Archive for March, 2009

“I’d kill for a pint of porter, get that wasp off me sandwich!”

Recently I heard a radio DJ talking about Jade Goody’s death. I have to admit that my usual attitude toward any story involving anyone who has made themselves famous through either a) banal stupidity, b) being on reality tv, or c) being fat and getting thin (or vice versa) is one of blissful ignorance, and I am fairly certain she has done all three. So forgive me if I write something blatantly inaccurate about her, because it will be entirely besides the point I’m trying to make, I swear. As I understand it though, she died rather suddenly of cancer.

The point of the radio discussion was not so much her death itself as the reaction of various people to it. The radio guy in question was incredulously picking on a woman who claimed to feel absolutely devastated for her, “and it wasn’t it terrible what was happening to her, and her leaving two kids behind”, and other extremely irish ways of saying “isn’t this sad”. Radio guy was trying to hammer it into this lady that perhaps instead of crying over a complete stranger she’d read about in the paper wouldn’t it be a better idea to turn her attention to something closer to home. All the woman could say was that she was just very upset by it, and was crying her eyes out over it, and couldn’t think anything else about it only that it was a tragedy.

I sat there listening to this, quite characteristically thinking “That woman is a fucking idiot.”, when suddenly I realised that thought this was probably true, radio guy was wrong. He was trying to persuade this woman that something that she found tragic didn’t matter because it was happening to someone she didn’t know. That she should be ignoring it, and saving her feelings for when they were for the people around her.

I think this brings home how fucking retarded our ludicrous psycho-analysis-obsessed culture is. We spend half our time telling people to express their feelings, and the other half telling them they are being expressed the wrong direction. Who cares if the woman is dehydrating herself daily over a tv personality? If it so happens that something about the situation evokes empathy in her, so fucking what?

 Movies and books do it all the time, that’s the entire bloody point. To create something that touches people. What the hell is the difference between that woman crying over Jade Goody, and me crying when I read Jane Eyre? (yes, I did actually do this. Really, really deep down I’m a romantic). Frankly, the difference was that she was feeling something for a real person, albeit a person she’s never met. I’ve felt more real emotion for people that don’t even exist than for a shocking quantity of those I’ve known.

Humans constantly love things that aren’t real. People name their cars, their musical instruments, I know a girl who has a pair of garden shears named Lorraine (though granted that was less affection and more striking fear into the hearts of young men).  Hell, I challenge you to find a kid who didn’t anthropomorphise a stuffed toy and love it as much as their own siblings, I certainly did. Why is that more socially acceptable?  We should be fucking delighted that people have proper goddamn feelings at all, because if they had none they’d be even more awful than they already are.

If someone is moved by art or poetry we think they are cultured, if they are moved by a human being they don’t know contracting a fatal disease we think they are impractical and foolish. Do we have a limited supply of emotional reactions? Should I be saving mine up for an appropriate time? I guess there is a chance that woman would be finding joy in the beauty of poetry if she wasn’t busy crying over famous people, but frankly I doubt it.

You can’t save up emotions and spend them in a way you consciously choose, the human subconscious is a lot more subtle than that. If you can’t react to something beautiful then you might as well react to something stupid, it’s better than not reacting.

If we don’t want people having dumbass emotional outbursts then we should just put valium in the drinking water, because those are pretty much the only kind.

When you break rules, try to break them good and hard

There are some things that I don’t write about. Not because I believe I shouldn’t, but because I believe they are too goddamn difficult. I do not discuss personal religious beliefs (organized religion is not something I consider included in this), I do not discuss abortion, and the other major, glaring, neon elephant in the room that I don’t really discuss (anymore, that is) is Northern Ireland. I am aware that many people do not share my reticence on the subject, many people are also fucking ignorant idiots. The two sets are not entirely identical, but there is a remarkable overlap

But just this once, I’m going to make a motherfucking exception.

My entire family is from Northern Ireland. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and every last bloody one of my cousins-and believe me, that’s a lot of cousins, my parents have 18 siblings between them-are from Northern Ireland. And not just anywhere in Northern Ireland, South Armagh, historically one of the most violent pits of vigilante and paramilitary activity available on both sides of the fence.

While I did not grow up where my parents did (for which I sincerely thank them) I was somewhat uniquely placed to form an opinion of the situation. I looked at Northern Ireland largely from the outside, but I was brought up by a mother who could tell the difference between types of submachine guns from a distance by the colour of the muzzle flash, and a father who was once beaten almost to death with a chain as a teenager for attending the wrong school. I spent hours hearing the stories my mother told about living somewhere that sounded almost surreal to a child growing up in the 1980’s in a small town in Kerry.

