had tilted the struggle in Franco’s favour. 

In the post war period especially when Spain opened up to mass tourism in the 1960s, the country became a new battleground between the British and the Germans. This “war” was fought out at the edge of swimming pools and sunny sandy beaches with the Germans making major advances by being up mega early and getting their towels and women down first! 

For a period up until the 1990s the Germans were the second foreign dominant force on the Spanish costas. But there was temporary German flight from the sun spots after the Social Democrat-led government started to impose taxes on Germans who owned properties abroad. Relations also soured somewhat in 2004, when Zapatero was elected Spanish Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s relationship with Chancellor, Angela Merkel was less close from that moment on, but remained civil, at least on the surface. The heyday of the D-Mark rich German tourist spending large amounts of cash on the Costa Del Sol while belching up pretzels was over. The Brits, and the Irish, remain in depleted numbers and spend more in the Malaga branch of Dunnes or Lidl than in the family run shops and cafes.

The Spanish are now uber furious that German paranoia over cucumbers has cost them hundreds of millions of vital euros. But they ought to be careful in attacking De Fatherland. Spain could follow Ireland and Greece in going to the EU with a begging bowl. Fiscal crisis in Spain means Spanish banks are as over-stretched as Irish ones having also got into the property-bubble mania. Going to the EU with said begging apparatus means of course asking the Germans for a dig-out. Germany is the main banker of the EU and it’s German car engineers in Stuttgart and chemical workers in the Ruhr who are currently helping to keep civil servants in Athens and Dublin in their jobs.

Post War Germany became famous for many things including a highly productive porn industry in places such as Essen in the north, which is regarded as the smut-producing capital of the Federal Republic. Germans, like the English, have a penchant for rear end activities with the aid of the long, girthy green food stuff that is currently wrongly blamed for Europe’s lethal outbreak. Knuckle Cake is just one term used to describe such activities. Even though the Spanish would surely like to take one of those cylindrical fruits and place it firmly in the anal passage of any German politician they see as responsible for the cucumber-hysteria, caution is advised! German bank balances and a robust economic growth means Kraut neighbours are more than capable of giving as good as they get, ensuring any EU partner that crosses them will eventually have to bend over and ask: “how far and for how long Meine Damen und Herren?”

Green Gaddafi and some ‘Ra flame throwers

There is one question regarding the Libyan crisis that the Irish media so far fails to ask: what will the downfall of the Gaddafi regime imply for De Shinners? Barring the Evening Herald during the election campaign virtually none of the news organisations in Ireland (electronic and print) have raised the issue of Sinn Fein − the IRA and the strangely moss-coloured man that is Colonel Gaddafi − during the current uprising against his dictatorship.

The historical facts are already in the public domain regarding the republican movement and the Gaddafi tyranny. In the 1970s, and more crucially the 1980s, the Green Colonel’s government armed and helped finance the IRA’s campaign. Following the United States bombing of Tripoli in the mid-1980s Gaddafi took revenge on the UK (which allowed American planes take off from England to bomb Libya) by supplying the Provisionals. According to security forces on both sides of Ireland’s border the Green Colonel gave the IRA enough AK47 assault rifles to arm two infantry battalions, around 1,200 activists. In addition, Gaddafi passed on tonnes of semtex explosive which was used to [let’s not get sticky about the wording here] kill, maim and wrought physical destruction in Northern Ireland and Britain. The Libyan dictator even provided the IRA with flame throwers and surface to air missiles, although these were used only sparingly during the armed campaign in the north.

But what else will emerge if Libya goes through a DDR-style experience of lustration if and when Gaddafi is finally toppled? After the Berlin Wall fell and the communist regime collapsed the country’s secret police, the Stasi underwent democratic investigation. Thousands upon thousands of files from Stasi archives were released to the public. They included links between the regime and terrorist groups as disparate as the Baader Meinhoff-Red Army Faction gang to various Palestinian armed organisations.

