Friday, August 31, 2007

The Seven Wonders of Dublin 15

There was a much-publicised survey recently to find the seven wonders of the modern world. Although many people treated it as an interesting piece of trivia, lobbying was feverish as governments eyed the billions of dollars in extra tourist revenue that could result from making the top seven.
In a similar way, the Community Voice also commissioned a survey to find the seven wonders of Dublin 15 in a bid to lure millions of foreign tourists to our neck of the woods and make us all rich. Sadly, the survey was not quite as extensive as had originally been envisaged, as both my wife and daughter merely raised their eyes to heaven and tutted when asked to contribute.
So, in no particular order, here is a list of my seven wonders of Dublin 15.
Possibly the most famous bridge in the whole world, the Clonsilla Bridge was constructed in 1500BC and was almost immediately declared too narrow to do the job. Nothing has altered much in the intervening 3,500 years. Today hordes of Japanese tourists pile out of coaches to take pictures of exasperated commuters taking their lives in their hands as they attempt to catch trains by squeezing in between the traffic and the bridge ramparts. This spectator sport has waned somewhat in recent months as extra trains have meant that the traffic is kept static for much of the time but the bridge is still deserving of being one of Dublin 15’s premier tourist attraction.
It is said that the Quinn Direct building is the only insurance building in Dublin 15 that can be seen from the moon, though this has been very difficult to prove. By far and away the tallest building in the area, this colossal structure has been likened to the Empire State Building, but only by very silly people. It has 97 storeys, though many of these are on the same level. But the main reason for its “wonder” status, is that when we are travelling along the bypass at night, I always say “Oh God, look at the queue!” and my wife is fooled every time.
Not too far from this magnificent structure is the “Games Workshop” unit by the yellow entrance in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. This choice might cause a few raised eyebrows and earlobes among adults as basically it is just an ordinary shop that happens to sell toy soldiers and warriors, just as Fields Jewellers sells diamonds and pearls and the Perfume Shop sells smelly water. However, this modest shop is perhaps unique in the western world in that not only are young people allowed inside without being spied on by suspicious security guards, but the assistants who work in the shop have a habit of treating them as adults and engaging in intelligent conversation with them!
My fourth choice as one of the wonders of Dublin 15 is the Urbus. Despite its name, this bus does not serve the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur (much to the confusion of Blanchardstown’s burgeoning Armenian population) but wends its merry way from Castleknock to Blanchardstown and onto the Airport and Swords. What makes it remarkable is that passengers travel in comfort and the buses are quite reliable. For those who have not enjoyed a journey on the Urbus, this may seem hard to believe in the context of the Greater Dublin Transportation System. In fact managers in Dublin Bus have been actively spreading rumours that the Urbus doesn’t actually exist and is really only the commuter’s version of Fiddlers Green or the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
No list of Dublin 15’s wonders would be complete without the now legendary St. Mochtas telephone mast, a beautiful and aesthetic structure that is the pride and joy of the surrounding estate. It is said that St. Mochta struck the ground with his staff three times and the telephone mast rose out of the ground and convinced the dumbstruck villagers to become Christians. Sir Christopher Wren is thought to have modelled the nave of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the mast and it has been reported that the dishes have picked up irregular radio signals from the vicinity of Betelgeuse that warrant further investigation by Jodrell Bank. However, rumour has it that mobile phone users nearby still have to go out into their back gardens to get a signal.
Another place that I would maintain merits a place on the must-see sights of the locality is the footbridge that crosses the M50 from Castleknock to the Royal Canal at the Twelfth Lock. Designed from an idea by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (namely, that a bridge should always span the distance between its two ends) this remarkable feat of engineering is one of the more unsung beauty spots of Dublin 15. There is nothing more relaxing than bringing one’s deckchair onto the bridge on a Friday afternoon, sitting back and soaking in both the gentle hum of the traffic beneath and the fragrant fumes wafting slowly upwards. If there is any place closer to heaven on earth, it has yet to be discovered.
Finally and after much deliberation, I have plumped for the Snugborough Road intersection for my final selection. What a well-thought-out feat of civil engineering this is! There are five busy roads all converging on one spot which certainly gave a headache to traffic management. Would they use fly-overs, or filters? No, the ingenious solution was that each road should take it in turns to have a green light. Brilliance! Around Christmas, it has been known for the 39 bus to take an hour in crossing this intersection and the resulting log jam has certainly cut down on the risk of accidents.
Of course I realise that my choice is purely arbitrary and my mind cringes with embarrassment as I take stock of all the eclectic sights and structures that have failed to make it to the top seven. The Fingal County Offices in Blanchardstown with their shimmering translucence – a fine house of residence for those dedicated people who work tirelessly on our behalf; the Coolmine Recycling Centre, currently being restored, with its architecturally playful use of colour and shape; Rugged Lane which sweeps down from Porterstown to the Strawberry Beds and was obviously designed by the same pygmy roadsmiths that designed Clonsilla Bridge; the Georgian sweep of the Crescent Shopping Centre in Mulhuddart; the deceptively simplistic and artisanal prefabricated unit that houses Castaheany Educate Together National School. The list is endless and it certainly goes to show what a rich heritage we have in Dublin 15.
All that I can say is that if you have any further suggestions for sites deserving of inclusion, then by all means jot them down on a postcard and send them in. The list is due for revision in two thousand years time. (Please note – you may vote as many times as you like.)

