Category Archives: Rants

Rebel Yell

 

moorest

He turned onto Moore Street where his Ma slipped on a rasher and croaked. That was a good while ago now though he couldn’t be sure, it was all mushed. ‘Coconut head’, she’d called him in her fond no vodka moments, not because of the shape of his noggin but for the way his Da kicked the nelly out of it, side to side, smashinknorrg him into navy dots. Army boots with a clown’s mouth rip covered from the inside with a plastic Knorr soup packet to keep the rain out. She thought it was gas. Seemed a bit twisted to him now. He still snagged memories of her freckle-splattered arms doing the octopus sway in the bingo halls here when he was knee high to an ashtray, small as a mouse’s diddy.

Aul Ones with Rothmans-stained chins shouting, ‘Two fat ladies, go on Jimmy, get up and run, thirty one…dirty Gertie, clicketyclick, staying alive, eighty five!’ Some were able to handle four bingoand five bingo cards at a time, marking the numbers like Phil Collins on drums. Bash bash bash. He’d lay on his spindlies gazing up their A-Line skirts, musty whiff of brown tights on an afternoon in November 1970-something. Disco lights, apples sours, dusty bin.

Now he was out of the Seventies into a new Century where the whole world had descended onto the same street. “Anthony! Anthony! over here!” yer one shouted. A right carrot top. “This way!”

He hoped she wasn’t a social worker. Bottler, not Anthony. No-one called him Anthony these days. He couldn’t stomach those smug tarts from the Health Service Executive. He hadn’t practised what to say but his choice if she gave him one would be a course on computers. They’d blinked by him the years he’d been on the gear. Missed the whole digital revolution. Couldn’t even look up The Google now. Survived on stale pineapple cake and sloppy kebabs from out-of-date food skips outside Aldi. Got by on mobile phones. Plucking them from Luas carriages. Selling to teenagers in pink lycra. He felt bad about that shit. Pinching, grabbing, punching. Felt bad about not remembering. Found out in rehab over a cup of Rosie Lee that he’d slept in a dog kennel for a year, had half his guts removed, grew a batch of holes on his tongue the length of a scallion. But his Da was right, all you had to do in this life was survive no matter what and hope a rhinoceros doesn’t shit on your head.

She was standing on the corner at Buffet 79, holding a plastic folder, looking the mutt’s nuts.

“So nice to finally meet you! I tell you what, you’re a hard man to get hold of! We’ve been writing to you for weeks. Well look, you’re here now, thank God you answered your phone. I’m Aoibheann!” She was gripping onto his arm like they’d known each other since nippers. He was throwin’ a reddener on account of her being so over fucking familiar ‘n all.

“Howayea,” he said, unhooking her. “Ye alright, wot’s de buzz?”

“This is it here, what do you think, huh?” Hadn’t a crusty what she was on about. They were ppoutside an orange building with spitting air vents and roast duck stink. A poster with ‘group love’ on the wall and a load of slappers in red Tulip dresses dancing in a circle. She stuck a folder into his hands. Snap of a man facing sideways with a giant hooter on the cover, military uniform, oval cloud of mist behind him.

“I know what you’re thinking, not much on the outside. That was the planners’ intentions, you know, to retain the façade throughout the lane way, renovating the inside a la modern day.”

Her voice trailed off as he glanced at more posters on the opposite wall: a gold man pulling his torso apart to get to the gold coins inside him. Paul Weller looking on in dark glasses, arms folded. Two dykes sitting up on new Audis, whipping the bonnets goodo.

“There’s only sixteen apartments Anthony. You’re in the Padraig Pearse suite. Well now ‘suite’ is a bit American isn’t it!? I prefer to call them apartments or you might like ‘flats’. Whatever you’re comfortable with. Sure we won’t argue over it!”

He’d slip her one alright. Queer bit of skirt. Air bags knockers. Cheese puff lips.

“Will we head in so, shall we? Do you know who this is Anthony?” she asked, pointing again to the big-nosed spamhead on the brochure. “It’s Pearse himself! This is where it happened. Well, here and up the road…whole block is on the Record of Protected Structures now. While the main building is a good bit up, this is where a lot of the men actually died. Though it was a new beginning for the rest of us, that’s for sure, but oh God” – she stopped to grab her heart through her mint lambswool jumper – “It’s a desperate sad story. Brutality of it. Dozens fell on the stones right here. Bled to death in the gutters. O’Rahilly, riddled with bullets, managed to pen a letter in his own blood to his wife and kids. Sure you wouldn’t even have time to send a text these days, can you imagine?”

Well yeah, he could. It was in an alley just like this that they dealt with Scuttler for a €500 debt. Still gave him the night rattles. Draino sticking the knife in just above the belly. Flipping the fucker over to get to the spine. Doin’ his girdle sack, screams, like a girls’. ‘Shut that cunt up till I get the work done,’ he told him. Slicing upwards to make sure he was paralysed. Chinee sticking his head out from the back of a restaurant door and shutting it again, pronto, bolts clanking. Rain coming down, steel pin rain in goose grey, washing yer man’s wails away. Bleeding out. They lit two joints, watched him wriggle. “It’ll be over in a minute, stop stressing!” Draino roared. “I thought you’d take it a bit better than this, for fuck’s sake!”

“This is the entrance hall to the apartments,” Aoibheann explained. “The walls tell the stories of the ordinary lives, OK, not just the heroes! See this little man and woman, James Rooney and his wife Cora…they were in their eighties…braved the machine gun fire to hide some of the men in their basement that day, 29th April, 1916”. She turned to her paperwork to double check the date. Then pointed to a laundry room out the back and a shared shed for storage and locking bicycles.

“Fair balls to them,” Anthony replied, though to be honest, they looked like a right pair of spanners. The woman in particular.

“And here we have The O’Rahilly’s letter to his wife. We got a calligrapher from the National College of Art and Design to do it in gold leaf and flecks of bottle green. Beautiful isn’t it?”

Darling Nancy, I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street, took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was & I made a bolt for the lane I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you & to the boys & to Nell & Anna. It was a good fight anyhow.

jcNames of more hoagies doused on the plaster, fucking eejits who shot themselves trying to bash down doors with rifle butts to save their own arses. Whacked some of their mates in the scuffle. Others lying with bits of legs hanging off, firing off orders. James Connolly on a stretcher, guts dangling. Some wounded plank tripping over him with all the gunsmoke, grenades and other shit the Brits had at their disposal. Must’ve been a right bunch of psychos. Photograph of a nurse who’d booted around like a blue bottle with messages for the main boyos, trying to get them to grab the white flag. He remembered none of this from school. The Safe Cross Code, how clouds formed from condensation, Christmas carols in Irish. That’s what he remembered in eight years of primary school. Not these maggots.

“This is your apartment, No. 3, well, that was the date Pearse was executed: 3rd May, they’ve thought of everything.”

His apartment? Was she a fucking brandy snap short of a picnic? But he’d keep stum, say nothing, sign nothing. A short stroll around a sitting room painted in hospital white looking out over McColgan’s Butchers. Her talking shite about skirting boards a quarter up the wall for an easy clean, plug holes, an interactive Wi-Fi telly with built in CCTV, steam mop in the cupboard. It was a lottery system, with all their names bunged in from the Rehab gaff. Irish men and Irish women, in the name of God and the dead generations, and whatever else. His name, third pulled. Lifelong sublet deductible from the scratcher. Part of the planning regs for the commemoration block and new Insurgents Visitor Centre.

“You have twelve days to sign the lease and get the documents back to Dublin City Council, OK? The address is here,” she told him, rubbing her fingers up and down where Pearse’s hoop was at the back of the brochure. “Make the most of the opportunity Anthony. You’re a hero now in your own right, the way you’ve knocked the drugs on the head for good. How long is it?”

“Two years,” he told her. “This Christmas or thereabouts, anyways.”

“Well good for you,” she said, “You should be well proud!”

He knew plenty who died for Ireland or because of her. Hasslebat, with his ginger eyebrows lit up like hot worms in a snow of forehead. Face half eaten by his own Jack Russell after overdosing in a boat-house down the canal. Gonzo and Widearse Wendy in a car smash down the docks when they were sleeping rough in the Punto. Many more in slob fights, knife slices, ganger brawls. He’d been too out of it in those times to make any of the funerals. Didn’t see the point when they were already wormfood.

ccIf Pearse could be President of his own Republic, then he could be too. Sixteen thousand troops swarmed into Dublin in 1916 to wreck the bleedin’ gaff. That was more than the entire Garda Drug Squad and army reserve now. Who the fuck did they think they were!? He’d call up his troops too:

Dickie who’d do anything for a six pack of Dutch Gold. Brains, the nasty little dwarf from up around Sheriff Street who’d stick a gun up your hole quick as a bum doctor in the Mater. The Finglas twins who loved to scrap for no reason, mad bitches. The preparation would have to be secret, no dribblers, no rats.

He could see himself in full Pearse pose swaggering down Moore Street commanding the charge: “We’re going to take on the Somali pushers,” he’d tell them. “Yez’ll horse up the lane here when I give the word”.

Each of them swinging a fifty euro shooter.

zimo“We’re putting a stop to this Zimovane shite the kids are selling for €8 a pack. It’s feeding their gaming addiction. Only a matter of days or weeks before they’re snorting the yayo or chewing the gat, are yez hearing me?”

“Yes Bottler!” they’d roar. “Yes Bottler!”

“We’re gonna free all those hookers they send into Jury’s Inn to suck off concert promoters, there’ll be no women sellin’ their holes in my Republic.”

“Yes Bottler!”

“We’re gonna clean up this town, no more stabbings or stupid fucking killings.”

“Yes Bottler!”

“We’re gonna bring eternal peace to these poxy streets.”

“Yes Bottler!”

“We’re striking for freedom, do yez even know what that means?”

“Yes Bottler!”

