Thursday, 25 June 2009
I love the notion of celebrity endorsement, don’t you? David Beckham packs himself into a pair of underpants and, at enormous expense, his image is hung (aptly enough) down the side of a building in Times Square. In response, thousands or maybe millions of males rush to the shops and buy said underwear, figuring if it’s good enough for David it must be good enough for them. And whatever you do, don’t point out to them that D Beckham is an expert on playing football, not on packing underpants.
But that’s just unthinking yobs, right? Numbskulls who worry about their manhood and wouldn’t know a rip-off from a referee’s elbow. Well I thought as much until I saw a column in today’s Guardian newspaper. In it Timothy Garton Ash applauds Seamus Heaney’s entry into the Lisbon 2 debate. Seamus, it seems, has declared Lisbon is a good thing. He recalls five years ago in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, when Ireland assumed the presidency of the EU. ‘Phoenix renewed itself, just as the Union was renewing itself and continues to need to renew itself’. And Seamus goes on to say that the EU is a good thing for Ireland (well actually he’s talking about the south of Ireland, but let that go) and that it’s in the state’s political and economic interests to identify with Europe. So vote Yes to Lisbon.
Good man Seamus. But I kind of wish he’d explained how arguing for a more democratic Europe in terms of workers’ rights and control of national defence means you’re anti-Europe. Or even that Timothy Garton Ash had explained same. Because I have this silly notion that making a case for a better Europe actually means you’re more pro-Europe than those who call for the signing of a document that refuses to integrate clauses dealing with workers’ rights, joint military participation by all member states and control over abortion legislation, and says they’ll give ‘guarantees’ instead. Couldn’t they just put it in the amended treaty, I ask myself. But then I also have the odd notion that footballers aren’t necessarily the best men to consult on what drawers to buy, and that asking a poet to advise you on political matters is like asking your butcher to advise you on stocks and shares.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
When I was small, every 12 July my sisters and myself used to go half-way out our lane, moving carefully from tree-trunk to tree-trunk to avoid being seen. That was because the Orange bands were marching up the Derry Road towards Omagh and while we were keen to see this blaring, thudding procession, we didn't want to be seen by the Orangemen. Why not? Because it might suggest we were spectators who APPROVED of their Twelfth bands, and being nationalists, we didn't. After the bands had passed, we'd go back home and my mother would maybe give us ice-cream and jelly or swiss roll or something nice. This wasn't in honour of King Billy - it was because the Twelfth was my birthday. Then, in the late afternoon, we'd hear the first stones begin to thud against the back of our hayshed that abutted on Watson Park, the Protestant housing estate. Gradually they'd increase, along with shouts about the Pope's sexual proclivities and assertions that This was Sandy Row Where the Fenians Never Go. We'd soon get a few stones and insults gathered and return the compliment, with descriptions of the Queen's relationship with her horse and other witticisms. When our throwing arm got tired, we'd go into the house, tired but happy.
Memories of those days come back each year as the Twelfth approaches. Sinn Fein have said they're fed up busting a gut to keep nationalist areas quiet when Orange bands parade close by or even through them each year. The First Minister Peter Robinson has said that shows a lack of respect and understanding of Protestant culture. So let's get a few things straight. The Orange Order exists as an anti-Catholic organisation. Its official documentation makes it clear that it sees Catholicism as the work of the devil, and it declares that anyone who marries a Catholic or attends a Catholic service is not worthy to be an Orangeman. Each year there are over 2,000 Orange marches, all of them commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in which the Protestand King William defeated the Catholic King James. To claim the organisation is purely cultural is like saying Harold Shipman was a family doctor. The whole raison d'etre of the Orange Order is to keep fresh the triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism, of unionism over nationalism/republicanism, and it seeks where possible to remember these things in a nationalist area where the maximum possible offence will be given. When unionism decides that this coat-trailing exercise X 2000 seeks to demean nationalists but in fact demeans unionists, and that they're scrapping the whole sad antediluvian mess, then nationalists will know that unionists are serious when they say they want to create a better tomorrow for all the people living in this corner of the island. Until then, I'll try to concentrate solely on the slightly less depressing fact that it's my birthday.