Chips, Sausage and Poached Eggs

“We don’t need no education,” chanted Pink Floyd on their hit single “Brick in the Wall,” and to be honest, as multi-millionaire rock stars, education is probably quite a long way down their list of requirements. The prospect of Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour sipping daiquiris on Martinique and discussing the latest list of evening classes at their local community centre requires too great a leap of imagination, even for Floyd heads.
However, for the rest of us, education has always been one way of maximising our options throughout the forty odd years of our working lives. The higher you ascend the educational ladder, the more jobs you are qualified to do. And the wider your choice of jobs, the more chance you have of actually enjoying your work.
Of course, the main charge levelled at education – usually by young people who aren’t willing to put in the graft – is that it has no relevance to the world outside. And there is a large amount of truth in this. In the thirty years since I was last dismissed from class, I have had absolutely no call to write a letter to a penpal in Nantes, I have never even seen a slide-rule, let alone used one, I have never brought up the imagery in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in conversation and I have never had occasion to mix potassium permanganate with magnesium sulphide over a Bunsen burner.
Educationalists will naturally argue that it is not what you know that is important – it is the fact that you have been able to digest, understand and, in a pressure situation, regurgitate all the information force-fed you over a two year period that makes you a good prospective employee. If you have shown the moral character to be able to write an authoritive essay on anchovy fishing off Peru (from memory) then you surely have some of the qualities required for a management role in a multinational company, the argument goes.
Right at the heart of this non-relevant education argument is the subject of Irish. Its boring, say the kids. I never use it outside school. Sure, everybody speaks English anyway.
The obvious answer is that Irish isn’t boring, just as Latin isn’t boring. What may be boring is the way that it is taught and there seems to be a perception in schools that Irish is being taught in a boring way by boring teachers. However, teachers who attempt to liven things up a bit and who avoid the tedious repetition of declensions should hold the attention of class for longer. I would even go so far as to make the use of hand puppets in Irish mandatory for all teachers.
And if you ever go down to Spiddal and ask the postmistress in the Spar for a stamp for your postcard as gaelige, you will know the great feeling of satisfaction when she responds in kind with a smile.
However the one subject that young people are taught nowadays which was totally ignored in our day is CSPE. Both my children took CSPE in school, yet for the life of me I can never remember what the letters stand for – hence the chips, sausage and poached eggs.
To be honest, I would have loved to have had CSPE in school. I emerged from school totally ignorant of the ways of the world. I could spout Iago’s “Reputation” speech to Othello but I had no idea about how a bank loan worked. I could calculate a hypotenuse with my eyes shut but I had no idea that councillors even existed, let alone what role they perform in society. And when I started work, I blindly accepted that my income tax was being deducted correctly because I knew no different.
While every member of our generation decries the appalling education standards of the current school population (just as the previous generation decried ours!) it is fair to say that the introduction of CSPE – along with Business Studies and Home Economics – is a major step forward in making schoolwork relevant. Children learn to explore – as opposed to being taught – topics like racism, immigration, trade unions, business trends, interview techniques and social welfare entitlements, which can only be a good thing. If your only exposure to immigration issues are clouded by a racist father or schoolfriends, chances are you will head in the same direction. If nothing else, at least the discussion of the issue shows that differing views exist.
What CSPE does, and what the education system in our day completely failed to do, is to prepare students to become active citizens who can participate in society in a meaningful way. Most of us are aware of our rights as citizens but not everybody is aware of the responsibilities that come with these rights. CSPE is instrumental in making children aware that life is not simply about being entitled to this and that.
In the reverse of the “Irish isn’t boring, it’s the teachers that are boring” argument, though, all the relevance in the world will not make children pay attention in class if CSPE is taught in a monotonal and unimaginative way. Droning on for an hour about Martin Luther King while Smudger and Notcher throw erasers at each other is not likely to be very productive. Though to be fair to schools, it is probably the one subject where teachers are encouraged to be unconventional, to use more teaching aids and to encourage class discussion and participation.
Having said all that, the notion that schoolwork should only concentrate on subjects that have a relevance to the real world is equally ludicrous. As my father always used to say – well, occasionally used to say – the more you know, the more interesting a person you are. We are all familiar with the guy in the workplace who only talks about football. Now, I enjoy talking about football – particularly if Shelbourne have won at the weekend – but I am confident I could join in a conversation on other subjects if they arose. Football guy can’t. Discuss share prices, the Holocaust, modern Irish poetry, golf, lunar eclipses or agriculture and he is struck dumb until the subject comes around to Robbie Fowler again. Ask him to balance his household budget and he’d probably reach for a pair of weighing scales. God help his poor wife.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A watery end

In a fit of environmental zeal last October, I splashed out on a water butt. I had been only too aware of the size of my environmental footprint (my wife had pointed it out etched on one of the tiles near the back door,) so I decided to reduce, reuse and regurgitate, or whatever the saying is. So, when I saw an advertisement for a water butt in my local free top quality newspaper, I felt the time had come to start protecting the planet for my children, neither of whom sees anything wrong in spending 30 minutes at a time in the shower.
To cut a long story short, Fingal County Council delivered the large green monstrosity promptly and it remained standing outside my back door for seven months while I contemplated assembling it.
Not that there should have been much to assemble – the blurb had said there was nothing to it but even so I knew things were never going to go smoothly. I’m not a DIY person. Flat packs can take me months to assemble. I hang wallpaper and come down the next morning to find it on the floor. Towel rails and toilet roll holders fall off the walls after three days.
Eventually, after much procrastination on my part and irritation on my wife’s, I took a deep breath and ventured forth. “I may be gone for some time,” I said as I closed the door like a latter day Captain Oates.
Actually I wasn’t gone very long at all. I came back in with the instructions. “Step one,” I read aloud to my wife. “Get a hacksaw and remove eight inches of your drainpipe about four feet from the ground.”
“That’s an end of that then,” said my wife, who is well aware of my deficiencies in anything practical. “You start cutting the drainpipe and the whole gable end is liable to come tumbling down.”
Call me stupid – and many people do – but I had never actually realised that you were supposed to connect the water butt up to your downpipe. I thought you just left it outside and you attached a tap and that was it. Notwithstanding my uselessness at sawing, we simply didn’t have the room down our very narrow side path to fit a butt without blocking in the wheelie bins.
“Okay, Plan B,” I said. “We just leave it outside the back door with the lid off and let it fill with rain water.
“If you think I’m going to spend my day staring at your butt outside the back door, you have another think coming,” replied my wife. “If we have visitors, all they will see is your butt. Think about it for a second.”
I thought about it for a second. “How about if I move my butt down by the shed?” I asked. “That way we can collect rainwater that rolls off the shed roof.”
“Yes, get your butt down to the end of the garden,” she replied and the finality in her voice left me in no doubt that there was no room for compromise.
The water butt had an inside part, like a huge plastic jelly mould, which I couldn’t really figure out what it was for. It had another piece to replace the eight inches of drainpipe (ho, hum) and a hose to connect butt and pipe, now also obsolete. It also had a tap which I dexterously fitted in to the only place possible – about an inch from the ground.
I removed the jelly mould and other bits and hauled my butt down to the shed, placing it strategically beneath the sloping roof. Then with great manual dexterity, that surprised even myself, I affixed the tap. Brilliant, I thought, standing back and admiring my handiwork.
Of course I soon spotted the flaw. If the tap was an inch from the bottom of the butt, how could you get a bucket or watering can under it, when you needed to water the garden?
Like Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot, I wrestled with this problem, scratching my chin and biting my bottom lip to show how seriously I was taking this. Then, just to be different, I scratched my bottom lip and bit my chin. This seemed to work, for the light bulb appeared over my head almost immediately.
I disappeared into the shed and re-emerged with one of the patio chairs bought in Tommy’s last September when they were selling them off. I placed the chair against the shed and then sat my butt into it. It nestled there snugly and the tap was now a good eighteen inches off the ground. Pure genius, I thought to myself and dislocated my shoulder trying to pat myself on the back.
As you are only too well aware, this year’s summer has been a trifle moist. Consequentially, my butt filled up very quickly, aided by the water collecting in the huge jelly mould which I also left by the shed and which I emptied regularly. Even my wife had to admit that for once I’d had a very good idea and that my contribution to the environment when/if the dry spell came would be immense.
Then, about a fortnight ago, in one of those rare relatively dry days that my wife and I managed to get out to survey the wreckage of our garden, I checked the butt to see how it was coming along. To my surprise, it was practically up to the top lip. “Just about full,” I said and carefully poured the contents of the huge jelly mould in on top. Perfect! I placed the lid on top to stop any water evaporating and forming more rain clouds and walked back up the garden.
The next sequence of events happened in a split second but, replaying it in my mind, it all seemed to happen in slow-motion. I heard a loud crack and turned. My wife, duelling a rampant pyrrhacantha with a pair of shears, screamed. The patio chair buckled as the leg snapped off under the weight and the water butt went crashing to earth, spilling the entire 200 litres of rainwater over a startled viburnum.
“You idiot!” was all my wife could gasp noiselessly as two months of assiduous rainwater collecting went crashing to earth.(Actually there might have been a third word in there in between “you” and “idiot” but I an still too traumatised to recall.) I reached the water butt and pulled it upright but there was less than a teaspoonful left inside it. I picked up the plastic chair leg and idly wondered how I could have expected one plastic chair to bear the weight of 200 litres of water. With a sinking heart I noticed too that in the fall, a large split had appeared down three-quarters of the length of the giant container.
“That’s it!” I said, turning away in disgust, already preparing myself for a lengthy stay in the kennel. “I’ve had enough of this environmental lark. You just end up breaking your butt for nothing.”

