Postcards from the edge

One of the greatest marketing scams of the last few years is the ingenious Wild Atlantic Way. Take a coastline that’s always been there, chuck in the lyrical pipes of John Creedon, a clamped out campervan, umpteen dozen tourist signs, and wahey! the West’s your tourist cashcow.  It’s up there with non-alcoholic beer in the top bricking-it-in-the-boardroom moments. One that (presumably) culminated in the most extravagant piss-up of German men riding bare-backed on each other round the office. Forced to do three-point turns along congested photocopiers, they triumphantly, if ungallantly, rode with ties atop their foreheads.

Which brings me to my latest get-out-of-real-life fantasy pitches: The Wilder Northern Way. You with me? Thought not *removes tie from forehead* Still, credit to those remote marketeers busy imploring their dot comrades to avail of the “stunning scenery” amid chitchat on the North since McGuinness’s death. Presumably, it remains hidden from the view of logic among the rest of the islanders.  I can hear them in the focus groups.  “Hmmm, I’m not sure. Would it be as good as the Atlantic on the Western side? Would you need a plane to get there?” Best keep your shirts on, fellas. But do help yourself to the non-alcoholic beers behind the ring-binders in the stationery cabinet. Just ignore the sell-by date.

For all the attempts at enticing reluctant tourists upwards, you’ll never hear anyone urging people to live here. The locals are too busy cursing chance, and the passers-through only get to admire the doilies in the good sitting-room. In fact, some of the locals seem to visit reality only rarely these days, too. I’d been waiting on an unsuspecting middle-classer to send us a postcard from around the corner, and Newton Emerson kindly wrote his while wearing uranium-tinted glasses this morning in – where else – The Irish Times.

Newton would tell you it was far from well-stocked stationery cabinets of broadsheets his journalism was raised. This is true. It was from the clandestine confines of his imagination his refreshing satire took its first breaths. An experimental test-tube embryo using wry eggs and the sperm from moderate Unionism willing to laugh at itself. Over the years it grew to sharp-wit its elbows  on to the pages of respectable commentary.

Emerson is also right to lament the elusive ability of commentators to adequately convey the “incongruous banality” of war zones. The monotony of daily life that trundles on against the backdrop of rioting and ruination of lives,  of livelihoods, families, and  futures. ‘Normal’ life did indeed persist amid explosive satellite images beamed abroad. Affluent neighbourhoods, in particular, came through the Troubles relatively unscathed. They were, coincidentally, a mere stone’s throw from combustible working class streets on fire every which way.

It is fair game to revisit, as he does, the incubation of resistance among working class men to the discrimination and state violence unleashed upon their neighbourhoods. To disaggregate those who emerged towards the path of violence from those who did not. Malachi O’Doherty and others have been similarly stroking their chins with wagging fingers of late.  But it is as if an entire group of people can be divided into two distinct tribes (!), homogeneous in motivation, provocation, expectation, drive, privilege, opportunity, personality, susceptibility, suggestibility, loss of agency, and all the other variables that collide on the venn diagram of civil disturbance. All that transcends binary convenience.

It is not for me to speculate on why Malachi O’Doherty or Newton Emerson succeeded in raising a pen overhead in a lecture hall while McGuinness raised a gun over his own. There are too many variables I know nothing about. Varnishing another’s violence with the gloss of respectability of their own peaceful experience provides no richer understanding. It could also be asked why many of their other peers who didn’t sign up sidestep similar mystification, even if all share condemnation.  None of these feelings are mutually exclusive. That violence was a career option for a 19 year-old was indicative of a society far from ‘normal’.

The corresponding sanctifying of McGuinness wearing thin for many serves our understanding just as little. Greater thinkers than most of us have convincingly rationalised the legitimate use of grassroots violence. But as well as being a non-apologist for same, many of us will always wonder how the efforts of the Civil Rights movement would’ve panned out had grassroots violence failed to detonate. While the surviving mothers of now middle-aged sons sent away to wherever a greater life expectancy awaited still heave a sigh of relief as intense as their first.

Meanwhile, the dreary monotony of life ticks along largely unaltered; at variance with the prevailing images of harmony in the mindset of satellite viewers near and far. Normal life continues. But normal being a normative concept, Newton has gone fully native, if not disingenuous, in his interpretation of it.

Public spaces, particularly those dedicated to the performing arts, picket-fenced estates, and higher end retails units, remain the domain of the middle-classes. Their social niceties overtaking tribal insecurities to make for the most robust of cross-community relations. In the absence of overt hostilities, communities, in the main, co-exist along state-drawn lines of poverty, education, housing and leisure. The war is still finding people, still orchestrated by aging generals kitted out in three-piece suits with ties around their heads on Friday evenings down the pub. In another time and place, some of them would have responded with physical violence.