Saturday, 20 June 2009
October. That's what... four months from now. Four months for the political parties in the south and the massed forces of the southern media to make sure that Lisbon 2 isn't a re-run of Lisbon 1. In one sense it is or will be, of course. Even though the Lisbon Treaty was supposed to be something that all the EU member states signed up to or else it fell, the EU big boys and the Irish government have cheerfully...OK, not cheerfully, nervously - nervously brought back the original treaty with something called 'guarantees'. The treaty is the same as first time but now there are guarantees about abortion, military conscription and a few other things not IN the treaty but kind of, you know, hanging onto it. Like the tail of a kite. So it's important for the Irish people to show they understand the treaty this time by voting Yes. The fact that they voted No last time showed they didn't understand it...God preserve us all - did you ever hear such condescending, anti-democratic claptrap? If they'd even come out and say 'Right, we DID say that all the member states would have to approve Lisbon, and we did say that if one gave it a thumbs-down, that'd be that, no treaty, but look, we've changed our minds, all right we lied, but it's really really important to get this through, so would you do the vote again? Pleeeease?' If they even came clean like that, you'd have some little grain-of-sand respect for them. But they don't. Instead they try, in true '1984' style, to argue that black is white and lies are truth. There's only one thing more depressing than the pressure the EU big boys and the Irish government are putting on the Irish people in the twenty-six counties to go back on their national word and make it Yes, and that worse thing is that the Irish people, financially broke and demoralised by the response to their last No, will this time almost certainly vote Yes. The EU brings a lot of good things but it brings some very very bad things as well. Like forcing the people of small states to sign something that's still incomprehensible to 98% of them. Sometimes, like the central character at the end of Orwell's '1984', you'd be tempted to just give up and let the bastards win.
Friday, 19 June 2009
Well, that's OK, then. The UVF are decommissioning, so innocent Catholics can stop worrying about being killed for no other reason than that they're Catholic. Mind you, the decommissioning will have to be credible. The DUP were very definite about that when the IRA decommissioning came up: there'd have to be photographic evidence, otherwise it'd be pointless and literally incredible; so clearly they'll be applying the same rigorous standards to UVF decommissioning. Stand by for a weekend demand from Peter Robinson. That's one thing the DUP have always insisted on: they do not distinguish between brands of terrorism, no matter what quarter they come from. For their part, the families of victims seem less enthused. Some of them are sort of spoiling the celebrations by suggesting a deal may have been done, whereby the details of some UVF killings will be kept vague because if they weren't, there's a good chance that scrutiny would reveal the marks of collusion between British 'security' forces and loyalist killers. And that really would spoil the mood of celebration.
It's a cliché but true: attitude-decommissioning is what really matters, not weapons decommissioning. You don't need guns if you want to kill a Catholic. Ask them up in Coleraine. They know.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
I bought a tin of polish this morning and what looked like a rectangular sponge with a hard-sponge backing to it. The sponge has a light plastic casing into which it fits, the way little plants you get in the garden centre have, and on the bottom of the casing it says ‘Cherry Blossom’. I took several minutes trying to twist the top off the tin of polish, even striking its edge sharply against the kitchen tiles. No success. Then I looked at what it said on the tin: ‘Press here to open’. I did and it opened immediately.
These days I hardly ever polish my shoes. At boarding school, when we came down to Mass in the morning ( you had to or else), the Dean would as often as not be standing outside the chapel, checking shoes. If your shoes weren’t properly polished, you got a hiding. So for six years I dutifully polished my shoes each night, putting a piece of brown paper under them to avoid smearing the floor. It was done with two brushes – one for polishing, one for shining. When you’d finished, you’d plug the bristles of one back into the bristles of the other. The theory was that after years of polishing in school, boys would make it a life-time habit. Hah. The minute I left, I stopped polishing. Why wear your chains when the lock's been removed? Oddly, my shoes didn’t seem that much the worse for this neglect, except I went walking in a particularly mucky field.
Why am I doing it now? Because I read an article last week which said that men’s shoes are the first thing women look at and judge a man by. Mad, but there you have it. And admiration, even admiration which starts at my toes and stops at my ankles, brings out the best in me. I see a new dawn breaking for me as a tin of Cherry Blossom clears the horizon and drenches my life in shoe-fixated females.
Monday, 15 June 2009
So Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein are to have a meeting with the families of hunger strikers, regarding the ongoing claims that Sinn Fein people prolonged the hunger strike when a deal was available from Thatcher and Co. The waters by this stage have been sufficiently muddied, it's difficult to know whose claim makes sense. But you can see in whose interest it would be for Sinn Fein to be discredited in terms of the hunger strike. If there is one event from the Troubles that troubles (sorry) SF's opponents, it's the hunger strike. The fact is that it didn't involve violence against others and it was an act - a series of acts - of comprehension-defying heroism. Up there with the Easter Rising sacrifice. So if the whole thing could be seen as a giant con of gullible men, sent to their deaths by Sinn Fein people, it would (i) destroy a.. I'm tempted to say an iconic but that's a stupid word... a major landmark in republican history, and (ii) seriously damage SF's credibility and standing among republicans. So while it'll be interesting to see what is said to the relatives and how it is received, I find myself pretty damned suspicious of those who claim there's been a lethal double-cross perpetrated. Cui bono? as they used to ask in the seventeenth century. Who's set to benefit by this?