Chickens and Counting Them – a Ramble

We are often told not to count our chickens before they have hatched.
The phrase is normally expressed as a command, rather than a piece of homespun advice, which brings up the whole area of civil liberties. If I insist on counting my pre-hatched chickens, I should be allowed to do so without censure. Tut-tutting might be permitted and disapproval for my actions in jumping the gun might well be expressed, but the choice ultimately is mine. My grandfather did not die on the battlefields of Monte Cassino so that I should only be allowed to count my chickens when the powers that be say so. (Actually, he didn’t die on the battlefields on Monte Cassino at all, but hid in the wardrobe every time the military police called around to the house, but you get the point.)
Personally, though, it is very rare that I have actually counted chickens before they have hatched. I have of course counted eggs and I suppose that there is little I can do if my mind translates the unbroken shells into a picture of fluffy yellow chickens running around a farmyard. Counting eggs is of course perfectly okay according to the philosophers and indeed it is a necessity for those people who make a career out of packing the eggs into egg boxes. Pack in too few and the customer will be most disgruntled when he/she gets them home. Pack in too many and the lid won’t close, no matter how much you sit on it.
Not that I have had much opportunity for counting chickens since we moved to Dublin 15. We are hardly overrun with the little yellow flea-ridden feathery bundles. I have counted them occasionally in the supermarket when there have been very few and I intend registering a complaint to the meat manager. Of course these chickens are well-hatched, though judging by the state of them, they would have been better off remaining where they were.
Whereas the instruction not to count chickens while they are still in the shell might be sound advice to human beings, one would think that the Mother Chicken (or is it a Hen?) might be forgiven for doing a bit of forward planning. A mother who knows she is going to produce triplets might have to adjust some of her thinking on sleeping arrangements, equipment, bottles and asking the mother-in-law for help and I imagine that the Mother Hen (or is it a Chicken?) would be inclined to be the same. “I have six eggs,” she would say to herself, “and, if they all hatch, I will have six chicks.” (It is this sort of logic that makes you wonder why hens (or chickens) aren’t higher up the evolutionary pecking order.) “Therefore” – she would continue – “I will need to plan for feeding, rearing and educating six chicks after hatching.” It is only natural and one cannot really castigate a mother for dreaming.
The proverb is quite unclear as to whether it is acceptable to count chickens whilst hatching is actually in progress. In certain cases, this is instinctive. It is hard to say to yourself “Ah – a certain number are in the process of breaking out of their shells while a certain number have yet to do so.” There is also the very salient point first broached by Wittgenstein in his groundbreaking book “The psychology of farmyard animals” that a chicken’s egg that is actually hatching should not contain anything other than a chicken. “It is unlikely to contain a long-eared bat,” he chortled with that wicked Teutonic humour of his.
Of course it is absolutely imperative that you start counting the chickens after they have hatched (If you are a member of the younger generation, you may bring a calculator as there could be anything up to ten of them) If you fail to count them, one might slip under the bit of wire at the bottom of the yard and you mightn’t even notice. The poor little chick would then be at the mercy of any amount of predators that like to prey on uncounted chickens like hyenas, pterodactyls, certain species of whales etc
Again, if a chicken wanders off and you move house suddenly, the little beastie is unlikely to find its way to your new home. We have all heard heartwarming stories about families who throw a stick for the family dog to fetch and then move to Ulan Bator, only to find the poor wretch whimpering on the doorstep of their yurt six months later. Chicks do not have the same sort of homing instinct as dogs, although they would be unlikely to be fooled by the fetch-the-stick trick in the first place. Only by the scientific approach of “counting them” can you be assured that they are all packed safely in the suitcase for the long journey.
In days of yore, the ancient Celts used to employ chicken-counters who would be responsible for the inventory of chickens within the tribe. The chicken-counter was much exalted though not as much as the Druid, who seemed to get more perks. A little-known story from the Four Annals describes how Niall (of the Nine Sausages fame) once caught his chicken-counter hovering over a nest of eggs with a notebook and pencil in hand and had him hung, drawn and quartered until he said sorry.
During the Great Famine, the role of the chicken-counter all but disappeared in rural Ireland as most birds ended up on the dining room table an hour after emerging from the shell. Many turned their attention to root vegetables, though the job satisfaction was not as great. “Turnips,” one demoralised counter recounted in his memoirs, “do not run around. They are too easy to count.” With the advent of the steam engine, many farmers found they had time to learn the rudiments of counting themselves, which completely demystified the chicken counting art. Many counters were forced to emigrate or consider a career change, although some still eked out a living until the end of the nineteenth century.
I am approaching fifty years old and have never been involved in a traumatic incident to do with eggs or indeed chickens, though a fried egg once slipped out of a sandwich into my lap while I was waiting to be called for an interview. This blissful existence I attribute to having followed the above maxim assiduously for most of my life and I would urge all Dublin 15 residents to do the same. Counting chickens and eggs simply do not mix and those people seeking spiritual nirvana are advised to eschew all temptation to do so.