He stared across the sitting room towards the microwave. Never thought he’d own one of those pingers. Draino would be out of the clink in two years and he didn’t forget. No matter where he was, he’d find Bottler. icroOh his Ma always said he’d be kicked to death by some loon if she didn’t get hold of him first. Her arthritic claw reaching down the banisters, pulling him up onto the landing…stamping on his ankle bones when he was cowering on the ground before she’d start proper. It wouldn’t be that hard to find a plonker to sell a pizza warmer to. Had to be worth at least a tenner up around Argos. He took the SIM card from the phone, flicked it into the fancy swing bin, grabbed the keys. Snatched the €100 Dunnes Stores voucher Aoibheann left for ‘essentials’, mozied to the door.

“Losers!” he screamed at the faces pinned to the wall. “I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of fucking losers!”

** This story was short-listed for the 2016 The Sunday Business Post / Penguin Ireland short story prize. It was also read at the Bogman’s Canon Fiction Disco and Staccato Spoke Word night in Toner’s pub, Baggot St.

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.”

The Next Big Thing (here’s hoping)

juneconsidineLaura Elliot, aka June Considine, tagged me in the Next Big Thing Author Blog Hop. I know June from the Irish Writers’ Centre where she regularly teaches and is a member of the Board. She is the author of three novels: Stolen Child, The Prodigal Sister and Deceptions and twelve books for children, including the fantasy Luvender trilogy, the Beachwood series and the two teen novels View from a Blind Bridge and The Glass Triangle. Her books have been widely translated. You can read Laura’s contribution to the Next Big Thing on her blog.

Here are my answers:

What is the working title of your next book?

Dubstopia, a book of short stories that are connected but also stand alone. A confused book, for our times! Am also going to throw the dust off a novella I tried to write on the MA called Little Town Moone, a murderous tale told backwards. June Considine very kindly called it ‘spell-binding’ when I read an extract last year at the IWC for the first leg of the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange. But it was my first frivoling with fiction after a long stretch in journalism and it was hugely flawed so I left it under the stairs with the hoover. I’m ready go to back to it now and hammer out a good draft. So I’ll mainly talk about Dubstopia here because it makes me laugh and is fun, something I’m writing to stop taking the business of writing so seriously.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A course I did at the IWC called Tales of the City which examined the cityscape as a type of icing layer of realism: writing about the things we see under our noses, uncomfortable things for the most part, as far away from stone wall farms and finches singing on thatched cottages and begorrah Ireland that so many writers are still overly concerned with. I wanted to write gritty awful shit, but pull it up a notch, play around with language, rob from Joyce’s Edwardian bread bin, make the reader cringe and laugh, but most importantly portray the characters as real in their tiny turmoils. There’s a ‘bigger story’ going on too, a thread with the Russian mafia and some junkies in Phibsboro who are squatting above an empty bank. The first story introduces all the characters (including a heroin addicted Jack Russell) but mainly involves the chaotic day in one of their lives. Stories that follow on are like a relay, they shove the bigger story forward, though some are just stand-alone fingerprints of how a particular character ended up where they did. Widearse Wendy for instance, who grew up in an affluent north Dublin suburb but ends up on the streets because of one awful thing that happens her. Leather Joe who is dangerously charismatic but a seasoned psychopath. Stories too from growing up in a crazed repressed Ireland that was brilliantly cruel. I want to mess around with form, with the idea of connected short stories that could also be a novel. There’s a lot about the traditional short story I love, but I hate the exclusive treatment it gets, that kind of meliority makes me uncomfortable. And a lot of the time I find novels boring, or at least they don’t drag me all the way to their end point without losing the plot. I like the idea of mulch, knocking some of the gentle beauty out of the short story, upsetting its privileged rhythm.

What genre does your book fall under?

Social realism panini’d with surrealism.

dgoldWhat actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The whole of Phibsboro, especially down the canal. I’d offer a caravan-load of Dutch Gold to each citizen actor to star as themselves, no scripting required. If that sounds mean, go live in Phibsboro for a year.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Dublin’s dank underworld and its visceral phlegm-filled charm, as seen through the eyes of ordinary struggling lunatics, not gangland or criminal butch.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don’t imagine anyone will want to publish a book of short stories by an unknown fiction writer, so one thing I’m going to do is send off each story to a decent literary magazine (Stinging Fly, Dublin Quarterly, The Moth, etc.) and see what happens. Here’s another thing that makes me uncomfortable: there are so many online journals, electronic post boxes to shove your stories through, but should we give our work away so easily? We’re in this [awful] era of self publicising as a form of arts mania. Writers belt-notching by sending out their work to all kinds of irrelevant places, just to get their name in print. Reading poems and stories in public every chance they get, flinging up websites with wonderful credentials they think set them apart from the next person with wonderful credentials. I feel exceptionally shy about all that yack. What is it to be published if you don’t care where or how? I just want to find out if I can be a good writer on the page, not to get carried away with the business model. I made the mistake of sending off first drafts (of anything) to competitions over the last two years, just to see if I could write and they all got shortlisted, but none of them were particularly up to scratch, writing I could feel proud of. I’ve learnt from that. Posting off imperfect tat even if it’s good enough to make the grade so far, I want and need to do better. It’s about borrowing the confidence until it happens on your terms, to stop grappling with that inner Stalin that sits smugly on every writer’s shoulder. I’m too conservative to consider self publishing, I know many people are making great headway here, but the idea makes me cringe. My idea is to let each story ‘get somewhere’ on its own accord and maybe then I’ll stick them together into a yoke with a gooey cover and give it to friends and dying enemies for Christmas. With Little Town Moone however, I’m relying on conventional publishing bewitchery! A friend of mine whose a book scout has said: “Hurry up June, I want to read it…it’s just you and one other person in Dublin whose books I’m waiting on!” A mix of orgasm & heart attack, that someone could believe in me that much from the little smidgen they read.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Writing Dubstopia now, gizza chance! The novella will be tackled on Eoin McNamee’s course, followed by a stunt away alone writing that my lovely lover is organising. Both will be done this year. Determined!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Ross Raisin: God’s Own Country, slight shades of The Butcher Boy gone urban, an ex lover said I write like David Foster Wallace, but I think this is more to do with guilt over leaving me crying in a phone box in Tottenham in 1994.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

No-one seems to be writing the nitty about our gloriously shit city, it seems to be the reserve of the skewed detective in a crime series novel or tales of the middle classes struggling to find themselves in the underpants of a dreary bedeviled partner, or ghost stories about great grannies or worse, as is a recent trend, writers writing about writers writing, the worst type of literary cannibalism there is.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Ridiculous characters too true to life, talking dogs, a Russian war-lord who lives in an electronic house standing on chicken legs, oh the things that drugs make you do, the city as a compost-bin Atlantis, liberal use of swearing and made-up words that still manage to make sense.

How the Next Big Thing blog hop works
An author answers ten questions and then tags authors to do the same thing the following week on the same day, which in this case is a Wednesday. For this purpose I’m tagging the wonderfully multi-talented Emer Martin whose books are ‘up there’ with the best of modern Irish fiction. She’s written three novels and has just completed a fourth. She’s also a painter, film director and creative writing teacher. Niamh MacAlister who also took part in the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange in Verona in May (and put up with my mood swings). She was shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing awards 2012. She also writes poetry and took part in the  ‘New and Emerging Poet’ Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and has been published in The Stinging Fly, The Moth, Raft, and Washington Square Review. I’m cheating abysmally here: Henry McDonald, author of eight non-fiction books and also my partner who shares my blog. He’s already completed one novel (a thriller) that’s looking for a publisher and he’s working on an exciting new novel about kids during one day of The Troubles.
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Out of the closet…in Ambridge

This Christmas I want to come out of the closet. For nearly two decades now I’ve harboured a secret from family, friends, loved ones. A clandestine passion I’ve been hiding from all of them but can no longer conceal. The time is right to out myself. So say it loud and say it proud: I AM AN ARCHERS FAN!

As a former football hooligan, punk rocker, hard-line Marxist and later ultra-libertarian, many of my contemporaries from the 1970s and 80s will be shocked, perhaps even horrified that I’m a devoted follower of what is regarded as the accepted soap opera for the middle classes. Some may even see it as yet another example of McDonald’s surrender to British bourgeois values. In terms of politics these critics are actually wrong as many of the plot lines in Radio 4’s longest running drama series are centred on the class divide within the county. At one end of the social scale are the avaricious landowners like Brian Aldrige and his boardroom-bores of the Borchester Land Corporation, while at the others are the farmer-labourers like the Grundy family who have endured the indignity of eviction from their land.

Although I’ve never lived in the countryside The Archers has been an educational experience for townies like me.  The great issues of rural life like foot and mouth disease,  Bovine TB,  the tension between organic farming and the agro-industrial farms,  the rise and disappearance of the Countryside Alliance, the arrival of migrant workers from abroad to harvest and pack the produce are all interspersed throughout universal stories of life, death, loss, betrayal, triumph and tragedy. However, the most attractive element to the programme are the characters themselves, many of whom I adore, some of whom I loathe. So here are some of my heroes and villains of Ambridge.

Lillian Bellamy is among the most entertaining of the cast given that she’s an irrepressible bon viveur. She smokes, drinks like a fish and has a gloriously dirty laugh that suggests a lifetime leading the libertine creed. Having gone through a series of lovers including the odd Toyboy or two she has settled down with a London spiv called Matt Crawford who recently spent time in jail for fraudulent business dealings. She calls him “Tiger” while quaffing her G&Ts and he refers to her as his “pussycat.” They are actually an ideal couple who are perfectly matched. Matt has no time for the lords-of-the-manor like Brian Aldridge (Lillian’s brother-in-law) while his wife has just taken charge of a new property development company and is proving to be a more acute businesswoman than her husband has ever been.

