In which I attempt a linky of sorts

Except I don’t know how to do a linky proper. This is sure to fall to an arse before it takes off but I’ll give it a bash anyway.

All credit to my favourite feathered friend, Wee Blue Birdie at Little Steps to Somewhere for inspiring this risky move by nominating me to answer ten questions of her own, which were…

1. What kind of bird would you be, and why?

I’d be …’like a bird on the wire. Like a drunk in the midnight choir. I have tried in my way to be free’.

I guess we’re all birds of some sort already *sticks two fingers in mouth*

2. Which period of history had the best clothing?

I fancy I would’ve been more sophisticated in a flapper dress brandishing a 9 inch cigarillo holder than a Johnny Blue, but alas, being middle-aged, I can see I would have needed a jumper to keep warm. Not a good look. Poverty shawl chic in colonial Ireland was alright. But joking about the famine is not permitted. Unfortunately, it’s not covered under our progressive blasphemy law.

3. In which film do you wish you had played the lead? What would you have brought to the role?

Rob in High Fidelity – the record shop, the record collection; the encyclopedic knowledge of music; the one-on-one time with philosopher Bruce in the proverbial confession box of life; the dedicated commitment to top fives; and getting the girl in the end.

I’d have brought an authentic neurosis to the agonising compiling of top fives, and a reminder that music is a passion for women also, not just an occasional spectator sport.

4. What was your favourite toy when you were a child?

A furry Bert from Sesame Street. He was going through a hard time after splitting from Ernie. Life with my family was becoming increasingly intolerable. We were both in the wrong place at the right time, so we formed our own exclusive support group down the back of my folks’ garden. We, like, really talked, y’know?

Our girl’s favourite toy these days is Ernie. He appears to be in a perpetual state of grinning. I reckon he’s on something.

5. If you could be in the Olympics, what would your sport be?

Schadenfreude , sleeping in, and film marathons. A triathlon, in short.

6. If you could cure one human illness or disease, what would it be and why?

Incurable greed.

7. What is your favourite urban myth, and why do you want it to be true?

That Bono is in pursuit of justice for the developing world. Because it would save me a lot of energy hectoring folk about how his approach is part of the problem, and balancing a few incontrovertible facts with my occasional appreciation of the early music of the Onob Quartet.

8. What is your favourite unusual word?

Oblong

9. How would you like your writing to influence the world, or affect those who read it?

I suspect I’m the one who reads it most. I reckon it has already prevented me from going postal, or – God forbid – finding God. Or worse still – running. Good for personal positive mental health, and for the world at large by curbing the body count.

Oh, and I’m not sure if this blog will continue to bob about in the ether long enough for our daughter to access it, but I would hope she would derive something positive from reading it. If only a satisfying eye-roll.

10. What is the best thing about being you?

Not being a conjoined twin. Time alone with my wonderful array of friends would be awkward. I’d have to compromise greatly when considering how to fuck up the many wonderful second chances I’ve been given in life.

Deciding who to pass the parcel on to with ten fresh questions is an impossible task, so in the interests of curiosity and a chance to broaden the potential pool of responses, I’m throwing it out to everyone I follow and who might be looking in. The brotherhood and sisterhood of blog alike. (That includes you, birdie. Maybe only you. Probably hehe)

Ten questions for your dismissal/consideration..

  1. What single question asked of a person can tell you a lot about that person?
  2. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  3. If you had to place a personal advert on a dating site using not more than 150 words from lyrics of a song or poem, what would they be?
  4. Tell us a joke
  5. What were you like at school? Are you much different now?
  6. If you had to re-name your blog, what would you call it and why?
  7. What five guests, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and why?
  8. Do you have a favourite sexual fantasy? What sorts of things would you like to do in life if you were as outgoing and uninhibited as you wish?
  9. What does someone ‘having character’ mean to you?
  10. Name your top five favourite sit-coms

PLEASE PLEASE PARTICIPATE  No pressure but feel free to join in. Cut ‘n’ paste or respond with haste (sorry).

WTF is Demis Roussos? The finale

In which the adventures of McGuffin and his grisly cohorts reach a dramatic conclusion.

Part I here

Part II here

*********************************************************************

My memories of the reception are blurred by time. I do recall Grimshaw throwing up into the punch bowl which our generous hosts had provided, and Cosgrove stealing a huge potted plant which he walked out with through the foyer determined to present it to McIlvogue’s poor wife as a token of his undying love. I do recall waking in a house in Glasnevin, the home of Kraut Komrade, UncleRalf. Aine, his long suffering wife served me a triple by-pass breakfast which did the trick however – Amazing Grease – and informed me that the Blefuscu team had hi-jacked a car and taken off back to the Athens of the North. Some of them were actually supposed to work that day. Poor fools. The hired car was outside the door however, and was presumably being paid for, albeit unwittingly, by RTÉ, and there was no sign of the obnoxious TT.