Prime indicators

The older I get, the more I realise just how many simple tasks I am unable to perform. I have never been able to blow bubbles with bubble-gum. I have never been able to whistle without pursing my lips into an O, I cannot do backward tumbles in the swimming pool and I cannot touch my toes without bending my legs. Nor can I change sparkplugs, do simple tiling, draw, sew on a button with any degree of rigidity or pretend to be angry without giggling.
There is however one small task which seemingly only I and a handful of others seem able to do with any regularity – indicating.
Now, to me, it doesn’t seem a difficult thing to do. I want to let everybody know I am turning left. My left hand moves two inches off the steering wheel and flicks upwards. At most, the operation takes a quarter of a second. I do not feel physically drained after doing this, nor do I feel the need to pull over and massage my aching wrist. The manoeuvre has not taken very much out of me and I have fulfilled my objective in letting everybody know that I intend turning left.
I am immensely surprised however that more drivers don’t seem to have the ability to do the same. Maybe, I tell myself charitably, that they have cars in which the indicators are located behind the passenger seat and it is a considerable hardship to operate them. Maybe, I suggest to myself (though I suspect I am not listening), they have fragile left wrists and are suffering from repetitive strain injury through over-indicating. Or maybe, and here I find myself nodding sadly in agreement, maybe they just can’t be bothered.
Sitting in my car at a busy roundabout, I find myself wishing disgusting toe infections on drivers who suddenly veer off to their left when I had been expecting them to go straight ahead. Sometimes, after it happens three or four times, I extend the curse to their kith and kin and to all their descendants in perpetuity. If, in 200 years time, half the country walks with an exaggerated limp, they need not pester the doctors for answers, as they will only have their ancestors to blame.
In these heated moments, I find myself marvelling at how ineffectual penalty points are. If we had cameras on every roundabout and fined everyone, say, €1,000 for every time they didn’t indicate, think how much joy would be brought to people’s lives. As well as the fine, drivers should be made to sit their test again or at least should be sent back to indicator school, where world-weary instructors can stress upon them the need for communication on today’s roads.
Alternatively, the Japanese could be encouraged to develop cars that indicate automatically whenever they are turning at a junction. An irritating, disembodied voice, preferable in a Jade Goody accent, could demand of a driver which way they are turning at the oncoming roundabout and indicate accordingly. If the driver fails to respond, the question could be repeated ad nauseum in progressively severe tones of voice.
Almost as annoying as the drivers who can’t be bothered indicating are the ones who indicate at the last moment, as a kind of afterthought. What good is that to anyone trying to anticipate a break in the traffic? Indicating once you have actually turned the corner serves no purpose whatsoever and you might as well not bother.
Dr. Wilhelm Grossenfahrter, from the European Institute of Road Etiquette in Leipzig, believes that a pathological failure to indicate is genetic rather than behavioural. “We have isolated the gene that is responsible for indicating and preliminary tests show that this gene is not present in almost 131% of non-indicators,” he claims. “It is also true to say that people who have this gene twice are more likely to operate their hazard lights by accident.”
The Crown Prince Franz Josef was a notorious non-indicator and it has been claimed that his blasé attitude to roundabouts was a major cause of Serb dissatisfaction with the of the Austrian Empire, particularly around the Sarajevo area. Field Marshall Goering, too, used to enrage Hitler by indicating wrongly when turning into Unter den Linden in Berlin. “Indicate right until the turn before the one you want and then indicate left!” Hitler would scream, sweeping the Corgi cars off the table in his bunker in a fit of pique. On these occasions, Martin Bormann would be prevailed upon to demonstrate and he would pretend to drive around the table making ticking noises until the Field Marshall said he understood, which often took several hours.
The great roundabout crisis of 1963 nearly led the world into nuclear war. Kruschev was adamant that there was no need to indicate when travelling straight ahead at a roundabout but Kennedy stood firm. “Ich bin ein Indicator,” he told a million cheering Volkswagen enthusiasts at a rally in Memphis, though not many of them spoke German. Kruschev responded by threatening to pull the indicators out of every Lada in Eastern Europe but backed down when he realised the amount of time it would take him.
Of course the most famous non-indicator of the modern era was Nelson Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island for the crime of “failing to indicate at a road junction,” which was a comparatively lenient sentence for black offenders under the Apartheid regime of the time. Mandela’s claim that he was “walking” at the time was laughed out of court, although his incarceration led to worldwide calls for reform of the rules of the road in South Africa.
“If everybody indicated correctly on roundabouts, the world would be a happier place,” sang Bob Dylan at Woodstock and his melancholy lyrics ring as true today as they did then. In Australia, they have experimented with road signs saying “Have you indicated yet, you lousy wombat?” on the approaches to major junctions and in Italy, a major advertising campaign called “Si, si, indicatore, signore” featured a Genoese model who stripped down to her bikini bottoms to get the message home. George Bush has recently said that he is in favour of bombing countries that don’t share the American ideals of free speech, democracy and indicating, while Condoleezza Rice nodded sagely in the background muttering “God bless America.”
I have a dream – yea verily I have a dream – that one day all the people of the world will unite in their approach to communication on the highways of this world and Bob Dylan’s seemingly utopian view of life on earth will in fact become a reality.
In the meantime, I will continue to spit curses at offenders.

A very kind gentleman tactfully pointed out in the following edition of the paper, that if I move my hand upwards, I would in fact be indicating right not left. Mea culpa!

Sleeping on it

I used to think we lived in a quiet neighbourhood. Let me rephrase that. We do live in a quiet neighbourhood. Its just that I never realised until recently just how many different degrees of quiet there are.
My situation in work has changed recently, with the result that some months I work at nights. As such, I have joined that small band of people who have to sleep during the day. My wife and I discussed this – should I go to sleep immediately on coming home, or should I hold off until the middle of the day? It was decided to pursue the latter course as everybody else in the house would be getting up in the morning and I would keep getting disturbed by Krispies snapping, crackling and popping away in the bowls.
So at the ungodly hour of 11 o’clock when most decent people are safely ensconced in their offices, I got undressed and settled down to what I hoped was a good six hours sleep.
The first thing you notice is the light. It really is quiet unnatural to think about sleep with the sun streaming in through the curtains. I tried shutting my eyes, but obviously my eyelids are made of the same material as our curtains because the sun still got through. Only by turning away from the window and burying my face in the pillow did I manage to convince myself it was the middle of the night.
And then it started.
I was just nodding off when from an estate behind us, a house alarm went off. Obviously someone had put a pizza flyer through a door with too sensitive an alarm and all hell had broken loose. Its amazing how house alarms don’t like pizza notices.
My double glazed window was shut but it was still like a workman operating a jackhammer in the bed beside me (don’t worry – I checked and it wasn’t.) From bitter experience, I knew that if it was not turned off immediately this would keep running for another fifteen minutes and then at fifteen minute intervals during the day. Reluctantly, I grabbed my alarm clock, shut the bedroom door behind me, moved to a bed in the front of the house, shut that door behind me and hopped into bed for a second time.
The sound of the infernal alarm was much muffled here and it was something I could live with. At any rate, it disproved my wife’s theory that I would sleep through World War III. I settled down again and soon started to nod off for a second time.
Just prior to the point of no return, when you cross the Rubicon into sleep, the door bell rang. I ignored it, listening. It rang again. I waited. Why wasn’t my wife answering it? For the third time, it rang. I swung out of bed, opened the bedroom door and was halfway down the stairs when my wife came out of the kitchen and beat me to the front door. It was the postman with a package for my daughter. I turned back on my heel and went back to bed.
By this time I was wide awake. On the rare occasions when this happens, I have a perfect plan for spiralling into the arms of Morpheus. I imagine a football match.
Don’t laugh. I play out a fictitious football game from the kick off in my imagination. One player tips it to another, he plays it back to the midfielder, who sprays it out wide to the left full back who, under pressure, plays it down the line, for the defender to head it out. I guarantee you it works. Twenty passes into the game and I’m gone.
This time, however, my inside right (kids, ask your dad) had just made a cunning foray down the channel when he was brought up suddenly by a loud “Caw!” For a moment Graham Poll looked at his whistle with a puzzled expression, but when a second, slightly higher-pitched “Caw!” came, I realised with a groan that two killer crows (my wife’s expression – they spook her) were having a conversation on the gutter above my bedroom window.
I don’t speak crow (it wasn’t on the syllabus in school) but I suspect they were discussing which over-full wheelie bin to ransack next. Wearily, I got up on my knees and opened the window violently. A sudden flurry of wings told me that they had decided to carry on their conversation elsewhere.
I flopped down on the bed, feeling a bit apprehensive. I needed to sleep.
For the first time in my life, I could see what bad sleepers have to contend with every night. They are anxious that they can’t sleep, so they don’t sleep. It’s a Catch 22, (rather than a Catch 40 winks) situation.
I went back to my football match but no sooner had an over-zealous midfielder gone clattering into his opposite number, than I heard the tell-tale sign of a lawnmower spluttering into life. Squinting out of the side of the curtain, I could see a man several doors down getting to work on his front lawn. I remember I had passed his garden a couple of days ago and thought absently that it needed a cut. I had a vague notion that the man also worked nights. Maybe he had given up trying to sleep and was mowing the grass instead, I thought ruefully.
I tried reading while the lawnmower clattered away out front and the house alarm scythed through the air out back. Reading normally puts me to sleep. However, this book, “Great Chartered Accountants of the Late Renaissance Period” (later made into a film starring Ernest Borgnine and a soundtrack by Lionel Ritchie) was fascinating and I read page after page before I realised that all was quiet in the neighbourhood.
With great reluctance, I lay the book down on the floor beside me and rolled over. Centre-forward to inside-left. Knocks it back to centre-half, diagonal ball down the wing…
Someone in the street walks past the house at the end of the road. This is fatal as the house has a big stupid dog in the side entrance who howls with fury every time somebody walks by. He’s off again now, paying not the blindest bit of notice to the unfortunate passer by, head back, running up and down, howling like a banshee. This alerts another dog several doors down, who begins to bark in empathy. Somewhere far off, a terrier yaps away like a demented woodpecker. I wrap the pillow around my head and wait for the din to die down.
The ice-cream van comes around. The man on the little tractor starts to mow the green opposite the house. The dogs start yowling again. The wheelie bin truck makes his round to thwart the killer crows. I pick up the Accountants book again and read to the end of the car chase on page 58. Silence reigns.
Centre-forward to inside-left. Tries to beat a man. Is fouled. Free kick. Opposition player protests. Ref changes his mind. No, he doesn’t, that’s silly. Three doors down, someone opens a car door without realising the alarm is on. I’ve done the same a hundred times. Alarm goes off. Fumble for the remote control. Alarm goes off again after five seconds. No harm done.
Except there’s a man in a bedroom in a nearby house screaming at the top of his lungs as his wife rushes upstairs to see what’s the matter.