Saturday, 13 June 2009
I see where a principal of a Catholic secondary school in West Belfast has been awarded an OBE in the recent round of baubles from Buck House. This principal, like most OBE-ed Catholic principals in this tormented little corner of ours, is a woman. They usually are: if you visit Derry, you could hardly throw a stone without hitting an OBE-ed female Catholic principal. The Maiden City has even got a Catholic principal Dame.
So how come it's usually a woman principal gets the call? Hard to say. Maybe Catholic male principals find royal ceremony a royal pain, whereas Catholic female principals get moist and gaspy at the prospect. I once broached the subject with a sister of mine who was a teacher and would regard herself as an Irish nationalist. She said she'd be on the plane to Buckingham Palace ten minutes after getting the invitation. Maybe it's the wedding-day syndrome - any excuse for dressing up and going through a ceremony - but it's sort of scary how many Catholic women from here can't wait to get themselves declared an official part of the British Empire. I mean, if you're a nationalist, does it make sense to want to have Made In Britain stamped on your bosom? Oh OK, they don't get bosom-stamped, they just collect some coloured beads and bits of mirror from a woman who wouldn't have her job only her father was who he was. I mean, come on, sisters. The British Empire has spilt more blood and inflicted more misery than any terrorist organisation that ever was, is or will be, and you're busting a gut to join it? Seems a high price to pay for a new frock.
Friday, 12 June 2009
There's always a temptation to duck a truth about oneself, so when I sat waiting for The Stephen Nolan Show to ring me this morning (they said they would and didn't) and yesterday morning (they said they would and didn't), I didn't want and still don't want to admit that my vanity is a little wounded. I mean, don't they know WHO I AM? A more cool-eyed appraisal of the situation tells me that live radio programmes like that, based on phone-ins, have to go with the flow on any particular day. So while having me come on and add my two bits' worth about journalists and source confidentiality might have seemed a good idea at the time, now that callers are getting excited about their garden sheds it seems better to let things roll.
That said (as they say), it's still very much the BBC way to recoil from anything that might get them into controversy or even, God forbid, involved in legal proceedings. Such things could happen if you allow live comment on a topic that at present is before the courts in the shape of local journalist Suzanne Breen. Anyone who knows the Beeb will know it's a conservative, British-ethosed organisation that has nightmares at the very thought of venturing two inches from the main tree-trunk, let alone out on a limb. Maybe that's a legacy of the TV disaster called The Show, which did a Titanic back in the 1980s, and if you can't remember The Show, don't worry and be glad you're young(ish). Local BBC management might well argue that it's simply catering to its audience (Hugo Duncan announced two days ago that he'd never read a book in his life and no, he didn't sound embarrassed and yes, he is a very popular Radio Ulster presenter); but shouldn't a good broadcasting station try to lead and break new ground as well as cling to its grass-roots? And speaking of Radio Ulster, I'm looking forward to the day when some public-spirited citizen puts a brotherly/sisterly arm around the soft shoulders of the Ormeau Avenue people and whispers that maybe it's a wee bit geographically illiterate to call yourself Radio Ulster when you in fact broadcast to just two-thirds of that province. And urging people to close their eyes and not think about Donegal doesn't work. The county is spattered with unionist-owned holiday homes, some of them belonging to BBC top brass.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
I've been asked to contribute...No, that's a stupid word for it...asked to talk on the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster tomorrow morning. They're discussing the question of journalists protecting (another loaded word) their sources. The two people in the spotlight at the moment are Suzanne Breen the journalist and Ian Óg Paisley, the, um, politician. They're both under legal pressure to produce the name of their sources - S Breen the Real IRA people she was in touch with, Paisley the Prison Service people he was talking to about the Billy Wright killing. It's a no-brainer really: if journalists can't protect their sources, they won't have sources, and important areas of life will become a closed book to the public. Plus, of course, wrong-doing, such as the Bloody Sunday killings and the Billy Wright killings, will remain in the shadows and those responsible well-hidden. Talk of the need to have journos on the side of the police and the law is bunkum. There's confidentiality between priest and penitent, between lawyer and client, between doctor and patient.