Eddie Grundy is also a bit of an operator albeit not exactly a sharp one. He’s up to all kinds of deals and scams along with his old man Joe. They are forever hatching get rich quick schemes that invariably go wrong while making dodgy cider to flog to gullible tourists visiting their county. They make for a picaresque pair of gentle, likeable rogues who are in constant mortal fear of Eddie’s wife Clarrie, who is scornful of their plotting. Joe Grundy once summed up the class structure of Ambridge by pointing out to a new arrival on the show that ….”everybody looks down on us Grundys.” Naturally I invariably side with  Eddie and Joe in their struggles to bring in a few extra bob even if they flirt with illegality.

Jack ‘Jazzer’ McCreary is the token Scot on the show who works with Tom Archer’s pigs as well as running a milk round for Mick Tucker. Eternally moaning and whingeing Jazzer provides comedic interludes between the more serious plot lines running through the series. The Glaswegian jock-of-all-trades is never lucky in love and has an unrequited passion of his own for the musician Fallon Rogers. He also recently lost out to his flatmate over wooing a Polish fruit picker who turned both Jazzer and his friend’s heads. This internal-immigrant from Glasgow has gone through dark nights of the soul taking drugs and stealing cars though has settled down of late but thankfully has not lost his dour Scotch outlook on life. If I could choose a fictional grand-father for him it would be the Scotch undertaker Fraser in “Dad’s Army”.  How great it would be to hear them howl in unison: “We’re all doomed!”

Kenton Archer is the family dreamer who has been bailed out many times by his parents over dodgy business dealings that go pear-shaped. None the less Kenton is a likeable loser who has gone through one failed marriage and one doomed relationship with goody-two shoes Kathy Perks. Yet, even after falling out with Kathy he maintained a friendship with her troubled teenage son Jamie, offering him a listening ear while others around him (most notably his mother) were berating the boy. The central point about the Kenton character is that despite the track record and the odds, you want him to win.

Lynda Snell is the unofficial village policewoman, moral guardian and unlikely eco-warrior of Ambridge. She is a required taste in terms of the characters. Posh voiced with an interfering sniffy nature she runs the local drama group, produces the Christmas panto and bullies others, gently of course, into good deeds for the community. Lynda is the annoying “involver” but if you were in a trench with the shells landing over your head, you could trust her to hold her nerve, keep the unit together and steel everyone for the big push.

Will Grundy. One of the most flammable story lines in recent years has been the re-enaction of the Cain and Abel story transported to the English countryside. Will was pitted against his brother Ed over Emma. She was once Will’s wife but conducted an affair with his brother that ended in a bloody confrontation, acrimonious divorce, a DNA test to establish who was Emma’s son’s father. In one memorable episode the cliff hanger at the end hinted that Will may have committed suicide in response to Emma shacking up with Ed. In fact Will has survived and prospered, and will be marrying the woman who saved him from himself, Nic Hanson, on New Years Day. By the way that DNA test proved that Emma’s baby boy was Will’s.

And finally Brian Aldridge. Yes I know he represents everything I object to in the English upper middle classes. He is arrogant, pompous, full of himself and dismissive. He likes to bulldoze to get his way, even to the detriment of the local environment. Brian is also on the personal front what some colloquially call a “complete shit.” He fathered a child to his Irish mistress now deceased whom his long-suffering wife Jennifer is helping to bring up. And yet…and yet. There is never a dull moment when Aldridge takes centre stage in the plots whether it’s battling with Matt Crawford or alienating Tom Archer over his nephew’s plans for his legendary range of sausages. Yes he is a shit but he’s our shit!

There are quite a few characters that I personally find irritating and wouldn’t mind if they accidentally fell into a combine harvester. These include Tom’s sister Helen Archer who was always deeply annoying and slightly non-credible but has become totally tedious since she got pregnant via the Turkey-basting method and had her son who is called, alas, Henry. The village vicar Alan Franks represents everything that is so wrong with the modern Church of England.  He is the trendy Rev who once took in a heroin addict to his vicarage and along with his equally nauseating wife Usha (she is a lawyer, need we say anymore!) seem to jar as characters with the rest of the cast. Kate Madikane would be my number one candidate to get caught up in a fatal carjacking in downtown Johannesburg. The daughter of Brian Aldridge, Kate is exactly like any of those rich rebel girls you meet in university who just decided to drop out and move to the Atlas Mountains to live with a tribe of Berbers in order to “find themselves”. This is not a moral judgement even though Kate abandoned her daughter Phoebe leaving her with father Roy Tucker. She simply reminds me of all those well-heeled posh birds who join the revolution just to piss off daddy.

Leaving aside these villains of the village The Archers overall cheers me up on dark weekday nights while I’m preparing a meal, doing the dishes or ironing clothes. It gives you 15 minutes out of your own time. The majority of the stories are a far cry from the endless doom and gloom of trashier soaps such as Eastenders although the iconic radio show does have its fair share of tragedy and misery. Thankfully the programme is available on the Internet via BBC iplayer down here in the Republic and if you miss any of the weeknight programmes between shortly after 7pm and 7.15pm, you can play catch up every Sunday after 10am when there is The Archers’ omnibus. If you are an Ambridge-virgin treat yourself to an episode or two and I guarantee you will become hooked. Eventually you will pluck up the courage to admit you are an Archers’ fan.

The cops want my mobile phone

Perhaps someone should provide the Sat Nav and the grid co-ordinates of Holywood, Co. Down to the PSNI station in Lurgan. Why? Because the dormitory town to the east of Belfast is presently home to the largest MI5 base outside of London. MI5 AKA The Security Services now holds primacy in terms of counter-terrorism within Northern Ireland. At its Holywood base in the Palace Barracks complex it employs a large number of spies and technical eavesdroppers who keep a watch not only on the homegrown terrorism of the republican dissidents, but also those involved in the Islamist terror front both in the UK and abroad.

Agents working out of the Holywood HQ have been deployed not only inside Northern Ireland but also, for instance, at foreign holiday resorts favoured by local tourists to track down members of the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireaan and try to entice them with bundles of cash to become informers. In addition the MI5 regional base is equipped with the state of the art listening technology aimed at dipping in and out of the messages transmitted between dissident republicans. The press and the public of course are not given access for understandable reasons to the type of hi-tech resources currently available to the spooks, although we can imagine how advanced the devices they are using to spy on the enemies of the state are these days.

Back in the early 1990s RUC Special Branch had a bug at one very important location where the former SDLP leader John Hume was holding secret talks with the Provisional IRA. According to one former RUC source the listening device was so sophisticated that there was a “live feed” between the meeting place Hume and the Provos were sitting in and the secure room at Castlereagh RUC station in east Belfast to which senior police figures would listen into whenever the talks were going on. MI5 also had access to this “live feed” and it is understood that at one stage when something potentially controversial was uttered during a conversation between Hume and the IRA, the feed was mysteriously disconnected. Privately the RUC always suspected MI5 had severed the link fearing whatever was being beamed in and recorded
could have been leaked either to the media or worse still, the loyalists.

That was then and this is now. More than a decade and a half later one can only imagine the leap forward being made in surveillance technology that the Security Services have at their disposal in their counter-terrorist operations since the early 1990s. The question is however: are they sharing them with the PSNI? An incident a fortnight ago involving myself and my battered Nokia E51 mobile phone suggests in some instances that they are not!

A couple of Saturdays ago I was enjoying a day off with two of my children at the Odyssey entertainment centre on the banks of the Lagan. As my girl and boy bounced around like maniacs inside a bouncy castle with the face of Spiderman on the top of it, the mobile rang. My heart sank. I suspected it might be The Observer news desk informing of a major breaking news story and that as a result I would have to go back on duty. In fact it turned out that the call was a local voice, claiming to be from the “Continuity Army Council of the IRA”, i.e. the Continuity IRA. He claimed they had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a police patrol between roundabouts 1 and 2 in Craigavon in the early hours of that morning. Having given the recognised code word and once he had conveyed the message the caller promptly disconnected the call. Naturally on the LCD screen it stated that number had been withheld.

As well as contacting the Guardian Unlimited and the PSNI Press Officer (the latter having no reports or knowledge of the alleged attack) I phoned the UTV newsroom to get this claim out in the public domain. Within the next 48 hours I received two phone calls from an officer in PSNI Lurgan about the claim of responsibility. In one call I was warned that the police might want to examine my mobile phone in a bid to trace the call and perhaps even identify the caller. Immediately I decided to contact the Guardian high command and received their backing and legal advice, the view from the paper being quite adamant – under no circumstances should I hand over my mobile phone to the police.

Of course journalists cannot and should not be above the law. Nor should we encourage others to break it. None the less the suggestion that I surrender the phone to help the police build a potential case against someone claiming to represent a republican terror group is a potential threat to two principles: the freedom of the press and my right to life. As regards the former there has been in recent times increasing pressures on reporters on both sides of the Irish Sea to provide material which would enable the police to do their job more effectively. The BBC and UTV locally along with RTE, Sky and other broadcasters are facing demands that they hand over footage to the PSNI of the rioting in Ardoyne in July and East Belfast in late June. In England all the major broadcasters are facing similar demands to surrender unedited film of the riots that rocked English cities in August. Meanwhile colleagues at The Guardian recently resisted Metropolitan Police attempts to force them to reveal who told them that the News of the World hacked into the mobile phone of murder victim Milly Dowler. The bid to get me to hand over my mobile is yet another development in this phenomenon.

Journalists are not detectives but witnesses to unfolding public events and news stories. To start to harvest our material, contacts, sources and even equipment is to put us in the firing line. Just imagine if I decided to co-operate and drove down to Lurgan and handed over the mobile for technical examination. Consider the possibility that arrests might follow and the story emerge that it was my mobile phone call that enabled the PSNI to pursue a potential subject. As the judgement in the Ed Moloney and later Suzanne Breen cases concluded such pressurised collaboration could easily put my life in danger. Which is something one can expect when you cross paramilitary organisations and highlight their criminality and their butchery. That is our job as well as holding the institutions of the state and politicians to account. But our job is not to become an auxiliary force for the police in terms of counter-terrorism or general crime.