Making memories

While rummaging through the rubbish bins at the rear of the Tyrellstown Plaza Hotel, (as I am wont to do on fine Summer evenings,) I came across a crumpled sheet of paper which I proceeded to unfold. It had evidently been an entry for the recent Fingal County Council “Memory Makers 2007” competition (essay section) but had not made the grade. This may have had something to do with the words “factually incorrect” being emblazoned across the text in red biro.
However, after reading through the essay, I have decided to reproduce it here, as I feel it will be of interest to people of a certain age (over 115)
“I was born in a little cottage in Blanchardstown near the Tolka River. The cottage has since been pulled down to make way for a fire hydrant. That’s progress, I suppose.
“My father was one of the first astronauts in the country but it was not an easy occupation in those days. He was often out of work for long periods of time, when he used to sit by the hearth and yearn for the birth of space travel. He had been arrested by the Black and Emeralds (a more fashion-conscious offshoot of the Black and Tans) during the Civil War and only avoided summary execution by lying about his sex.
“My mother hailed from county Roscommon. She had walked to Dublin barefoot for the Eucharist Conference in 1932 and ended up squatting in a house in Brunswick Street with two Mesopatamian dope-fiends. My father had rescued her from this den of iniquity when his lunar module crashed through the roof in 1934.
“I had 32 brothers and sisters, most of whom had rickets. The others used to pretend they had rickets because they thought that was the norm. We all used to attend St. Whoopi’s National School (now The Mace) in Blanchardstown. I remember one of my teachers was called Mr. Goering. He had a cane and used to administer six on the rump whenever anyone spoke in class, even when he asked them a direct question.
“Mother used to work at Comerford’s Little Bits of Plastic that you find on the Back of Sticking Plasters Factory in Chapelizod (now the River Liffey) The company employed 20,000 people in its heyday until it inexplicably went bankrupt one week later. Mother used to work from 4am to 3am the next morning, seven days a week with Christmas morning off. Oftentimes she’d be held up on her way home by comely maidens dancing at the crossroads and have to turn around and go back into work before she arrived home. It was a hard life but I think she was happy
“Of course we had no television to entertain us in those days. Every evening the whole family would huddle together and stare at the corner of the room, waiting for it to be invented. I remember the first television set that appeared in the village. It was in the window of Lionel Richie’s Hardware Emporium on Main Street (now a tree) and it attracted a huge crowd until Maxie “Mad Fecker” Murphy took an axe to it to see if there really was a little man inside of it or not.
“When I was sixteen, I was sweet on a boy called Notcher Farragher, son of the village’s computer analyst. When he found out I was with child, he ran away to join the Navy until he discovered that it entailed a lot of travelling on water and joined the Army instead. I heard later that he had fallen in the Korean War but escaped with a badly stubbed toe.
“When I told my father that I was pregnant, he became acutely distressed, as he had always assumed I was a boy. “James,” he said. “The priest won’t like this.” Sure enough Father Away de Betta (a visiting Dutch cleric) came to the door with a roaring red face, threatening damnation and the workhouse. I hid in the scullery as Father confronted him on the doorstep. At first I thought it was going to come to blows but the whole incident was settled amicably by a game of kerb football. However, when the time came for the baby to be born, the midwife discovered that I, and I quote, was “just plain fat.” Oh we were naïve in those days.
“Because times were hard, most of my brothers and sisters emigrated to England and America, where people with rickets were much in demand. My father contemplated emigrating to Cape Canaveral when the space programme started but a letter from John Glenn advised him that his wooden leg would likely put a hole in his spacesuit. This seemed to crush him completely and he spent the rest of his life sitting on a stool in the back garden staring up at the sky, while my mother entreated him to come in out of the rain.
“I got a job in Jacob’s writing the word “NICE” in capital letters on the biscuits. Later I was promoted to drawing cows on the malted milks. “You draw great cows,” my supervisor used to say. “You have a great future ahead of you.” Sadly it was not to be and I was made redundant by the influx of a large group of Hungarian bovine-artists after the failed uprising of 1956.
“In the meantime, I had married a man named Denzel O’Loughlin who was apprenticed to a shepherd out in Luttrellstown. “Jobs may come and jobs may go,” he used to say with great insight, “but there’ll always be shepherds in Dublin 15.” After a year, I had triplets (one of each) and the following Spring I had twins. Three months later another set of triplets and by the end of the year another set of twins. It was a hard life but we managed. The older children, once they learned to walk, used to mind the younger children until my husband came home from a hard day shepherding.
“I remember the first car we bought. It was a little Morris Minor and the twelve of us used to go for trips to Skerries which to us seemed like the end of the world. Myself and Denzel used to paddle in the sea while the kids buried each other in the sand. One time the tide came in and they were all drowned. But we were happy.”
I think I may appeal to the Memory Makers committee about the reasons for excluding this exceedingly moving piece on the grounds that its relationship with the truth might be somewhat strained. Just because it all may be a pack of lies does not mean that the facts may not exist in somebody’s head.

