Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What Is TRULY Valuable

What is the most valuable thing you own?
I suppose, a few months ago, most of us, in Ireland anyway, would have said, our homes.
For reasons which weren't quite clear to us, houses we bought four or five years ago - ordinary, small, terraced, Edwardian houses - doubled in value. Or more.
For some, talk of the value of their homes became a reason for hosting dinner parties, increasingly lavish dinner parties washed down with expensive wine which may, or may not, have been worth what was paid for it.

Our cars - mine is an exception - were or are valuable too. Many who made money bought cars which could not be driven, legally, at even half the speeds of which they were capable. Sports cars stuck in traffic jams.
Now, though, we've all begun to think.
For a start there are now 100,000 fewer people working. By the end of 2009, that figure will be 200,000. By this time next year, there will be more than 300,000 people in Ireland without work. Many of them will be the husbands of wives without work and the wives of husbands without work. Many will have bought their homes not long ago and watch them halve in value.
Suddenly, we realise that where we live is just bricks and mortar - and something for the bank to manipulate to make profit.
And cars are just for getting from A to B.
Suddenly, we realise that these things have no real value. A cost, yes. A value or a worth, no.
Because the most valuable things I have - and I own neither - are my family and my friends.
Spike Milligan once said: A Friend in need is a pain in the neck.
He probably wasn't wrong.
But in the tough year or years that lie ahead, family and friends will become increasingly important and valuable for us all.
And it won't necessarily be in a material sense. This recession will hit everybody bar those who got us into it - greedy bankers and inept politicians.
Family and friends will become valuable because, if you're lucky, they'll be there.
They'll listen. They'll support. They'll talk. They'll love.
And you won't get that from a house or a car.
You won't get anything back from your 'valuable assets'.
Family and friends are extraordinary things - if you have them.
And if you don't I can only pray that, at least, you find friendship somewhere.
The older I get, the more I come to appreciate how lucky I was with the parents I had and with the siblings I have.
I realise how lucky I am with my friends, some of whom have been friends for almost all my life.
And do you know what?
Times aren't easy and haven't been, what with bone marrow transplants, losing a good job because of my health and now a recession which will make it tough for all.
But the value of having a wonderful family and good friends, well, that's multiplied by a factor of 100 a times like this.
And the great thing is, it never, thank God, ever falls victim to the vagaries of economics or politics.
It just keeps on rising.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why I Love Christmas

I am one of those who genuinely wishes it was Christmas every day.
Notwithstanding the downside - greed, rudeness, drunkenness, puke on every footpath and the inevitable disappointing tv output - it’s a wonderful time.
And it’s wonderful not just because of children, though they really do add a special dimension.
I loved Christmas long before Charlotte arrived. I just love it infinitely more now that she’s here and, well, kind of aware what’s going on.

I love Christmas because some, not all, people are nicer to each other than they normally are.
I love Christmas because, even if the actual television out put is lousy, I can choose to watch some of my favourite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Hard Day’s Night.
I love Christmas because I like buying presents.
I love Christmas because I like receiving presents.
I love Christmas because - especially now that I’m in a kind of isolation (seven months on from the bone marrow transplant, I’m not allowed into pubs or restaurants or crowded places) it’s good to see friends when they call around.
I love Christmas because I love the decorations and my wife Connie is the brilliant at it.
I love Christmas because there’s loads of rugby on.
I love Christmas in Ireland when it’s mild, which it is, which means we can go for a nice walk on Stephen’s Day.
I love Christmas because, in Ireland, we still choose to call it Christmas and not ‘Holiday.’ We do so because we are not afraid to do so.
I love Christmas because it reminds me of the joy of friends and family who are no longer with us. It’s wonderful to remember them at a happy time.
I love Christmas because of what it is, a celebration of the birth of Christ whose message is one of love and joy and peace.
I love Christmas because even the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, those professional atheists, can’t ignore it.
I love Christmas because it reminds us of the gift we have been given by God, the gift of his Son, of life, of opportunity.
This is my 55th Christmas.
And I regard each one as special.
This one in particular is special.
It is special because I will spend it, in relatively good health with my wife Connie and our beautiful daughter Charlotte in our home in Dublin.
We are all facing into a tough year.
But we will, with God’s help, survive and come out strong when this man-made, greed-driven recession ends.
Have a happy Christmas.
And even if you don’t share my faith in God, remember that the message of Christ is for everyone, not just those who believe.
Be nice to one another.
And peace to all.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wrong In Every Way Possible

WRONG: Sean Fitzpatrick

An Irish banker, who has overseen the value of his company slump by 90 per cent, hid a loan of €87 million in a rival financial institution every year for eight years.
And, he says, he did nothing wrong.
Now, whether or not what he did broke the law or not - and if it didn’t then it is the law is sadly lacking - he certainly did something wrong.
Morally wrong.
Ethically wrong.
In fact, what he did was wrong in almost every way imaginable.

This is the guy who said, before the budget, that we should all feel some pain because of the economic situation, a situation his bank, and the world’s banks, created.
Now, he’s all sorry.
Sorry, that is, that he has been caught in his subterfuge, sorry his deceit has been uncovered. sorry he’s been rumbled.
But will it make any difference to him?
Not a jot.
Will he suffer?
Not a bit of it.
Will he now know what it’s like to be poor?
Not a snowball’s chance in hell.
Because these people, people like Sean Fitzpatrick, don’t inhabit the same planet as the rest of us.
They life on planet greed. They are - still - disciples of the “Greed is Good’ God of Gordon Gecko.
We all were, to a degree.
We were paying €3 or more for a coffee on the way into work in the morning. And we didn’t think it too much.
We were paying €5 for a pint and not complaining.
We were jumping taxis for trips of less than a kilometre, paying for movie channels and never watching them, buying gadgets we didn’t need and never used, buying ‘labels’ to wear at exorbitant prices when equivalent clothes cost less than half the price, we were buying ‘exotic’ foodstuffs and learning to like them, we were buying wine by the price - because we assumed that if it was expensive it was good.
On that subject, a man I know who works in the wine department of a supermarket, told me that they often price lousy wine, wine they know won’t shift at €5.99, at between €10 and €15 because people who know nothing about wine buy in that range assuming what they’re buying is ok.
Anyway, we fuelled bastards like Fitzpatrick by pandering to our own egos.
Crap artists sold for sums vastly above what they were worth, because people paid what galleries asked.
We paid €100 or more to see gigs in lousy venues.
We bought cars with gizmos we didn’t need.
We bought pricey furniture because we wanted to show off.
We wasted our money.
And now, it’s all over.
I, like many others, have to take a pay cut.
But I have a job.
Which makes me lucky.
Sean Fitzpatrick currently doesn’t have a job.
But he still has money. More money that you and I would have if we won the lottery.
Won it twice a week for a month.
Because that’s how unfair it all is.
That’s the way of it.
The bad guys win.
And we pay the price.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Sad Naked Greed of Ireland's Legislators

The entire world is in trouble.
And it is generally agreed, that, well, greed is what has caused the problems for us all.
We - I - have pointed the finger at bankers. And they are, without any doubt, guilty.
But here in Ireland, there is another group which is as greedy. Another group that appears to be in utter and total denial. Another group which seems to believe that it should make no sacrifice whatever in the current climate. Another group that says one thing and does another.
And that is the group of people made up of our elected representatives.

We have 166 TDs, Members of Parliament, men and women elected almost two years ago to represent us in the legislature.
They receive, on average salaries of more than €100,000 a year. Some earn considerably more having been elected a long time ago.
On top of that, they receive an allowance for actually turning up every day.
This size of this historic payment depends on how far it is they live from Dublin. More than 25k - and you can be sure hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens live considerably further away than that - and they pick up around €150. Tax free. Every day.
And incredibly, if they live closer, they receive a payment of a bit more than half that to COMPENSATE them for not living further away. Can you believe it?
They receive tax free allowances for their phones.
They can mail 21,000 items a year, free. They often use this allowance to send Christmas cards to constituents they don’t even know.
They also receive financial help to run their constituency offices - offices that exist largely as part of their re-election campaigns.
Many TDs use state money - our money - to pay members of the families to do this work.
And they receive travelling expenses.
And they receive general, unvouched expenses. That is to say, that unlike the rest of us, they do not have to provide receipts. They just claim the money. Tax free.
Some claim up to €80,000 a year - tax free (I don’t mind saying that again) and on top of salaries of €100,000 or more.
How many TDs have suggested that, as tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. as tens of thousands of others are forced to take pay cuts, as families lose their homes, as people struggle to keep their heads about water, that they, our public representatives, should look at cutting some of what they get?
Not one.
Not a single one.
We do not have one TD, one public representative who thinks that what they are getting is, in the current situation, a bit much, a tiny bit inequitable, a wee bit unfair.
We do not have one TD, socialist, Christian or otherwise, who thinks they should give up one red cent of what they get, paid for by us.
We do not have one decent person, one with a conscience, one with the tiniest bit of moral fibre which would nudge them in the way of saying: This is wrong.
They live in their own world of short days, long holidays and, compared with the rest of us, wealth.
And it is desperately, terribly sad that it is so.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bad People

Bernie Madoff is a crook
And the only difference between Bernie Madoff and many other bankers is that he got caught.
The irony is, he was caught by the dishonesty, incompetence and sheer irresponsibility of other bankers.
If the boom had gone on, he would have gone on.
Bankers have been exposed all over the world as people who cared little and still care little about anything other than themselves.
Those running companies which have gone under - losing pensioners everything, losing the only savings some poor folk had, ruining lives - left with millions. And left without a care in the world.
They've done ok. They've still got their myriad homes, yachts, cars - whatever money can buy.
They didn't lose. They rarely do.
Indeed, in Ireland we had bankers who have presided over a 95 share collapse in their companies, telling our government how to run the economy.

