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...
Saturday, June 21, 2008
WHEN Cheltenham ends every year, it’s a reason for me to celebrate.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
❍Charlotte loves the sun. But she won't get it in Ireland.
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.
Friday, June 13, 2008
❍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.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
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.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
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?
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
❍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...
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
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.
Monday, June 2, 2008
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.