A random selection of these might include say, the fact that my mother never had a college graduation because there was a huge bomb threat in Belfast that week and the ceremony was canceled. Or the one in which the father of one of her school friends died from a grenade thrown through the window of a bus he was on. That on her way back from Belfast one day she saw a police station blow up. Or my dad’s family losing half their farm because the british government decided they’d like to have an artificial lake there for their golf course. The tale of my grandfather and a half-dozen other farmers getting arrested for protesting it. Or the one about how every time it looked like there might be sufficient catholics in one area to win a local election they redrew the jurisdictions.

Then there is the orange order, an organisation formed to prevent more catholics from owning land, regarding themselves as a proud tradition. When the orange day parades went through a housing estate at Garvaghy in the nineties, 200 catholics peacefully protesting in the form of a sit-in were dragged off or shot with rubber bullets by the riot police. When the orange order were finally asked in 1998 not to needlessly march through a catholic area which couldn’t possible be a historical route because it used to be a fucking field, the protest by 10,000 orangemen was allowed to escalate to insane levels. It wasn’t the IRA who blocked every road out of Northern Ireland that week, it was the fucking UVF, and believe me this one is burnt into my memory because I was fucking there and we were trying to get fucking home that day and without going into detail I will never forget it if I live to be a hundred.

My aim here is not to whine about oppression, the point is that I don’t need to dredge up 800 years of irish history to come up with atrocities, injustice, or pointless violence. They are all within living memory, and not just my parent’s generation, but my generation. It’s much more than English versus Irish, or protestant versus catholic. It is them versus us, no matter who we define as “them” or as “us”. It is the attitude that you have a side, and that your name, your home, the colour you paint your pavement and where you go on Sunday mornings are all declarations of loyalty to an arbitrary flag. Not because it’s good, or right, or fair, but because it’s yours and not theirs.

This is a pile of shit a mile fucking high, for a start because the situation was blatantly untenable, but not helped by the attitude of people from the south of Ireland, which tended to come from one of two directions. Either retarded RA bravado by people who had no fucking idea what they were taking about; or total and complete indifference coupled with a vague confusion about why we couldn’t just cut the damn 6 counties off and let them drift into the sea. 

Northern Ireland was never going to be solved with a country sized bandsaw (mostly because we don’t have one, but also because the EU would probably consider it littering), and it was never going to be solved by dumping it back in a republic that no longer even wants it except for a vague sense of self-righteousness. It’s clear that neither of those things would ever have worked. So for an interminable length of time, over and over again there have been possible compromises, and over and over again they have failed because someone has been a stubborn intractable bastard. And finally about 6 years ago it started to look like things really might someday work. Maybe not in 10 years, or 20, but on the relative scale of 800 years pretty soon. And then a pack of absolute fucking moronic bastards try to start the whole fucking thing right up again.

The Real IRA? You stupid fucks, it stands for Irish Republican Army, and the last real one of those has been gone for quite some time. What possible justification can anyone have for trying to start all this again? What possible fucking excuse? That it all isn’t perfect straight away? That it doesn’t have the name or the label you want on it? Or did you just miss shooting people? I bet life’s a lot less thrilling when it doesn’t involve explosives. I guess the employment rate for former paramilitary operatives isn’t so great either, not a whole lot of freelance rifle ranges in the north. Were you just sitting at home being fucking bored? Why don’t you go contract as private security guards in fucking Iraq, I hear its very lucrative for the average gun-obsessed psychopath.

Northern Ireland wasn’t fixed by a treaty, or parliament, or the dáil. It wasn’t fixed by a re-worded irish constitution or a unified police force, though those things certainly made it possible for it to someday be fixed. It will be fixed by the gradual passage of time, because eventually, someday, there won’t be a kid left who grows up knowing his dad was shot by those IRA bastards, or that he can’t use that taxi agency or go to that pub, or that the british army took his uncle and he never came back. There won’t be anyone who remembers soldiers pointing a gun at their father at the border while they search the boot of the car, or watching armed men in black masks turn over a lorry to make a roadblock in front of them.

I’m all for justice, really I am. But in this situation there is no justice. There is no-one to answer for everything that has happened, there is no vengeance to be had and there is no evening of the score. If there was ever a cause that justified this there is none left now. No score, and no cause, just generations of bullshit and pointlessness and misery. All anyone still inciting riots or shooting cops or smuggling in bombs is doing now is guaranteeing another generation before that can fade away.