(That is not to say that the government couldn't do with help running the economy. A 12 year old boy doing basic mathematics could probably provide advice sounder than that which the Irish government is currently receiving.)
It is the blinding arrogance of the bankers, and I think our Irish ones in particular, which irritates so much.
Their behaviour, their incompetence, their dishonesty, their greed has seen unfortunate shareholders see the value of their stock vanish. But yet, the bosses say they are doing a good job.
They lie continuously about their bad debts. They loaned money to people who clearly were never going to be able to pay it back. The money was loaned on the basis solely, of property values rising for ever and ever, something they clearly couldn't do.
And they cling onto their jobs, paying themselves vast sums, handing themselves bonuses, presiding over what are now mythical empires, vast wealth that exists now, only in their heads.
They wait and wait for the turnaround, the bounce back - unaware that as long as they are running the banks, there will be no turnaround, no bounce back.
It is in jail they should be.
Or better still, in the stocks on O'Connell Street for us to through rotten fruit at.
Let he who is without cash throw the first tomato.
And that will be me.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sometimes Blogs Are Nothing To Write Home About

There are many good reasons for not updating a blog every day or even on a regular basis.
A close examination of some blogs is proof of the pudding.
Many bloggers blog when they have absolutely nothing to say.
Now, I could have spent the past week rattling on about how the Irish Government completely and utterly overreacted to a minute amount of dioxin in a few pigs.
(According to the European Food Safety Agency, eating the ‘contaminated’ Irish pork every day for 90 days wouldn’t pose any risk. And yet, it appears to be perfectly legal, to stand outside a public building and blow deadly smoke into the faces of people trying to enter or leave.)
But everyone was rattling on about it and, well, to be honest, I’m rattling on about it in my column in the Sunday World next Sunday and I don’t want to cheat by duplicating in one what’s on the other or on one what’s in the other.
And to be quite frank, after almost four weeks in hospital with an infection, picked up from my two and a half year old, Charlotte, I’m pretty bunched.
(It was a 48 hour bug which, for her, lasted - oh - about 48 hours. For me, it’s been five weeks so far and I’m still not the better of it.)
So apologies.
Or maybe not.
Better write nothing than just rattle on for the sake of it.
Like some do.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Government Breaking Dodgy Hairdo

Harney: Did that hairdo cost $400

A hairdo could be at hand to save the Irish Health Service.
Yes indeed, despite clinging on when her party dissolved beneath her; despite passing the buck on every occasion tragic errors were made in diagnosis and people died; despite acknowledging that things are a mess and that the aim is to have a good health service - not now - but in the future; despite being roundly criticised for planning a two tier private and public system which will allow entrepreneurs make money from the illness of Irish citizens; despite planning a new children’s hospital in an area with not one green space and in a location crippled with traffic; despite planning to close St Luke’s Hospital, the only cancer hospital in Dublin with beautiful green spacd around it; despite making such a plan without informing those who have raised millions for St Luke’s thereby allowing them to continue their fundraising not knowing what’s going on; despite planning eight new ‘Centres of Excellence’ without one of them being planned north of a line from Galway to Dublin; despite it all, it’s a hairdo that could undo Health Minister Mary Harney.

Ireland’s State Training Agency - FAS - is already embroiled in scandal.
For reasons that aren’t quite clear to anybody, it’s now former boss, Rody Molloy, seemed to believe that when he flew to see some project at NASA in Florida on which some Irish apprentices are working, he was entitled to a first class ticket which cost about six grand.
No. We are not training astronauts or planning our own space programme. Well, as far as I know we’re not. (Gee. Hadn’t thought that maybe, what with this government, I mean... Nah. Not possible)
This, in turn, he traded in for two business class tickets so that he could bring his wife in comfort.
He had already placed a colleague, who had a multi-million euro advertising budget - on sick leave for months over questions that need to be answered regarding that money.
And, at the end of it all really, he was facing something of a torrid time at a Dail (Parliament) Committee looking into FAS and some of the other, many state agencies.
So he quit. And didn’t turn up.
But one of the things to emerge, not at the committee, but in the media, largely through Senator Shane Ross in the Sunday Independent is that, on one of these Florida junkets - ministers went on five of them - someone got a hairdo for $400 or more.
The hair, it appeared, was done some time in 2005.
And so, when the question of the hairdo was raised in the Dåil, Ms Harney sat there. She way well have been scratching her head.
Fact is, the previous year, it was SHE who had that hairdo. And she knew it. And she kept schtum.
FAS is unravelling. And there is little doubt that it will not be the only state agency exposed in the coming months.
Why nothing ‘til now?
Because hunter and gamekeeper are equal in FAS.
Five trade unionists. Five business representatives on the board.
And they will all, please God, be undone by a hairdo.
And a dodgy one at that.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Right Now, 703 Hours To Go. SO FEEL CHRISTMASSY!!!

Is it Christmassy at all this year?
To listen to a lot of people ‘round me - and I AM in hospital - it seems not.
And I’m not talking about other patients. Nurses, cleaners, caterers. They all say there’s something missing.
Yes, the lights on Grafton Street are - at last - magical, they say.
Yes, the tree on O’Connell Street - entirely made of eco-friendly lights - is stunning.
And no, Brown Thomas have not turned off the music from their window display despite some busy body apparently complaining about ‘noise pollution.’ Kind of idiot who would have called health and safety to the stable in Bethlehem...
Something, they say is missing.

Nobody can quite put their finger on it.
It’s not the ‘downturn’ in the economy.
It’s not the recession.
It’s not the inept government.
It’s not the income levy.
It’s not the medical card scandal or any other scandal.
It’s not watching the documentary about Bertie in which he reveals himself - accidentally it has to be said - as a greedy, grubby, grabby, less than honest, ruthless egomaniac, created by and surrounded by a distasteful mafia of thugs and manipulators. (Mind you, when I put it like that....)
But I know what it is.
And I’ll tell you why people don’t feel Christmassy.
It’s inside them.
I feel Christmassy. I’m stuck in hospital and I feel Christmassy.
Because I’m the guy who says, on Stephen’s Day: Only 364 days to go.
I’m the guy who on Thursday will stop counting the days and start counting the hours.
I’m the guy who gets so excited I’ll soon be in need of blood pressure tablets.
And I was like that long before little Charlotte arrived to make things ten, twenty - a hundred times more exciting.
It’s Christmas, for God’s sake.
And while it is of course overly commercial these days, I for one can enjoy that aspect of it and still remember what it’s actually about.
It is about one of the most exciting, wonderful things that ever happened on this planet.
It is about joy.
It is about hope.
It is about love.
It is about how wonderful life is.
So, please. Tell me.
How can you NOT feel Christmassy.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Most Embarrassing Thing To Happen To Anyone Ever And It Happened To Me

If there is one thing you learn by being a ‘regular’ patient in hospital, it is to leave your dignity at the door.
If you don’t, every time they have to do something unspeakable to you, you will suffer more than is necessary.
For years, I tried to keep my dignity. Difficult when you’re having a barium enema or a colonoscopy.
It was actually in hospital, that the most embarrassing event of my life - and I would suggest if it happened to anyone else it would qualify as their most embarrassing moment too - occurred when I was just twelve years of age.

I had been out in the magnificent Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry for the day, with the Blackrock College scout troop.
We had been building a rope bridge over the river.
And big eejit here, volunteered to climb a tree to secure a rope.
The rope was secure all right.
The branch on which I was standing was no such thing.
It snapped. And I fell maybe two metres landing with a thump on my coccyx - that little bit at the base of the spine which, I am told, used to be a tail.
I managed to hike back to the bus with the other boys.
But once I was home, the pain became progressively worse. And so my father drove me to Stephen’s Green, then the site of St Vincent’s Hospital.
We headed for Accident and Emergency - but our path was interrupted by a doctor, known to my father, who redirected us to a private x-ray facility.
My father was less than gruntled. Now he had to pay even though, in those days, there was no waiting in A&E.
I was told to wait in this little cubicle - and after a little while, a female voice called my name.
I emerged to find a pretty woman, aged about 20 or so and dressed in a kind of green overall.
“Patrick Murray? she asked.
I confirmed my identity.
“I will be doing your x-ray. So. We’ll get ready.”
Now, in those days, boys of twelve were actually boys of twelve, not twenty like today. So I had no interest in this woman - other than being slightly embarrassed by having to deal with her in the first place, by having nobody else present and having to make conversation with her.
“Right,” she said after filling in some form or other. “Into the cubicle, take your clothes off and put on this gown. She handed me a blue gown.
It might as well have been Joseph’s coat of many colours.
Because one phrase was rattling ‘round my head.
“Take your clothes off.”
I wanted to die. I wanted to faint. I wanted to go home.
I went into the cubicle, dazed.
I removed my clothes and put on the gown.
“Are you ready?” she called.
I nodded.
“Right. Up on the table and lie on your back first,” she said.
I lay up on the table and she moved the big x-ray above my head.
“Now,” she said. “Open the gown.”
She said “open the gown.”
I couldn’t believe it. Open the gown.
I closed my eyes and opened the gown.
I lay there. Naked as the day I was born.
Me. Twelve years of age. Naked in front of a woman. And a pretty one at that.
I wanted to cry. I wanted it all to go away.
Then I thought I heard a stifled giggle.
I opened my eyes and saw her with a look on her face that suggested she was a) amused b) surprised and c) terribly sorry for me.
“Ah,” she said with a voice that suggested I was a little bit pathetic.
“You could have kept your underpants on.”