Shinners and grinners

I don’t know if anybody noticed but a general election campaign has been going on for the last month or so. Seemingly the more posters you can put up around the constituency, the more the electorate think that you’re the man or woman for the job. Poster hanging is of course a vital part of running a Government and those who can shin up lampposts at local level are destined for great things.
Speaking of Shinners, the redoubtable Felix Gallagher was first out of the traps, getting his large Gerry’s-buddy election posters up a full week before Bertie called into the Aras. Unfortunately, he chose to locate them on the rear of showhouse signs which were removed from roundabouts on the Sunday evening.
One thing about Felix, though – he sports a most engaging smile on his poster, as do most of his party colleagues around the country. His casual grin was seen in many places where other candidates feared to tread, on out-of-the-way lampposts, far from the mainstream spots favoured by the other parties.
One unusual feature of the SF posters was the addition, a few days before the election, of little Irish flags. Now I assume they weren’t suggesting it is in some way patriotic to vote Sinn Fein, so I took it as a helpful little reminder that the election was being held in Ireland. In the last election, I spent hours wandering around Antwerp trying out my pidgin Flemish, before being told that I should go to the Mary Mother of Hope polling station in Castaheany, so Felix’s little reminder ensured I did not repeat the mistake.
Brian Lenihan was another smiler, beaming down with all the confidence of a man who knows his seat is safe and that he doesn’t really need to put these posters up to get elected but he doesn’t want to appear arrogant. He obviously favours the same passport photographer as his running mate Gerry Lynam, judging by the identical dark green curtain pulled behind them.
Gerry is not smiling in his poster. He obviously knows that he hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected and sees no point in flashing the teeth. What surprises me though is that nobody in the Soldiers of Destiny took Gerry aside and told him that moustaches hadn’t had a place in Fianna Fail since the 1970s, with the exception of, erm, Willie O’Dea. As it stands, Gerry’s photo reminds one vaguely of the bad man who used to tie the girl to the railway track in silent movies.
Another who was not best served by her party’s electoral machine was the Labour candidate Joan Burton. I mean, let’s face it, Joan is a damned sexy woman and you would have thought her posters would reflect that, just as a football team always plays to its strengths. Now I’m not saying she should have gone as far as a bikini and a beach ball, but at least she could have clamped a red rose seductively between her teeth, and worn a long flowing scarlet dress with a slit up her thigh. But no, they missed the opportunity of a lifetime and showed this bombshell only from the shoulders up.
A week before the campaign ended, a second Joan poster went up. This was of a younger Joan, more sultry, yes, but still only from the neck up. Her bob haircut made her look like a member of a 1960s girl singing group – the Rabbettes? – and perhaps hinted at the raver we fancy she used to be.
One thing about the Burton posters though – because of the brevity of her name and the white background, her posters were easily legible when travelling up the new Ongar Rd at 80kms per hour (sorry that should read 49kms per hour, officer) It occurred to me that if Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink should ever go into politics, he would need extra wide posters to fit his name on.
Fine Gael candidate Leo Varadkar easily won the prize for putting up the most posters in the constituency. Barely had RTE breathlessly announced the date of the election, and Leo the Statesman posters were going up on every third lamppost. Obviously deciding that this was not enough, another set of posters went up a week later, and then, with even his finances surely running low, a third set of posters went up a further week after that.
The first poster was of a serious yet compassionate Leo, backed by a blue sky and white fluffy clouds. He also seemed to be standing in the middle of a field surrounded by hedges and trees, probably to give the impression of a down-to-earth man, a real salt of the earth type. The second poster was of a much younger, misty-eyed Leo, in the days before he could afford a jacket, that appeared to have been resurrected from a previous election campaign. And the third one, which he obviously thought would help to sway the floating voter, was a diamond-shaped effort urging people to vote him number one.
The Socialist Party was very quick off the mark, with their first posters going up by the time Bertie had got out onto Infirmary Road. Joe Higgins was the only one of the candidates to be photographed in black and white, which some might say mirrors his politics. Again, his posters appeared to have been recycled from a previous campaign and one would suspect his election budget was just a tiny percentage of Leo’s. Less bin charges for Joe l presume.
The two late-comers to the poster frenzy were Roderic O’Gorman and Mags Murray. Roderic for the Greens somehow managed to end up with many prime location spots all to himself, though P.D.’s Mags, who concentrated mainly on junctions, often ended up sitting on top of Gerry Lynam or Felix Gallagher, or both.
Roderic had probably the most attractive poster with the green and white background, urging us all in the Littlepace Gaeltacht to make “an rogha cheart.” Alone of the candidates, he favoured the slightly oblique stance, turning sideways to look at the camera, as practised at the beginning of 1970’s American soap operas. True, Leo was at a slight angle in his field but that was probably because a bull was eying him menacingly and he was preparing for a quick getaway.
Mags went in for blue in a way favoured by Picasso in the early 1900s. Her blue mascara matched her blue eyes and her blue dress with Leo’s blue sky in the background. Curiously she sported what appeared to be Queen Maeve’s torc in her election photo and looked a bit like a young Twink advertising her latest pantomime in the Gaiety. Still with her long blonde hair wafting gently in the breeze, she posed coquettishly in a way that should be copied by Joan in the next election.
But perhaps I am being too critical. I had occasion during the campaign to travel down to the Longford / Roscommon constituency and was deeply traumatised by the ugly-looking ibexes they have adorning the lampposts down there. Mothers, I am told, keep their children locked in during the day and even adults go about their business with their eyes fixed firmly on the paths. Compared to them, our bunch of candidates are positively good-looking and, if truth be known, would probably form one of the more attractive ballot papers in the country.
One thing is for sure, though. Like Christmas decorations, the place is going to look really bare when they come down.