I always come away from radio pieces like this with the same feeling: even in an extended discussion (which tomorrow will not be, not in the sense of thoughtful and thorough), it's sobering how little ground and how little depth is possible. The written word is ten times more useful for exploration of an issue - which is maybe why it's the least likely source of information for an awful lot of people. Radio, TV - that's where most people get their news fix and fixed ideas on what's happening.
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Cheesh - it's almost like old times. A right-wing demagogue doing a Mussolini act before adoring disciples, people refusing to shake hands with other people, people turning their backs and booing their political opponents, lusty delivery of 'God Save The Queen'...It all makes me feel about twenty years younger. And don't tell me the press pack aren't on their knees with gratitude that Jim Allister has appeared to put some jizz and piss and vinegar into the Stormont scene. Next you know he'll be mounting a Carson Trail and all the right tight loyal wee towns throughout the North will be hanging up a banner saying 'Doagh/Brookeborough/Tobermore says Naw'. Poor 'little Peter', as John Taylor used to describe him. He looks and sounds like a man who's just noticed that half the roof has blown off and he doesn't know whether to phone the police, the fire-brigade, a builder or an ambulance. And now Allister says he's going to stand in North Antrim against that well-pedigreed but distinctly wobbly candidate, Ian Óg Paisley.
South of the border, Sinn Fein have got the wagon pretty firmly stuck in the mud. The loss of Mary Lou's seat is extremely not good news, and the weak showing in North-West is pretty troubling also ,especially as there'll be a by-election there, now that Pat the Cope Gallagher has got his bum back into Europe. Sinn Fein must be doing some serious soul-searching these days. If they come up with another stuck-in-the-mud election for the Dail, that'll make it three in a row, and there'll be a lot of people deciding that the political path IS the road to nowhere. And that's sort of scary.
Friday, 5 June 2009
Two - no, three political dramas unfolding this weekend. In Britain, Gordon Brown is being savaged by his own party, who are shit-scared that they're going to go down with him at the next election and are hoping against hope that maybe, somehow, someone else will mean there'll be less Labour blood on the walls of the count centres wihen the time comes. Leading the charge is one James Purnell (I think) who is an ex- of Charlotte, Phoebe's friend from college. In the twenty-six counties, Brian Cowen is facing a similar fate, except there isn't as yet a heave against him from within his own party. Maybe because they're all paralysed with the terrible thought that the public seems to think Enda Kenny would be BETTER THAN HIM...You can't get into much deeper trouble than that. And here in the six counties, the count won't be held until Monday (the Sabbath intervenes, dontchaknow, and sure the Muslims and the Jews would be against counting of a Saturday, and on Friday sure TGIF and are going to the pub or what?) but the tallymen are saying that Bairbre de Brun is home and dry with 26-28%, Diane Dodds is somewhere around 20%, and the remaining three - Nicholson, Magennis and Allister - are ferrets in a bag fighting it out. UTV and the BBC, of course, are giving all the attention to the ferrets and none to the fact that Sinn Fein have made all Diane Dodds nightmares a reality ('a disaster for unionism') by topping the poll. The thing is, would old Alban Magennis winning a seat be good or bad for nationalism? After all, he does belong to the only avowedly post-nationalist party.
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
I've just realised the European election results won't come in until Sunday night/Monday, which is a pain in the EU BUM, as I'd been looking forward to Friday and watching a series of politicians squirming as they try explain away d-e-f-e-a-t. Grotesque, but no more grotesque than some of the things being said in the course of the election campaign. For a day or so I thought top marks for nose-holding holier-than-thou mouthing must go to Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, who declared he had not now nor had he ever asked, nay even thought of going into coalition with Sinn Fein, even if the figures stacked up to say it'd be a good idea. Then I heard that Fianna Fail's Dermot Ahern had said the thought of going into coalition with Sinn Fein would turn his stomach. You're a gas man, Dermot. if you haven't noticed that Sinn Fein has for the past...fifteen years committed itself to the political path exclusively, then I think there's a strong case for your retiring from politics before the voters cop on that you have the political insight of a tub of Haagen-Daz. Meanwhile, Mary Harney former leader of the late Progressive Democrats (RIP) has announced she's really disappointed that Mary Lou MacDonald of Sinn Fein wasn't in Brussels more often. Whoops. Mary H has been in the Dail for, oh, several decades now, grand little attender, and she has, she has...right, I knew it'd come to me. She has run the south's health service into the ground. Well done, Mary. Never mind about performance - it's being there that counts.