On waking, Ralf insisted that we go down town and get our heads together over a few pints.  I was always weak. By mid-afternoon we were in the dreaded McDaid’s off Stephen’s Green and suffering no pain. We had even formulated a vague plan. Ralf would go off and check up what damage we had done to the Third Policeman and I would take the hired wheels and drive back to Belfast. Baldric might have thought it ‘a cunning plan’ but somehow I knew it was unlikely to be such smooth sailing. For once I was right. Ralf had just left and I was sipping my last bevvie when Tom McGurk entered, spied by large self and slid into the booth. We had not met for over a year and obviously reminiscences and back stabbing were de rigueur. He bought a round. That was a shock. McGurk was notorious as County Tyrone’s meanest man. But, it seemed, now that he was down in Dublin he had landed a newspaper job and was flush.

“What are ye doing tonight,” he asked. “I saw ye making a tit out of that pratt Gaybo last night.” “I better head up the road, Beryl will be waiting.” A daunting thought, as McGurk shrewdly discerned. He’d met the wife. “Here,” McGurk reached into his pocket, “I’ve a few tickets for a free drinks reception tonight. I can’t go, but you might as well use them. It’s in Howth. Sure it’s on your way.”

He left, weaving his way out into a crowded and dreary Dublin dusk, I got on the phone.

It’s no fun drinking alone, besides, I hadn’t had a real chance to pay my respects to Auntie Rita and the nameless but feared. By 8 o’clock I found myself in Cabinteeley. Rita and Mickey were there. They were broke and readily agreed to accompany me to a free drinks reception. We Northerners do not look gift horses in the mouth. Soon we were threading our way around Dublin and heading for Howth.

As we pulled into the car park of the luxurious hotel, perched on Howth head with its garden of tropical palms and plants running down to Dublin Bay, I pulled the invites out of my pocket and handed them to Rita. She took one look and subjected me to her withering gaze – not a pleasant experience – I mean this is a hard woman. “McGuffin, you do realize that this is a reception for Demis Roussos, don’t you?”  I lied. “Of course, but it’s free gargle.” In fact I had stuffed the freebie tickets into my pocket without even looking at them once McGurk had told me where the soiree was to be held.

“Who the fuck’s Demi Roussos?” asked Mickey.

Mickey had recently escaped from one of Her Majesty’s Hotels in our wee Ulcer and consequently his musical listening pleasure for the past five years had been restricted to ‘The Men Behind The Wire’ and the entire repertoire of Eamonn Largey and the Flying Column. “You’ll not like him, Mickey,” said Rita, somewhat snidely I felt. “He’s a big fat eejit like McGuffin here.”

“C’mon,” I retorted, my throat dying to be slaked, “we’ll not even see him. It’s only 9:30, his show at the Olympia or wherever won’t be over for hours.” I parked the wheels and we merry three sauntered up the broad steps and through the august portals of the Howth Majestic. “I don’t like the look of this,” muttered Auntie Rita, “the décor’s the colour of a cancerous lung! And all these flunkies in monkey suits. Just get us a table and some vino collapso quick McGuffin or I’ll turn nasty.” Even Mickey shuddered at that.

“No bother,” I bluffed quickly and hastened forward – all right, I was pushed – towards the maître domo, reaching for the invites. Christ! Rita had left them in the car. The head functionnaire took one look at me and bared his teeth. They were as white as Johnny Winter. “Why Mr. Roussos,” he breathed ingratiatingly, “we’ve been expecting you, what an honour. Come this way, we’ve reserved the best table for you and your party.” He looked at my ‘party’. “These are just two journalists,” I improvised, “the troupe will be along shortly.” He beamed and ushered us into the banquet hall, bumping into two tables on the way. “My apologies, Mr. Roussos, I seem to have displaced my contact lenses.” ‘Thank fuck for that’, I thought.

He seated us underneath the sparkling chandeliers, snapped his fingers imperiously and, miraculously, a bottle of Moet and Chandon’s Premiere arrived. We got stuck in. This was going to have to be a quickie, I figured. While we basked in the opulent splendour and more and more bottles of champagne arrived, members of the staff sidled up to the table and soon I was signing Demis autographs as if to the manor born. Other guests soon filled up the room and not even Mickey demanding ‘a pint of plain’ in a loud voice could spoil the evening. Auntie Rita was most impressed and I felt that for once I had redeemed myself. Even Mickey was enjoying himself.

