Archive for April, 2005

Unwelcome Packs

Words fail me.

Welcome Packs

Dear Foreign Family,

********Cead Mile Failte! – Wilkommen – Bienvenue – Bienvenido – Benvenuto – (Add Mandarin greeting here)*******

As the chair of the Mid-Ireland Residents Against Racism Committee, allow me to take this opportunity to welcome you to our humble and verdant land. A member of our committee indicated that there was an immigrant family living at this address, so in the spirit of deep solidarity and mutual respect, we are sending you a welcome pack which we hope will help you to integrate fully in our community.

Coming to live in another country can be a stressful affair, so by way of this short note, we would like to draw your attention to some voluntary guidance we have provided on matters that will make your permanent stay in Ireland a mutually enriching experience.

******Background Information******


Few sights are more appealing than to hear how our once bi-lingual nation has become a veritable Tower of Babble. It is permissible to speak one of our two national languages on this island. Either Irish, our native tongue, or English, are equally acceptable under most circumstances. It is advisable that any interaction with British Crown Forces or representatives of the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be conducted in Irish. Should you wish to learn Irish, please attend our ‘Ranganna Gaeilge for Immigrants’ Dé Mairt agus Dé Ceadaoin sa Chulturlann.

Few sounds are more heartening to our ears than the sound of a foreign face speaking with a native accent! 12 year old Filipino girl Margarita Fernandez is one example of a person who has caught the ‘accent bug’, and now speaks in a heavily accented Mid-Ireland vernacular. Do not be surprised if you hear her greet you with the local salutation ‘How’s she cuttin’ boy!’


We value very much the diversity and deep repository of cuisine-related knowledge that the arrival of so many ethnic minorities brings to the people of Ireland. In this vein, we would like to invite you to prepare some of the dishes from your native lands and bring them along to the Ethnic Minority Bake Off, Dé Satharn sa Chulturlann arís.


Whatever the concerns you may have had before deciding to come here related to whether or not your religion would be accepted, we would like to reassure you that in Ireland we cherish all children of the nation equally, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Mohammedan (pbuh) and Dissenter. Whatever your choice of religious worship, rest assured that all are equally approved of and protected.


Few sights are more bracing for the spirit than to see young black, Chinese and Indian boys or girls playing Gaelic Football and Camogie. Ireland is truly a multicultural society where the colour of your skin does not matter.


After a hearty afternoon cheering on one’s team at a football match, it is a common custom in Ireland to partake in a few alcoholic beverages at the local public house. We would cherish your company at this most hallowed and convivial of Irish cultural exchanges. (Note to Muslims: A wide range of non-alcoholic beverages are also available. Note to Orthodox Jews: Some Irish whiskies may be indeed suitable for the purposes of your alcoholic intake. Please consult the publican who will only be too happy to advise.)


All motorists, regardless of colour or provenance, are held in equal esteem on our roads. We tend to drive cars with steering wheels on the right, but if you choose to drive one with a steering wheel on the left, we respect and value your choice to so do.

*******And Finally*********

Once again, on behalf of the entire side of the community, I would like to extend a warm, fraternal and hearty welcome to you all. Lovely to see you!!


¡Hala Madrid!

Sid Lowe in The Guardian is perhaps the most perceptive and entertaining commentator around on Spanish football and its personalities, providing an English football fan’s perspective on La Liga. This week he writes on Real Madrid’s griping indignation at Barcelona’s ascendancy.

‘ ‘And then there’s Real Madrid, football’s gentlemen’s club, every bit as convinced of its superiority and utterly insistent on its godly behaviour – determined to prove itself holier than thou (except for that bit about not coveting thy neighbour’s best player of course). A great institution of great humility; one that humbly celebrated its centenary with a trip to see the King, the Pope and the United Nations. Oh, and by lobbying Uefa to ban all other football, all over the world, on their birthday.”

Inspiration Flagging

Spent the last hour struggling to find something to write. I have given up, but in my search for inspiration I found this short poem by Ogden Nash:


Here’s a good rule of thumb:
Too clever is dumb.

Maybe tomorrow.

Yo, El Inculto

BBC reports on the death of Augusto Roa Bastos. For those of you thinking ‘who dat?’ he was ‘famous’ for his 1974 ‘masterpiece’ I The Supreme. The only reason I mention this is because after the Don Quixote post the other day, I got thinking about all the books I have bought myself but have never quite managed to read. I The Supreme is one of them. Normally I get turned off in the 1st 30 pages, but there are some I have dumped on the way to the finish line.