Meantime if the detectives really are keen to try and trace who made that brief call on my Nokia a fortnight ago they only have to contact their colleagues over in Holywood (Co. Down) and ask for assistance in tracking a call. Although that begs the question as two whether the spooks and the cops are fully co-operating with one another.

(This article was published in the Belfast Telegraph on 28th September)

Random thoughts during last night’s insomnia

COTTAGE PORN: I can’t shake it off. I’d say, at a conservative estimate, I do about 20 hours a week on property websites. They’re truly the teddy bear of the bricks-n-mortar world. Small dinky cottages with two windows and a garishly painted door. After years of plywood apartments, listening to neighbours fart & beat up their wives, romanesque snores and kids painting walls with overly worked lungs, I demand life lobs me a cottage. In return I’ll try to be less aggressive towards people who let me down and junkies who I like to describe as ‘a Monet of clanking bones in silver Nike’. I love *tiny* cottages that really only resemble belt buckles, architect licked ones too beautiful to be lived in, awkwardly shaped ones that somewhere along the line begin to look as infirm as their cuppa soup geriatric owners, loud crashing seaside ones with sand and flowers and bugs in the garden, crooked ones that’d need a bus-load of Polish builders to put back together again. I love them indiscriminately in the way a deranged animal sanctuary owner loves pit bulls, without noticing any savage flaws. I’d fill mine with crooked wooden furniture, books I’ve no intention of reading on a rake of built-in walnut shelves and some awesome portraits by Emer Martin on the walls. I’d like a separate carved-out nook to write in, mosaic wet-room, open fire. Can’t abide people moaning about the ‘work’ involved in cleaning out the ashes, etc. What about changing nappies for years on end for kids you didn’t think twice about having and later deciding at 50 you didn’t really want (or need)? I’m easy too about where it might be, this cottage that’s coming my way: Dublin, Galway, France or Berlin. There are no cottages in Berlin. Obviously it goes without saying I’d need a cat too, a cynical black one or lazy black & white one (marmalades are malcontents). My love and I will take turns cooking dinner and in the summer we’ll drink low-end high-alco fizzy crap on a beautifully tiled & trellised patio with terracotta plant pots, not overlooked by inquisitorial neighbours who play their TV too loud when not moaning about roadworks and the cataclysmic drinking habits of young people.

AMY: So predictable as to be invertedly shocking. Why couldn’t anyone stop this kid in her tracks?

ENDA KENNY: Baffling moment in our pigeonhearted history of putting ethereal skypilots in their place. After accusing the blokes in dresses of frustrating the Cloyne inquiry, a holy row erupted between Ireland and the Vatican that led to the recalling of the Irish ambassador in Rome. Enda’s intonation was gritty-steely, genuinely angry and determined, a stance normally reserved for collapsing money markets and depreciation of brick. He rightly acknowledged that victim’s lives are shattered – they may never be able to pick up the pieces – while in some parts of the country, abusers continue to live freely and are still held in high esteem. A faithful Catholic demanding that the perpetrators of child sexual abuse face up to the full force of the law; this was a Cilit Bang moment in Ireland’s political recital. It ain’t that long ago that standing up to the local parish priest would ultimately result in total ostracisation, if not lynch-mob persecution from gobshites obsessed with life after death instead of living the present-tense fluky one. The local priest/bondage builder could tell you how to vote, who to marry, how many children to have, what to think. Standing up to clergy was only done if you were leaving town for good. “Childhood is a sacred space”, Enda declared, saying out loud what we’ve all been screaming for decades. “Safeguarding their integrity and innocence must be a national priority.” Irish politics is removing the cataracts just as the Holy See is declared righteously blind. The whole of Europe has been yapping about us since. Thank you Enda. Sorry for saying you looked as ineffectual as a petrol pump attendant from the Midlands in the run-up to the last election. Invariably, I was wrong. 

JOURNALIST IN A COMA: Found myself feeling conflicted about news of the sports reporter, at the centre of an underage sex scandal, being in a coma. Tabloid ‘news’ [Evening Herald + Star] informs us his organs are failing and he’s unlikely to make a recovery at all. This ‘kinda’ [at least to me] indicates an overdose at some point which would fit in with the fact that he’s been on suicide watch for some time. It also suggests some sort of conscience and regardless of the grisly facts, this is quite a tragic end for everyone, particularly for the man’s daughter who’ll no doubt be saddled with chunky guilt and not much resolution. There are two extreme angles here: he deserves everything he gets or in our hideously sexualised modern world: did he really do anything wrong? I include the latter because someone actually said that to me last week in one of those I wouldn’t say this out loud but I know I can say anything to you pub moments. This was followed by a declaration that most teenagers these days are sexually active and look/behave well beyond their years. Well, yes, he did, of course, do wrong: a big glaring ugly aberrant wrong. But the way through this was perhaps to own up to those actions, face the law, trawl through rehabilitation, atone, learn from it, teach us something from it, even if life was never going to return to a workable norm. I interviewed this man 14 years ago for a college profile I was writing on Nuala O’Faolain. She considered him a ‘dear friend’ and a ‘desperately good’ character. I can’t help hearing her firebrand apoplexy from deep within the grave: “You stupid stupid man, just because she had breasts, an iPhone, red lipstick and a spellbinding smile, doesn’t mean she wasn’t a gormless child. YOU were the adult and the shock of finally realising this has killed you”.

DETTOL SOAP: Yer only man for an itchy arse. Hard to come by though. Not in supermarkets. I buy mine in Superpharm, Finglas.

HYPOCRISY: Psychopath Behring Breivik ordered ‘anti-muslim’ badges from India that were made by an Indian Muslim. As reported in The Guardian, Mohammed Aslam Ansari, owner of a small company in Benares, northern India, received the email order in March 2010 for a badge showing a blood-red crusader sword vertically piercing a skull marked with the symbols of Islam, communism and Nazism. Breivik designed the insignia for his Knights Templar group, and paid Ansari £90 for two samples – one in silk, the other in brocade. Ansari dispatched the badges by courier service but although Breivik had said he was interested in ordering 200 badges, he never followed up on the order. It sums up the flagrant lunacy of this grotesque tale while at the same time highlighting the absurdity of fanaticism. Historian and novelist Philipp Blom wrote that ‘human need for creating personal meaning generates myths, holy texts or ideologies. Believing those stories to be the truth makes us susceptible to fanaticism.’ You can find out if you’re a fanatic here

CANCER: Nerves on high alert today as I wait for news on my 46 year old brother’s ‘Round 3’ cancer scan results. He’s been through the mill already and the thoughts of any further suffering makes me feel genuinely scared and angry. Thanks too to his c**t of a wife who left him in the midst of treatment, taking the kids (and all the white goods) with her. Enter Friedrich Nietzsche stage right ~ One should never know too precisely whom one has married. 

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?

 
 

In lieu of Ulysses….

…and all that makes zero sense, I thought I’d lob in some of my random stream of consciousness Facebook updates below from the Bloomsday month of June 2009. Yes, disturbingly there’s an app that can do this. Still living in Belfast, just finishing an MA, not much work on the go, even less to do. No homosapien dead or alive should enjoy a monopoly on talking jibberyockerwocky. We can all talk crap but social networking is a giant Joycean gastric stomach. I would argue that the erratic, fragmentary ways we communicate online these days make texts like Ulysses more accessible or getatable than before. Making sense of the mind ministrations of others is something we now do routinely, trawling through the real-time droppings of the likes of Twitter, etc.

I’ve never celebrated Bloomsday before, but today we went to the Joycean Breakfast at the Brian Boru pub in Glasnevin, where chapter four of Ulysses was brilliantly orated by a wrinkled man clutching an embroidered linen snotrag. I always found chapters 1-3 completely unbearable, and usually threw Joyce to the immersion heater wall around about then, but today’s reading has encouraged me to go back to it. The last time I attempted to read it was in France on holidays a year ago, but gave up and my nine-year-old nephew began to mulch his head trying to make sense of it. “This guy is a nutjob Aunty June!” he exclaimed one morning, and then proceeded to tell me that it was blatantly obvious the author was “sitting inside an online game” in the way he was describing his surroundings. Young Jake had grabbed Joyce by the scruff of his quark and taken him into a future he could not have pipe dreamed in an Edwardian pub.

Sitting there today on a stump stool listening to Bloom describe another type of stool hammered home how monologuing in Ulysses is similar to the self-referential puke-ups of laptop life. Though invariably it’s also little or nothing to do with literature or the making of stories. An interesting resource for Bloomsday info is the BBC Book of the Week which discusses at length, how the idea for Joyce’s ‘masterpiece’ was conceived. There’s Twitter-generated novels already but I haven’t heard of the solo-authored Facebook variety. It’d be arduous as hell to drop a story arc in there and still make it believable with the separation of update hours and days, though I’ve no doubts a young sniffy Joycean lit-nerd (probably American) will achieve it soon. There’s a Facebook Status Update Novel project though a lot of these collaborations run out of steam quickly when the initial hilarity passes. Here’s an old month-long spue of mine dated backwards for the ultimate fried kidneys Joycean aspergers in a bread tin effect.

Tue June 30, 2009, 3:01 pm: Editing a financial website from my mattress. Great not having to deal with dicks in an office. I can also stay unwashed & eat fish fingers for breakfast.

Tue June 30, 2009, 12:03 pm: Having MSG for tea in the hope that it brings on peripheral brain poisoning.

Tue June 30, 2009, 11:21 am: Drunk on the synthetic fumes of a nasty cheap scented candle that should really be reserved for funeral homes or an antidote for cat litter trays.

Tue June 30, 2009, 7:31 am: Seriously looking for a sperm donor. Any idiot will do. Last chance for a sprog alarm to wake me in the mornings.

Tue June 30, 2009, 2:28 am: Blown away (not in a good way).

Mon June 29, 2009, 1:10 pm: Waded through a bizarre day that started with a plethora of scangers on DLA scooters, then some unwanted blood, finally ending in financial markets of Singapore in a rich man’s house.