“Here, here’s a good one! What smells of piss and does the hokey cokey? The Queen Mother!”  He laughed uproariously. I glanced at my watch. Jesus! It was almost midnight. Mickey had already turned into a pumpkin but the fat Greek and his bodyguards were due any minute. I nodded imploringly to Rita. Sound woman that she is, she grabbed Mickey before he could tell his joke about the nun and the sheep and dragged him out to the foyer. “Don’t forget to tip the staff Demis,” she trilled over her shoulder. Bitch! “Must go to the restrooms,” I slurred – five bottles of the old Moet will do that for you – and made my way out, through a politely applauding crowed of Dublin 4 wankers, several of whom even wanted to kiss my hand – and that was only the men.

From the foyer it was a short trot to the car where Rita, only somewhat worse for wear, was standing. I opened the door and proceeded to get in. Suddenly, “Where’s Mickey?” I asked, fear gripping my scrotum. “You shouldn’t have let him out of your sight”. Rita got into the front passenger seat. “Don’t worry, here he comes now, start the engine.” I glanced out the window. Mickey was indeed running towards us across the tarmac, clutching a rake of wine bottles in his arms. “Get in, you Malacca, we’re out of here,” I shouted. He opened the back door and thrust the bottles onto the seat. “McG, I started out with nothing and I still have most of it left. We are the men who stole Trevelyan’s corn.”

“Gotta get more,” he gasped, and stumbled back up the steps. “For God sake, get him, Rita.” She ran after him and back into the Majestic while I nervously tried to keep the engine running. Four minutes later, although it seems an eternity, they both emerged, each laden down with what appeared to be the entire stock of the wine cellar – which, it later transpired, had been conveniently situated underneath the main staircase and left open by some employee who was doubtless fondly going over their Demi Roussos autographed underwear – I tell ye, the things some of these groupies ask you to sign, I feel sorry for that poor Tom Jones. “Andalay, vamanos” I roared as I started to gun the car. “Wait,” bawled Rita, “Mickey’s not in yet.” “Where the fuck is the head-the-ball?” I screamed and then looked in my rear view mirror.

Now I know that objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are, but this was no time for metaphysical speculation about the space time continuum. Leaping out of the car I made a run across the grass where a bedraggled Mickey was engaged in a titantic struggle with an eight foot tall palm tree. “What the fuck are you playing at you brain damaged omadaun?” I bellowed.

“Give us a hand, Mac I have to get this for the Ma. She loves tropical plants”. This was not opportune to remind Mickey that his dear mother lived in a Portakabin near the municipal rubbish dump in Newtownards in the Black North when last heard of and was unlikely to have the necessary facilities for palm cultivation. Between us we dragged the protesting palm to the back of the car and popped the trunk, stuck the roots in, leaving six foot of palm fronds exposed and got the fuck out of Dodge. As I swerved down the driveway, we sideswiped a limo that was coming the other way. There were curtains across the rear windows but I swear to this day that I heard some clown singing ‘Forever and Forever and For fucking Ever’ as we careened off into the mystic.

We were so gargled and exhausted – Mickey had insisted that we plant the poor palm in Rita’s back yard in Cabinteeley lest it die before he could ship it up North to the Ma – that the mattresses actually felt all right. I arose early the next morning and tiptoed out, pausing only to trip over a few champagne bottles, slumped into the car and headed North. Ten miles outside the Pale, on the main road I stopped at a petrol station. I fumbled for some gas money. Only a torn fiver left. Still, it should get me out of the grey mists and back under the blue skies of our beloved statelet.

A grizzled attendant shuffled up and peered in through the window. I flinched. I hadn’t changed my clothes in two days and was suffering from what the grandda used to call ‘the whips and jangles’.

“Come here Mary,” the honest toiler of the soil closet shouted. His wife shuffled out and joined him at the my window. “It is, I tell ye, its him”. Not more Demis fans surely

“He’s thon boyo who called Gay Byrne a wanker on the Late Late last night. Give us your autograph. The wife and me’s being say that for years.”

All together now:

“Gay Byrne is still a wanker!”

The End

gaybyrne

So Gay

(c) John McGuffin

‘Last Orders, Please!’