If and when the forty odd year old regime crumbles in Tripoli and the archives of Gaddafi’s murderous secret police are exposed to the light, what will we find there in relation to the connexions between the state organs of his dictatorship and the IRA?  How many leading Sinn Fein figures may be named as regular visitors (secret tourists) to the Colonel’s alleged socialist-paradise-in-the-sand during the Troubles? And how will these revolutionary-tourists explain their presence in the Libyan sun to say their chums in Irish-America particularly on the conservative right of US politics?

These questions are wholly absent from current reportage and commentary in Irish newspapers or on our airwaves. Or am I missing something? Perhaps we have to wait and see if this week’s imposition of a UN no fly zone will impact on the struggle between Gaddafi loyalists and the rebels based in Ben Ghazi. If Gaddafi is unable to bomb the anti-regime forces from the air and the balance tips in the insurgents’ favour the Green Colonel’s government may finally fall after more than four decades. Then, maybe, just maybe, the Irish media will wake up and realise that there’s a massive “Irish angle” to the end of Colonel Gaddafi and his murderous tyranny, and some newly elected members of the 31st Dáil.

This post originally appeared on the Anti Room blog in March 2011, to read comments, click here

Jesus & his mates think I’m a tart

In yesterday’s Irish Independent rambo-catholic David Quinn sought to portray himself as a martyr for free speech. Whilst he demonised women for seeking the morning after pill in Boots (preferring restraint or chastity!) Quinn also whined to high heaven about being the victim of repressive feminazis on Twitter. Poor Dave! Apparently some had the cheek to define his views on women’s control over their own bodies as ‘medieval’. He also claimed he’d been insulted and called a cunt. He scrambled about in the dark for 40 dazed seconds wondering ‘how we ever got to a point where there’s even a demand for a product like this’. The word demand here of course meaning a desire for sex outside of a committed relationship, such as a deluxe married one. There are no offers of stats accompanying this ancillary demand. Rather, he seems to have taken the product name: ‘Morning After Pill’ to heart, like Head & Shoulders shampoo could mean decapitation to a psycho. Availability of such a product will simply encourage the easily swayed fairer sex to indulge in quick-fix hot rampant park-n-ride humping at a moment’s notice.

The type of woman Dave sees wanting this pill: ‘Young, single women who were out on the tear over the weekend.’ Why don’t you just call them ‘slags’ and be done with it, someone snapped back on Twitter. Women scrambling for this €45 ‘abortifacient’ offering − in David’s comely eyes a kind of preemptive breakfast muffin termination − doesn’t seem to include 30 or 40-something women like me dealing with a burst condom scenario. Sorry Dave, but I do tend to like it a bit frantic and it’s happened twice, or a married woman worried her ordinary pill may not work after a bout of sickness/diarrhoea. And a myriad of other situations where emergency contraception is needed, including in cases of sexual assault. Imagine in the dark old days if such a service was available to women, especially young women who fell pregnant through incest, rape and abuse. And don’t say those scenarios were rare! If there was a morning after pill in 1983, for instance, maybe the young woman who died giving birth in that dreadful desolate place at Granard might never have been put in such a lethal position.

Instead, P for Pill in the Quinn context seems to spell PROMISCUITY to a congregation of tunnel visioners. He refers to pro-contraception folk as ‘moralising anti-moralisers’. It’s an inversion of the truth to portray those on the liberal side of the sexuality debate as the newfound ‘old right’. Such a dishonest move turns all logic and meaning on its head. ‘The problem with your thesis is that you want to legislate for an aspirational society that doesn’t, and may never, exist,’ another twitterer responded. Nor does he mention anywhere in his quickie-porridge-oats analysis, health concerns or issues surrounding the actual taking of the morning after pill. Even that would be a type of progress or perceptibility. He prefers to finger-wag at the female sexual gambol, citing that ‘demand can only be high where there is a high level of self-defeating, self-destructive behaviour’.