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008


We in Ireland are without leaders.
As the rest of the world figures out what to do about the current economic crisis, our lot is dithering and prevaricating. And as that happens, it's all going down the pan.
So we reacted quickly to protect the banks.
Did it save jobs? No.
Did it put manners on banks?
God help them, Bank of Ireland only made €4m a day in the first six months of the year. And it's still paying vast sums to its bosses.
Mind you, we're still paying vast sums to ours. Your average TD is pulling in damned close to €200,000 a year when you take in unvouched expenses, turning up money and what not.
Is there, do you think, something amiss when the world's (you'd have to say self-styled_ Top Twenty Leaders decide that the best way out of this mess is to borrow and spend and our lot decides the best way out is to stifle the economy by raisins both direct and indirect taxes.
The end result will be, we can presume, that we prosper while the rest of the world languishes in poverty or...
Well, if I had money I'd not be putting it on us to prosper.
So why are our leaders not leading?
It is largely because they don't know what to do.
They clearly don't want to recapitalise banks for fear of offending them.
The banks don't want the government/us to have a shareholding - and so they continue their lie that all is well.
It's like they're afraid what we'll find out if we're allowed in the door.
And the reason for that is, they're afraid what we'll find out if we're allowed in the door.
They have been throwing our money about recklessly and they can't get it back because it no longer exists.
And what's this nonsense about not super taxing the super rich? What in God's name have they done for us except take our money and invest it abroad?
If they are tax exiles let them be tax exiles.
And charge them every time they land in the country, not for more than 100 days of whatever.
Charge them vast sums. Tax them. Get the money back.
And if they don't like it and they don't come back, whose loss is it?
Our non-leaders are in awe of the rich - no wonder the dosh they've throwing about generally in the direction of politicians and political parties.
At least, I think - hope - we have the good sense to send that right wing, borderline fascist, friend of the anti-immigration Euro sceptic Declan Ganley packing off back to Britain, the country the passport of which suited him for years.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back In Hospital - But Every Cloud...

You're probably fed up with me writing about being in hospital.
Not, I can guarantee you, as fed up as I am being in hospital.
Fourth time this year.
If you follow this blog, you will know that I have had a Bone Marrow Transplant.
That happened in May.
The reason it happened is because, in January, I had the most awful tumour on my foot - I have a thing called Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma - and a rare version of it at that - and it was decided, by me, on advice that the transplant was the way to go.
So that was on May 14.
And it was, more or less a breeze.
Now, when you have a serious medical procedure and it is 'more or less a breeze' you should look in the mirror, tell you're self you're a fool and get yourself ready.

Because if it's a breeze it either a) hasn't worked or b) the hurricane is on the way.
And the hurricane was on the way.
100 days after the transplant, I received a thing called DLI - Donor Lymphocyte Infusion. That's when part of the donor's blood is put directly into mine.
The purpose is, partly, to provoke a little bit of rejection. Which it did. Because a little bit of rejection means that the new bone marrow will begin the battle against the old and, hopefully win.
The battle is still raging.
But on top of that, my little daughter Charlotte got the vomiting bug, a 48 hour thing.
And brains trust here decided the best place for her, was in the bed beside me.
That's despite being told to avoid crowded places in case anyone in the crowd has a cold or anything else I might pick up, me with my immune system less mature than my two-year-olds'.
So crowds, I avoided, but the two year old with the bug, I pulled close beside me to comfort her.
And I got her bug.
Hers cleared up in 48 hours, as 48 hour bugs have a tendency to do.
Mine is with me three weeks so far and being viral, has every chance of extending its stay for another three or four.
My doctor doesn't get angry at me often.
But on this occasion, she was seething.
You see, I think she was operating under the illusion that I had a brain.
So here I am, stuck in hospital. Again.
And if there's one good thing about it, it's this.
I have no appetite.
And so I'm not eating the food.
Every cloud, they say...

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's The Small Things

Did you ever get annoyed about small things?
You know the way.
You walk in to your supermarket. You know you need mushrooms. And so you go to where the mushrooms are. Only they’re not.
Because some genius has moved the vegetables to the other side of the supermarket, and where there once were mushrooms, there is now a large supply of dairy products.
Except for the milk. Because they moved the milk.

Now, this all happens after you had trouble finding a parking space because the last one for parent and child - your child is right now sitting in the trolley trying to reach those dairy products - was taken by a smart-arse in an SUV who, when asked where his child was hadn’t the wit to say in the shop with his mother but instead came up with that age old retort: f*** o**.
You watched and you waited and found three more parkers in parent and child spaces who were entirely without children.
Two used the same retort.
The third apologised.
Small things.
It’s a small thing too that our national television station here, RTE, has, in an effort to squeeze in more ads, has taken to chopping the credits from the end of movies.
No closing music.
No wondering if that mafia guy who was in that brief scene is the same guy who starred in three episodes of Friends. No finding out who was singing what song or what the song was.
Just a graphic - THE END. That’s all.
And sometimes it comes so quickly, you miss the last few seconds of the movie.
Small things.
Like resoluble packs of rashers.
They’re not.
If they don’t rip when you’re opening them - they invariably do - they just don’t stick back when you go to stick them back and you end up wrapping the entire thing in cling film.
Small things.
Like ads that insult your intelligence by comparing it with washing powder.
“Contains intelligent stain seekers.” No it doesn’t.
And ads that make up scientific names.
And ads that have women comparing their washing. Or people dancing in kitchens.
Or dubbed ads.
I will never buy anything that has been pushed at me with a dubbed at.
Or those blackmail ones. Buy Ariel and we’ll supply a litre of clean water to African children.
Buy Pampers and we’ll supply vaccines to African children.
No. I won’t buy your products.
Just bloody do it. You have the money.
Small things.
Like celebrities endorsing things.
Does anyone actually believe they’d be endorsing shampoo and washing powder and perfume and clothes and furniture if they weren’t paid to do it?
Does anyone actually stay in whatever hotel it is because Lenny Henry does? Or buy dishwasher tablets because Aynsley Harriot does?
Small sad things.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Bank Is Defrauding You

I think the vast majority of people in the world have learned no longer to trust banks.
Here, they have cocked up more than often and had to repay money to customers.
One bank was even advising its customers to tax dodge - and one of the people doing that is now, astonishingly, an elected member of the Dáil. Third World behaviour or what?
Anyway, I am trying at present to expose, through the newspaper in which I work, the current fraud being perpetrated by Irish banks on their customers.

You see daily, how banks and stockbrokers and financial institutions of all sorts and kinds, trade shares and currencies on the worlds exchanges.
They can move billions in nanoseconds. Shares can rise and fall by huge percentages in the blink of an eye.
And yet, and yet....
If you use the banks’ online services, something they encourage you to do, you will find that things there aren’t the same at all.
Because if you wish to transfer money from an account in one bank to an account in another, it takes an incredible, unbelievable and frankly farcical three days.
Well, some of it does.
Because the account from which the money is being transferred, is debited immediately. In one of those nanoseconds.
And for three days, the bank holds onto that money or, rather, probably invests it at the inter bank rate along with the tens of thousands of other sums, large and small, which are being transferred from an account in one bank to an account in another.
Look at this nonsense explanation from what is laughingly called Ireland’s ‘Financial Regulator.”
“All online transactions would have to go through the clearing system for security and fraud prevention purposes. Online transactions consist of a matching of a debit and credit. The debit is paid immediately and the credit is normally paid immediately if it is destined for an account in the same bank. However, the credit might take several working days if it is destined for another bank.”
Nonsense. Rubbish.
And if it was true, we could all cripple the banking system by asking them, under the Data Protection Act, what they did, how they did it and what they found.
Am I really expected to believe, that when my partner transferred €200 to me - and it was taken from her account in one of those nanoseconds - that someone or something spent three days checking for security and fraud prevention?
And even if they did - which I can assure you they didn’t - why was it necessary to take the money from her account until the procedure was finished?
Because they snaffle the money, that’s why. Because they steal it for three days, that’s why.
And we’re the mugs.
We’re the fools as usual.
And I think something should be done about it.
Bad enough what the banks have done to the world.
No reason to let them away with this.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Economic Analysis Which May Not Be Correct But Is Easy To Understand

I studied commerce in college.
No. Wait.
I tell a lie.
I was in the commerce faculty in college.
I actually went to seven lectures during the entire year. (Well, there was this girl, and she was free during my lectures and....)
And I didn't like any of them.
So maybe that's why this whole world economic situation has me utterly baffled.
OK. I get the bit about how our government made a complete hash of things by chucking money at its builder and developer mates to build houses and apartments which, it turns out, nobody actually wants.
And I get the bit about how, even through we were, briefly, amongst the richest countries in the world, we managed not to build a decent road between either Dublin and Cork or Dublin and Rosslare/Waterford.