Integrated education remains a fledging enterprise politely coercing young people into an undefined shared entity.  Learning zones where subtle games of tug-o’-wars are played with the history curricula and Remembrance Assemblies.  Retail service provision continues parallel to the traditional ‘two communities’ with each served by their own chippers, post offices, supermarkets, pubs, even estate agents.  It is not ‘normal’ life. The stultifying inescapable fug of coexistence pervades the everyday, eluding the most articulate of voices and pens. All the mainstream weapons wielded around struggling to get the banality of a transitional war-zone in their line of fire.  And failing, mostly. Great coastline though.

doilies

A hotel-eyed view of the North 

Ask not what your elected reps can do for you…

Ten sleeps till election day in Norn Iron and I’m losing little over my decision to sit this one out. The only backlash I feared was my Mother’s threat of a clip round the ear for refusing to exercise a privilege for which many fought hard. She didn’t disappoint. So indelible are the stains of struggle on the ballot box that any attempt to ignore them is construed as casually ducking out of the generational relay race of responsibility. Point taken. As a woman (allegedly), the perceived betrayal induces an uncompromising wrath.

Clipped tones and appendages aside, I welcomed an opportunity for my decision to be given a good kicking. It’s still standing, if slightly hunched over with a black eye. Kneecaps intact though.

“A penalty for not participating in politics is to be governed by your inferiors.” 

That punch thrown by Plato, delivered through those given power of attorney on Earth – Twitter users.

It’s doubtful Plato had a pre-determined Assembly structure designed to safeguard the Green/Orange configuration in mind when he uttered that assertion. Were he around now, he might be tempted to add: “unless you live in Northern Ireland, where an out-dated parliamentary configuration ensures inferior governance for all”.  For we are not dealing with a regular democracy, if such a system ever existed in the first place.

But you already knew that. And that is precisely why it is imperative that my fellow citizens and I in this septic statelet must ensure peace is protected at all costs! By casting our vote! Peace must hold! Or we’ll bring it down! That would be the same peace brokered twenty years ago when the IRA graciously laid down their arms following  periods of intransigence and indifference from politicians North, South and Westminster. The same peace under mythical threat if the precious ‘centre’ is pulled out from under it.

“Ok-so how did the people effect the ushering in of peace? Surely influence on the IRA & 2 governments = politics. Democracy means voting.”

I wouldn’t like to underestimate the commitment and sacrifices made by politicians, nor can I indulge in the mawkish glorification of them in recent years. No-one is better at congratulating Sinn Fein than Sinn Fein. It conveniently obscures the people’s demands for ‘no more’, which triggered the threat of political expediency that eventually backed all shades into a corner with no option but to negotiate a way out. Ordinary people’s movements don’t make into official history books, nor into revisonist views of it.

“They brought us here well esp John Hume in 1998. Early problems aside-Trimble dancing re Drumcree the 2017”

“They” being the nationalist SDLP and Ulster Unionist parties, respectively. The current pact both are pushing the electorate to support as a ‘radical’ alternative to the deteriorating marriage of Sinn Fein and DUP. The latter workable only because one side’s constituency was not under threat by vote-hunters from the other; and ultimately unworkable because the Party First Mentality resulted in treating the livelihood of the broad electorate with wilful contempt.

The whatboutery of the SF/DUP breakdown is for other hair-splitters to rant about. In some ways, it has everything and nothing to do with my opting out. Blind a fresh Troubles-free young generation with a dam-burst of bitterness about the past, then force them to referee their petulant elders. Arrogantly lean on an increasingly diverse collection of greying heads to lead by example. Force them to compromise their personal  and moral convictions to prop up those incapable of doing the same. Ideals inconsistent with two church-deferring anti-choice parties with a lethargic attitude to integrated education. The balance of responsibilities has tipped further back onto the lap of an electorate expected to do most of the heavy lifting.

Others have attracted consternation for canvassing on “single issues” with some commentators deeming it “selfish”. As if issues of poverty, education, welfare reform, equality, the environment, health, reproductive rights and so on bear no relationship to each other, they are dismissed by the compulsion to protect the ragbag of Orange and Green ‘cultural’ sensitivities. Hasn’t that been the problem? A faulty formula meant for a short-term period of political transition, which, 20 years on, is an instrument for the abuse and suffocation of integration.  The pressure to balance the needs of all (with no consensus on what that is) with personal integrity is unrealistic. It would not be unlike asking pro-choice activists to vote Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to prevent them from huffing with each other. An ostensibly mellower Assembly might appear reachable from here, but it won’t usher any radical challenge to the status quo. The structure is set-up to safeguard it.

If you believe the ballot box is as sacred as it always was, your irritation with those leaving it to the pall-bearing few to carry is understandable.

“Nobody counts “didn’t vote” or “spoiled vote”. The notion that non/spoiled votes are effective protest is wrong.”