I seem to recall similar fears about the potential for mass-hysteria triggered divorces back in 1997 too. And God forbid if we should ever have abortion available in Ireland, we’ll be dashing out to get preggers just for the Nilfisk novelty of it all. While I’m all for the I Believe In Talking Snakes lobby having their divine say, it’s worth remembering that concrete church & state roadblocks obstructing liberalism began to crumble back in the late-1980s, when contraception became more freely available here in all its ambrosial forms. So the marauding tart tanked up on cheap booze and gagging for it without any prior contraception sorted, is tired nugatory nonsense. Coincidentally this change in our society arrived around the same time news broke in the international press of rampantly repressed Irish clergy brutally raping children on an industrial scale. Here’s hoping Boots launch a 2011 Here Cum The Girls campaign, with two for the price of one thrown in for good measure. In the meantime you can read Dave’s latest sermon here − I’m off out to buy some lube and jump on the first cock I see. 

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 This post originally appeared on the Anti Room blog in January 2011. To read the comments click here

Pope on a rope – and other adventures

Have a goo at this wonderful snippet (below) from Stephen Fry where he argues that the Catholic church is not – to put it at its mildest – a force of good in the world. It ain’t new but the topics he covers are timeless. He believes in the Enlightenment, in the eternal adventure of trying to discover moral truth at your own pace. By contrast he sees the church as a benighted outdated institution that’s causing a lot of pain. He also labels it as utterly sex obsessed:

“They say that we, with our permissive society and our rude jokes, are sex obsessed. But no! We have a healthy attitude. We like it. It’s fun, it’s jolly…because it’s a primary impulse, it can be dangerous and dark and difficult. It’s a bit like food in that respect only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics or the morbidly obese. That, in erotic terms, is the Catholic church in a nutshell.”

Aside from discussing damnation, original sin, the ‘moral evil’ of homosexuality, the horrors of child rape, how The Ratzinger spread the absurd word that condoms actually help spread AIDS, he also makes reference to how religion has always been implacably opposed to women’s choice in their own bodies and destinies. Let me know what you think. It’s Sunday in the financially corrupt holy nub of Ireland after all…

Some questions I’ve asked myself & now ask you:

What is God? If we’re made in his image, how come we all look different?

Do you believe in talking snakes and women made from snapped-off ribs?

Have you ever had a genuine ’religious’ experience that confounded you?

What would women priests bring to the Catholic religion if Rats & Co. gave the eminent go-ahead?

Is religion extinct as a dodo or salvageable/relevant?

Did the Holy Spirit turn up at your Confirmation?

What age were you before you found out Jesus had siblings?

Was the Billings Method ever explained to you in sex education?

Do you agree/disagree with Aristotle who said: The gods too are fond of a joke?

A definitive guide to taxing taxi drivers

THE GANGLAND GUY: Dark-haired, slick and slightly ugly, this guy is a rabid fan of stripey shirts and bobbing dashboard Holy Mary’s. He knew Marlo Hyland personally and it wasn’t all broken bones and bullets in the head… he bought local people hampers and goldfish at Christmas… a decent old spud, if you happened to be on his good side. This geezer was also the first taxi driver to take Paul Williams out to Ballymun to interview real drug-pushers. “I could tell ye some stories, wha!” he’ll say, as the car clock ticks in time to your tachycardia. ”The cops are wide to who blasted Hyland, but they just want them all to do each other in ‘cos it saves them having to do a job at the end of the day. It’s not just 9mm handguns anymore, they’re coming down with Glocks, Berettas, machine guns, even bombs.” You’ll also find out which inner city Garda station houses the most crooked cops, the best way to jump a bank counter (while keeping da eyes peeled), how drugs are smuggled into The ‘Joy inside hard-boiled eggs and the intricacies of the ‘Knacker Nelson’, a variant of the Full Nelson, that will cut off the flow of spinal fluid to any enemy’s brain. “Click Clack!” he’ll say, as you cautiously shift one leg out the door and tell him to keep the change. “Gone in the wink of a bleedin’ eye if ye do it nice ‘n proper,” he explains. “Have a nice noight!”