We did manage to build a road to the border. But that had nothing to do with infrastructure. That was, wasn't it, to do with something called 'the peace dividend' or some other such rot.
But the world is in turmoil. Nobody seems to have money. Those who have it - banks don't you know - are holding onto it like grim death and won't lend it to anyone.
Thousands are losing their jobs in Ireland. Hundreds of thousands in the US. Millions, apparently, in China.
You see, with my basic knowledge of economics (it was my best subject. I got 25 per cent) I know that the money is still somewhere.
It's possible that there is a large stash of it in the safe of our former 'leader' Bertie Ahern.
But really, it is somewhere. It's not like someone burned it.
It's not like a euro or a dollar or a pound suddenly went the way of the Zimbabwe dollar and became worthless.
The money is about.
And so we can guarantee all the bank assets we like, chuck our money at them if we wish and cosy up to their overpaid, underachieving, cruel, greedy bosses and the good it will do it is nil.
We want the money.
We want it back in circulation.
We want developers to release money even if they have to sell land and buildings at a loss. Make them do it. That's what banks do to unfortunates when they take their homes from them. They force them to sell because they want their money.
Well, we want their money.
If governments can't force banks to release money, to realise assets to get money, to behave, well then, what's the point in democracy?
What's the point is us voting?
What's the point in Barak Obama if he can't make banks do what they should do, what they morally must do?
That's it.
Economic analysis from a buy who got 25 in economics, 15 in maths and 0 - yes zero - in accountancy.
Makes sense to me.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Farwell McCain, Palin, Hypocrisy, Spite and of course Dumbya

And so, it's farewell to John McCain and Sarah Palin and the dumber than dumb Dumbya and the odious Dick Cheney.
While the election of the first African American to the Presidency of the United States is wonderful beyond the dreams of most who remember the bad days of apartheid in America, the election of Goofy would have been preferable to the election of John McCain.
He presented himself as a kind of honest John. But he's no such thing. He knew all about the bile being spread by his supporters. He knew and did nothing. Until he thought it was doing him damage.
In fairness. he did one good thing.
He chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Thank God he did.
The damage she did him was fatal.
What a dope.
If anything had happened McCain, had he been elected, had he popped his clogs, there would have been yet another idiot running the United States.
God help us, it might even have become a tradition. Things have a habit of becoming traditions quite quickly in the States, don't they?
And thank God too that the selfish egomaniac Ralph Nader didn't register at all this time. His 'open letter' to Barak Obama after the results were confirmed is bitter, nasty and ungracious.
Having cost Al Gore the Presidency, you would think Nader would hide under a rock.
But no. Off he was again trying to do damage.
Anyway, you have to laugh at Sarah Palin.
You do.
She thinks a) she's going to be the Republican candidate in four year's time and b) she's going to win.
Not a snowball's chance in a hot oven.
Not only does she have an IQ in single figures (which doesn't mean she's not cute enough to get where she's got), she is a bad ad for everything and anything decent, American and Christian.
She is part of that Christian fundamentalist movement which is every bit as dangerous as any other fundamentalist movement. And that's very.
It's over now. The winner has won.
And while there is much about Barak Obama to admire, while there is much to hope for under his coming presidency, there is much he says and does to which I, and others who laud his election, are opposed.
But you can't have everything.
And change won't just be the change Barak Obama wants.
For now, let's just enjoy the fact that McCain and Palin are consigned to history as footnotes.
That Dubya can go off and spend his dotage playing with Play Doh. If he's up to it.
That Dick Cheney can go off and count his ill gotten gains and shoot a few more of his mates.
And maybe, just maybe, the world might be a better place.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Scared and Enthralled by the USA

❍New York. Welcoming, tolerant... but elsewhere

Isn’t it astonishing how America, or more accurately, the United States of America enthrals and scares so many people at the same time?
It enthrals because it has and is everything worldly. Huge cities, stores bigger than some small Irish towns, people larger than life.
It scares because, well, some of those people...

How can it be in a country which produces so much genius, that there are vast swathes where ignorance reigns?
How can so many people believe in guns?
How can so many people hate men other than white men?
How can so many people have so little interest in the world around them?
How come so many people don’t even know there IS a world around them?
How can the country which produces some of the best television and cinema in the world also produce the worst?
How can a country so deeply Christian be so utterly irreligious?
How can a country so welcoming of diversity be so intolerant?
It is that diversity itself, I suppose.
But it is more.
It is the innate selfishness of so many who know so little about so much.
Obama is a Muslim.
(As I write, there's a big lump of a Cuban American being interviewed on Sky News. He says he knows Obama is a Muslim because he wants to take from the rich and give to the poor. Eh, do you think, by any chance that guy's been in the sun too long? Or maybe, not in his Christian church long enough?)
He is a terrorist.
He isn’t even American.
Not to mention Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, John Bolton
What the hell is it all about?
The US is the guardian of the world. Thank God it isn’t. But why do so many millions of Americans believe it is?
World War II?
Well, of course the US helped to win the war. But they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory militarily since, now have they?
Korea, Vietnam, Grenada (even Ireland would have won that one) Iran, Iraq twice, Afghanistan, Colombia, Chile, Central America....
Sometimes, loving America, as I do, isn’t easy. It’s embarrassing, actually.
What’s really sad is this.
When I was a kid, a teen, I hoped Ireland would, one day, be more like America.
The music. Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Lovin’ Spoonful...
The movies. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Thomas Crown Affair..
The buildings. The politicians - before I knew too much about them.
Now Ireland IS more like America.
But the worst of it.
Because it is now, on occasion, largely and certainly as regards the young, greedy, inward looking, trashy and cultureless.
God, I need a visit to New York.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

How I Wish i Was Dire Enough To Be Published

They say there's a book in everyone.
And I'm sure there is.
The problem is, most of the books that are in everyone are dire. Bookshops are full of dire books. You know the type. The ones that end up being made into television movies.
Dire television movies.
Or worse, dire television series.
There's a book in me. Not about me. That's a pamphlet.
But there's definitely a book in me

And the thing about the book that's in me, is that it's more than likely going to stay there.
Because, for reasons that are difficult to comprehend, publishers seem to prefer publishing dire books.
Now, I'm not saying the book in me is a Booker Prize winner.
I'm not even suggesting for a second that it would make the best sellers' list. And I mean the top 100 not the top 10.
I'm just saying it would be better than some of the stuff that's out there. The dire stuff.
What's really galling is, that the authors of the dire stuff a) make pots of dosh and b) swan around as if they're some kind of gift to literature.
It's luck, at the end of the day, isn't it?
Someone in the agent's office, or some editor in the publisher's office kind of likes something that's sent in. Something dire.
And the wheels are set in motion.
PR takes over, launches are launched, talk shows are talked and before anyone knows where anyone else is, the dire book is being hailed as, well, maybe dire, but successful.
I've read quite a few dire, successful books in my life. Finished one of two of them.
But God, I've seen some dire television movies. Dire plot. Dire dialogue and - they do match these things up well though - dire actors.
Again, though, some dire writer gets paid.
OK. Yes. I got the rejection slips.
And I know most successful authors have drawers full of them. 'Specially the dire ones.
I'm quite prepared to have a room full of them - as a successful author possibly bordering on the dire but not quite there.
I'm just peeved that I don't know the secret of a) getting published and b) being dire enough to get published.
Looks like the book is staying in me for a while.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

All Politics is Corrupt

It's a bit scary. It's very sad.
But it is, unfortunately, a fact.
ALL politics is corrupt.
It has to be.
That's how they get elected.
Now, saying that all politics is corrupt, doesn't mean that all politicians are bad people, are immoral people.
Many of them firmly believe that the things they say and do are justified because they firmly believe they are the best people to do good for the masses.
But it rarely turns out so.

Is there a country on earth, for example, where politicians are paid a sum even vaguely close to the average wage in that country?
Is there a country on earth where politicians aren't chauffeured about the place like royalty?
Is there a country on earth where politicians don't look after themselves in relation to pay, expenses, perks, comfort and the trappings of their offices?
No. Not as far as I can tell.
Politicians promise what they know they can't deliver on the basis that a) everyone does it b )nobody expects delivery and c) sure that's how you get elected.
In power, they make decisions which are a)wrong but popular because it helps the re-election campaign - which begins the minute the last election is over.
In power, they cosy up to business because good business is good for the country. It's also good for forking out vast sums to political parties and brown envelopes to the most unscrupulous of the politicians.
And in power they attempt to do things they are utterly incapable of achieving and utterly unqualified to undertake.
The result is what we have now. Politicians worried about their economies - but as worried if not more worried about their own futures, worried about offending banks, worried about offending business.
Their world is a closed one, one in which nobody is more important than they, where nobody matters more than they.
One in which banks with bosses earning vast, unimaginable (for most) immoral sums are bailed out and the little man pays the price.
Who bails out those who were given loans irresponsibly by greedy banks? Nobody.
Why? Well, for the same reason nobody bails out the autistic, the elderly, the mentally ill, the drug addict, the homeless, the drink.
No votes in it,
So the corruption goes on.
And there's not a blessed thing, bar a revolution which isn't a good idea at all, than anyone can do about it.
Except maybe pray.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Democracy, a Side Show Masking the Greed Which Rules the World

The United States is going to the polls.
The Ukraine is facing a snap election.
The world's biggest democracy, India, is voting next year.
Journalists, commentators, pundits and experts of all sorts are excited.
Indeed, the voting public, the electorate will be quite exercised by the votes in those countries and anywhere else on the planet where they get the chance to choose those who lead them.

Only it's a complete farce. A complete and utter waste of time. A sham.
Because regardless of who it is we elect, no matter whether the odious Sarah Palin gets to second biggest job in the world, no matter who rules the vast population of India, it will make not a shred of difference.
We now know, democracy doesn't work, doesn't even exist.
Sure, on paper it looks better than totalitarianism, dictatorships, ancient monarchies and the like.
But in reality, it's no different.
Leaving aside altogether the way 'model" democracies like the US cheat people out of their votes by challenging those with a legitimate right to vote.
Forgetting altogether the 'hanging chads' and the irrational impatience of the US Supreme Court eight years ago.
Dismissing the long queues for voters in poor (Democratic) areas and the lack of such inconvenience in wealthier (Republican) areas, it is quite clear that George W Bush doesn't and didn't rule the United States.
Maybe Dick Cheney does and did. At least, maybe he and his mates do and did.
Because that's what we know now.
Business rules the world.
Money rules the world.
Bankers, hedge fund managers, investors, speculators, weapons dealers, gamblers rule the world.
The greedy, the immoral and amoral and the uncaring rule the world.
The selfish rule the world.
Vote for whom it is you please, they have, it is so apparent, no control whatsoever over world affairs.
World affairs have been run by bankers and investors and will continue to be run by bankers and investors.
Democracy is a side show, a distraction.
Democracy just hides the evil and the greed on which everything is predicated.
A handful of people, be they in the US, Britain, Russia, China, India - even little Ireland - decide what's what and the politicians fall into line even if they don't know that's what they're doing.
It certainly is.
Because if the rich just gave up a tenth of what they have, we would eradicate hunger, much of the disease that ravages the poor world, lack of education and misery.
But they won't because that's why they exist. To accumulate at the expense of others.
And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
Except, maybe, pray.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008


Where did it all go? Who has it? Where are they living? Where is it all stashed?
And how did they get away with it?
I'm talking about the money.
(May I just interrupt my self here for a second? Firstly, I'm still not dead. Just still recovering from a Bone Marrow Transplant and up to now most days, frankly, I hadn't the energy even to blog. But some things make the blood boil. Like this economic collapse. And boiling blood isn't good for those who have had Bone Marrow Transplants.