But I don’t claim my not-arsedness as a protest move, not in the respectable definition of the term. All things considered and chin-stroked over, I couldn’t vote for any of the candidates on offer in my area. Moreover, the ballot box is not the sacred, exclusive means of engaging in political action it once was. As an apparatus of democracy it is at best constrained, and at worst illusionary. Pissed on. Neither is it the only method to register dissent or participate in politics. You probably noticed that, too.

So, rightly or wrongly, I’m bowing out of the ballot box on this occasion. Not as an act of protest, or civil ‘disobedience’, but as a right. Politics is a broad term. Day-to-day community life is where it’s at for me. The ordinary people in Norn Iron have always been ahead of state politics, anyway. When it mattered most.

march

A legitimate protest, hi

Chilled produce

“And what about Tommy?”, arch brows Bernadette, ever so slightly.

“Studying away. Loves it, he does”, fake smiles Sheila.

Sheila doesn’t realise Tommy hasn’t a “fucking notion” (sic) of setting foot in the real world for another two bank loans, and little does she know (but fears) that all her acquaintances’ (friends? but does she really have to like them?) children are destined to receive postgrads before him with a postgrad becoming the new undergrad. She draws breath as she spots Mary from the flower arranging class in the distance before pulling a three-and-a-half point turn (those damn trolleys).

Throwing a few boxes of almond slices (Tommy’s favourite) in the basket, she swiftly takes the chicane into the tinfoil aisle and prays she’s avoided another session of Mary banging on about her Nuala and her wretched PhD. Holy Mary and Joseph I’ll throttle her if she mentions it ONE MORE TIME.

chilledgood
Dangerous cul-de-sac

Thank you for not breathing

We’re under attack from an aggressive downpour of orders to be quiet from the folk behind. Precision missiles narrowly miss our ears before ricocheting off Natalie Portman’s breathy Jackie to land on their intended target. She’s not a day under 80, alone; with an accent so rooted in the Gaeltacht, I fear for the state of her Vs. Her hearing can’t be much younger since she retaliates with a decade of God Blesses before thanking the caller profusely. She hangs up just as Jackie knocks back another wodka, as she would probably say herself. There is no contest between Jackie’s manicured vowels and the life-soaked North Western afternoon chorus of God sanctioned greetings. But we only paid to hear one of them, which entitles the rest of us to an elevated sense of rage as we pneumatically chop down on our popcorn. Equal opportunity rage, mind. Right on, right on.

 

Edge of Seventeen

Next year will be different.

Next year I will combat the creeping suspicion that integrated  education is merely a subtle form of middle-class Unionist assimilation. I will do this with steadfast determination to tether it to my own terms. I will sheepishly deliver our girl to class after the Remembrance Assembly but this time armed with an unapologetic reason why, if asked. I will swerve to avoid collisions with groups of more than one parent in the yard and forbid myself the possibility of a re-run of Facebook-Gate 2016. I will suppress the pleasure of taking the piss out of myself at all costs for fear I will re-awaken the sensitivities and antipathy of other parents. I will defiantly goose-step over landmines of emoticons, smiles, thumbs up, likes, and all manner of paraphernalia of the passive aggressive and paranoid. I will restore some of my credibility by refusing to wear clown-feet red boots when striving to be taken seriously.

redboots

Could you wear these and stroke your chin at the same time?

Next year will be different

Next year there will be more women than Lynn Ruane single-handedly serving as a vital visible counter-point to prevailing mainstream middle-class feminism. Traveller women, working class women, and women for whom English is not their first language but for whom Ireland is their first shot at stable family life, will not be confined to the following:

  • 10 minutes of air-time on open-air trucks at annual marches
  • 10 hours of patronising twitter admiration following the above
  • 51 weeks of obscurity till the next time

There will be plain English to rival the paradigms and intersectionality and tone-police-policing of the custodians of public discussion on equality.

Next year will be different

Next year there will be more films, less vengeful fantasies involving neighbours hatched in response to the casual erection of their corrugated monstrosity impeding my view of sun-set. There will be more maybes, less yeses, and more emphatic nos.

Next year will be different

Next year I will no longer labour under the notion of reconciliation. As the final tranche of European Peace monies pour into the coffers of local government, I will confidently, and correctly, predict the successful squandering of same. At a ratio of three managers to every one community worker. The most successful reconciliation will be Sinn Fein with their insatiable sense of entitlement. Where I live, anyway. Aided and abetted by deference of weak-willed management with imagination institutionalised out of them. There will be fewer fucks given. Just a steely resolve to rise above the bullshit through the ancient scientific application of rolled eyes and a reasonable day’s work for a shit day’s pay at the end of it.

Next year will be different

Next year will be lined with coastlines. And coast-hangers. And ward robes with mountains of closed bags filled with skirt-arounds never worn and ill-fitting dressing-downs and scuffed shoo-ins.

