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 

‘Shared motherhood’

“While shared motherhood can be a richly bonding female experience, it’s important not to run too far with this idea – and remember that there are big differences, too. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, money or, more precisely, the lack of it, gives individual women completely different experiences of motherhood. Among other pressures, too little money can lead to such mental health issues as extreme stress and anxiety from not being able to afford help, pay bills or even take your allotted maternity leave.” 

Barbara Ellen

Every now and again, someone comes along with a few succinct lines to cut through the bullshit. Mothers: they don’t even always share similar genitalia, so much of it is individual. It would be a relief if everyone stopped homogenising them. Sadly, that seems unlikely.  But it would be progress if women remembered that when talking to other women like them, the chats doth not a valid generalisation make.

Arseselves alone

It’s really not for everyone is Twitter. I’ve gone from the infrequent casual snoop, to incessantly lashing up tweets in a matter of mind-numbing months.

It’s all there: the critically retweeted news links, as if the three and a half people who might catch a glimpse of them require enlightenment from a quarter-dressed woman with a fondness for cream crackers and nutella. The blog post hawking, just incase the same folk missed it the first eleven times round. The self-satisfied ‘Exactly’s to announce a Very Important Point confirming my superior judgement on all matters irrelevant. The amateur djing with links to soundtracks blared through dodgy speakers. The fear when scanning the trending list for word of the next celebrity death. The rude interruptions. The truncated tweets typed too slowly but too quickly to avoid spelling mistakes, hurriedly dispatched to catch up with the others that make no sense. The worry that someone else is going to get in there first with my killer contribution to #MakeSongsTrump. The agony from the concentration required for #MakeFilmsFood. The propensity for class wars that turns me in Che Guevara’s Granny in a Penny’s nightdress. The inevitable descent into dribble with too much to declare when we reach talk of the Border.  The promises to quit the hit from blasting the button for the sake of it.

*refreshes page*

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

In tomorrow’s Weekend Supplement

Parental Controls. Our experts take a look at other experts to expertly debunk their expert advice without any expertise.

Baked Aghasta! Our special 10 page pull-out section featuring recipes with approximately eight ingredients you don’t have, two you can’t pronounce, one you’ll try to convince yourself you can substitute with tomato puree, and half a Nevin Maguire from the waist up.

This! Thread! Yes!  We ask our writers if emojis are being displaced by the return of words. And when is a thread not a thread but a belligerent and tedious attack on a former novel?

Inferior interiors: Revamp all your en-suites with less than a tenth of the cheapest item we usually feature on this page.

Also, gardening tips and other stuff you ignore like our ocean of adverts for cruises that cost the equivalent of several internal organs on the black market, and reviews of mapped obscure walking routes for people you have every intention of avoiding and, with any luck, never becoming.

Plus our regular columnist Donald Larkin will be on the back page with at least one word you won’t admit to having to look up.

Don’t just open your mind, torment it.

table

Just a regular Saturday morning round our gaff

 

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.

Twitter twattle

Half back of a matchbox, half workshop discussion feedback section at the work away day.

That pretty much sums up my Twitter experience so far.

Back-of-matchbox-like in its relentless dedication to the succinct clever quote; workshop discussion feedback-y in its reverence to bullet-pointed summations of the big stuff. The stuff generally beyond control of worker bees to begin with; a reality overshadowed by enough flip-chart papered enthusiasm to provoke ordinary decent lethargic and bitter people to break into spontaneous applause at the end.

Suspending enough disbelief in the order of things to endure an exchange of woeful wisecracks with the super boss in the lunch queue is one thing; hovering over the reply button to your heroes on Twitter, quite another. It’s like nodding to the super super boss up ahead but inches from the lasagne or curry (the truly powerful), only to discover they are waving at the super super super boss three worker bees behind. I’m kidding myself the away day lunch queue is as effective a leveler between folk as it fancies itself to be.

It’s all part of the Weird Evangelical Group Effect (WEGE), first observed at gatherings of neighbours round the touring Child of Prague for a few jams of the rosary back in ’70s Ireland, and subsequently while wearing uncomfortably tight underwear. Every group gathering since those early glory-bes has required a suspension of  disbelief of one variety or another. And Twitter is no different, if slightly more bizarre and colourful in its composition.

School. Work. The ferry to Scotland passenger list. The Brethren of Bono Basher Begrudgers. The Order of Mars Bars. Cheese Appreciation Societies. Repeal The Righteous Campaign. Come Dine With Me Fanclub. Friends of the Stephen Fry Seeking Missile. It’s always the same: the cool flourish, the charismatic are drooled over (by me, cooly), and every so often a guest speaker accidentally lands beside me in the lunch queue and all the best laboured-over one-liners in my head sound like an exclamation mark just farted when released. Round of applause at the end though.  We all really connected.

So, back to the relative chaos of my own desk I retreat thereafter. Vowing to not let it deteriorate into such a mess as before. A fews post at a time, if at all. Forget slow blogging. Welcome to Cluster Blogging. In which spurts of mouthing-off are punctuated by relatively more peaceful periods of silence. That is, if I succeed in suspending enough disbelief in myself.

matchbox

An early Twitter feed from the 1970s