Secondly, I made a mistake on that blog below, the one that just says no Who Is Disabled? and nothing else. I can't get rid of it. I crash when I try. So I'll get off to the help centre when I'm finished with the economic situation.)
There is no doubt whatsoever that billions, trillions, zillions of euro, dollars, pounds, yen - whatever- were generated in recent decades.
Mostly, it was generated doing good things like building homes for people, providing infrastructure where it was needed and helping to improve those countries whose lot it is to be the poorest on earth.
Sometimes, it was generated by doing bad things, like invading other people's countries, wrecking them and then giving your mates billions of dollars to build them back up again.
And of course, propping up nasty but friendly regimes.
But now, the money appears to be gone. Vanished into thin air. Nobody knows where it is.
The banks are going down for billions, and nobody, in the banks or anywhere else, seems to have the faintest foggiest notion as to what to do next.
So it's governments - people that is - who have to cough up. We in Ireland are guaranteeing banks for €400 bn and climbing. The US has stumped up $700 bn and climbing. Britain has forked out hundreds of millions, Greece the same, The Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg governments have had to dig deep too.
And what's in those deep pockets? Our money, that's what.
But wasn't it our money that was in the banks? Got it in one.
The banks took our money, used it, stuffed the profits in their pockets, went bust and now it's back to our pockets again to bail them out.
I mean, if it wasn't so damned sad, so damned hard for those who will suffer most (see above: those countries whose lot it is to be the poorest on earth) and so damned immoral it would be be funny.
We've been suckered by a few people - and in the context of the world's population it is VERY few people - who have played with our money, our families, our jobs, our countries, and made off with the lot.
And just to make sure, that a few years down the road it can all happen again, we're bailing them out.
Who will go to jail? (Not apocryphal)
Who will be punished? (Not apocryphal)
Who will have their ill-gotten gains removed from them? (Not apocryphal)
You know, we thought our world was run by sometimes inept, sometimes corrupt, sometimes immoral, sometimes greedy, sometimes plain stupid politicians.
But we were wrong.
It is and has been run by always inept, always corrupt, always immoral, always greedy but never, ever plain stupid bankers, hedge fund managers and economic whizz kids who profit from the doom for which they have long been harbingers.
God help us.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

I'm Not Actually Dead

This short post is really to apologise for not posting for some time - and to let anyone who thinks I'm dead that I'm not.
Bone Marrow Transplants and daily blogs don't mix.
The problem is, that a BMT (as we veterans of the procedure like to call them) leaves you absolutely jaded. Fatigued. Tired beyond belief.
You don't have the energy to pick up the lap-top, let alone write a blog. Indeed, the process of deciding you're too tired to write a blog is so tiring that the question doesn't arise.
Things are a little better now that I'm three months on.
I have been extremely lucky in that I have simply been tired, not ill.
I am, however, receiving some other component of my donor's blood next week. And my doctor tells me that there's a pretty reasonable chance I'll be sick after it. Not immediately, about ten days later.
Terrible really. Before the BMT I was better than I'd been for years.
And of course, after it I was worse.
Now, I'm getting better again - and in a week or two, I'll be worse again.
Why is it that all the drugs that cure nasty diseases like cancer, are tough drugs, drugs that make you sick and lose your hair and feel lousy?
Why doesn't cannabis cure cancer? Why isn't LSD a cure for lymphoma?
I mean, it's bad enough having these damned diseases.
You think, at least, we'd be allowed to have some fun as we're getting better.

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China: And the World Turns a Blind Eye

The Olympics are almost over.
And now, perhaps, we can go back to acknowledging what China is really like, rather than pretending that everything is ok, because some people are running fast around what is, without doubt, a fine stadium.
For some weeks now, most of the world has been focussing almost entirely on the running, jumping, swimming, boxing and other events in Beijing.
As it did, the repressive Chinese regime has been keeping up its bad work. It is still, systematically, depriving its people of information. It is little surprise that those Chinese you meet outside their home country are completely indoctrinated. I have been told, categorically, that there was no massacre at Tiananmen Square. It didn't happen. It's a 'western invention.'

Right now, the Dalai Lama has revealed that many dozens of protesters were massacred in Tibet on August 18.
Pro Tibet protesters in Beijing have been jailed. iTunes has been blocked because it's selling Songs for Tibet, produced by the Art of Peace Foundation in support of the people of that disputed region.
The hateful murders and deliberate starvation continues in Darfur.
Burma continues, with Chinese support, to be run by a despicable junta which murders its own people with bullets and neglect.
And China continues to support the dictator Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
But for two weeks, the world, or most of it, managed to pretend none of this was happening. Britain, surprised by its medal tally, is devoting page after page of its newspapers to its glorious athletes, and little or no space to those who are suffering under the odious Chinese regime.
There has, for example, been little mention of those who were jailed specifically because of the Olympics. Scant mention of those thrown out of their homes to make way for the 'fine stadium.'
But then, the world will turn a blind eye even when the games are over when things will, undoubtedly, get worse.
China is useful. Indeed, there are those economists who say China is vital. And staying on the right side of China is vital for western economies.
The world has a habit of turning a blind eye. It did so in the Balkans. It did for years as Ethiopians starved to death. It did in Darfur until it was forced to react. It hasn't exactly covered itself in glory in relation to Zimbabwe.
The Games are all but over now.
And everyone's counting their medals.
Who, I wonder, will count those imprisoned for their religious or political beliefs, who will count the dead when the real repression resumes in the near future?

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Friday, July 25, 2008

So. Who is Disabled?

dis·a·bled [dis-ey-buhld]
1. crippled; injured; incapacitated.
2. (used with a plural verb) persons who are crippled, injured, or incapacitated (usually prec. by the): Ramps have been installed at the entrances to accommodate the disabled.

We need words for everything. We're not comfortable if we don't have words to describe everything we see and do.
But the thing is, that sometimes, the words we use are, well, they're uncomfortable themselves.
Like 'disabled.'
What's disabled?
Leaving aside, for the moment, my reservations about the Olympics being held in China which continues to repress its own people, particularly as the Games approach, this summer will see not just the Olympic Games, but the Paralmpics.

Read about the Paralympics on the official website, or anywhere else for that matter, and you will frequently come across the word 'disabled.'
I thought about it. I thought about it quite a lot.
And then I looked up the sports in which the paralympic athletes will compete.
They are; Archery; Athletics; Boccia; Cycling; Equestrian; Football 5-a-side; Football 7-a-side; Goalball; Judo; Powerlifting; Rowing; Sailing; Shooting; Swimming; Table tennis; Volleyball; Wheelchair basetketball; Wheelchair Fencing; Wheelchair Rugby;; Wheelchair Tennis.
With the notable exception of rugby, I was never any good at any of the above sports. And there are those who would argue that rugby should actually included in the list of sports at which I am not now and never was any good.
I certainly was never much good at athletics. I tried archery, but was a total failure. Judo and me parted company early. Rowing was too difficult. Sailing made me ill. I swam like a brick.
It goes on and on.
So the question is this.
When compared to those taking part in the paralympics, am i the one who is disabled? Are they not the ones who are able?
Just because one or two parts of the body don't work or don't work well, does that make someone disabled?
Because, in my experience, those classified as 'disabled' invariably are possessed of a great deal more talent, in general, than what is called the 'able bodies' community.
Is Stevie Wonder disabled because he is blind? Or is he one of the most talented musicians in history?
Words. They are used to described things and classify things.
Sometimes i wonder, if there are words we could do without.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

It All Depends on Which Minority

It is only right that the State, our Government, takes on board the concerns and worries of minorities.
It's what happens in a responsible democracy.
Indeed, the soon-to-be-law Civil Partnership Bill, has been introduced because of a long campaign by Gay and Lesbian organisations and, indeed, by the Irish Human Rights Commission.
We have long since passed laws outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, colour or creed or physical ability or disability. It is right, for example, that young Muslim girls be permitted to wear a hijab to school in much the same way as a young Christian girl may wear a crucifix.
We have made tremendous progress as a society.
But you can’t help feeling, that it is only those minorities which are well organised and well financed, which have slick public relations machines or which are popular band-wagons for politicians, which have their cases heard and action taken.