WTF is Demis Roussos? Part II

In which John McGuffin’s saga of being mistaken for Demi Roussos continues…

Part I here

Part II

I expected a few anodyne remarks from our genial host and was therefore somewhat nonplussed when he brusquely said “loved the book, just what we need for Paddy’s day – by the way, have you ever been a Republican or Anarchist? If so, you can’t appear.” Bit late now, I thought. If his assiduous assistants hadn’t discovered my political and metaphysical form by now I wasn’t about to enlighten them. “No problem, Gaybo, nihil obstat, but can you just answer me one question. I can see why you have a mad pole vaulting Zen Far East, the Yank’s written an important and controversial book, but why on earth have you got the missionary bint on – she says this isn’t her first appearance?” The great one rearranged his vulpine features and essayed what in hindsight I suppose was meant to be a smile. “Ah, but hasn’t she got gorgeous tits!” Well, nothing special I thought, glancing over at Deirdre’s heaving bozooms. “But Gay, she just told me she turned down a part as Helen Keller because she didn’t think she could remember the lines.” Ignoring me the great one swept out and soon the applause of the audience filtered back to the Green Room. The minute Gaybo left, the staff whipped away the complimentary beverages, but Bowart and I, who were due to be on in the second half of the programme, were unfazed. I still had my bottle of West Cork’s finest.

Half an hour later, and feeling no pain, I was ushered onto the set. Peering through the gloom I could see Grimshaw et al.. Better still, Auntie Rita and some heavies had arrived and were obviously enjoying the show. I had watched on the monitor with increasing boredom as the Far East and the lovely Deirdre had sparkled but only woken up when Wally Bowart attempted to explain the nature of the secret mind control experiments which the intelligence services were then conducting in America. Gay, and the audience apparently had trouble with his accent which, I could not help but regret, had perhaps been further obfuscated by my ever generous pouring hand.

Far Easts

I sat down heavily in the seat provided and placed the remnants of the poitin bottle on the table in front of me and Gaybo introduced me to the audience as the author of ‘a wonderful lighthearted book about Poitin which he had enjoyed immensely’. I guess I’ve never been a team player – probably a fatal flaw in the publishing game, but this bastard was really getting on my tits and they weren’t as big or as ‘gorgeous’ as Deirdre’s. “But Gay, you haven’t even read the book. Your researcher only got it two hours ago and you’ve been too busy swilling down the gin and ogling Deirdre’s tits to even look at it. Here, at least have a slug of the good stuff,” I proffered the bottle. Gay was, to say the least, somewhat taken aback, but, experienced trooper that he was laughed gayly – “I hope that’s not any of that illegal stuff.” What the fuck did he think it was! I took a slug and passed the bottle to a grateful Wally Bowart who took a large gulp and vouchsafed “Fuckin’ A, this stuff’s all right.” Gay turned grey and decided that this Northern upstart had better be put in his place. “Look, it is St Patrick’s Day and we all like a but of fun but you are not allowed to drink on this show and certainly not something which I suspect is an illegal substance. Besides, let’s be responsible – poitin can make you go blind.” Ah fuck it. Now or never. Leaning over I took a startled Gaybo’s palm and examined it intently. The superstar hastily withdrew his moist appendage but we irredentists would not be thwarted. “There, Gay,” I continued, “I’m sure when you were a wee boy they told you that certain solitary activities would make you go blind, but I don’t see any hairs on the palm of your hand and you don’t have a white stick and a wee blinkie doggie.”

A sussuration crept around the studio on tiptoe. Surely he wasn’t about to say the ‘W’ word? I didn’t have to. From the second row my hungover fans began to chant, led, as always by the great Grimshaw: “Gay Byrne’s a wanker.” Rita and the team at the back took up the chant. Bewildered elderly ladies turned to their spouses and asked what a ‘wanker’ was, only to emit squeals of horror when informed sheepishly by their consorts. Bowart fell off his seat. Deirdre put her hands over her ears, the Far East squatted and attempted a calming Zen mantra and Gaybo announed a commercial break. As the RTÉ goons escorted myself and Bowart (who’d decided he wanted to join the Lumberjacks) out and joined our fans outside my last sight of Gaybo was him shaking his fist and screaming “you’ll never appear on RTE ever again!” Big deal, Gaybo, we were off to the reception at the Third Police.

To be continued…

Taken from the collection of quaint and gentle yarns, ‘Last Orders, Please!’ by John McGuffin

Who the fuck is Demis Roussos? Part 1

In memory of Demis Roussos who died today.RIP.

