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’ children are destined to receive post-grads before him with a post-grad becoming the new under-grad. 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.

Dangerous cul-de-sac


Combating poverty by the fada

Originally posted in July 2014

Anyone half-tuned into news from Ulcer this week may recall an overreaction from (insert one side of the community here) ______________ to (insert other side of community here) ______________ . Time for the Irish Language’s turn on the rotation crop of woes.

Neck veins are bulging over the ‘Bobby Sands Gaeltacht Scholarships’ awarded to two pupils from Twinbrook to enhance their drinking, smoking and snogging skills Irish learning experience with an all-expenses-paid three weeks in the wilds of Donegal.

Not content with politicising the Irish language, and commandeering it for themselves, Unionists are coasting close to apoplexy from this latest audacious move by Sinn Féin to name a bursary after freedom fighter/terrorist, Bobby Sands.

Protection and assertion of cultural heritage is a cornerstone of life and strife in this contested terrain. Sinn Féin has been pursuing an aggressive Irish language policy since The Good Friday Agreement from the introduction of place names to scholarships.

The Bobby Sands Bursary is a joint initiative by Sinn Féin and local business-owners committed to helping children learn the language. Such schemes are replicated across Northern Ireland, often with funding from mainstream social regeneration programmes replenished from the coffers of local tax payers. As a break from the wilds of West Belfast, a chance to flex their social muscles among their peers, and an opportunity to top up on the cupla focail, what harm?

The pages of local newspapers are adorned with photos of students from “disadvantaged communities” beaming on receipt of same. The coverage coated in respectability with local party councillors flanked by school principals and regional education board representatives.

According to Barnardos, one fifth of children in Northern Ireland leave primary school unable to read or write to the required standard while two-fifths leave with poor numeracy skills. Research conducted by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicates that one in five people in Northern Ireland is living in poverty. Children on the Free School Meals Scheme are less likely to attain expected levels of educational qualifications. Thirty-four per cent of working age adults are not in employment. While Northern Ireland has high levels of educational attainment at the top end compared with England or Wales, the inequalities among school leavers are stark.

In the last five years, the number of school leavers going into work or training has fallen by around 3,000. But children on free school meals are much more likely to go into work or training than other school leavers. If training and employment opportunities for school leavers are declining, it is poorer children who will lose out most.

Add to this the challenges from the recession, cuts and welfare reform, in a region where the public sector makes up a large chuck of the labour market compared with the UK.

As holders of the Education portfolio, Sinn Féin has a dismal track record and has overseen a succession of cuts. Just last year, Education Minister, John O’Dowd, ordered the closure of the Woodlands Specialised Language Unit in Derry, contradicting the party’s election pledge to combat all cuts. But this is another smooth move in their about-turns with which they are so at ease.

Meanwhile, loyalists, egged on by part-criminal, part-fascist terror gangs, against the background of populist rage whipped up by Unionist parties seeking to maintain control over local councils, continue their flag protests. In many respects, working class loyalists are the biggest losers of The Conflict. They have some of the worst figures in the UK for educational attainment. What do they do about this? Vote for the DUP, a party whose position is to leave the education system that is letting down as it is.

Sinn Féin can name the bursaries after Bobby Sands or Nelson Mandela for all the difference they’re going to make in the greater scheme of educational attainment among “deprived communities”. The DUP can continue to knock themselves out over the irrelevancy of them in the lives and livelihoods of their constituents. That way, both are united in generating the illusion they are actually doing something.

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.


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.

Northern exposure

Part of the ritual of a trip to the flicks is a gawk at departing viewers as the lights come up and the credits roll.  It used to be an unconscious reflex, curiosity to see who else the film appealed to without processing it too finely. But this evening, the descent of young lads two by two-steps at a time is impossible to ignore. They’re of the generation that wasn’t born during The Conflict. Yet here they are, quietly absorbing a documentary on Hunger Striker, Bobby Sands. Like Sands needs any introduction….

The film’s appeal is proof positive that his place in the enduring mystique of Republicanism is safe. Where he continues to be romanticised in a way those from the armed movement’s ‘legitimate targets’ are not.

The newly released documentary 66 Days is compelling viewing chronicling the turbulent period of Sands’s physical demise and corresponding rise of his political determination. It does so while unpicking the competing perspectives of those who considered him a freedom fighter with unflinching conviction against others who categorised him and his comrades as terrorists. All the while transcending firm conclusions by illuminating the contradictions and hypocrisies of violence directed towards others alongside feats of self-sacrifice (something the IRA were not generally known for). Contractions that propel a handful of individuals into the universally recognised iconography of the oppressed. An enigmatic few with an ability to attract derision and admiration, often simultaneously.