Next year will be different

Next year I will go wherever the keyboard takes me. The words will take the wheel while I continue to enjoy the scenery.

Happy New Year.

You wouldn’t sell your hen on a wet day

From the kitchen, the Irish language channel shouts down the everyday English hemorrhaging from the TV across the hall through perpetually open doors. Between the deteriorating hearing of the older residents, and their obsessive, high-pitched, fear these will provide a passage way for A Terrible Draft, a Siberian dog has its paws permanently shoved in its ears.

Between impassioned pleas from Gaelgeoiri to rescue our native language, and raised brows from others at the dead-horse approach to same, a third language is quietly under attack. One that is lively, expressive, and economic: the mongrel tongue of colonial English and sideways Irish. A combination producing an index of euphemisms readily deployed to elegantly ridicule a person, lampoon a notion, or nail a nugget of wisdom in less than 140 characters.

Say that again?

Would you lock the back door please

Lock? The back door? Whad’ya mean?

Yeah, the keys are on the kitchen window 

The kitchen window?

We’ve reached the point of our stay in a predominately euphemism-speaking area of Ireland when the most straight-up assembly of words is fast becoming a challenge. But I want to stay here and luxuriate it in a while longer before returning to the Real World.

Between excessive flexing of intellectual muscles, and casually revealing mental muffin tops on social media, the Plain People of Ireland mutter on from the sidelines; sometimes seeming to occupy the more sophisticated and least self-regarding high tables of chat of all. Many of them know the value of silence. And the importance of not selling their hen on a wet day.

Children of the revolution

“Participants in last week’s pro-choice march hang signs around children’s necks proclaiming, “I was a chosen child.” The implications are chilling. “Chosen” has surface connotations of being special, but also the cold wind whispering in your ear: you could have just as easily not been chosen. Your siblings, your flesh and blood, may not have been chosen and therefore are absent forever from your life. Such a slogan screams that adults are all-powerful. They have the right to exclude others from even being defined as human.”

Breda O’Brien, Irish Times Sat 1/10/16

I wondered when the subject of children on protest marches would arise. More specifically, the subjective value-judgements commentators inevitably attach to it. Breda might’ve been left cold by the perceived connotations of the gesture, as is her wont; I just thought it was extraordinarily naff. But I’m sure she’d expect nothing less from an irresponsible pro-choicer like myself who brought her own daughter on the march last year.

She continues…

“Children cannot rationalise abortion in the way adults can. They cannot rationalise taking away a life as a solution.”

As statements of fact, the first will likely be met with broad agreement by anyone who has ever spent a few minutes of their lifetime dabbling in logic. The second will prompt many to ask for clarifications on the meaning of life, whether that includes the life of a sentient woman, the solution to what exactly, and other plentiful well-worn question marks frequently posed by my 4 year-old and her mates over play-doh.

Breda’s contention is not that children shouldn’t be brought on marches  – she brought her own on pro-life rallies – it’s that pro-choice marches are essentially an exercise in compromising the emotional security of those children attending. Where the use of such slogans as ‘chosen child’ is an unequivocal demonstration of how their mother’s love is conditional, and there but for the almighty power of her (presumably) blithe judgement, their own lives might very well have been taken away before they began.

Tell me about it, Breda. Sure our wee one has been milking that one for years, and will continue to do so until it dawns on her around 13 that she didn’t actually ask to be born.

“No parent loves perfectly, but babies bring out a fierce protectiveness in us. The urge to protect the weakest and most helpless is primal. Or at least it used to be.” 

Or at least it is for us pro-life parents, in short. As a pro-life protesting parent, Breda is satisfied with the phased exposure to the principles of the pro-life movement undertaken with her own children. Pro-life protestors, it would seem, have a monopoly on ensuring responsible engagement of children in forms of protest.

“I told them that abortion was a word that they had to trust me to worry about and not to explain until they were much older. “

I’m not sure I feel so confident. When it comes to protecting the innocence of my own girl, and balancing that with the cultivation of a sense of justice and an incremental introduction the complexities and messiness of life, there is much I won’t be able to guard her from. But such is life.

In time, she will come to learn there are few areas in life that can be unequivocally defined by a single moral perspective. That those holding competing views will always be the last to see their own hypocrisy. And, just as Breda marches alongside children brandishing placards showing foetal remains; the rest of us take our place next to our own diversity of bedfellows and march onward in the hope of reaching a fair destination.

For now, I’m reasonably certain that instilling an awareness of the existence of public disgruntlement, unhappiness among women about the rules that govern them, and their corresponding entitlement to use the public highway to highlight that, will not compromise our girl’s sense of security. She’s been doing it effectively in the hallway since the time she could walk.

children-marching

What do we want?

Our mothers to be trusted

When do we want it?

Er can we have our crisps now?