What follows is a true story by Northern upstart, anarchist, activist, journalist, and lawyer – John McGuffin (RIP)

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I am a great fan of poor old mad Billy Blake. Indeed, today, as I was reading my Guardian newspaper, I chanced on an article about a visit to London of the immensely fat and untalented Demis Roussos and I was reminded of Blake’s maxim – ‘if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite’. ‘True, Billy,’ I mused, ‘too fucking true’. But what is truth quoth jesting Pilate. What is real and what is not real? But this is not the place for metaphysical meanderings. According to Demis the greasy Greek, he was once a preacher in ancient Egypt and a Jewish rabbi at the end of the last century. He is Greek Orthodox but loves reading the Koran. He also was, as he modestly admits, ‘a love God in the 1970s in Britain’. The unforgettable ‘Forever and Forever’ is ‘one of the top ten songs of all time’, he proudly proclaims. He denies that he wore oversized maternity dresses, masquerading as ‘kaftans’ because there was an Albanian dwarf secreted underneath licking his balls so he could hit the high notes which drove many a man to drink, my good self included.

In 1985, either as a publicity stunt because his career was floundering or because the Shiites are exceptionally stupid, Demis was allegedly kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists. He ‘sang’ his way to freedom by subjecting his captors to a few bars of one of his more popular tonsil-torturing oeuvres, causing them to flee in search of the nearest exorcist thus facilitating his escape from durance vile. And it must have been vile for his idiot guards. Demis denies that he ‘ever gave them the pleasure’ of his vocal range and, for all I know, he may be telling the truth. After a lifetime as a serious investigative journalist, I accept that ‘truth is a black cat in a darkened room and justice is a blind bat’, as the late lamented Bert Brecht so aptly put it. But I think the wanker warbled. But enough of this persiflage and enough of cheap shots at one of Europe’s greatest songbirds. What the article triggered off in my few remaining brain synapses was the recollection that although Demis may once have been an Egyptian priest and/or Jewish rabbi, he had never claimed to be a McGuffin and I had once been Demis Roussos.

demis roussos

The late John McGuffin

It all happened in Dublin way back in 1976. Now, I may have mentioned this before, but I do not like Dublin. I am a Blefuscu man, as Wolfie Tonie would have said, and I don’t know of any Belfast or Derry man who does like Dublin. To many of us black Northerners the ‘Celtic Tiger’ resembles nothing more than old Buck Alec’s mangy toothless lion with which he used to scare the weans on the Custom House steps. It’s not just because of W.T. Cosgrave and Mulcahy and Ernie Blythe and Kevin O’Higgins and them freestaters who sold us out in 1922. It’s not just because they don’t know how to make a decent glass of porter, even though the Guinness factory to this day pollutes the Liffey. It’s not just because of the tawdry, plastic, pseudo America ‘Kultur’ and omnipresent Turd Burger franchises. It’s not even, though God knows this would be reason enough, the chi-chi ’boutiques’ and ‘restaurants’ and ‘nite clubs’ that have spread like the bubonic plague through the pestilential place. It’s not just the trendy ‘arts’ community with the likes of Colm Toibin and Rose Mary Doorli et al., and their shameless denial of their history in the ruthless search for the almighty Euro/Yank gravy train.

It’s not just because of their sleazy politicians, their Jack Lynchs and Chuckie Haugheys and their Garrett FitzGeralds and their Smurfits and Reillys. It’s not just because of their shameless hacks like Kevin Myers and Eamonn Dunphy and Eoghan Harris and Ruth Dudley Edwards and the Forsterite revisionists. It’s not just because of the stale buns with begging bowls in the streets. It’s not just because of the heroin junkies vomiting on your feet as they wave Stanley knives in your face. It’s because the banana Republic with no bananas, in the aftermath of the senile Spanish/American mathematician who wanted the boys and girls to dance at the cross roads, was allowed to become infected with the feculent presence and all pervading influence of the anti-Christ himself, Gay Byrne. So I suppose this tale is about Gaybo, and Demis Roussos.

It was the usual damp dark night in Blefuscu when the phone call came to Cobweb Castle, my mean abode off the Malone Road. There were a group of us sitting in front of the fire and using an LP cover (Migod! Could it have been by Demis Roussos – nay, too much synchronicity, get back Jung man) to skin up a joint. The reason for our bonhomie was that I had just published a modest book entitled In Praise of Poitin and we were planning our appearance on Nationwide Television tomorrow afternoon, the 17th of March, the day of sanctified Patrick, where we were to be interviewed by none other than the blessed Valerie Singleton. Why, if one of us played his cards right he might even get onto Blue Peter and have some incontinent wombat piss all over us or learn how to make a totally useless artefact out of used condoms and a string. The ‘hook’ we had sold to the TV was that I, as the first author to a book exclusively on moonshine whiskey in Ireland, aka poitin, had been running all year the great All Ireland Poitin championship which would be decided on air direct from the BBC studios in Blefescu. My co-conspirators were to appear, suitably masked, and be introduced live on air the winner of the title ‘Best Poitin Maker of 1975’. I had procured eight bottles of the finest illegal uisge beatha and labelled them 1-8. My masked experts (masked because poitin is still illegal) would blind taste them (and after tasting them go blind) and pronounce the Island’s winner to a bemused British public. And then the phone rang. It was my publisher, whose name shall never be mentioned in polite company unless accompanied by large ingestions of mouthwash. (Oh all right, since this is the era of name and shame, it was John D. Murphy). He was phoning to tell me that RTE, Potato TV, had just called and wanted me on the Gaybo Late Late Show tomorrow evening to promote my book. Happy days. Fame at last.