We still, for example, do little or nothing for the mentally handicapped in our midst, or rather, not in our midst. As long as they are kept out of sight, most people - politicians included or even in particular - seen to be content.
We do little or nothing for the old. Yes, that old rogue Charlie Haughey thankfully introduced free travel and other benefits. But our pensioners are expected to live for a week on a sum equivalent to what a TD receives in (unvouched, untaxed) expenses, for two days.
We certainly don’t do enough for the homeless. If we did, there wouldn’t be homless.
And we don’t do enough for unfortunate drug addicts. We have about one per cent of the beds we need to encourage them to seek treatment.
The point of all this is that maybe we’re spending a little bit too much time arguing about whether gays and lesbians can have civil partnerships or whether they can get married. You probably know my personal view is that they can have partnerships and it’s only right. But marriage is and always has been between men and women.
We spend too much time wondering if travellers are a distinct ethnic group. They are not. And even if it was to be decided they were - after endless blathering and waffling - what difference would it make? It certainly hasn’t helped our Roma visitors.
Personally, I would rather we talked about the mentally handicapped, the old, the poor, the homeless and the addicted and, yes, the traveller and the Roma.
They are issues involving people who have nothing and less than nothing. They are not well financed. They have no slick PR machines. They have little or no influence.
Of course, nothing will change.
The mentally handicapped, the homeless, the addicted and, to a degree, travellers aren’t great for turning up at polling stations.
And as long as that’s the case, they will be allowed to rot.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bad Weather and a Good Idea to Solve EVERYTHING

Here is the weather forecast for Ireland.
It will be cloudy, there will be rain. It won't be that warm. And it might be windy.
Yes, I know we get lovely days when the sun shines and it's nice and calm and warm.
But if you want a forecast that's right 90 per cent of the time, stick to the above.
Last Friday, the RTE weather forecast predicted that Saturday would be fine, warm and sunny.
It wasn't. It rained. And it wasn't what you'd call 'warm,' well, not if you're used to holidaying in places which are genuinely warm.

People often say that we put up with too much in Ireland.
And we do.
We've been ripped off by chain stores for years, charging up to 50 per cent more in the Republic of Ireland than in the North. They trot out the usual excuses about 'long distances' and 'transport costs.'
If that was the case, the people in Inverness would be paying £5 for a pint of milk. And they're not.
We put up with lousy service in restaurants. We put up with dirty streets, we put up with extortionate toll charges on our roads. Note OUR roads.
And we put up with lousy weather.
For example, when I was in Australia a few years ago - it was during their Autumn - I was brought, by friends, to a beach not far from Sydney. 'Fantastic' I said as I changed and jumped into the sea for a swim.
They thought I should be certified. It was 18 degrees and, to them, the depths of winter.
Such little things like rain, cold, wind and cloud don't bother us.
Come the middle of May, there are those who, regardless of the weather, celebrate the arrival of "Summer' by changing into shorts, sandals and t-shirts, be they male or female.
We shouldn't put up with the lousy weather.
We shouldn't accept the Met Office telling us, like they did last Summer, that the weather is 'unsettled' when there is rain for 64 consecutive days. You don't get more settled than that.
Instead of wasting money on building roads, schools, hospitals and such like, what we should have done when we had the money, was resettle the entire population in the South of France or Spain. We'd have money left over.
And we could have left behind a United Ireland, albeit one with nobody in it bar American tourists, people from Holland and Germany playing bodhrans in Doolin and a few fishermen and hill walkers.
No more complaints about the weather. No more whinging about traffic jams, no more crowded Accident and Emergency rooms, no more inept government - just the best decentralisation plan ever undertaken.
Decentralising the entire population to sunny climes.
I wonder if it's too late...

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Friday, July 11, 2008

I Have to Admit It's Getting Better

Well, I’m sorry I’ve been missing for a little while.
I could tell you that I feel so low, now that Ireland has become a poor country again, that I didn’t have the will to write a blog.
But that wouldn’t be the truth.
I could tell you that we are now so poor that I was out collecting sticks to make a fire to heat us all.
But that wouldn’t be the truth. Even though it could be.
I could tell you that I was hunting rabbits for us to eat.
But that wouldn’t be true. Though it’s likely to be in the not too distant future.

Fact is, that after all the medical treatment I’ve been having, I was plum knackered.
That’s the problem with things like Bone Marrow Transplants. No matter how often they tell you, beforehand, that you’ll be knackered afterwards, you don’t really get the idea HOW knackered until, well, afterwards.
It’s a strange business. Like many, if not most, medical procedures, it’s actually worse than the disease it’s setting out to cure.
I went into my transplant with fear and dread. Even saw the shrink before I went in, such was the mess in my head.
And I was aware that, last time I was in hospital, I did all but tunnel out.
So it was odd, that once I walked in the door of St James’s Hospital in Dublin, my mind was at ease. Completely. I checked into my room, made sure I had pictures of my loved ones beside the bed, checked that the telly was working, my laptop could access the internet (thank God for dongles, the hospital is still in the last century when it comes to providing broadband for patients) and my iPod was functioning.
What they do for the BMT is blast you with chemo to kill of your marrow and then, in a kind of transfusion, give you someone else’s.
And it’s a bit unpleasant.
Although I think our health service is an inequitable shambles, although I believe it is run by people I wouldn’t let run a children’s party, although I believe it is over administered beyond belief, and although I believe nobody in the upper echelons of the Health Service Executive gives a toss for those currently in need of the service - they have their eyes focussed firmly on ten years hence - the people who work the front line are unbelievable.
Doctors, nurses, catering, cleaners - chaplains in particular. They are fantastic people utterly undervalued by their employers.
They make hospital bearable. Even if the food is dire, the people giving it too you make it almost edible.
They are to a man and woman, fantastic.
And let me say this now. I will never know who donated bone marrow for me. Never. Dem’s the rules.
But it is one of the most altruistic things a human being can do. There is no money it. You don’t even get to find out if it worked. You never get to see the results of your sacrifice. Which makes it a sacrifice in the true sense.
Anyway, I was sick for a while. And now I’m tired.
But things appear to be going reasonably well. The doctors are happy.
If there are little blips, doctors say “don’t worry.” Even they must know that whenever someone with a nasty disease - mine is lymphoma by the way - is told not to worry, that is precisely what they do.
So I’m trying not to worry. Trying to do bits and bobs. I find the bobs more tiring than the bits.
But I must be in better form. I’m complaining as much as I ever did. I’m complaining about the weather, politicians, the wanton destruction of our heritage in Tara, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists - I think that just about covers everybody.
I’m in the sad situation of knowing more about Coronation Street than any other 54 year old male on the planet.
I sleep like a log and wake up jaded.
I have no feckin’ appetite even when I’m hungry.
Complaining again.
It must have worked.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Long Wait For Rugby to Return

WHEN Cheltenham ends every year, it’s a reason for me to celebrate.
I’m not into horse racing.
It is no different when Ascot ends.
Like Cheltenham, it is one of those 'sporting' occasions that leaves me absolutely cold.
In fact, one year when I was sent to Cheltenham to work for the newspaper which then employed me, I actually managed to go through the thing without seeing one horse, not even the statue of Arkle.
Even though I was sent there to cover the people, not the horses, I thought it a pretty serious achievement, one of which I am justifiably proud.
You see, I'm not terribly sure horse racing is a sport at all.

There were, for example 75,000 people in Croke Park this year year to watch the Irish team playing rugby. Let me rephrase that, to watch the Irish team trying to play rugby. I think it would be fair to say that the vast  majority of those who attended, or who watched on television, did not have the summer holiday/ten pints or the house riding on the result via a large wager.
Similarly soccer, which can be a sport when they're not in nightclubs or diving or trying to get their fellow professionals sent off, doesn't entirely rely on the fact that people place bets every now and then, for its survival.
But take the betting out of horse racing and what have you?
Well, a very, very small crowd indeed.
There are some who go just to watch the fine animals running. But they are in a tiny minority, which is a pity.
Because if it wasn't for all the people rushing, bumping into all and sundry as they go about placing their bets, horse racing might be quite a pleasant experience.
I also dread Wimbledon. I don't know what it is about tennis, but it bores me rigid. The only thing that keeps me awake is those damned women grunting. Even rugby players don’t grunt. Well, they don’t grunt much.
And I have to say that anyone who claims snooker is sport has obviously never played much in the way of games.
At least Cheltenham is over, Ascot is over. No more roars of 'Up ye boy ye" as I pass the bookies. No more shouts of "go on ye good thing' as I pass the pub.
And although the rugby season is all but over, it won’t be that long now until the weather closes in and the finest sport of them all returns in the Autumn. Well, today was the longest day of the year. And Christmas is just around the corner.
Mind you, when autumn arrives and we face up to the All Blacks again, it might just be a little less painful, to watch reruns of Wimbledon or Ascot.
Well, there's always the cricket...

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dear God, Can You Fix The Weather

❍Charlotte loves the sun. But she won't get it in Ireland.

Dear God,

I am sorry for writing to you, because I know you are extremely busy. At least, I'm not writing entirely on my own behalf. I'm writing on behalf of all the people, and mainly the children, who live on the island of Ireland.
You see, we had a lousy summer last year. Of course, you know that.
And, despite a few reasonable weeks in May, this year isn't shaping up any better.
Now, I know that we're lucky in Ireland.
We don't get earthquakes of any great intensity. About every hundred years or so, we get the kind that might crack a pane of glass.
We don't really get hurricanes, not in the Katrina sense anyway.
We don't get tsunamis. We don't get typhoons. We don't get monsoons.
We don't get volcanic eruptions. We don't get floods, well, not real floods. not biblical events.
And we don't get plagues of locusts and we don't get outbreaks of swamp fever or beri beri or ebola.
And we sure as hell - I beg your pardon - we certainly don't get droughts.