The lawn forcement agency

It is one of the few consolations of our long, dreary winter months that the lawnmower can stay firmly nestled in the shed, untouched, unloved and forgotten. Few things in life give me such perverse joy as unplugging the infernal thing for the final time in late September and returning it to its natural home beneath the gardening gloves, one welly and a host of partly-deflated footballs.
Grass, the experts tell us – (they have experts in grass?) – will not grow below 5°C. This is not through any design of nature. It simply refuses to do so and who can blame it? If I had no financial concerns, I too would willingly hibernate for six months of the year.
Unfortunately these days there may or may not be an entity called Global Warming, depending on which paper you read and whichever day you read it. These winters, we rarely get enough snow to build a snowman’s lower appendages and the mercury regularly creeps up above this magical 5°C mark between October and March.
One of my abiding principles in life, along with always changing your clothes after you have a bath, is to do nothing in the garden before April 1st, except maybe look at it from the kitchen window. The garden books all give us little jobs to do during the winter months like raking up leaves and preparing soil but I see no earthly point in any of it. Besides, its always raining.
This year, however, such was the mildness of the winter, that I contemplated breaking the rule of a lunchtime and lugging my old green pal out of the shed a whole month early. Actually, to my abject horror, one Saturday afternoon in January – yes January – I even heard the old familiar sound of a lawnmower engine in a nearby garden and I had to higher up Lionel Ritchie on the radio lest my wife heard it too and started getting ideas.
So, come mid-March, the grass was not yet out of hand but could certainly have done with a short back and sides. Two things stopped me. Every time I had a bit of spare time, it rained. (This happens a lot actually and I’m starting to get paranoid about it.) And we were going off on holiday on April 1st. If I could just reach that date, I could extend my non-grass-cutting hiatus by a further fortnight.
With a couple of days to go before we jetted off to what was a disappointingly chilly Orlando on our very early summer holidays, the heavens opened and I knew I was safe.
In line with our general holiday experiences, while we were donning sweatshirts and shivering in Downtown Disney (I have the photos to prove it), Ireland enjoyed one of those glorious fortnights that come only too rarely. The good citizens of this country should really have a whip round and send me away on holidays more often if they want to see some improvement in the meteorological situation. Evelyn Cusack would be able to explain to a gleeful public that “Peter Goulding is away on his holliers so a big H is coming in from the Atlantic and preparing to settle over Ireland.”
The fine weather, of course, allied to the previous showery weather, meant there was no need to ask mad Mary Mary Quite Contrary how her garden grew. Like wildfire, I think the answer was (how do cockleshells make a garden grow?) When we pulled up outside the house on our return, the dense foliage all but obscured our abode and it was only through checking our neighbour’s gardens, that we worked out through a process of elimination where our house should be.
We had actually left our two late teen offspring in the house in our absence but in the scramble to pack our t-shirts and shorts (ho! ho!), I had neglected to draw a map outlining the route from the kitchen door to the shed, so the grass had remained uncut.. Only it wasn’t just grass – nature had sought to reclaim what had once been hers and had really gone to town. There were shrubs and trees and dandelions as big as sunflowers and other exotic green things that looked decidedly tropical in nature.
I got away with it for about three days, claiming jet lag, which is really just a posh person’s way of saying “I couldn’t be arsed.” There was also so much to be done inside the house, I claimed, that we needed to prioritise the work. We can’t expect to get everything back in order immediately, I said, as my wife raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
For the next week or so, I would pull back the net curtains and peer despairingly at the vast expanse of blue sky. “Looks like rain,” I would mutter. I even dug out an old Community Voice article about a workshop in the Library where Monica Shannon and the great people of the Dublin 15 Environmental Group were asking people to “garden for wildlife” and let portions of their garden run wild to encourage a greater biodiversity.
What made matters worse is that in our absence, all our neighbours had taken advantage of the fine spell to diligently mow and trim their lawns so that our patch stuck out like the proverbial aching digit. Like the new proposed Eye and Ear Hospital, it was a site for sore eyes. I knew I had to tackle it eventually but I was still in holiday mode, I said. Just a few days more.
The leaflets started coming in through the door. Do you need your lawn mowed? they asked, obviously rhetorically. I wonder do the people who deliver these leaflets only post them into houses with scruffy gardens? The reason I ask is that they never seem to come when my grass has just been cut. I know it is time to wash my windows when somebody pushes a leaflet through my letterbox offering me a window cleaning service. Come to think of it, there’s no need for my wife to post a job list on the fridge – she can simply pile the flyers up on the hall table and I’ll work through them one by one.
The final straw came when I came home from work one evening and my wife recounted that she had seen a troop of Masai warriors, carrying an okapi on a long pole, emerging out of our back garden in single file. I sensed she was exaggerating slightly but when she is in one of her sarcastic moods, its best not to challenge her.
Still, I managed to achieve a new personal best by not cutting the grass until the last week in April. This will be the new benchmark for future years and when I see grown men struggling to turn Black and Deckers around impossible corners in February, I will sit my enthralled grandchildren on my knees and recount to them proudly how in the Spring of 2007 I nearly made it to May without cutting the grass.

The Castlehuddart Principality

As some of you may already have surmised, this is an election year and the posturing and manoeuvrings have already begun. Already one senses a certain weariness, if not the sound of outright snoring, on the part of the electorate who see little to excite them in the impending bout of oral and verbal fisticuffs. The Government parties are promising to maintain the status quo, despite the fact that they haven’t produced anything decent since “Down Down, Deeper and Down” in 1976 and the opposition parties are promising “radical change,” in the very political and humorous sense of the word “radical.”
In setting up the Castlehuddart Devolution Party – I am keen not to alienate the two major hubs of Dublin 15 – I believe that the only way to effect real and lasting change in the area is to vote BDP.
For too long, the good citizens of this green and pleasant suburb have been held to ransom by near-sighted planners, greedy developers and shopping trolleys with bockety wheels. We said we wanted extra places for our children in local schools and they gave us longer benches. We said we wanted a fast and reliable transport system and they pointed us towards the footwear in Lifestyle. We said we wanted proper health care for all and they gave us an Anadin. And the worst crime of all was doing away with Roches Stores (or so my wife maintains)
It is a general principal of life and business that the smaller an organisation or political entity, the more efficiently it runs. The kibbutz in Israel generally operates well and is probably closest to the ideas that Karl Marx had before he chose to make the foray into Hollywood with Groucho and Harpo. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was ultimately too unwieldy and declined and fell in much the same way that the Roman empire did 1500 years previously.
The sad fact of the matter is that no matter what prospective candidates say about prioritising this area after the election, they will have to contend with every other area in the country looking for their own area to be prioritised. And despite our relatively small population, our politicians have yet to come up with a way of pleasing all the people all of the time, though mass resignations might bring a smile to most people’s faces.
Here in the CDP (current membership of one, though I’m trying hard to get my wife and children to join through bribery) we (a royal “we” obviously) believe (and fully subscribe to the fact that) sentences (of all lengths) should contain as many brackets as is (humanly) possible. We also believe that only through total devolution from the island of Ireland (north and south) can the citizens of Blanchardstown, Castleknock and surrounding areas hope to achieve their full potential.
If we come to power – and in all honesty, a good old-fashioned coup d’etat seems more promising than an electoral victory – we would immediately close all borders with the rest of Ireland and insist that all non-residents must wear a funny hat if they wish to use our roads. This might not generate much income but if would lift the spirits of hard-pressed commuters travelling home from the foreign townships of Cabra and Glasnevin.
All citizens will of course require Castlehuddart passports and like Greenland we will secede from the EU, making our off-licences and pubs duty-free and thus generating a day-tripper tourist industry to avail of cheap drink. The first thing we will do when our status is ratified by the United Nations will be to apply to FIFA to host the World Cup in 2016, with matches to be played at Verona, Corduff, Parslickstown, Porterstown and possibly St. Brigid’s, if we can negotiate a fee with them. Obviously this will also mean Champions League action for Whitestown United or Castleknock Celtic or whoever wins the domestic league.
We will stand firm on law and order, as we believe both are very good things to have, particularly order. This will be funded by the money collected in the fountain in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre.
All building of houses and estates will cease forthwith and in fact we will pull a few of the newer ones down again and plant grass and thistles. We have also conducted extensive surveys and believe that the optimum solution to Clonsilla Bridge is to re-route the canal around the far side of the railway station and widen the road. All cars over 1.4 litres will be debarred from displaying witty signs in the back windows and we will of course push for Roches Stores to be reintroduced into the area. (Some people may regard this as a cynical ploy to go for the women’s vote but frankly it is the men who are suffering through listening to their wives moaning about the store’s demise.)
We will build another 37 bridges across the M50 to help alleviate traffic congestion on the N3 and we will also push strongly for the Phoenix Park to be cobble-locked to get rid of the jams on its frankly inadequate roads. This will also generate a considerable saving for the Parks Department of our neighbouring country which they can then use to promote environmental awareness.
The soon-to-be-renamed National James Connolly Memorial Hospital will receive its long-awaited scanner, purchased through Government funding in Dixon’s with a free printer thrown in. The hospital waiting list will be dramatically reduced by the simple means of making more lists with fewer people on each.
Abbotstown will be rezoned as a luxury holiday resort, complete with blue flag beach, casino and lots of scantily-clad women strolling around eating choc-ices to entice in tourists from the mainland. It will also feature Joe Higgins World, a Disney-type theme park dedicated to the indefatigable campaigner. Excited children and adults will be strapped into black wheelie bins and hurtled around gigantic rollercoasters at absolutely no extra cost to the hard-pressed taxpayer.
As regards to the administration of the new principality, I have toyed with the idea of democracy but feel it probably wouldn’t work. Just as you don’t get schoolchildren to vote for their choice of principal, democracy entails people who know nothing about politics having a say in who runs the country. It also entails the extra needless expense of ballot boxes, voting slips and pencils.
Instead, I would be broadly in favour of establishing a benign dictatorship with myself naturally on the throne. I realise fully that this onerous task will require a great deal of sacrifice on my part but in the interests of the community I am prepared to put the common good before my own personal well-being. Besides I thought of it first.