Here are a few more:

Underworld by Don DeLillo

Stopped after about 500 pages.

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

After about 300 pages. It was entertaining enough, but reading it conflicted with Euro 2004. So I stopped for a few days and never went back.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I already knew she was going to top herself. I turned off round about the time she gets involved with her toyboy.

The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

First page.

Murphy by Samuel Beckett

‘The sun shone down on the nothing new’ (or similar) is about all I can remember about this book. And I think it appears on the first page. In fact I’m not sure if it was Murphy, it could have been Watt because I did the same thing with that.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I stopped about 250 pages in, after he conducts a fictitious MTV interview with himself.

Ulysses by James Joyce

20 pages or so.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I would love to say that I stopped this one before the end. But I didn’t.

The Kids Are Alright (Without Voting)

The yoof vote in Northern Ireland is a piddling 35%, according to the BBC.

The Man from the Electoral Commission sez:

‘”Our research would indicate that young people are much more likely to discuss political issues than any other section of the population, and yet they clearly aren’t making the connection between the issues they are passionate about and the ballot box,”‘


The Man from the Guardian sez:

Even if a minority are working harder than we ever did, most still have plenty of leisure. They simply choose to spend it in different ways. They would rather drink than demonstrate. They are more passionate about sport than the fate of Iraq.


The Kids Aren’t Alright

I bought Ben Folds’ new album yesterday. In Songs for Silverman he is mostly on cracking form, with the usual mordant wit and piano-driven, character-based songs. There was one song I found rather worrying, though – one where (unless I am missing something) he sings plainly and sincerely about his worries for his daughter growing up.

Almost without exception, pop songs about children, or more accurately pop songs about the singer’s children, are two-fingers-down-the-throat moments. There are few things more tiresome than a parent who witters on to all and sundry about how wonderful his kids are, blissfully unaware that the rest of the world couldn’t care less. Yet so many musicians feel the need to rend a musical homage to their offspring. Provided they do it in the privacy of their own homes, I have no difficulty with it, but I wish they would refrain from unleashing the results on the music-buying public.

Other offenders include:

John Lennon – Beautiful Boy

Sentimental doggerel dedicated to son Sean. Immortalised in Richard Dreyfus mega-turkey Mr Holland’s Opus.

The Beach Boys – When A Man Needs A Woman

A frazzled, gibbering wreck after the abortive Smile sessions, Brian Wilson adopted a more pared-down approach to making records, resulting in two pretty underrated albums: Wild Honey and Friends. When A Man Needs A Woman is off the latter, and although musically interesting, contains the diabolical lyric ‘Pretty soon we’ll be a family of three/Then it’s not gonna be/Just you and me/We’ll share all the goodies with the ones we bring in the world..’

I often wonder if this song inspired Charles Manson.

Jimmy Webb – Christian, No

‘You can’t prevent the world from being repossessed’, Wichita Lineman composer Jimmy Webb sings to his 3 year old son Christian. ‘I must confess that we’ve left it in a sorry mess/But you can save it if you try to do your best’

Christian responds by becoming a semi-rock star with The Webb Brothers.

Stevie Wonder – Isn’t She Lovely

She may well be, Stevie, but the tune stinks to high heaven. Stevie always had a sentimental streak, but this is a severe blot on Songs In The Key Of Life. Nearly as bad as I Just Called…

Other dishonourable mentions go to Madonna (Little Star), Joni Mitchell (for that one off Blue – Little Green I think it’s called) and, of course, Eric Clapton (Tears In Heaven). Not forgetting Cat Stevens/Boyzone (Father and Son), Harry Chapin/Ugly Kid Joe (Cat’s In The Cradle).

Any others?

Chávez: Free Doorstops for All!

Ok, perhaps that was a bit uncharitable. But as someone who has failed on numerous occasions to get the whole way through Don Quixote, I fear that the enthusiasm among Venezuelans for the free copies of the book being distributed by Chávez’s government may soon give way to resignation. It’s a rather, erm, quixotic thing for a government to do, but still, if you’re going to give away one book for free it might as well be this one.

Coffee Dock Republicanism

Debates about Irish culture or Irishness (what it is, if it really exists, are we really British?) often entail long riffs on the pre-eminence of British, American or Anglo-American influences on Irish life. Irish people are pretty much the same as British or American people, the argument goes, because they spend all day speaking English, shop in M&S or House of Frazer, they get their lunch in McDonalds or KFC, and they go home and watch Friends, Will and Grace or Desperate Housewives.