THE MARSHMALLOW CULCHIE: He’s going straight home after this for a ham sandwich and a bowl of leek & potato soup. In all their 52 years of marriage never a day goes by that she doesn’t make a big pot of the home-made soup. Sometimes even with the pearl barley in it. But she’s in a bit of a tizzy this week because she has a 21st down in Clonakilty, though she doesn’t want to go on account of her not drinking, but she’s just a bit concerned it’ll offend the sister, who’s had no luck lately ‘cos of the son in Mallow General getting the stomach pumped and him with a terrible drink problem after causing the family no end of shame. There’s 12 on her side and 15 on his, and three of them are called Bridget but that’s a whole different story, and if the young fella doesn’t stop drinking he’s going to surely die, the whole family driven demented with it and hadn’t the uncle only recently got him into the AA, after him being through the same thing too, but sure it did no good at all and The Girlfriend went ahead and left him after not being able to take any more and didn’t she shack up with a mechanic from Skibbereen which sent the nephew back on the drink altogether and sure the 21st will only bring it all to a head, which is why The Wife doesn’t want to go, but they’ll discuss it again over the bowl of soup when he gets home and decide then. “Do you want a receipt for that?”

THE CONSPIRACY FLIRTIST: “Do you believe in UFOs luv ?” [silence] “Ah, so you’re the suspicious type? Or else you are a believer but you just don’t want to say ‘cos it’s so early in the morning and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘this taxi driver is a bit of a bleedin’ spacer!?’” [pause: well, I was going to say…] “Let me stop you there luv, have you heard of a website called theinsider or abovetopsecret or evidence? [silence] “No? I didn’t think so. Most people think those sites are just for madsers, like, but I’ll give ye a proper example. You know the whole thing: did they land on the moon or didn’t they – well they did go to the moon and they did land there but all that coverage of them getting out and walking around in slow motion – that was shot in a studio later when they got back to earth – do you know why? [silence] “Because there was already space craft on the moon when they got there. And it wasn’t ours! And don’t be thinking either that Bush didn’t head on in to Afghanistan or Iraq for no reason! They needed the oil and resources to bring to de other planets. They’re colonising the planets and the rest of us are going to be left pretty much fucked and who do you think will be the first ‘up there’ with the Americans?” [silence] “The Israelis of course. Yer man Benjaminwhatshisface. And all the Bin Ladens too. And  that muppet Blair. The whole lotta dem. Mad stuff altogether. You see luv I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’m a conspiracy factist, cos it’s all 500% above-board-true. Anyway, lovely talking to ye.” [silence] “Here’s me card if ye ever need another taxi”. [silence]

THE RECESSION VIRTUOSO: A sandy-haired, freckled and excitable critter with two or three tabloids and loose food items straddled between the front seats (squashed coleslaw roll, The Irish Sun, Mars bar, The Daily Mail, Johnny Onion Rings, Fanta, etc.). Wears a Karl Jackson ‘affordable’ suit. Whiffs of Aramis. Photo of two young girls on park swings bluetacked to the dashboard beside a miniature Padre Pio head made of tin. Within two minutes of take-off he lets loose that he was once a valued employee in an insurance claims department or that he trained as an actuary or had his own stationery business before 1. divorce, 2. redundancy, 3. recession. But more importantly: he knew about our economic kiss of death, five years ago. “I’d a guy here in the car one day, now I won’t say who, but believe me this is a face you’d instantly recognise off the telly… let’s just say, for the sake of argument, this guy was talking to another guy, right? An economist type, again you’d instantly recognise off the telly, an exuberant sort of chap, let’s not name names here, and the well-known guy, let’s just say again for the sake of argument, he was a Minister back then, the navy three-piece, über polished shoes, cufflinks, the works, and he’d just come from a top-notch meeting of some sort on Kildare Street there and he said to this other guy: ‘Have you any investments stashed away at all? Because I’m telling you now boyo, after what I’ve just heard, they won’t be there in a year’s time’.  Now no word of a lie that was back in early 2005 or was it in the summer when I got the house done? Definitely 2005 anyway, when the property boom was still chugging away and every eejit was grabbing a holiday home in Kusadasi or the south of France. I knew what was going to happen. Tried to warn people, but…”