For all its success at even-handedness, and impressive line-up of talking heads, it is a struggle to ignore the film’s lack of female voices. According to director, Brendan J Byrne, the women he ‘wanted’ (Sands’s sisters, Bernadette McAliskey) declined to participate. When pressed for a comment on Twitter, Byrne responded:

“..I know but it was mainly a war fought by men… Inserting a female voice for the sake of it felt tokenistic to me”

To this viewer, the inclusion of women wouldn’t have been any more tokenistic than having Fintan O’Toole as the main analyst could be seen as a tactical effort to give the film broader respectability. Instead there is an entire male cast of historians, commentators, former politicians, and political analysts.

More critically, Byrne appears to ignore the finer aspects of his own film. For there are women everywhere throughout it, if silenced by the sound of men talking. So we do not hear the bin-lids they bang, nor their cries of grief at funerals, nor the stomp of their feet as they march in mandatory black berets and matching shades, nor their tearing down of corrugated iron surrounding the H-Blocks that contributed significantly to the eventual end of the Hunger Strikes seven months and 10 dead men after they started. Backroom strategists remain out of view.

As Bernadette McAliskey remarked only last week during a discussion on women in history: “history is what it says it is”.

An examination of war doesn’t require the insertion of female voices into the story. They have always been in the middle of it. Feeling the impact of it more keenly than most.


Bobby Sands’s Mother & Sister at his funeral

A different corner

I don’t have any problem moving house. It’s the staying put that gives me jip. I used to think it was down to a restless gypsy soul. Therefore conferring a certain romantic status on invisible voids strewn across my sense of self.

On closer inspection, roaming between destinations within a few hundred mile radius of each other hints less at a wanderer than a fidgety fugitive. From what? Heartbreak? Conformity? Boredom? Prison? If life’s continuum is a process of breaking free towards the next point of the present, then surely it pays to stop and look around every once in a while to see how it measures up against the brochure.

But flicking forwards and backwards to the other glossy pages became a habit. Until the habit became a pathology. Until the pathology had me sitting cross-legged and leaning over kitchen tables, weekend papers, bar counters, pillows, cinema seats, my own pointed fingers, and steering wheels, weighing up the pros and cons of moving to anywhere-but-here.

And now I’m about to give all that up when we make the permanent move next week…to a mile from here. No longer will I be able to luxuriate in fabricated futures that were never going to be anyway. Just rogue horizons on the shoreline of segregated schools and communities. Rusting fire escapes leaning against hardened vowels beneath tribal flags flapping in the stillness of political ineptitude.

Would it be different elsewhere? Probably not. There would just be different windows through which I could day-dream my way into a new existence. A new job. A new me. The elusive mysterious me I can’t quite pin down. Because when push comes to shove, she’d probably prefer a ground-hog Saturday evening to something anything but.

The 40s are a strange time. The game is up in many respects, but getting used to some things that are so right still takes getting used to.

And where were the women when history was made? (part 1)

Another summer, another festival of chin-stroking underway in a municipal building near you. Or summer school, as they’re more loftily known. Or loada shite, as they’re more colloquially known. I’m all for rubbing the worrying proliferation of hairs beneath my lips whenever the opportunity arises. Why, I’ve even been known to unwittingly stroke my imaginary beard at a sandwich counter; back when it was imaginary. But enough of this labouring the introduction to a post I haven’t quite decided what it is to be about yet.

Just once, I’d love to look around at one of the terriblay seriarse panel discussions on offer to see a mix of locals among the audience. To my relief, but mostly my insatiable need to complain, they’re a no-show. For now, I’ll just have to make do with the travelling sisterhood of retired teachers. Cultra-accented bespectacled women clutching programmes as proof of their impeccable cultural credentials. And me. And a troupe from the local historical society. And the over-eager post-grad student high on a worrying lack of cynicism. And the town eccentric who looks like the eccentric of every Northern Town, what with the Doc Martens at 60 and an androgynous look that has others wondering with a mixture of awe and horror how she has the balls to wear them with such a severe haircut. And then there’s the obligatory American chair who has been making an academic living from The Troubles (“that unfortunate euphemism” nervous middle-class titter) longer than European funding has been single-handedly keeping the peace industry that followed afloat. And shining not so much as a match-stick of light on them.

So the narrowtive of these things goes.

I only came on here to tell you about Alice Milligan. But, anything can happen when it comes to summer schools.

I  do hope I’m not going to continue with this semi-italic business. It’s so annoying.