The hospitality was splendid. The programme was pre-recorded in mid-afternoon and went without a hitch. Valerie Singleton, over the line from London, was her ineffable charming self. She giggled girlishly and asked us to assure the viewers that ‘we weren’t really drinking that illegal ‘cratur’’ as she called it. Tee hee! What a romp Val. Isn’t this a great St. Patrick’s Day show. Sure aren’t those natives quaint and loveable when they’re not blowing the fuck out of us. Uisge beatha was consumed in immoderate quantities and the masked experts and my good self were wafted out on a cushion and into a motor with a sober driver whose task was to convey us 100 miles down the road to dear old dirty Dublin, there to mix with the Gaybo glitterati on The Late Late Show, which, in those dark days all rural Ireland watched since they couldn’t get the filthy BBC channels.

I seem to recollect a fleeting thought as we wheeled into Dubh linn, the black pool, that all had been going too well. Were we mocking fate? Lumberjacks, as we were, usually don’t get away with having a good time unpunished. That’s why God created Puritans. Still, as the good book says ‘wine is a mocker’ (Proverbs 20:1). Whether this is Aramaic for ‘motherfucker’ I don’t know, my linguistic skills in Essene have been shot to hell since John Allegro gave me those mushrooms. Nonetheless, the journey down had been splendid. More poitin had been consumed, herbal remedies were flowering and flowing, the driver was sober and we even managed to stop just outside Dublin and watch ourselves on TV in the local pub. Not only that, the locals had recognised us as ‘celebrities’ in their midst as they watched bemusedly us appearing in their physical presence and also on the flickering TV screen (the concept of ‘pre-recording’ had apparently not percolated as far south as Balbriggan). Their hospitality was a tribute to Munster. I had, vainly, thought that the locals had recognised me, the only unmasked participant in the programme from my vivacious good looks but this misplaced vanity was banished from my mind when McIlvogue pointed out that McKeown, ever security conscious, had still not removed his balaclava mask.

I have little recollection of my drive to the studio, with TT and the troops unconscious in the back. I had asked the taximan to drive but he just laughed and made a suggestion that was not only extremely vulgar but anatomically impossible, especially for a fat bastard like myself. Fortune favours the bold however, and, 15 minutes before airtime I was ensconced in the Green Room in the Entertainment facility off stage in RTE 1’s flagship. The troops had been shovelled into seats in the audience, which seemed to consist mainly of a cross between Dublin 4’s finest and tweedy culchie ladies with a sprinkling of bespectacled Far Easts and Stale Buns. (Why do most clerics appear to be myopic? Is it the rosary beads?) I was still hoping that Auntie Rita and the troops would arrive and had left tickets for them at the box office. But for now, all I could do was grin, bear it and meet my fellow guests.

In the Green Room we made a merry crew. (Secretly I was hoping for Frankie Vaughan to emerge from behind the shamrock, but, alas, it was not to be.) As I was the last arrival, my fellow panellists all made a point of approaching me and introducing themselves. The first was, not surprisingly, one of God’s anointed. He was not your traditional Far East however. He didn’t offer me a Jehovah sarnie as so many do but warmly shook hands and told me that although he was a priest he was also heavy into Zen Buddhism and had pole vaulted for Ireland at the latest European games. He was dressed in mulfi and glowed with health. He refused my offer of liquid refreshment from the bottle of poitin I had smuggled in. Generously, he offered to help me if I felt overwhelmed by this kosmic karmic moment. As he patronisingly groped my shoulder, he whispered “Just call me Terence, I’m an old stager at this game.” Yeah, Terry baby, later for you, you smug parasitical cocksucker. Next up in the welcome line was a fresh faced forty-something-year-old lady. She had a blank, helpless sort of face – rather like a rose before it is sprayed with pesticide. “Hello, I’m a missionary’s wife. This is the third time I’ve been on the programme. I’ve recently changed my medication….” “Thank you for sharing that, Deirdre,” I responded, discerning her name from the badge pinned upon her ample bosom. Chemical relief of any kind was clearly essential. Ostentatiously I took a slug from the unlabelled bottle. “Got any more of that, Paddy?” It was the third guest. The American. A six foot six long haired hippie. Not only that, and remember that this is well over twenty years ago, he rather startled us by having a pierced nose and an earring. No big deal these days, but back then if the Provos had done it to him they’d have clearly been in breach of any ceasefire. Before we were summoned onto the stage the American, who turned out to be Walter Bowart, former editor of the East Village Other and author of Operation Mind Control, the ultimate conspiracy ‘cryptocracy’ book in those days was happily pissed. But first we had to be welcomed by God himself. Gaybo oozed into the room and smarmed his way through.