Mon June 29, 2009, 7:37 am: Dreadful Bridget Jones episode an hour ago.

Mon June 29, 2009, 1:37 am: Off out to meet geezer for coffee, then to get impaled (but not by him, an NHS nurse) followed by a 3-hour website editing course. Christ.

Sun June 28, 2009, 3:30 pm: Off for a smear-test on the Ormeau Road tomorrow; think accidentally sitting on a scaffolding pole, then having to smile on a bus afterwards.

Sun June 28, 2009, 1:39 pm: Happy to hear my brother’s bum works after his cancer op. Not a nice fact, but a necessary one. Chemo gives you hardons, allegedly.

Sun June 28, 2009, 7:49 am: Strongly considering obliterating my F’book account to get a book done so societal knobs will stop leaving futile comments.

Sun June 28, 2009, 7:37 am: It was impossible to escape pics of plastic Paris forward slash pottery Michael today…but wasn’t he supposed to be ‘frozen’ immediately and not ever put forward for autopsy?

Sun June 28, 2009, 4:28 am: Woke in a rage thinking about money I’m owed….

Sat June 27, 2009, 11:41 am: Laughing heartily at a David Icke documentary; he really cheers me up.

Sat June 27, 2009, 9:06 am: Wonders why Holywood Library is chock-full of pensioners reading the Obituaries in the ‘free’ newspapers….can’t they just wait a ickle bit longer?

Sat June 27, 2009, 5:32 am: Piss broke and is still having no joy getting a £150 ‘deposit’ back from 3Mobile or should I say 3 fucking Mobile.

Fri June 26, 2009, 3:42 pm: Equations : grey hair to navy suit, yellow cardigan to pay-for-parking, slumped student to stray litter, blonde curls to wedding glossies, gay men to Smart cars, chavs to chips, slow learners to wide arses, lattes to transients, clutch bags to 48-yr-olds, Fona Cabs to smelly fooookers.

Fri June 26, 2009, 4:09 am: Rootin’ for brother Adrian who’s having a serious op today. Go boyo go!

Fri June 26, 2009, 2:15 am: Apparently it was an inherited condition Wacko died of….something called the Billy Gene?

Thu June 25, 2009, 3:29 pm: The Paedo of Pop is dead.

Thu June 25, 2009, 3:25 pm: Gung-ho for her bro who’s having a very serious operation tomorrow. Love him so utterly.

Thu June 25, 2009, 9:57 am: Appalled at the cynicism re: Hetty Hoover, I felt the same when all you Celtic Tiger dicks bought wooden decking patios and steel kitchens on yezer credit cards. Ha.

Thu June 25, 2009, 5:02 am: Sore back and smells like an abandoned herring but nevertheless I am up and that’s a start.

Thu June 25, 2009, 2:08 am: If you have a roving eye, it’s no use having the other one fixed on Heaven.

Wed June 24, 2009, 1:32 pm: Was Harvey Norman trained by the Taliban?

Wed June 24, 2009, 11:31 am: Why do anarchists with pink hair always seem to get beaten up at climate change get-togethers? Also, don’t they realise what those (often unregulated) ridiculously toxic hair-dye chemicals do to the environment they’re prepared to get slapped on Sky TV for?  

Wed June 24, 2009, 10:13 am: Charmed by her Chernobyl-esque five-legged organic carrots.

 Wed June 24, 2009, 3:07 am: Anxiously awaiting the arrival of Hetty Hoover. She has eyelashes for the extra tenner!

Tue June 23, 2009, 4:41 pm: Just set eyes on a hideous woman with a double-buggy and loaded down with ‘feel good’ Boots bags full of prawn cocktail sandwiches and a plastic sash around her emblazoned with ‘Bride To Be’.

 Tue June 23, 2009, 10:07 am: Had a ‘homemade’ microwaved chick pea curry full of d-Nitrosodiethanolomines & a pitta as hard as a Braintree drug dealer. However, the rosé wine on tap tasted a bit like ladybird kisses.  

Tue June 23, 2009, 7:52 am: Just saw this on a ‘kid’s health website’ – ‘You cannot catch gonorrhoea from a towel, a doorknob, or a toilet seat.’ Shocked to find out about the doorknobs…all those years wasted opening doors with my feet.

Tue June 23, 2009, 7:20 am: Is a fat prawn for yet another summer; interesting things happen with sweat in crevices when your BMI hits over 30. Any personal trainers out there want to deal with an angry neurotic for free?

Tue June 23, 2009, 2:03 am: Full of empathy…but maybe now I’ll get my friends back…those fabulous folk who turned into arseholes for ten years talking about holiday homes & house renovations they couldn’t afford. Sorry to take another slant, but being broke will be good for Ireland.

Mon June 22, 2009, 12:24 pm: Ponders the dull fact that women named Patricia are always smarmy. Struck down by a need to buy Tupperware in late afternoon.

Mon June 22, 2009, 9:56 am: Trying to have a siesta but small terraces can be a nightmare, the Poles are roaring outside the window, a group of small kids are playing war games, cars zipping by, home-hospiced aulone’s bell rings with new rounds of red-faced nurses in green puntos.

Sun June 21, 2009, 2:54 am: Looking for a gimp to wash my hair.

Sat June 20, 2009, 10:19 am: Born in March not June (for the love of jaysus stop asking me). Conceived in June, invariably, as March is nine months later.

Sat June 20, 2009, 9:08 am: Taking pins & needled legs off for some cheap cava at the offie.

Sat June 20, 2009, 5:24 am: Dousing in cherry sencha before marching against Belfast Nazis (disguised as genial working class folk).

Sat June 20, 2009, 1:47 am: Woken by an Editor (how embarrassing…). Off to anti-racist rally in a while but not before a trip to the Coffee Yard.

Thu June 18, 2009, 5:20 pm: Amused by Jimmy Nesbitt’s burka bonk, colloquially known as a ‘dry ride’ in 1980s Dublin.

Thu June 18, 2009, 3:00 pm: Really enjoying BBC’s Occupation drama. Job well done for a change (OK, so there’s a few Hollywood-esque bits…what virile Brit falls in love with a woman who doesn’t put out?).

Thu June 18, 2009, 9:22 am: Nabbed an assortment of organic veg looks as crooked as your average Dáil politician. The peppers look like horse tumours. 

Thu June 18, 2009, 6:12 am: Had a productive meeting with a blonde.

 Thu June 18, 2009, 4:56 am: Thrilled for Suzanne Breen – and journalism in general.

Tue June 16, 2009, 11:49 am: La bonne nuit tout vous prostituées de cochon. …eat mes ongles d’orteil pour le petit déjeuner.

Mon June 15, 2009, 3:39 pm: Wonders why PR cocks give the same story to every journalist in a place as small as Belfast – claiming exclusivity – and expect not to be scundered.

Mon June 15, 2009, 7:36 am: False hip beeped at Departures which led to a mauling by a friendly dyke in uniform.

Mon June 15, 2009, 6:47 am: In Stanstead and it smells of international armpits and Kerrygold.

Mon June 15, 2009, 3:55 am: Getting ready to head to Stanstead. Don’t want to head back to Belfast, time here almost done.

Sun June 14, 2009, 4:13 pm: Saw duck egg honesty boxes in Waltringfield & saw her niece get stung in Felixstowe.

Sun June 14, 2009, 4:36 am: Off to Colchester to get bitten by small monkeys.

Sat June 13, 2009, 11:54 am: Missing Irish wind! Strong enough to throw orthopaedically fucked aulones onto the road, the type of wind that scares swans and changes the direction of men’s urine in laneways, the same wind that imprisons babies behind plastic pram sheets and makes dogs run in circles.

Thu June 11, 2009, 2:13 am: Released a Daddy Longlegs from a spider’s web in the jacks, lobbed him out the window and watched him get chased by a cat. Far more interesting than the Sunday papers. So sick of reading about f00ked up writers after they’re dead. Such and such was an alco, had strange sexual habits, was cruel to his wife, a bore to his kids, but still won prizes. Grrrhhhhh.

Wed June 10, 2009, 4:12 am: Has flu-lite but nonetheless it comes with one of those cat-claw-creeper grids on the lungs full of phlegm that rattles like a kid’s handheld windmill when I exhale. Is that too much information?

Tue June 9, 2009, 7:44 am: Just been scolded by two old dears for using her laptop in the cafe. “Excuse me!” white-haired bint roared. “You can’t use them in here unless the battery is dead!” Then she picked up the menu to clarify her bintedness, which was unclarifiable. WTF?

Tue June 9, 2009, 6:52 am: Thought of a way to restart civil war in the North….Blow up AIDA @ Belfast Festival, Queens…demise the intellectuals, academics, creative writers, PR heads, etc., and leave the scum to sort each other out in the many tanning salons, low-price beer halls & cheap ‘Ulster fry’ cafes.

Tue June 9, 2009, 3:50 am: Sick of laptop bondage.

Mon June 8, 2009, 2:22 pm: Ma is still bitching about the parents of the baby found in the drain, over a boiled egg.

Mon June 8, 2009, 8:26 am: American writers use words that sound like they’re made of sodium. Schmaltzy, for instance.

Mon June 8, 2009, 2:19 am: Enda Kenny looks like a Petrol Pump Attendant from the Midlands.

Sun June 7, 2009, 6:02 pm: In the bath with a double decker. Writer’s group submissions are sitting in the Inbox. The sci-fi guy is still alive. Hasn’t he a bicycle to fix or women to kill?

Sun June 7, 2009, 10:38 am: Watching Big Brother on catchup…what a boring trite formula at this stage…Brit culture is f–ked. Mother says marvellously inane things on the phone, like: “they’re very good-looking onions.”

Sun June 7, 2009, 5:46 am: Just witnessed a moustached woman shoplift a slice of Sicilian lemon cheesecake from Cafe Nero in Belfast.