THE SEETHING RACIST: Irish women weren’t getting raped before ‘they’ came here. Not content with taking our jobs they want all our women as well. Or maybe that’s no surprise because they probably get bored beating the shite out of their own. You see they want it so there’s a load of brown kids out there and we can no longer decipher black from white in this country anymore. Every scam under the sun. ATM machines to illegal casinos and identity fraud. Ten of them working a cab 24 hours on the trot and up to 20 sharing a house so they can rent out the free ones they’re getting from the government and make even more money that way. The Eastern Health Board have no problem buying them taxis, buying the plates for them and sure here, throw in the driving lessons and the tax and insurance while you’re at it, because bubbawubba or whatever his name is allegedly came from some shit war zone and needs all the help poor old little Ireland can give, even though we’re stone broke and can’t even hold up our own. Except that he forgot to mention he stopped off in the Netherlands for ten years where he ran a successful drug empire and now he’s selling crack to Irish kids up in Moore Street out of some makey-uppy hairdressers or Internet shop. Makes me sick to the stomach. If I had my way I’d shoot the lot of them, stone dead, and save up the bodies for bonfires at Halloween.

THE ERUPTING PERV: You know it amazes me how many youn’wans out there seem to think it’s A-OK to have a night out on de razz wearing Sweet-F-A. What’s all that about, huh? We’re not talking here about the auld tic tacs hanging out, I’ve no problem with that, I’m just as red-blooded as the best of them: I’m the first to admit I get a horn that would beat a donkey out of a quarry when I see a really good-looking woman… but skirts so short you can almost see the tampon string hanging out! Now don’t mind me, I just speak me mind, nothing wrong with that, is there? What age are you, jaysus now, I’d say you’re no more than 28. Anyway, I just say it how it is. That’s me. But you wouldn’t believe the way some of these young girls throw themselves at ye when they’re bombed outta their little heads. I’ve had girls in here talkin’ sausages, totally out of it, fallin’ all around the seats showing their knickers ’n all sorts. Total pecker wreckers, and byjaysus if they’re lucky enough to score a youn’fla they’ve no problem at all trying to give him a handy shandy in the back, knowing full well that I’ve no choice but to look in the mirror when I’m trying to keep an eye on the road. Do they think they’re on bleedin’ Xhamster or something!? I had two youn’wans in the cab only last week, a fare all the way out to Ashbourne, about 1am, sozzled, both of them. When we get there one says to the other, ‘you go on in and I’ll deal with him’, then didn’t she only turn around and offer to get down on her knees and suck the shark for the taxi fare! Tell me, what would you do if you were me and you were faced with that dilemma?

This post originally appeared on the Anti Room blog on August 31st, 2010. To read comments cilck here

Oliver Cromwell is in my bum

My relation, holy God...

A good many moons ago, when Ireland was dubbed the ‘sick man of Europe’ and Wurzel Gummidge was being suitably saucy on tea time TV, I found out I was directly related to Oliver Cromwell. Although only ten years old, I knew it had to be De Da’s side of the family as he was particularly gifted at starting bloody civil wars in the house and claiming zero responsibility for the body parts.

American genealogists had dropped the bombshell in a registered letter to Dublin with a $2 note for a prompt reply. Oliver Cromwell’s mother was Anne Caldwell of Solway Firth. At some stage they moved to Northern Ireland and branches of sprogs settled in Fermanagh and Donegal, while others fled to America when Cromwell turned against them after Charles II returned to power. Cromwell’s right-hand General was also a Caldwell. You get the sordid sorry picture.

Whatever the truth, there’s skimpy point getting anal about it…or is there? Cromwell was obsessed with the bowels. His famous retort: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken! wasn’t blurted in isolation. While he died of typhoid on the battlefield it was also documented that he’d ‘terrible trouble’ with his bum and may have been diseased in that region too. And he may have passed it on. Last summer as my 46-yr-old brother’s colon tumour made its way by courier to a fancy genetics lab in the EU, I sat the old man down to ask how his siblings and family members had snuffed it. “Oh the two brothers died of bowel cancer or…hold on, no, eh – can you get me some water for the whiskey – one died of a rectal disease…and the Da died of colorectal cancer at age 58 and I think an aunt did as well, at the age of 23…but I couldn’t be sure of her, there was talk she might’ve been a prostitute”. The glorious eejit had never mentioned it. I’d had my suspicions about bipolar disorder, alcoholism, schizophrenia and depression, hedging my bets for a lengthy stay at a nut house any day soon. A could-be related cancer to his lot was there too on my mother’s side: four near relatives were wiped out by the stomach variety, the youngest at 36. “Even aunt Lena the almost vegetarian!” she exclaimed. “And her who wouldn’t even eat peas from a tin!”  

