Archive for April, 2006

Quinn-tessential Football Styles

In an opening salvo in the guff wars to mark this year’s World Cup, Quinninho thinks that Irish football should be played in a style that reflects something essentially Irish, but, as is his wont, fluffs it, and does not elaborate on what that essentially Irish something is. This is is a principle he thinks should apply to all national sides, albeit with an implied caveat: if there is a more effective way of getting the ball in the back of the net, you should do that instead. So England are right to appoint Felipão because he is, among other things, a ruthless pragmatist.

The idea of a national footballing style is interesting and seductive in so far as it allows endless chin-stroking about the ruthless efficiency of the Germans, the chiaroscuro of the Italians, the French fusion of joie de vivre and esprit de corps, or whatever. For instance, IIRC, a certain Irishman’s Diahorreaist mused at the time of the last European Championships that Portugal’s style of play reflected its long tradition as a maritime nation.

At first glance I’m inclined to think, disembodied internationalist that I am, that this is a bit silly. If Portugal’s collective experiences as a nautical nation influenced their style of football, why not their history as a colonial power in Africa or the Salazar dictatorship? Is Spain’s failure to get it together at international level a product of its internal regional divisions? Any connection between the establishment of an Assembly in Wales and its recent mild resurgence under Mark Hughes? Israel’s defence was pretty tough in the last round of qualifiers: any connection there? You can take this to some rather nutty conclusions.

But there are lots of people who buy into this idea, so much so that it holds a certain motivating power. On Brazil, Quinn says:

Someone explained to me while I was out there that for a Brazilian performing a
trick on the pitch, especially if it involves outwitting a European, it feels
like a small liberation.

And this, I think, is where the idea of a national style does count: as part of psychological conditioning. Just as the idea of being an underdog, or being naturally superior, can be another way of tipping the scales to your advantage, so too can that of playing Brazilian-style, or English-style. I sense that most ideas of national style are essentially variations on this theme.

If Brazilians can go out onto the pitch with the idea of the glorious possibility of outwitting and bamboozling their European adversaries, then they’re more likely to do it than if they were just to say ‘ah sure we’ll go out and see how we get on’. So if, say, Irish football teams go out onto the pitch conditioned to see themselves as an amalgam of rebel fighters and underdogs, they are more likely to do well than if the manager was to say to them: we come from a proud nation of forelock-tuggers, cute hoors and alcoholics, so get out there and do your stuff.

The point, then, is not that you can have a style that reflects something essentially Irish or English, but that the idea of possessing such a style is a very powerful one. Authenticity doesn’t really come into it.

Either way, the Northern Ireland team is fucked.

Stressful Accent

So how does an Osama Bin Laden-like accent sound? Perhaps something like this?

Cherry Blossom

In our garden, this afternoon.

…but it’s driving me nuts.

Every Saturday morning I wake up with a sense of impending doom, because there’s one particular roundabout I have to negotiate where the collective ineptitude, aggression and downright stupidity of drivers on the roads of this state could put an end to my residence on this earth. I look myself in the mirror, slap myself and wonder if I’ll live to see Football Focus.

I can’t be the only one.

There are apparently 405,000 drivers on the roads whose ability to drive has not been confirmed by a formal test. I don’t know what proportion of the overall driving population this figure represents, but let’s say it’s 1 in 10. If 1 out of every 10 GPs had no qualifications, but practiced without impediment, there would be an outcry, yet hundreds of thousands of people are allowed out, unqualified, in charge of what can be a deadly instrument, and not too much is said about it. So as far as I’m concerned, anything to keep these people off the still disgraceful road system of this state is a welcome measure.

There are plans afoot, although I’m not holding my breath. An interesting thing about this report in the Indo about the plans to disallow people who fail their driving test from driving is its description of said plans as a ‘tougher new regime’.

When I think of regimes touts courts (can you say that?), I think of states run by Teodoro Obiang, Saddam Hussein etc. The use of the word ‘regime’ in common parlance normally indicates a situation where restrictions are placed on a perceived freedom. The basic meaning, that of a system of control, gets conflated with its contemporary meaning, with its connotations of mass executions in football stadiums, personality cults and the like. Talk in media of tax regimes and penalty points regimes… sorry, I’m bullshitting here.