To be continued…

Taken from the uproariously irreverent, ‘Last Orders, Please!’ by John McGuffin

The kid is alright

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels (name that tune) last week, random flashbacks of scenes from Boyhood continued to pop up in my head like the last surviving bubbles in a dead drink.

Studying my teenage nephew during a visit home, I tried conjuring up early versions of him but couldn’t replace his face with anything other than the present tense. His voice in the key of deepening monosyllabic disgruntlement; his side profile a shadow of his Dad’s.

In the adjoining room, a montage of family photos captures him grinning as a boy blowing out various configurations of birthday candles. His growth is almost imperceptible with each passing year until it becomes a challenge to reconcile the young person towering over his grandparents with the toddler stepping out from his tractor; one not unlike our own with their shared severe fringes and the absence of self-consciousness.

As impossible as it is to interact with him as anything other than the young adult he is, the inevitability of our little one eventually crossing that threshold into burgeoning independence is an unimaginable given. In the way it’s difficult to recall her as a baby; guesses at sketches of her future-self are fleeting sleet showers that never lie long enough.

Back then, what mattered most was converting the kitchen into a science lab for the sterilisation of various feeding paraphernalia with all the diligence of surgical staff scrubbing in. The scrupulousness extended to the stairs by taking ten minutes to climb them to avoid detonating creaks that risked waking her up as she slept through the neighbour’s pneumatic drilling; or berating each other for slipping out of whispering as she slept with the TV on.

I can’t remember if my nephew was breastfed; or if his mother wore him on her. Baby-led weaning was a term not yet invented despite it describing a practice around forever. I know his mother was entitled to three months state maternity pay only, so some things were different. No doubt calculators were brought into late-night discussions on childcare options to determine bottom lines. That for every there-and-then, there was a next-short-while, and a long-haul to be weighed up and balanced.

One of the many triumphs of Boyhood is its resistance to clichéd cinematic drama. Not a whole lot happens other than the spinning of family life on the axis of time that rushes under the wheels at a terrifying rate that goes unnoticed until it’s too late to notice. A series of moments revealing its members trying on the best version of themselves in their efforts to find one that fits. A string of here-and-nows, and as many long-hauls that suddenly show up as next short-whiles. The essence of life, essentially.

Our here-and-now is much like any other family from a similar demographic contending with modern life with all its attendant worries and woes that don’t need repeating here.  It’s invested with the same sense of urgency and importance every waking phase of life radiates when you’re in it. For now, there is a lot of early year parenting going down.  The merits of the various local pre-schools are currently occupying our chin-strokes. There will come a time when none of it will matter as it does now, if it ever will to the extent we fear, or should fear. But it seems important right now.

Looking around, empathy is the grown-up version of everyone holding hands as they strive to keep the show on the road.  Relief ripples out when an exasperated parent braves the letter page in the national press to say it like it is, and occasionally a phrase will take on a life of its own to become a sound-bite that’s meant as short-hand for the commonly understood experience and corresponding crusade for fairness.

“Raised in childcare” has been doing the rounds lately. It has been circling my head, too. For all the sympathy I have for those who agonise over childcare, and the frustrations I relate to concerning the balancing act of work and child-rearing, I’m personally relieved to report that the full-time carers of our child are not raising her.

They are the same exploited, over-worked, underpaid, women enabling many families to just about break even. The carefully selected cherished minders whose responsibilities far exceed the dismal recognition and acknowledgement they receive by the state or in their wage-slip. The women depended on for their undervalued love of children and integrity in maintaining their care and well-being for a sizeable chunk of pre-school life before the baton is passed on to the state.

State educators will no more raise our child than her child-minder before them. Their collective responsibilities and potential impact are immense, but her fundamental sense of worth, her early values, norms, attitudes, rights, responsibilities, and sense of self, will be shaped predominantly by her home environment, as only they can be.  Educators and child psychologists are unanimous in recognising this.

