The God of small things

There’s a moment in the brief exchange between John Cusack and the front-row woman when he backtracks on something she says preventing the interviewer from moving on. Responding to her question on who he would like to see play him in a film, the interviewer deflects from a fairly non-commital answer to ask if she herself is an actor. An eruption of her own laughter ensues. “Ah no, sure I’m just a mummy”. Nervous audience titter. Moving on…

“But you’re not though, are you?”, Cusack cuts in. “You’re not just a Mom”.

john cusack

(Not actual size)

She obligingly offers a quick run-through of the cliched litany of more superficial roles being a mother embodies.  Truth bending wizardry, poker-face maintenance, ‘parenting’ guru seeking missile manufacturing, baby-led led gagging reflex suffering, and so on. Nothing new in the rain-checking nor the predictable head-pat towards our ordinary heroes routine.

“Right. I think people spend too much time talking about what they’re not rather than what they are”, Cusack matter-of-factly tails off with a statement so banal on one hand, yet assembled in a way that’s not usually put. A sneaky shoulder-shrug prising open our pat take on things to see how they fall down. One that feels consistent with his knack for convincing off-kilter but on-the-nose pop philosophy of any of the outliers he has played.

And there it is. The moment I manage to steady the giddiness accelerating over days leading up to this evening from sliding into woozy dissonance from seeing him feet in front. Batting chat back and forth with an ordinariness shot through with an easy going passion for what matters. And what matters for many are the low-watt lights along our life’s arc that re-affirm the status of seemingly small things without blinding us with the certainty of big dreams.

In a world of heady obsession with status in the work place, our place along the firmament of social media, embarking on the Next Big Goal, the ephemeral nature of ‘success’, ordinariness is losing its necessary allure. In fact, I’m so ordinary,  all that’s missing in this navel led paragraph is a momentary pause to break through the fourth wall.

Oh there you are.

This John Cusack fella *points towards stage*, he thinks he is just an actor-activist guy. Nothing special. Sure, his is a life less ordinary; he knows it, we know it. He knows that we know that he knows it. But it hasn’t eroded his capacity to inhabit the regular guy with all the attendant dissections of his interior world and occasional flirtations with stretches to the perimeters of it. Relying as they do on the instruments of self-indulgence, wonky optimism, flawed curiosity, and mentoring from music.

*Turns back to the stage*

john cusack professional

Sinn Fein photobombs the professional photo (courtesty of twitter)

john cusack festival

My amatuer photo bombs spectacularly

He is not just the man I might’ve climbed over Dylan Moran to get to. Nor just an actor with enduring appeal. I recognise his characters now as those flickering gangway lights running along my own fanciful flights to cop-on and back over the years. Where lack of certainty is still direction, and being a fugitive from maturity is all part of the cycle. And it matters more what Bruce thinks than your line-manager.  Uplifted, I’m happy to break off from the queue lining up to meet him. To contentedly smile out the door and sing my way back to my frequently out-of-tune but thoroughly satisfying unsatisfactory life.

*credits roll*

(Press play)

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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 

Month’s mind

Losing your faith on a pilgrimage to The Holy Land. That still cracks me up. There you are in the photograph, all 46 mother-of-four years of you, flanked by camel humps in those ridiculous square shades that devour your face, high up presiding over your travelling companions like The Queen of Pop-socks herself.

No spa breaks back then, just a girly week in Jerusalem with a pick ‘n’ mix of the habited and the devotional. And you. No furious ten-page follow-up message-board dissection. No outburst of empathy from strangers at the touch of a keypad, just an indelible question mark left next to your thoughts on the point of it all. And there it stays, mostly, until one of their kind gets a rise out of you obliging you to roar obscenities at the wireless and demand they “get a life”.

And still you occasionally slip into their place of worship on a Saturday night to bow your head and try to square all the question marks with the inevitabilities that befall your family, passed away and present, members of which you email occasionally when you can be bothered despite your virtuoso typist past. Google is an order you give your grandchildren.

I tell you I started this blog thing last month, as a hobby mainly, a way to relax since there’s not a hope of me losing the will to live entirely by going running, or cooking, or cleaning. I half expect you to ask if I’m coming out of writing retirement after twenty years but you’re already lost in your Sudoku. We thought you had it bad with the crossword. Remember when you flew to visit me and leaned over in the taxi with the paper wondering what I thought 5 across could be? Some addictions don’t require Wi-Fi.

Tomorrow, after we clear up, and your son-in-law cajoles your granddaughter up to bed, I’ll slouch on to the sofa reaching for the laptop. You’ll come in looking for your umbrella (“just in case”), and each of us will slide into our respective back pews to join the herd for a while, collect our thoughts, and zone out in the only way we know how.

Through the chair, if I may

It would be prudent of us to remember that

Should one find a ladder running up the cheap

Nylon covering the legs of one’s exchanges

It is imperative one avoid the risk of exposing

The ghastly stubble on what lies beneath and

Cover the stretch marks on the skin marking

One’s existence thus ensuring one is always

At one’s most professional

Fabruary

“Found them. On my way” (Text to a friend while running to catch a train after losing my car keys)

“Hey” (Via muffled hug with same friend)

Two octogenarians taking in a piece of music dear to them both. The wave of emotion lapping behind their eyes, the crease of their lips threatening to blow it over the wall of their self-control (Meetings With Ivor)

“I can’t beat it” (Manchester By The Sea)

“He loved her that much, he almost told her” (Eddi Reader live – as good a raconteur as an octave-climing enthusiast)

“Please wait while your transaction is being processed” (An ATM)

” @itchybollix follows you” (Twitter)

“Red faces all round as there is a mix-up at the Oscars” (RTE News)

“I am currently out of the office with limited access to my emails” (Boss’s Auto-Reply)

“We are pleased to invite you to attend for interview…” (By post)

“She’s feeling better. They think it was just a virus. Worry over” (By text)

“Problem solved! Payment has been processed” (Email from Netflix)

“While you are away, my heart comes undone. Slowly unravels in a ball of yarn..” (Bjork at 1am as the ground is swept under my wheels)

“27th February” (Calendar)

“01:11” (Alarm clock)

“10:15” (ditto)

“Happy Birthday to you” (She to Him in top tonsil)

meetings-with-ivor

Two men and a CD player

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.