Sat June 6, 2009, 12:12 pm: Waiting on the Indian takeaway to arrive. Yer man is having some bombastically hot chicken scenario, I’m having a korma…some beers, etc. I am so easily pleased I don’t know how I’m not married.

Sat June 6, 2009, 8:57 am: Leffe beer & relaxing by a coal fire which is obscure for the month of June but nonetheless pleasant. Marvelling at other people’s self-protection rackets in the absence of her own.

Sat June 6, 2009, 4:44 am: Getting a lecture on Feudalism.

Fri June 5, 2009, 1:35 pm: Wonders about Kill Bill Syndrome & why oh why oh why would you hang yourself in a wardrobe to get off?

Fri June 5, 2009, 3:29 am: Right-side ovary pains, just so you know. Feels like there’s a pacman in there.

Thu June 4, 2009, 10:40 am: Found an antediluvian portion of Donegal Catch in the oven; may need carbon dating.

Thu June 4, 2009, 7:26 am: He who is without cows must be his own dog in the same manner that a blind man can see his own mouth. Irish proverbs. Total tits.

Thu June 4, 2009, 6:29 am: Enamoured by the pigeon shit & stray magnolia feathers on swaying laminate recession billboards offering NVQ Shepherd’s Pie + free glass of wine all about Botanic. No working class writers chronicling this place; it’s all middle-class yarn through a busted kaleidoscope.

Wed June 3, 2009, 6:49 pm: Bought a newspaper and learnt about a talking beetle in a volcano, more books on the private lives of dead authors, lingering articles about ‘depression’, the Lisbon Treaty, how to cook cabbage with cream and how the Queen ma’s legs shook during the Blitz.

Wed June 3, 2009, 12:06 pm: Thinks Fanta Lemon tastes like fizzy venom.

Wed June 3, 2009, 11:14 am: Looking forward to Ipswich next week…

Wed June 3, 2009, 4:46 am: In my next life I’ll be a solicitor’s wife hanging around the dishwasher with lambs wool knockers & constant grace.

Tue June 2, 2009, 3:32 pm: Went for an interview with a retard-publisher, then had pints in a pub where local loyalists hid behind plastic plants and made jokes about IRA bombs.

Tue June 2, 2009, 11:18 am: Received an email about carbon emissions training with spelling mistakes POLLUTING the text. Learn to spell before saving the planet, gobshite.

Tue June 2, 2009, 9:57 am: Fascinated by the PedEgg contraption on TV3 – you can save (in bulk) your shaved off foot skin and sprinkle as “parmesan” on enemy pasta dinners. Only €10 at Heatons!

Tue June 2, 2009, 4:40 am: Cheered to know there’s an alternative PURPLE to the dreaded Blue Loo that every spinster in Ireland has used since the death of De Valera & shoe polish.

Mon June 1, 2009, 4:01 pm: Church newsletter: a lecture date on ‘Mystics’ – Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, etc. – then underneath: ‘All About Geraniums’. Have geriatric Catholics started to look for God in the ground?

Mon June 1, 2009, 11:57 pm: In bed reading a book that’s too perfect & ironed, like a lap dancer’s bikini line. Ban creative writing courses & bring back a bit of raw.

Working class pride & prejudice

Shaving this morning with my father’s old razor reminded me how even on any given weekday, out of work or down on his luck, he  still always tried to appear as pristine as possible.

Up until his recent illness, when he fought to catch breath, there was always a shirt and tie, the latter knotted tightly by my mother before he would venture outside the door. In winter he wore a Crombie coat or a reefer jacket over a suit and he always made sure whatever the weather his shoes were shiny, his hair was parted back neatly, his face as clean-shaven and bristle free as mine is today thanks to his razor.

Born at the outbreak of the Second World War he became part of that post-war generation who enjoyed unprecedented (albeit relative) prosperity compared to the grinding poverty that their antecedents had to endure. This generation prided itself on their appearance and spent new disposal income on the latest fashions coming from the United States and Europe. Hanging up in my mother’s house in Belfast for instance are Italian cut suits my dad picked up in the 1960s and his (and mine’s) favourite tie, a brown thin shipped corduroy-like material made by Abercrombie of Paris. Poring over old pictures of him last weekend, some black and white, others with that washed-out colour of 1970s photography, I was struck at how fashion-conscious even he was back in those days. 

There were many men like him at the funeral a month ago some of whom like him sported crew-cuts and wore trendy early 60s garb in those photographs I spent hours staring at on Sunday. The time these images capture was one when where there was still such a thing as working class pride.

One of the few utterances I ever agreed with that came out of Derek Hatton’s mouth concerned clothing. Apart of course from him like me being an Evertonian! The former Militant Tendency leader of Liverpool City Council during the 1980s had to defend himself constantly against charges that he was a flash-harry, that his sharp suits and equally sharp hair cuts were the antithesis of Socialist Man. Hatton who at least understand the working class better than the London-based middle class Trotskyites easily rebutted this charge.  He pointed out that working men and women loved to get dressed up, all suited and booted for the pub and the club especially at the weekend. There was nothing anti-socialist or working class about looking good.

Hatton’s detractors regarding his dress sense (let us leave aside Militant’s toxic legacy to the left) came from a media class in the main dominated still by the sons and daughters of rich people. Ask this media class today to visualise the working class and you will be offered up images of overweight men bulging out of tracksuits while chain-smoking and waking a pit bull; bloated bottled blonde young women scantily dressed and collapsing in the street while still managing to hold a blue bottle of WKD upright and gangs of feral young men in baseball caps driving around in souped-up Ford Fiestas, their cars blaring out the misogynistic anthems of nihilist gangsta’ rap.

My colleague at The Observer Carole Caldwalladr wrote a thoughtful piece last week on “Chav Britain”, the new underclass that has supposedly supplanted the old working class in the poorer, third tier of society. The personification of “Chav Britain” Carole pointed out was the character of Vicky Pollard, a gross stereotype who is work-shy, unattractive and repellent.  In this two-dimensional portrayal of the poor Pollard is in poverty because it is somehow her fault. And like so many other “Chavs” out there she is addicted to what I call the “Cult of Instantaneous Satisfaction” whether that be a “gobjob” or a brand new Kappa tracksuit.

The “Cult of Instantaneous Satisfaction” is a by-product of mass consumerism and the shift in society from “We” to “I”. It accelerated through the 1970s and reached a crescendo in the following decade with the arrival of must-have goods ranging from the new video recorders to microwave ovens. Combined with the decline of organised labour and the new philosophy of greed-being-good life for people even at the bottom of the social scale became more privatised.

In the 1990s there was a brilliant but depressing scene from the BBC television series “Our Friends in the North” that summed up this new brutalist, egomaniacal era. The Christopher Ecclestone character goes back to his native Newcastle to look after his father, an old socialist and trade unionist, who has succumbed to Alzheimers. The old boy lives in a block of flats terrorised by a local thug who is always accompanied by his black pit bulls. Rather than act sympathetically to the old man this yob intimidates and threatens him constantly. This one scene accurately reflected the shift in values on many housing estates across Britain and indeed Ireland where might was now right and the strong preyed on the weak.

The Observer asked why the other side of society’s losers, the people at the bottom of the pile who try to be decent, bring up their kids against the odds, hold down mundane and poorly paid jobs while maintaining their dignity and who try to put something back into their communities are missing from our television screens. Why has the luckless but loving, family man Yosser Hughes been replaced the likes of Vicky Pollard? The answer, as Carole proffered, is that television is dominated by middle class executives and producers, and that a laziness pertains in their culture which makes it acceptable to demonise the so-called “Chavs.”

I do not agree with the contention that the word “Chav” be banned from public discourse in the same way as the N-word (and rightly so) has been excised. But what is to be done as an old Bolshevik once asked? Here is one small suggestion to the trade union movement. Rather than wasting your members money on tokenistic adventures such as sending activists to foreign shores like Hamas-dominated Gaza (a clerical-fascist anti-trade union movement by the way) try to creatively address the negative stereotyping of the people you care about – both those in work and those without.  How about a trade union-backed documentary showing the positive side of working class life in the 21st century. What about establishing and supporting a film based business dedicated to dramatising the struggles and pressures and prejudices working class people face? Avoiding blatant agit-prop is it not time to fight back against the blanket labelling of workers and the unemployed as a tacky, bejewelled, gnarling, selfish mass of Jeremy Kyle watchers. 

Take a lesson from the Manic Street Preachers and their best and brilliant anthem “A Design for Life” which resonates to this day as a foil against those who would smear all of the working class as feckless addicts of the “Cult of Instantaneous Satisfaction.” There is a class culture war to fight and you won’t be able to rely on those in the media who think it is acceptable and “rather amusing” to sneer and snigger at the “Chavs.”

Faith and my Father

I am still terrified of death but I no longer fear the dead thanks to my father. He died on 7th May this year but I am indebted to him partly because of the mantra he kept hammering home to us in the first decade of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Back in the early 1970s Satan was making something of a comeback. The post-Street-Fighting-men-and-women of the late 60s radical protests no longer had sympathy for the devil. The Father of All Lies was back scaring everyone from Boston to Belfast, Detroit to Dublin thanks to an explosion of horror and supernatural films such as The Exorcist, The Devil Rides Out and The Omen. Demonic possessions, poltergeists, Satanic-ritual murder were all the rage again.

Even in war-torn Belfast with its pub bombs, nightly riots, drive-by shootings, tar and feathering, feuding, tear gas, rubber bullets and body counts, the ethereal threat from the forces of darknesses exercised our minds.  Hauntings, ghostly apparitions, people being possessed by evil spirits and so on were reported in a city where real people were slaughtering their fellow citizens in ever increasing and in some circumstances with inhumane, wanton brutality.

The parallel hysteria over the the menace from devils and demons was probably in large part due to the explosion of neo-horror on the silver screen in the seventies. My father always saw through this Satanic-panic dismissing nervous neighbours worried that a cloven hoofed stranger was about to enter their humble terraced dwelling in The Market area of Belfast with this advice: “The dead can do you no harm, it’s the living I’m worried about.”