And to be honest, I wouldn't swap all of that for a few weeks sunshine.
It's just that, well, a few weeks sunshine would be nice, especially for the children.
Last summer, poor Charlotte got to sit in her little paddling pool twice. This year, she's managed three times so far with no prospect of her having another dip for some time.
I'm well aware that it wasn't sunny every day in the summer when I was a child. Sure, who am I telling. You remember it better than me.
I know that, when you're a child, you don't actually need the sun to be cracking the rocks. As long as the rain isn't persistent or torrential, kids just get on with it.
Trouble is, recently the rain has been, well, persistent and torrential.
So I'm wondering if there's any chance you'll give us a little break?
Any chance that for, say, most of July and a bit of August, we get reasonably warm and sunny weather?
I know, I know, people start dressing silly and littering beaches and eating ice cream by the bucket.
But it would be kind of nice if, every second or third year, we had a little bit of a heat wave.
That's about it.
Hope all is well Above.
Sorry for asking, but it's for Charlotte more than me.


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Friday, June 13, 2008

Ye Have Disgraced Yourselves Again

❍A poster, bullying people into not being bullied

Bearing in mind that the Shinners/Provos were against the Lisbon Treaty, it seems apt to describe the result, as the Irish people shooting themselves in the foot.
During the utterly dishonest campaign waged on the 'No' side, we had devout Catholics lying through their teeth, men and women who backed an illegal army for a generation, railing against militarism, directors of companies which supply the US military, warning about an EU Army, and a raggle-taggle army of commentators, many supported by Rupert Murdoch's media empire, urging us all to vote no.
So why did the Irish people vote against the advice of the three main political parties in the country and against the EU which has handed over something like €68billion in aid over the past thirty years?
They did so because they believed the lies they were told.

Despite absolute assurances, right up to the last minute, voters expressed their fears that the Treaty would result in the legalisation of abortion in Ireland. It won't.
They said they were worried that it would force the Irish people to permit stem-cell research. It won't.
They said they believed it would lead to a loss of our neutrality*. It won't.
(Why are we so proud of our neutrality? Was there something honourable about telling Hitler that, as far as we were concerned, he could invade anywhere he wished and murder as many Jews, Romas and homosexuals as he pleased?)
They said they had been told that Europe would harmonise taxes* and therefore force us to raise our low Corporation Tax which attracts foreign investment. It won't.
(*Isn't it odd, that many of the people who have spent years calling for a harmonisation of taxes so that we would have lower VAT, cheaper cars and a more benign indirect tax system, suddenly raise the 'spectre' of tax harmonisation?)
There were even some who believed that children could be snatched from their homes, that military conscription was just around the corner and, I don't know, that we'd all have to turn Protestant or something equally dastardly.
But there were others who voted 'No' too.
Businessmen - and we know who they are - who have a vested interest in keeping manners on Europe as they see it.
There were ordinary people who are happy that there are 26 other countries for us in which to sell our goods - but which should really keep their own people at home instead of sending them here to take jobs from decent Irish people.
There are those who will tell you that there are too many politicians and civil servants getting too much money our of Europe. But who want 27 Commissioners - and their enormous cabinets and staffs and what not - instead of 15.
It's a long time since I have been embarrassed by my nationality.
I was such when I lived in England in the '70s and the IRA was blowing up my neighbours. I was when the IRA gave two fingers to the Pope. I was when someone decided that the bank robbers, smugglers, thugs and murderers were sufficiently reformed to be considered respectable.
And I am again.
Sure, give our politicians a few bloody noses. (Metaphorically. I'm a pacifist.) I'd be first in the queue for that.
They are indeed, aloof, out of touch, over paid, under-worked and a self-perpetuating elite that needs taking down a peg or two.
But in this instance, we have shot ourselves in the foot. cut off our nose to spite our face.
Made fools of ourselves.
And who will solve the problem?
Declan Ganley and Libertas? Richard Green and his devout thugs in COIR? The Shinners? Vincent Browne? Shane Ross? Eamon Dunphy? Richard Boyd Barrett? Joe Higgins? (Two socialists voting against the Charter of Fundamental Rights) Patricia McKenna? (A 'Green" voting against environmental protection.) Gay Byrne? Ulick McEvaddy and his friends in the US Air Force?
No. They'll crawl back under their stones believing they have completed a job well done.
The job of solving the problem will be left to those who we elected to run the country.
Aloof and out of touch they may be.
But thank God it's them in charge.
And not those who, throughout the campaign and beyond, deliberately misrepresented the Lisbon Treaty, peddled lies, scaremongered and deceived.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Yes mistakes, No lies

Tomorrow, June 12 2008, Ireland votes on a new European Union Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty.
Right now, it's impossible to forecast the result.
It should have been straight forward.
Europe has been good for Ireland.
Europe has given us €68 billion over the years. It has built hundreds of kilometres of our roads. It has built our schools and hospitals. It has given us access to one of the biggest markets in the world and certainly one of the wealthiest.
And yet, we might say no.
Well, firstly because the "Yes' Campaign, such as it was, was utterly inept.
This wasn't entirely the fault of the government. It's hard to sell something as abstract as the Lisbon Treaty. It doesn't offer anything tangible. It's largely to do with administration, efficiency, streamlining and the smooth running of a vast organisation. Dull.

But politicians can be blamed for a poster campaign which seemed to be more about personalities than policy. Why did our TDs, Councillor and MEPs find it necessary to blight our streets with posters featuring large photographs of themselves above small urgings for us to vote 'Yes?' Do they not realise that we think they're all useless?
They have been condescending and patronising. They have allowed themselves to be associated with European politicians who have been even more condescending and patronising.
They have, in two words, been utterly useless.
Meanwhile, the "No' side has been permitted to get away with blatant lies, duplicity, secrecy and an almost unbelievable arrogance.
Take Declan Ganley's extremely dodgy 'Libertas' group. Nice name. Probably cost him a fortune to some PR company to come up with it.
Ganley prattles on about how we will end up with an unelected EU president. I admire the man's nerve. You would swear, wouldn't you, that he'd been elected to something. But no. He's self apppointed, self imporant and plain selfish.
Ganley supplies the American military. Whether he supplies them with nasty, lethal stuff or toilet roll is immaterial. He is inextricably linked to the US war machine. As is Ulick McEvaddy, another on the 'No' side.
Ganley has been telling blatant lies. He says our veto is at risk and it's not. He says our corporation tax rate is at risk and it's not.
He says we can negotiate a new treaty. And that's unlikely. Even if it happens, it doesn't mean we can negotiate a better deal. If the other 26 gang up on us, it could well we a worse deal. But Declan won't admit that.
Nor will he tell us where the money for his campaign is coming from. Nor will he tell us how a "No' vote would afffect his lucrative business. Maybe someday that other charlatan, Dan Brown, will write a book called The Libertas Code.
The Shinners maintain the treaty will lead to 'increased militarism.' Funny, isn't it? The organisation which had the biggest collection of guns and bombs in Ireland, turns out to be against militarism. They're good on guns and bombs, the Shinners. Not so hot on the economy, though.
COIR is the fascist Catholic organisation which is giving the Church a bad name. Its spokesmen and women have been lying through their teeth since this campaign began. They tell us abortion is on the way. And it's not. They tell us our corporation tax will be raised. And it won't. Their posters are scaremongering, dishonest, disgusting.
Right through the 'No' campaign, their are lies, distortions, myths and dishonesty.
And yet, right now, it might have worked for them.
This much is sure.
If the vote turns out to be "No', it is not Declan Ganley or Libertas or Ulick McEvaddy or Coir or the Shinners who will have to pick up the pieces.
It is our elected politicians.
The ones urging us to vote Yes.
The ones who, although we don't trust them - thanks these days to the corrupt Bertie Ahern - ran the lousy campaign.
The ones we're stuck with.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Clinically Proven to Make Money

I’m going to set up a clinic.
It won’t be just any clinic.
This will be a special clinic. And it will make lots and lots of money.
Because my clinic is going to specialise in clinically proving things.
It will clinically prove anything it’s asked to prove, as a matter of fact.
Well, it will if it’s paid enough.
It will be particularly good at clinically proving cosmetics.
We will have a look at a bottle of something, lash it onto the old face and then, because we’re a clinic, we’ll announce that it’s clinically proven to do whatever it is it says it does or whatever we’re asked to say it does. For a fee.

We’ll do the same for shampoo and soap and creams and ointments and whatever else we’re asked to clinically prove.
We’ll do it for washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets and fertilisers and yogurts and, well, anything you like. Crisps, sucky sweets, fruit cake or hammers. We’ll clinically prove the lot.
There has to be money it.
Every night on television, companies announce that their products are clinically proven.
They don’t say what clinic has done the proving. And they don’t say if the clinic was independent or not. And they don't say if there's anyone qualified in the clinic to do anything other than clinically prove certain things they're asked to clinically prove.
My clinic won’t be independent. We’ll do whatever we’re told.
If the money’s right, that is.
And we’ll have a second section for thinking up names.
You know, those scientific sounding names of things they put into shampoo and make-up and food they’re trying to tell you is good for you.
How about a new healthy toffee sweet for kids which contains dulcis lentesco? (It’s actually latin for sticky and sweet)
Or a breakfast cereal that has incuratus nutrimens in it? (It’s latin for unhealthy food, but you’re not to know that.)
Or even z-alfa retondo in you make-up? (And make up is a good word because I just make that one up.)
And lots and lots of things will have added PF40 and Z27G and things like that.
Am I a bit late?
Do you reckon someone's beaten me to it?

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My Other Uncle Is A Lear Jet

❍Tom and Katie: They're off their (airplane) trolleys

Katie Holmes has, it seems been spending time in Scientology Boot Camp - which presumably means that, by now, she thinks her grandfather was a DC8 or maybe her uncle is a Ryanair jet or something.
One way or another, the girl is being sucked in.
Unlike the famous actor Jason Beghe. All right. The actor Jason Beghe.
He’s been in a few movies and a few tv series which, these days, makes him probably C-list.
But he must have done ok.
Because over 12 years he gave Scientology a million smackers.
It took him that long, and that much, to realise it was all a load of the kind of thing I have to pick up when I take my dog for a walk.