Anyway, the point is that a brow-furrowingly obvious restriction, like keeping people who DON’T KNOW HOW TO DRIVE off the roads, is described as a constituent part of a regime, but not only a regime, but a newer and tougher one. I’m not picking on this particular journalist, because you hear this sort of stuff all the time. The most basic of measures is described as though it formed part of a system of repression, rather than something that preserves the right to feel safe and the right to not get killed.

You hear people from time to time in Ireland talking about how there ought not to be a need to legislate in all aspects of people’s public and personal behaviour, and that to do so infantilises people. And to a certain extent I’m inclined to agree. An excess of restrictive legislations just leads to more people behaving to the letter of the law, which is not really what the law ought to be for.

On matters such as driving, the ideal point for any citizen to reach is where he doesn’t actually need the law to dictate his or her behaviour, and thus complies with the law or a given regulation without even having to think about it because that is what is conducive to both his own good and the common good. But it is hard to see how this point can be reached without the law actually being there in the first place. If people were naturally inclined to act in the common interest, and not perturbed about killing themselves or others, they would call for a taxi after failing the test, rather than careening off down the M-50.

Update: there’s another report, on, with the headline ‘Motorists who fail driving tests to be put off road’. As far as I’m concerned, if you haven’t passed a driving test, you ain’t a motorist.

A Gnawin’ Sense of The Void

At times I wish I had studied linguistics, particularly phonetics, as it would give me with a more appropriate range of technical words to describe language-based phenomena that I frequently find interesting and diverting. Yet I doubt I have the temperament for it, as any attempts I have made to read up on the subject thus far have resulted in a glazing over of eyes at an early juncture.

One such phenomenon is the wide variation in the pronunciation of the word ‘nothing’, something that occured to me as I hurtled past a lorry trailer parked in a field adjacent to the Dundalk By-Paso last night. Painted on the side of the lorry was something like ‘Adams Must Go Controlled by RUC’. This put me in mind of an incident some years back, when I was working in a shop. A voluble local woman came in, and began to complain to me about her encounter with the RUC minutes earlier. They had submitted her to the injustice of checking to see if the thread of the tyres on her van was of the appropriate depth. It turned out that it was not, and she had been fined, or whatever it was that the RUC saw fit to do when faced with such infractions.

Rampaging amid the stacked cauliflowers and turnips, she shouted over to me that the RUC were “fuckin’ black bastards”, and “fuckin’ orange bastards” and that the general state of affairs was not good. This was further exacerbated by the actions of nationalist politicians, in particular Gerry Adams (the first IRA ceasefire had been recently announced), who, she aseverrated, was “nothing but a fuckin’ pig licker.”

What sticks in my mind about this series of observations, apart from the fact that it was in front of a couple of Protestants of my acquaintance, was her pronunciation of the word “nothing”, which one would write pseudo-phonetically as ‘naughan’, with that au bout de souffle sound made with a brief burst of air forced from the back of the mouth that begins to disippate after passing one’s front teeth, perhaps a variation on the that sound English people seem to find so hard to replicate, as in Gallagher.

This is in sharp contrast to the Dubliner’s pronunciation of the same word, which tends to rhyme with ‘mutton’, only the the ‘t’ sound is made with something resembling a glottal stop, although the trapping of air seems to take place not at the glottis, but further forward towards the front of the mouth.

It also contrasts sharply with the pronunciation of the people on this island most inclined to employ a glottal stop – the residents of North County Antrim, who, if I recall correctly, pronounce it in a way that sounds similar to ‘gnawin”.

It also raises questions about the pronunciation of nothing as ’nuffin’ on this island: this is a common mode of pronunciation in Britain (see ‘yoof culture’), but I have noticed quite a few people here, particularly younger people in the North, who are inclined to use the ‘ff’ sound instead of the ‘th’ sound.

Of course, this is not confined to the pronunciation of nothing, but to most words where -th is preceded by a vowel, as in the popular song ‘Wif or Wifout You’. One wonders if this practice is a recent import to these shores, or if the ‘ff’ sound is a substitute learned in childhood and maintained, since the -th sound requires the presence of front teef. If it is the latter, its persistence in later life is surely legitimated by its presence in popular shows broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Telefís Éireann and others.


In front of us at the supermarket checkouts there are two black women queuing with their shopping. The first one pays for hers and heads off, and the second one moves round to the end of the checkout where you normally pack your bags. The checkout attendant lifts the first of her shopping from the conveyor belt, starts passing it through, and asks us if we have a club card. We point out that the shopping is not ours. “Oh sorry,” says the checkout attendant to the woman standing waiting and looking rather puzzled. “I thought you were with the other woman.”