Given that the “living” included people who were torturing their captives for hours on end before severing arteries in their necks with butchers’ knivers or cynical, cold blooded commanders (some of them now “respected” statesmen!) sending out teenagers to incinerate women in fashion boutiques with firebombs you could see my father’s point.

And yet…..

I recently faced a challenge to my existential fears and it concerned my father’s wake. It is traditional certainly in Catholic working class families for loved ones to remain beside the coffin containing their dead relative during the period before the funeral. That task was given to me and I accepted it gladly. After the throngs paying their respects had gone, once all the sandwiches had been covered in cling film, the trays of cups cleared away, the tea pots emptied and crockery put in the dishwasher: my mother, sister and myself were left alone. I had to stay on a makeshift sofa bed in the front livng room where the coffin was laid out, the mini altar adorned with candles and the sympathy cards piled up. It was a bizarre experience to sleep at a right angle to my father’s coffin, his fine sculpted facial outline still visible every time I propped myself up on my pillows, the tenebrous light from the candles illuminating his form.

And  yet I never felt a second of fear or apprehension bedding down for the night beside my dad’s corpse. The sensation I experienced those three draining nights I stayed by his side was strangely comforting. Perhaps this was in large part due to the fact that we had a brief but sadly bitter exchange just five days before he died in Belfast City Hospital. Despite some harsh words I genuinely felt being alone with him in the days leading up to his burial brought forward some form of atonement.

In these last few weeks I have, on occasion, sensed his presence again or at least imagined him around me. The most pronounced instance of this happened on the final Saturday of May just three weeks after his death. I was now asleep on a brown leather sofa in the exact area where his coffin had stood. Across the living room lay my six year old son on the other sofa who was snoring contentedly in a deep and peaceful slumber. In contrast to him, my sleep was disturbed by a menacing nightmare. I was in north Belfast, near a sectarian interface possibly near the Crumlin Road along with a former photographer colleague from the Irish News. We’d strayed into a mass Ulster loyalist protest that turned threatening and malevolent. It was probably a dream-like copy of some real scenarios I found myself in while reporting in Belfast throughout the Troubles. As we walked down that road I spotted a knot of men gathered at a corner who were clearly looking at us, whispering games of malice, moving towards us with ever increasing menance. Suddenly I was startled out of my reverie. A jolt of electricity surged through me and I jolted back into consciousness. In the first few seconds of coming back to the surface as my eyes got used to the darkeness around me I thought I could make out a shape in the gloom. A human form. It was probably just as ‘The Triffids’ song went A Trick of the Light. At least I hope it was or so says my rationalist side.

As a philosophy graduate, atheist and materialist I am innately sceptical about the supernatural, the afterlife, ghosts, etc. But then I turn to modern physics and recall the view that all matter is energy and that energy is never ultimately destroyed in the universe but rather transforms into another form even unto death. This is not wishful thinking. This is not the product of post-Catholic guilt. Rather it’s an admission that all cannot be explained especially when it comes to the loss of a loved one and the continued sense that that loss is not utterly and totally final. That something remains perhaps amid those chemicals in the brain that revisits happy memories, care and love to sustain you in the most difficult of times. Or maybe something more non-corporeal, something that survives after the disintegration of flesh and blood…

For Queen & someone else’s country

Every Republican under the sun, it seems, wants the Queen to apologise for the whole enchilada from Strongbow’s invasion of Ireland and the manky spud famine to Bloody Sunday (Part I & Part II). But won’t Elizabeth Windsor suffer enough faced with a barrage of Irish c’lebs from Amanda Brunker to Lorraine Keane − whose contribution to Irish culture has been to tell motorists to avoid the Kimmage crossroads during rush hour − to the bats-in-the-belfry yodels of Mary Byrne and the self piteous whines of a NAMA property developer? I’m assuming that Jedward will also be present, kickboxing at the cameras, demanding acreage of attention.

One group definitely not invited to the Royal hooley are those knockabout funsters in the Real IRA. They recently described the Queen’s 3-day junket as ‘the final insult’. Yet privately they’re probably salivating over the prospect of international broadcast attention from CNN, Sky News, NBC, and the BBC as they attempt to disrupt a blue-rinse pensioner lobbing some dried flowers on some very dead people in gardens normally occupied by Whacker, Thrasher, Basher and Redser, with their Nike logbags full of hypodermic needles and Druids cider.

To be serious for a moment though: after the national revulsion over Constable Ronan Kerr’s murder the dissies have now been gifted a chance of a propaganda-comeback. If they can turn parts of Dublin upside down as they did with the Love Ulster rally in 2006 they will score a publicity coup. The sight of globally renowned correspondents reporting live on the violence in Parnell St. will put the dissidents inflexibly back on the map. RSF has already announced their main demo starts at the Black Church behind Parnell Square (one time home to other dummies of a wax variety) where no doubt the track suit catwalk will charge like wildebeest towards a line of red-faced culchie Gardaí who’d give their left scrotum to be off-duty milling about with a Hurley stick somewhere bovine-deep in the midlands.

Security operations so far have involved a lot of Garda knocking on a lot of doors and ‘taking people’s names’ like they used to do back in the day of Garda Patrol (precursor to Crimecall) when a random Mrs Murphy’s garden gate was stolen. A pal who lives on Clonliffe Road backing onto Croke Park, which is part of Lizzy’s barnstorm, described how a country Guard knocked at her door and asked for her name and address. The name bit she could partially understand, but the address bit was a puzzle as he’d just knocked on her door after all! Bins have been confiscated, phone boxes soldered shut, student accommodation evacuated, sewers searched (perhaps even members of the voluntary Garda Reserve are manning the city drains and sewers?) All around Parnell Square the polished-bróga Special Branch have been not very discreetly placing sniper folk on sagging Edwardian rooftops in what I assume is an attempt to outwit other snipers belonging to more bothersome organisations who are way better at the gun thing and with more reason to use them. My bet is that an unemployed INLA man, unable to get onto a FÁS scheme due to the upsurge in quantity surveyors and solicitors hogging places, will send some bullets flying into the air, causing untold hysteria and horror, perhaps even a right royal stampede with Lizzy roaring, “Help! Help! My hat!” and De Duke saying: “Oh shit I say, here we go again old girl”.

The Twitter has been groaning with protestations all week: ‘What’s this about school children being drafted in to wave flags for queen’s visit? A reprehensible misuse of children,’ says Greystones branch of Sinn Féin. ‘Would ya really go on holiday to a place where the majority of the population want to see your head on a pike?’ asks another.

The tour is too long and is tempting fate. Already there are hoax bombs (London: yesterday, Maynooth and Inchicore Luas, this morning) and various ‘designed to disrupt’ shenanigans. There are too many venues and the opportunities are large for something to go badly wrong. Contrast with Obama who has just two venues to speak at before heading back into the burly blue sky. It would’ve been better if the Queen had tea & a few slices of McCambridges bread with Mary McAleese at Aras, followed by symbolic tree planting in the park, a pint of black stuff at Guinness Brewery and down to some stud farm in Kildare (where they’re all West Brits anyway) before heading back to Blighty. To put further blue fuel on verdigris flames, the geniuses in the Phoenix Park Gaff have invited UDA supremo Jackie McDonald and his loyalist entourage to Golden Bridge for the war dead ceremony. It’s a Tiramisu of farce, every day new and more flavoursome layers added.

Ireland, in the shitpit of fiscal smelliness, is forking out a fragrant €30 million to protect the Queen’s head and the Duke of Edinburgh’s torso (Philip’s uncle was blown up here). Costs could rise excessively if riots do erupt and British holiday-makers are scared off by the Queen’s getaway to the Emerald Isle ending in calamity. Fianna Fáil gambled and lost the banking industry through their disastrous 2008 bailout. Now, Fine Gael and Labour are gambling on one of the few businesses left in our economically ravaged country: tourism. Remember too that this prodigious PR stunt was planned as the final chapter in a long drawn-out  peace process. However, if things go awry it could be the preface  to an upsurge in Republican conflict all over again.

This is the biggest test of authority for the state since the 1981 hunger strike riots outside the British Embassy. The entire thing will be a sphincter-squeezing moment even if 10,000 strapping Guards, army and all 17 members of Special Branch manage to block the view of rampaging animals at the barricades. It will be like one of those icy moments out of sight in a Titanic lifeboat, where even from a polite distance there’s scant hope of drowning out the howls. The only good thing that could possibly happen if disaster strikes is Tonight with Vincent Browne would be forced to change topic, if only for a week.

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

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

Being depressed just means you’re not a moron

I once bled onto a Flintstone sock for four days in a Ballsbridge bedsit ’til it was hard enough to slash through human flesh or qualify for a Garda weapon’s seizure. Another time the man I was sleeping with just plain refused to crawl into my bed: ‘June, I can’t…there’s a phone in there and a half-eaten plate of pasta, beer cans and what looks like a piece of an ironing board.’ He was very sweet not to mention the month’s worth of dirty clothes, unread books, loose wires, odd shoes, an upturned lamp and decorative wooden salad fork set I bought as a present but was too lethargic to pass on.

While not very apt descriptions of prototypical depression, these two scenarios sum up the cloisterphobic clutter and superglue awfulness of an internal mood shift that can recalibrate your customary life into a bizarre orgy of silent dislocations. So much so that if you turned your head slightly to the left and saw your severed arm stuck rigid to the wall like a haphazard slot-machine handle, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Human voices become sloppily muffled, the tiniest of bureaucratic tasks: a crippling run between two lines of people facing each other and armed with clubs…days shadowed by sincere lack of interest in anything that breathes, moves, shivers, while all is accompanied by chronic tiredness the likes of which only a cat by a coal fire in January should ever experience. Here’s something your €75 an hour artificer of niceness in open-toe sandals won’t tell you: life is a throbbing bore. Inbetween the obvious bouts of anthropoid beauty − falling in love, exciting sex, University, babies, a glowing career, warm-hearted friends, laughter, cream cakes, awesome holidays, general milestones, packaged peace − there’s incessant stress, tragedy, ill-health, violence, sadness, rape, heartache, unworkable families, emotional abuse, lack of opportunity, dreadful dysfunction, absence of love: an entire giant wheelie bin of dispiriting melancholic glupe. Even just coping with people constantly is a colossal pain in the arse.