All true, but the focus is normally on what is consumed, and not on what is produced. We tend to overlook how much the culture of work in Ireland has changed the country over the past twenty or so years.

A key part of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ (blech) was the arrival of large, mainly American-run multinationals. The changes these have brought to daily life in Ireland still have not been fully explored. As well as bringing much-needed employment, these organizations also brought antiseptic codes of bourgeois niceness, euphemistic and hyperbolic job titles, pyramid structures and deferential working practices. This has, of course, coincided with the worldwide spread, Japanese knotweed-style, of management-speak.

This type of working culture inevitably leads to severe lexical contortions, such as the arbitrary appropriation of a noun for use as a verb. So I might talk about ‘sunsetting’ this blog, or ‘laddering’ someone’s salary (don’t ask). Also, empty intensifiers become the norm, so instead of saying ‘uh-huh’, or ‘aye’, or even ‘yes’ in order to express agreement, one feels compelled to respond with ‘absolutely’. And rather than just saying ‘it is a better way to travel’, one should say ‘it is effectively a better way to travel’.

It is an unwritten rule, in the codes of ‘niceness’ that underpin these places, that in order to ‘get on’, one should refrain from discussing any topic that could possibly be construed as controversial in the working environment. In chance meetings at the coffee-dock, then, little is left to chance. Topics for conversation rarely deviate from the weather, the weekend, canteen food, traffic, the awfulness of the coffee, and maybe the odd uncontroversial news item like the smoking ban.

It all makes for a rather dull day.

There is one person in my own place of work who eschews the straitjacket of the sunny, subtext-free, coffee-dock encounter, and is totally unfettered in his use of language and his expression of opinions.

The problem is that he’s an out-and-out Provo: perhaps the type you only get among those whose only visit north ever has been to do the Christmas shopping in Sainsbury’s in Newry. And because I am from the North, I’m the ideal candidate for an impromptu pow-wow about the evils of partition, or the intransigence of unionists, or how Orangemen walking down the Garvaghy Road is like the Ku Klux Klan walking through Harlem. Either his quasi-evangelical zeal blinds him to the fact that I’m rather uncomfortable with my role as Real World Sounding Board for his ideas about the North, or else it impels him to carry on regardless.

“Have you read this yet?” he says.

“Eh, no.”

“Look at this here [he shows me a Daily Ireland article about some unionist indiscretion or other]. If it had been a Sinn Fein rep got caught doing that you’d never have heard the end of it from that securocrat lovin’ asshole Jim Cusack in the Indo or that racist bollix McDowell.”

Assorted middle managers queue to pour themselves coffee, and I nod uncomfortably.

“Ah well, I don’t get much time to look at that sort of stuff these days. To be honest I just ignore most of it.” I say, cursing my 9-to-5 bourgeois niceness.

I don’t want to encourage him, after all.

Such, Such Were the Joys

Andrew McCann at A Tangled Web praises the Limavady teacher who allegedly referred to Sinn Fein as full of ‘IRA scum’.

The across-the-barricades SF parliamentary candidate for the area, Billy Leonard, displayed the measured language for which SF have become famed in response:

“This is like something out of a George Orwell novel. It is an attempt at brain washing of the most frightening kind.
“I have already left messages with the chairman of the board of governors to meet with myself and Brenda Chivers immediately to address this issue.”

Hollow laughs aside at SF complaints about brainwashing, or citing George Orwell, it ill befits any political representative to circumvent the authority of the school principal and staff in order to pry into either the day-to-day running of a school or what was said or not in the dynamic of a classroom.

The tactic of informing the press to say that you are contacting ‘as many of the pupils’ parents as [you can] ’, in order to ‘establish the facts’ may work well when compiling a list of grievances against the PSNI, but it undermines the school’s authority. The message sent out to parents is that the school is incapable of managing the issue to the best interests of the students. If Leonard and his colleague truly had the best interests of the students at heart, they would leave this matter well alone.

On the matter of whether or not the children should have been allowed to wear tricolours: if there is a school uniform, no additions to the school uniform should be tolerated, regardless of how noble the wearer believes them to be.

As to the opinion expressed by the teacher in question: the fact that the students had already chosen to come to school wearing tricolours indicates that it was in their best interests to hear an alternative opinion. If this was expressed in intemperate language, that is unfortunate, but not a matter of such importance that the national media had to get involved.

Perhaps I’m not the best person to comment on this. As some teachers in my school openly criticised the IRA, perhaps I’ve been brainwashed too.

I on Twitter

April 2005