Just to remind you about the fundamentals of Scientology.
Let me tell you about Xenu.
Xenu according to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, was the dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of his people to Earth in DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs. Scientology holds that their essences remained, and that they form around people in modern times, causing them spiritual harm. That’s from the normally but not 100 per cent reliable Wikipedia.
Hubbard - a bigamist, fraudster, wife beater and sometime druggie - spent some time in Dublin a long, long time ago, setting up his mission on Merrion Square.
We Irish, initially, were enthusiastic. But it normally doesn’t take long for us to spot a charlatan. (Bertie was an exception.)
I remember, many years ago when I worked as a barman in London, taking their ‘personality test’ during a break from work.
I was invited in for a counselling session, the test having proved their was something wrong with me.
When they asked what I worked at, I told them, for some reason, that I was unemployed.
I was shoved back onto the street in less than a second.
The unemployed, it seems, don't have enough money to become Scientologists.
I feel sorry for poor Katie.
Bad enough being hitched to a nutter like Tom.
But if she’s has to worry about the spirits of Xenu’s people as well, it’s going to be tough...

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Love But No Affection

Isn't it amazing how real memories can be.
I can close my eyes and I'm in our kitchen, aged just about two, sitting in a high chair, my eldest sister spinning pennies for me on my tray.
I can visualise the Iona Hotel in Rosslare where we holidayed when I was seven or so, a little English girl called Lesley who reminded me of Hayley Mills and a man who left the roof of his sports car down when it rained torrentially.
I can taste the soft drinks which used to be sold from a lorry on the street when I was a child.
And I can smell my father as I clambered onto his knee so that I could kiss him goodnight and he could brush his five o'clock shadow off my cheek, tickling me and hugging me before I went off to sleep.
We were what people called a 'kissy' family.
We were tactile, we hugged and we kissed when we were saying hello and we hugged and kissed when we were saying goodbye.
Even as a teenager, we never left the house without offering a kiss to our mother and father.
(Of course, kissing your mother and father in public during the teenage years wasn't really that cool. However, once over that difficult period, the kissing resumed.)
Joan Armatrading had a song, once, called Love and Affection.
There's little doubt, that the members of families, in general, love each other.
But not too many have that affection which, in a way, marked us out.

I hope my daughter is as tactile as we were when we were children and, indeed, older.
In the modern world, tactility can result in raised eyebrows.
Grown men propping children on their knees and hugging them. Is it ok?
Of course it is. It's affection. It's love. It's family.
I can think of nothing that give me more joy, more happiness, more peace than when my little girl clambers onto my knee and lies back, her head on my chest, to watch something on television or for me to read to her.
When she leans forward and offers a kiss, it's like winning the lottery - it's certainly something I wouldn't swap for a lottery win.
There is lots of love in the world, of course there is.
But there seems to be a desperate shortage of affection.
Not that I'm suggesting you hug the person next to you on the bus or train.
Unless, of course, it's your mother or father.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

It Wasn't A Celtic Tiger After All...

What do all of these animals have in common?
Unicorn, Yeti, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster.
Well, not everyone believes they exist or ever did.
There are some who swear they saw the Abominable Snowman or Yeti in the Himilayas.
But, even though we know what it’s supposed to look like, there’s no proof there ever was such a creature.
Bigfoot has actually been filmed in the United States. But detractors say it was just an elaborate hoax and there is no Bigfoot.
The Loch Ness Monster has long been the subject of debate. There is one photograph said to be of the monster. But sceptics say it’s just a log floating down the lake.
And the Unicorn, well, only little children reading fairy tales believe there was ever a Unicorn.
There is another creature which is the subject of debate too, these days.
Most people on this island say they’ve seen it.
But others, like me, believe those people only think they’ve seen it. They have been persuaded by slick political campaigns that they have seen it. They have been told over and over again, that this creature can be seen almost anywhere in Ireland.
What creature is this?
It’s the Celtic Tiger.

So what does it look like?
Well, it looks like a shiny, expensive new car. It looks like a satellite dish and a 37 inch LCD television. It looks like an apartment in Spain or Turkey or Bulgaria. It looks like a bag of goodies from Sachs of Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdales. It looks like a new house. It looks like a large kitchen extension. It looks like a computer in every child’s room.
At least, that’s what we’re told it looks like.
Because if you look a little harder, you’ll see that it also looks like filthy hospital A&E areas, with sick people lying on trolleys for days. It looks like long waiting lists. It looks like a rampant MRSA bug. It looks like schools, bulging at the seams and children unable to get places to begin their education. It looks like an infrastructure system that can’t even deliver a modern road between any two major towns in the country but can, for some reason, build four motorways through Co Meath. It looks like a dire public transport system. It looks like one in nine children in the country living in poverty. It looks like government ministers who give themselves almost 30 pay rises in ten years. It looks like billionaires. It looks like a Taoiseach who bums money off businessmen and who then tells lies about it and who says he didn’t know his own local cumann had given his then live-in partner a €30,000 loan. It looks like a government which prefers to fight the parents of autistic children in court (with our money) rather than educate those children. It looks like a government more determined to satisfy the needs of business than the needs of the people of the country.
We still have lousy hospitals. We still have overcrowded schools. We still have poor. We still have homeless. We still have a drug problem. We still have a crime problem.
But the statistics don’t lie, do they? We all have more money. That’s what they say.
Mind you, if you put me sitting at a table with Sean Quinn, we’re worth, on average, €2billion each.
Only I’m not.
You see, what happened here was that some people became very, very rich indeed.
And most didn’t.
But the average went up.
And we all thought we were rich because Fianna Fail politicians, in the main, kept telling us we were.
And it felt good.
So we all loved the animal we thought was a Celtic Tiger.
And it might have looked like a Celtic Tiger at first glance.
But, you see, it wasn’t a Celtic Tiger at all.
It was a Greedy Pig.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rugby Conkers All

(I read this on RTE's Sunday Miscellany some time ago. So I decided I'd stick it up here for the fun of it.)
It’s always nice to finish a career as you started it.
In my case, my rugby career ended some 33 years after it began. And in a scene worthy of the Twilight Zone, it ended exactly as it began - with the referee pointing to the dressing room and telling me to get myself there forthwith.
I dispute both decisions.
Let me start with the first one.
It was in Willow Park School in Dublin, nursery to Blackrock College, itself a nursery for great rugby players like Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus Slattery and Brendan Mullin.
I can boast no lofty achievements like that trio.

But on this occaasion, I had proudly lined out in my blue and white hoops for the first time. Willow Under Nines were taking on their arch rivals from that other Holy Ghost rugby school St Mary’s College.
It was a fresh autumn day, I remember. We were winning. And they scored a consolation try.
We retreated behind the posts for the conversion which was duly missed.
And then fourteen of our team ran to the half way line for the kick off.
I, alone, remained behind the posts.
It was, as I saId, autumn. The leaves were brown. And the ground behind the goal was covered in fallen chestnuts, conkers as we called them. It was too good a moment to miss.
I mean, we’d won the game. There were only minutes left. And I felt it would not have any influence on the result if I were to take the opportunity to stuff my pockets with conkers. I was sure I was doing nothing wrong.
Brother Luke, however, took a divergent view.
He believed, mistakenly I was certain, that collecting conkers during a game was against the laws of rugby. He duly sent me off in disgrace.
In the intervening years I happily played rugby having studied the laws to ensure that no such fate would befall me again.
I was, of course, correct about the laws in relation to collecting conkers and Brother Luke was wrong. Nowhere is it written that collecting conkers during a game is an offence. In fact, it is perfectly legal to collect conkers during a line out, scrum or maul, though I must admit, it is not something I have seen happen since at any level.
If they wanted it to be an offence, it would be. The laws of rugby run to some 30,000 words when you include myriad subclauses, additional regulations and referee instructions.
Law 19, subsection 13 - for example - states that a player not carrying the ball is offside if, after the ball has touched a player or the ground, that player steps in front of the ball, unless tackling (or trying to tackle) an opponent. Any attempt to tackle must start from that player’s side of the ball.
I hope that’s clear.
Having digested at least the important laws, I began a memorable career.
The first try - in the snow - on the front pitch at St Mary’s in Rathmines.
The match winning try against Pres Bray on the pitch near the tennis courts in Willow.
The fumble on the line against St Michael’s, third of the three Dublin Holy Ghost schools at the time, that resulted in their last minute try and our only defeat of the year at U 13s.
The moment Fr Nudie Boyle told me I was dropped from the junior cup team.
The heady heights of the thirds at senior level.
The third Es in the the club.
And the World Golden Oldies tournament in Dublin in 1993 where 5,000 rugby players from around gathered to play.
And that’s where it all ended. On a muddy field in Belfield. In ignominy. I was playing with CYM from Terenure in Dublin. And we were proud and happy, maybe a little smug, after winning our first two games well.
When it came to the third and final match, I was asked if I would like the honour of being captain against the Australian side. Brilliant, I thought, though I did wonder why some team mates were sniggering.
The Aussies emerged, brick outhouses to a man, with two former internationals in their side.
It didn’t auger well.
And it only got worse when the referee arrived and bid us all ‘g’day’ in a broad antipodean accent.
He gave us nothing. Not a scrum, not a penalty, nothing.
It was all too much.
I cracked.
I can’t remember what I called him. I think one of the words was ‘biased.’ The other was something along the lines of cad or bounder. Maybe a bit stronger.
He wasn’t impressed.
And for the second time in my long career, I was asked to leave the pitch.
I walked the long walk to the sideline, my head hung low.
In shame?
Not one bit of it.
It was autumn again.
And I was looking for chestnuts.

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