When I’m on top of things, in good form, I’m pretty good at sifting through the annoying bits, being diplomatic or even at times, being nice/kind/functional! But when feeling low, the prying bag at the bus-stop demanding all kinds of insights into my life or the wanton perv in the pub who refuses to let me sit and drink a pint & read the paper in peace (this happens a lot if you’re a woman out in public alone) can be a dreadful chore. ‘Why don’t you stick your hand down my knickers, it might be less intrusive’, I feel like roaring, sometimes. Come to think of it − now that I’m being randomly honest − I don’t think I’ve ever had a boss either who wasn’t a complete megalomaniacal gobshite. Relationship embroidery is pretty much set up this way. Predisposed patterns for sibling rivalry, petty jealousy in the workplace, power play, naturally opposing or defensive positions (“I can’t stand the mother-in-law”), competitive friendships, family feuds, what seems to be a natural urge for unflagging conflict both big and small, raining down around us all the time, with no hope of a brolly for protection. Layered on top of this is the earthly tendency for chaos and all that we can’t control, from tsunamis to car crashes, redundancy, breast cancer and beyond. I would argue that if you didn’t find life sporadically tough, tormenting, dull, painful and bleak, you’d be a complete and utter moron. You’d belong to the Louise L Hay School of Grinning Cliché and you’d probably find yourself dancing up O’Connell Street wearing a salmon pink sheet or belonging to some other sesame seed based cult.

The Irish Times recently published a heart-rending and beautifully written piece by Carl O’Brien on suicide. Phyllis MacNamara’s personal story about how she lost her best friend, life companion, lover, hubby, soul-mate, was so incredibly moving because it was also the re-telling of a 24-carat love story running parallel to a desperate man’s clamorous attempt to understand what was happening to him. In the terrible business of do-or-die, solicitor Michael MacNamara could not negotiate a way out of the extreme debilitating emotions he was experiencing. Although his symptoms were at the ‘severe’ end of the depression spectrum: ‘In the final three days his speech deteriorated badly. His words were jumbled…When he went to the supermarket he looked through a hand-written shopping list, came to the word “rosemary” and stopped. He didn’t understand what it meant’…he felt too ashamed to seek psychiatric help and his wife never thought for a nano-second he was capable of killing himself. He told her she was the best wife any man could have, that he loved her completely. Then he went to the barn and hanged himself.

Phyllis MacNamara with her late husband, Michael, whom she met at Trinity College © Irish Times

We are as ill prepared to deal with deep/severe depression as we are with tackling the current economic crisis. Except worse. The entire linguistic system girdling mental anguish is wholly redundant. When was the last time you saw a ‘pit’ for real (in a Gulag or Paddy field maybe) or craned your neck skyward to look at the always mentioned ‘dark clouds’? People all along the chromatic spectrum of off-kilterness need to be able to recognise where they’re at and to talk about it. In the early stages of depression, a navigable ear or a gesture of simple kindness, can pull a person back to where s/he is capable of being well, far better than any faux-pharma offering. In the mid-stages even knowing there’s plenty of functional sad folks out there getting on with life very well, with just a smidgen of guidance, could be a massive relief. At the late stages, recognising that intervention is needed and is not a contender for any kind of shame game, is the difference between life and death. We need to shear off the shite language and start expressing our sad selves for real, and know it’s just as ballsy to do so as it is to rant about our flagrant successes in the gilded good times.

Ten years ago I sought the help of a psychotherapist when I was in a bad way. The experience was an unfettered disaster. I was so solidly depressed I could barely speak or monkey-perform to his humanistic-integrative liking. I was totally incapable of crying into the plentiful supply of tissues like the ‘here’s a seashell for your window-cill’ attendees before me. He was clearly gifted at his job and incredibly intuitive and talented but that meant nothing, given the state I was in. I sat pulling the loose threads on a small black button on his Freudesque leather chair, week after week, boring him rigid. He battled long to get any reaction out of me at all. He also ate too many rashers and burned essential oils like a crazed hippie. There was a biography of Bruce Springsteen on the shelf and a book on iChing. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had an overwhelming urge to unzip him and star in my own private Flake ad. In between the imagined sex and the approaching breakdown he said some interesting stuff. “You’ve turned self-abuse into an art form…anger & sadness are on the same axis as fear and love”. When he did eventually begin to defrost me for real, it was all a bit nuclear-horrific. “I can’t help you anymore, there’s a lot of transference [and counter transference], it’s too difficult for you, it’s not working,” he said. Off I raged, unravelling to the level of Hitchcock’s Marnie for too long a time. An experience I hugely regret, on all levels. However, I still recognise the benefit of seeking professional help and would always encourage anyone dipping a toe into Dante’s Inferno to do so. Being alone isn’t worth the torture rack when everyone around you is similarly alone and creaking too.

 
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This post originally appeared on the Anti Room blog in November 2010. To read comments click here

Warning: bad sex may lead to a good heart

Vaseline. Prized for thickening eyebrows, healing cuts and aiding shoehorns, but a rabid pest if lobbed into rookie hands. It was 1988 and I was emigrating to London in three days and thought it might be a good idea to have sex before I left. It was all a bit new to me, the sex thing, and Random Paul seemed like a grudgingly safe bet. “It really turns me on if The Girl pretends she’s blind,” he smirked, twisting open a giant jar of the finest petroleum jelly. An hour or so later I was stuck to the bed, jellied tripe, while Random Paul bungled off into the sunrise, never to see his faux-blind harlot again.

Last night in Temple Bar, five of us well-watered journos began fly fishing for stories of bad sex and general mortification. As my fellow beer flunkies winced and hemmed and hawed and strained and moaned (and sang Michael Jackson tunes) to avoid coughing up the goods, Generation Game conveyor belt music starting going off in my head. There it was: the toaster, the golf clubs, the cuddly toy, a whole line-up of crap sexual experiences, sliding by as a consumer job lot of lousy shags.

A year after the blind-fantasy-vaseline man I was in the throes of my first serious relationship in London and apparently I was terribly frigid. “You’re not like other Irish girls I met, they were really dirty!” he protested. It was, of course, the start of a long line of gobshite men. To spice things up, and only because he owned a scooter and my flatmate’s boyfriend also owned a scooter, I suggested we try having sex with helmets on our heads. I thought it might be fun. In truth I wasn’t experienced enough to know what ‘spicing up’ meant? There was always helmets in the hall, broken umbrellas in the sitting room and booze in the kitchen. At first it was just sheer hilarious, we had to open up the visors that were steamed-up from laughing. We looked a bit like giant humping flies. But after a while when we really got into it, things got a bit road-crash hectic. Our heads were smashing into each other in full missionary force, my neck auto-whiplashing and the heat inside the helmet made it extremely difficult to breathe. By the time we abandoned our efforts there was nothing left for it but to get pissed and never mention it again. We broke up a few months later.

The London Years (1988-1995) were loud with all kinds of carnal clatterings. The jazz singer with the half-moon penis that he inherited in a bus crash, the Clapham barman who tried to ‘dry ride’ me when I was asleep and got his Winkle caught in his jean’s zip with disastrous ’bloody’ consequences; an ensuing trip to St. Thomas’s Hospital where I had to pretend to medical staff I was his wife. The manic-depressive whose post coitus musings included a desire to fling himself off a motorway bridge. A Sikh guy who used to put my hand down his trousers and say: “Sikh and you will find.” I was desperately, painfully, saturated in unrequited love for him. There was also an Italian IT expert who could only get turned on after watching National Geographic – stuff like wildebeest stampeding on  the plains and open woodlands of Africa. He’d smolder out his nostrils and demand we head to the bedroom for animatistic sex as the programme credits were rising. It was a miracle I made it back to Ireland intact.

So there I was in my early 30s in a pub in north inner city Dublin totally infatuated with a sooty-haired musician with a cheeky grin and those West of Ireland certifiable green eyes. For months I gave him crab-sideways libidinous stares, come-hither smiles and ‘look at me, aren’t I just the dog’s bollix?’ belly laughs. I also made sure he’d hear snippets of personal details and how great my career was progressing, when I was chatting to some of the local deadbeats. I’d lost four stone so amazingly men were glaring back for the first time in aeons and West of Ireland man became so brilliantly reciprocal I had no choice but to bite the bullet and ask him back to my plywood apartment. This was my first blatant seduction and I was sheer delighted with myself.

The next bit happened so fast and so non-passionately that by the time I could say: “Do you want a can of Miller?” he had his cock out in my purple sitting room, demanding to know what I thought. This is still very hard to describe, even now, but there was a foreskin problem of sorts, well most definitely…the full details proffered by him there on the spot. His Ma admitted that she should’ve got him circumcised when he was small but that she really couldn’t bear to “hurt her baby” and ever since he’d started “doing the business” years later, he had to manually fold it over, his nuclear mushroom cloud, and tuck it in like an overgrown pastry lid, before he could get it inside a lady. The entire thing was so shocking that I wish I’d had the guts or gall to utter that famous Wickerman line: “Oh, God! Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, my God! Christ! No, no, dear God!”

If bad sex doesn’t lead to a good heart, it will certainly lead to a good sense of humour. Last night as the Anti-Room meetup came to a prudent close, five  diehards posed a question no-one with even a quarter of a reputation would ever want to answer: I kept my gob firmly shut. Some things are just better off left dead in the bed, world without end, Amen.

COMMENTS TO THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE ANTI-ROOM BLOG on July 9th, 2010. Click here to read them.