The brother in England (with the travelling tumour) rang the hospital with my mother’s family history and asked what was the difference between bowel and stomach cancer? “Basically a few inches,” the geneticist replied. Double whammy for our generation of Caldwell’s so. The results back from the lab confirmed there was a ’virulent’ familial strain. A few months later, by shabby coincidence, my mother was diagnosed with the same thing too. She’s just been through major surgery and follow-up treatment this summer. (An upside to the chemo for her is the restaurant in the Mater Private with its great array of delicious food, we always go for dinner afterwards. My brother also cited an unobvious benefit to his chemo many miles away in Ipswich: “the steroids give you a permanent hard-on”). The rest of us are currently marching along for tests. As I write I’m staring at a large box of ‘Klean Prep’ which I have to consume in a 4-litre load, to induce in vitro mud-slides, followed by a polite impaling at Beaumont Hospital in a few hours time.

Here’s the thing: genetics and predictive medicine is where it’s at. We’re on the cusp of a gilded age in science when a good old goo at your DNA code will reveal an accurate risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Medical folk will then be able to predict what drugs or treatment will work to keep you alive and well the longest. Within the next two to five years, geneticists maintain they’ll have the sequence of every major human cancer. Eventually they’ll ‘tinker’ with fated diseases when human life is still curled snug in the womb. In the bland old meantime, Irish families are still reluctant to talk about what killed those who came before them. “It’s not the done thing,” my mother said. “In my day people were dropping of TB and all sorts but we were too busy trying to get by to worry our heads about it”. Diagnosis was all over the place then, if anyone died of an unknown condition, it was generally lumped under the heading: ‘consumption’. The doctor, just like the priest and possibly the politician, was a sacrosanct golden cow you could only ever bestow a “thank you” to, and not bother with serious concerns or even questions.

Ireland has the second highest breast cancer rate in Europe, staggeringly high skin cancer rates too, and a steady stream of lung, ovary and prostate. We also have the third highest incidence of colorectal cancer for both males and females in the EU. Around 21,000 people are diagnosed every year with some form of the disease as well as a host of other auto-immune conditions, a lot of which could have hereditary starting points. The sooner you sit down and have that ‘genetics’ conversation with older family members, the quicker you’ll be able to jump on your health horse and deal with it. My near-genocidal ancestor (if I’m related to him) may have been a heinous shit, but he’s left me with a clear will not to kill indiscriminately and to breathe in and out for as long as is reasonably possible. How about you?

 This blog was originally published on the Anti Room blog on August 23rd, 2010. To read comments click here

There’s a design fault in Northern Ireland: sectarianism

As the brown stuff hit the fan in Northern Ireland over the last two days, I got into a bit of hot water for saying scuzzbuckets on both sides are incapable of letting go because they’ve no other identity than being an opponent, an archenemy…and bog all else to do in-between, despite the amount of money, pipe-dreaming and rejuvenation of the last 16 years. Within a few hours of last night’s recreational rioting You Tube Clips were up on the net, complete with Kaiser Chief’s I Predict A Riot sound-tracks. It’s summer time and the kids need something to do…

After spending three and a half years there, living in neutral, Catholic and Protestant areas (my last address was a rented coastal castle house with a Ranger’s Club at the end of the garden), I felt it would be inappropriate to let it all pass without comment. I attended University there, half-enjoyed a stunt in a tabloid, a summer in PR and researched/wrote a non-fiction book about a paramilitary moll, the sum total allowing an opinion regardless of who that pleases or riles. There seems to be passport-type rights when hauling ‘Northern’ hypothesis about which is a kind of partition of the mind!