Northern Irishnesslessness

This is the last post I am going to write on Northern Ireland/the North for a while, because:

  • It is depressing;
  • It induces the most egregious mental contortions, without much reward, as you get the impression you are saying a lot when in fact you are saying very little;
  • I have far more important things to write about, like burglar alarms and Fidel Castro biographies and stuff

Anyway. Further to my, ah, painstaking research conducted yesterday, here are some possible reasons why practically no-one writes about Northern Irishness on the internet:

  • No-one is interested in being Northern Irish;
  • Anyone interested in being Northern Irish is not interested in the internet;
  • Anyone interested in being Northern Irish is too busy looking at Ice Hockey websites;
  • There is no such thing.

I suspect that the last is the most likely reason. I suppose I am interested in this because you have to have nationalism, in the general sense, before you can have a nation. Talk of Northern Irishness would indicate that there was some sort of Northern Irish nationalism, and by extension, some possibility that you could have a Northern Irish nation like you have an English one or a Scottish one.

You can argue that nations are very messy affairs, and many are, but they do help to lend cohesiveness to a society, and a sense of common enterprise. They also facilitate public discourse, and the idea of a nation allows people to talk about what ought to happen with the space they live in and the people they live with. Unchecked, certain types of national evolution may also lead to the invasion of Poland or the subjugation of entire continents, but that doesn’t mean that the idea of a nation – whether it has a corresponding state or not – is a bad thing in itself.

In England, the idea of the nation unifies people because they are able to sit about stroking their chins wondering about what Englishness is and getting all dewy-eyed about the Queen. In the Republic of Ireland, the idea of the nation unifies people because they able to blame foreigners for the carnage on their national roads.

In Northern Ireland, there is no common nationalism, but two competing nationalisms, and this is one of the reasons why the place can be such a dump. One of the best things that can be said of Irish nationalists is that they generally hold that unionists are their countrymen. OK, so some among them might have been inclined to bomb same countrymen from time time, but it’s the thought that counts, innit?

On the other hand, political unionism seldom considers Northern nationalists as their countrymen, even though most were born in the same country. Or, they can be their countrymen, but they have to become unionists first. Sometimes you get the feeling that unionists are kind of embarrassed about Northern Ireland. They talk about Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom, where Britishness is preserved and Britishness can be anything you want it to be, but they don’t seem to have any other vision for it.

The above two paragraphs are a very rough sketch of how it works at the level of party political declarations, newspaper op-eds, Talkback phone-ins and weblog debates. It can be surprising to the outsider that this sort of thing doesn’t really hold at a more mundane, human level. There are plenty of unionists who get on perfectly well with nationalists and vice versa, at work and at social gatherings – the pub, the golf club, whatever – and have no problem seeing the ‘opposite side’ (a typical term in media and political discourse) as their countrymen, even though the country itself is far from defined.

This is not to say that it’s love unlimited, but the picture presented is simplified far too often. The problem is that progress gets halted -reversed even- under the current structure, where media, governments and political parties divide all things in terms of unionist and nationalist, British and Irish, and this division is seductive to lots of people, especially when it is the division itself that provides a path to power. Identity politics short-circuits any other form of politics, yet existing solutions seem to focus on a better form of identity politics through parity in ‘cultural’ subsidies, sectarian designations in assemblies, and so on and so forth. This is rather like saying that to overcome your drink problem, you should give up drinking WKD and get stuck into the Remy Martin.

Yet I don’t think that an NIO-sponsored Northern Irishness promoting soda farls, George Best and Van Morrison is the answer, any more than labelling everything as either British or Irish is.

Rather, and this is a crude way of putting it, I think there has to be some sort of willingness of people who see themselves as nationalist to engage with the more ‘British’ elements of what they see as their culture, and people who see themselves as unionist to examine the more ‘Irish’ elements of theirs. No-one living there is ‘simply Irish’ or ‘simply British’, and it is an act of cultural chauvinism and of historical denial to define oneself as such. Moreover, there is nothing to be lost -apart from aforesaid cultural chauvinism- in confronting and exploring the more complex currents and influences that make up one’s identity. By so doing, the future can be imagined in more liberating forms, rather than being manacled by the Easter Rising or the 12th of July.

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April 2006
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