The disappointment many parents feel at how family life has panned out next to their expectations is recognisable. The gnawing sense of feeling undermined by the state and the market place, and the inability to direct family life according to a reasonable yet dearly-held script is understood by many. And of course, the concern is played out against the importance of the first five years of a child’s life broadcast on loop as though it is the beginning and end of child-rearing.

When the time comes for us to look back through all the birthday candles hopefully extinguished by our one, it will not be the child-minders or teachers we’ll be directing the hardest questions about her rearing to.

Raising a child as we both understand it: a marathon task involving a long haul battle with ourselves to maintain perspective in the here-and-now. A series of moments whizzing by.

From tomorrow’s Irish Times Letters Page

1. The earnest letter from a despairing ex-pat abroad:

A Chara

I refer to Breda O’Brien’s article on stillborn babies (17th January), in which she exhibits grave concern at the language employed to describe the conditions that lead to tragically premature death and foetal complications.

Ms. O’Brien states that “Sometimes, these children are treated as if they were never alive at all. Expressions like “fatal foetal abnormality” are incredibly insensitive, as is “incompatible with life””. She fears the influence those harrowing words “incompatibility with life” has in diminishing society’s regard for the dignity and well-being of these foetuses. These are much-longed for pregnancies of grief-stricken parents who are frequently deserted by the state and left to balance their humanity with their hopes in stigmatised isolation. More often that not, these parents are treated as if they don’t exist at all.

The expression “Sometimes, these children are treated as if they were never alive at all” is incredibly insensitive but entirely accurate within the context of church and state. Ms O’Brien also states “Grief cannot be evaded or hurried. There are events in life that leave you reeling, and reaching for answers that just don’t come. But rituals help.”

One couldn’t agree more. However, for decades, these rituals were not afforded by the church and state to Irish women who had miscarried or whose children were stillborn. Women whose unborn and born babies were not afforded recognition or granted status until recent years. Babies who until recently were considered non-entities, denied the sacrament of baptism or a burial with dignity. Babies who were clumsily and insensitively discarded in hospitals.

As an emigrant who left Ireland for more equitable shores during the oppressive 1980s, the echoes of persistent hypocrisy in Ms. O’Brien’s concern continues to send a chill down the spine.

Is mise le meas

Professor Fiachra O’Bualla

Institute of Clannad & Enya Studies

Department of Celtic Mythology

University of Missouri

2. The uppity passive aggressive letter with subtle feminist undertones

Sir

There is a fine line between RTÉ giving due coverage to Leo Varadkar’s disclosure of his sexual orientation, and spectacularly exploiting it with a toe-curlingly embarrassing sensationalist headline spectacle replete with ‘in studio’ analysis from ‘Emotional State Expert’, David Davin Power.

Mr. Davin Power helpfully pointed out that Minister Varadkar appeared “somewhat nervous” prior to sharing this information on his personal life. I was able to put this insight together with my other information, which included a few condescending remarks on his “prior achievements”, and the certainty that the bulletin would have worked equally well as a news parody in a mature democratic republic.

david davin power

“Yes, Eileen, I can confirm all Ministers did arrive by a mode of transport this morning”

Finally, one wondered why the Correspondent on The Obvious was not positioned outside the Dáil to lend it the weight of gravitas afforded other government related stories, however irrelevant their location. Martina Fitzgerald would no doubt have braved it. But then RTÉ are well-used to leaving women out in the cold.

Yours etc.

Liadain O’Banshee

Chairperson

Leitrim Women’s Council

Carrick-on-Shannon

3. The ‘hilarious’ witty two-liner letter

Sir

According to Minister Brendan Howlin, the people of Ireland have “lost sight of the depth of the economic crisis”.

Will this mean another tax penalty imposed on them as punishment?

Yours etc.

David Thompson

Dublin 4

Seven reasons to see Boyhood

boyhood

1. For its story on childhood

2. For its story on motherhood

3. For its story on fatherhood

4. The delicate stacking of these stories into the film’s central arc on aging.

5. The bang-on casting of the wonderful Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, and Lorilei Linklater

6. The timely reminder that everyone is winging it, irrespective of age, and the best signposts on the road-map to doing-your-best-parenting comes from your own child, not a parenting book.

7. The comforting hallmarks of Richard Linklater: posing more questions than answers; the pointlessness in searching for these answers, propped up by the human purpose to attempt it anyway; and the importance  of seeking out the right music in the quest to give the questions some meaning.