And talking of passports, a lot of folk ‘up there’ happen to have a harp on theirs too. About 45% of the NI population aspire to unite with me, allegedly. What goes on is my business because unity would have massive social and economic implications for me and the society I live in. This is, after all, one island with ties of blood, commerce, ideas and history. In my opinion there’s an essential design fault in Northern Ireland that hasn’t been fixed despite agreements and power sharing – namely, sectarianism. Even on the day of the IRA ceasefire back in September 1, 1994 (it was 24 hours old) foundation stones were being laid for a new peaceline which would cut up a park into Catholic and Protestant zones in north Belfast.

People are educated separately, they play different sports, they don’t even share common sports facilities and fields, more than 90% of public housing is segregated, and so on. Obviously children growing up in that environment will see the “other side” as the constant unflappable enemy, even in so-called peace times. I’ve seen this first-hand with kids as young as six. Fond memories of escorting a German photo-journalist around the ‘walled’ areas of Belfast two summers ago and tiny kids on both sides lobbing stones at one another. “Those Orangies are nasty and threw them stones first,” a 6-yr-old freckled girl told us. “My Ma said ye can’t trust those Fenians,” an 11-yr-old boy explained when we drove around the other side to see who was throwing the stones back. It quite took my breath away. The first place they were hearing the sectarian sludge was at home.

Children of the ceasefire are definitively learning the bad lessons of the past. On the republican side the dissidents have a powerful if warped argument. Sinn Fein continues to laud what the IRA did – and what its street army of rioters got up to – during the Troubles. Therefore riots against Orange marches even in post ceasefire 1990s were a legitimate expression of communal anger. They commemorate and lionise those who took part in these protests as well as those who bombed, killed and maimed. Now suddenly there’s an ideological 360-degree turn which nationalists must accept. That any more of that kind of thing is wrong and unacceptable. To which the dissidents will say to both SF and crucially the kids spoiling for a fight in places like Ardoyne: just keep on doing what successive generations were doing, you are no different from them. Unless someone takes the axe to the root and tells a new generation that all that violence, both terrorism and street disorder, was futile and wrong, others will keep emulating it.
 
On a purely social ground the nihilism and destructiveness of youth in the North knows no bounds. In Lurgan they attack a train linking both main cities on the island of Ireland and endanger the lives of their fellow passengers. The overall damage is going to cost millions but to a generation brought up to expect that the state will pay for everything, financial considerations mean nothing. They won’t have to pay the bill! There is a collective lack of public responsibility that is not being tackled. Why? Because during De Troubles it was easier for the Brits to throw money at the problem as a means of counter-insurgency. This ‘strategy’ somewhere along the line became habitual. That’s why there’s more “community” workers than real workers in the North! It has one of the highest rates of civil service workers per capita in Britain. I saw this most glaringly when I applied for ‘Disability Living Allowance’ (DLA). The visiting doctor who came to my house to assess me admitted they were “too scared” to refuse applicants from flashpoint areas like Ardoyne, Shankill, Falls Road, Tiger’s Bay, etc., for fear of repercussions. It’s easier to process the paperwork and flush away any potential grief. I knew of someone who was getting full DLA benefits – including a people carrier, because they romanced a terrorist during the Troubles and were handily claiming ’depression’ from this dating decision all these years later. The money was spent on silver wallpaper, holidays, DFS couches and bikini waxing.
 
Last night’s recreational rioting made me sick on so many levels. A journalist pal rang to say people were “sitting outside on their garden furniture” in the Ardoyne, drinking beer, cheerily watching the riots in the way most people do with a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A young boy aged about 10 was on his mobile to his mum telling her he’d be home soon if the “cops don’t lift me”. The new mini street armies are desperate to reclaim the hallmarks of a war they weren’t even born in time to recall. It’s a strange kind of sectarian serendipity, is it not? And as for being from Dublin and having an opinion on it, you don’t own the North matey, you just happen to live there.
 
**This post was originally published on the Anti Room Blog, click here to see comments