The Magic Composter

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, close to the border with county Meath, there lived a man and a woman and their two teenage children in a nice semi-detached house in a nice estate. They were happy in their home because they used to live in the middle of the big, bustling city where there was a lot of noise. Here on the edge of suburbia, they had a bit of a garden and could enjoy the relative peace and quiet.
Now the woman of the house was a keen environmentalist. She was determined that she could help to make the world a better place for their children to live in and so she became a committed recycler. She would always sort her rubbish and would make sure that nothing went into the black bin that could be used again.
Her husband was not a committed recycler but he agreed with schemes that saved money. “Careful with money” was how generously minded folk described him and he willingly went along with his wife’s recycling because it saved on the amount of times the black bin had to go out for collection.
The children, who don’t really appear in this story very much, were not all that bothered about recycling but were more interested in somebody called Justin Timberlake. However they would share in the recycling for fear of being told off.
Now the recycling was going well. The woman would wash and squash plastic bottles and cut the little see-through windows off business envelopes in order to maximise the amount of waste that could be recycled. The man would gather up their unsolicited junk mail and return it to the sender in the freepost envelope provided. The woman would make the man wash the car with a thimbleful of water, in order to safeguard this valuable resource for future generations and woe betide anybody who left the cold tap running while cleaning their teeth.
Then one day, the woman said to her husband, “Peter,” – for that was his name, coincidentally the same as my own – “Peter, I think we should get a composter.”
“What is a composter?” replied Peter, who was slightly dim, though in his defence had only ever lived in city houses with concrete paved back yards.
The woman tutted deprecatingly. “A composter is a big green plastic container. I have heard all about it. You put all your organic waste in at the top, and out of the bottom comes lovely rich dark compost which will make your roses grow tall and strong and will save you lots of money on fertiliser.”
Of course it was the final phrase that caught the man’s attention and he agreed to get a composter.
Now this land didn’t have a King. Instead the King had been replaced by something called a Local A uthority, though some people called him Fingal. The man went to Fingal and bought a composter and brought it home to his excited wife. The children just glanced up from their PSPs and said “Whatever.”
The man and his wife read all the books about successful composting and even went to a workshop in a place called The Library to find out how it worked. Apparently you had to fill the composter three quarters full with a mixture of green waste and brown waste, although confusingly the green waste did not have to be green and the brown waste did not have to be brown. When the two were mixed together, they would produce lovely compost, they were told.
So the environmentally friendly pair set to filling up their composter. They threw in potato peelings, carrot tops and tails and broccoli stalks, although the man normally brought his Swiss Army knife into the supermarket to cut off the chunkier stalks, as broccoli is sold by weight. Then they got the brown leaves which were clogging up the shores along the side of the house and scrap bits of paper assiduously shredded by hand and added them to the mix. Then the man got an old broom handle and mixed up the concoction like the witches stirring the cauldron in Macbeth.
And then they waited.
And waited.
Every week, the man would throw in the week’s supply of kitchen waste with a liberal sprinkling of shredded paper on top to keep off the flies. Every second week he would lift the flap at the bottom expecting to see shovelfuls of rich crumbly compost but all he saw was a mish-mash of kitchen waste and bits of paper.
“I think the Local Authority have sold me a dud composter,” he would say to his wife sadly on returning from another disappointing reconnaissance.
“Don’t be silly,” his wife would reply. “The Local Authority is wise and good. Shame on you for thinking otherwise. You must allow time for the breakdown process to begin.”
So the couple gave the composter some more time. The man still threw in the waste every week but did not check the bottom flap for months and months. The months turned into years and every Spring, when the man had a momentary burst of gardening fervour, he would lift the flap and then lower it again with a sigh.
“I can’t understand it,” he said to his wife. “Every week we throw in a bucketful of waste, yet we never get any compost. But the funny thing is, the level in the composter keeps going down regardless.” His wife was eventually forced to admit there was “something quare” going on. Where did all the peelings and apple cores disappear to if they weren’t being turned into compost?
“Maybe the worms and slugs are eating it all?” she suggested lamely.
“Maybe our next door neighbour has dug a tunnel from the other side of the fence and is scooping out all the compost every week?” said the man.
“Maybe it is the horticultural equivalent of a space-time vacuum that sucks in all matter and turns it to anti-matter?” said the woman.
“Maybe there is a fissure in the rock just beneath the composter and the waste is falling into a giant molten cavern below?” said the man.
“Maybe a kitchen waste fetishist is creeping into our garden at night and regularly helping himself to a bucketful?” said the woman.
“Maybe it is a Magic Composter?” said the man. “I have heard of these things before. An old woman in a neighbouring estate had a Magic Porridge Pot that had the whole street knee deep in porridge.”
Of course the man and the woman kept the secret of the Magic Composter to themselves. If everybody knew about it, the Local Authority would send out his servants to examine and dissect it in order to find out how it worked. The woman was happy because it was eating up all her kitchen waste. The man was happy because he knew he had found somewhere to dispose of his wife’s remains when she died and thus save on funeral bills. The children were happy because Justin Timberlake was playing at The Point. And the Magic Composter was happy because he was being well fed every week!
And so, as in the way of all such stories, they all lived happily ever after.

Advice for young people

There is a famous list of eleven rules wrongly attributed to Microsoft magnate Bill Gates in which the author metes out advice to secondary school students who are about to enter the real world of life and work. From rule 1 – “Life is not fair-get used to it!” - to rule 11 – “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one” – the list is a salutory wake-up call to young people who think that the world owes them a living.
I am well aware that ever since Moses told the children of Israel that life in the wilderness was a piece of cake compared to slavery in Egypt, every generation has moaned about the uselessness of their offspring. In fact, one of the reasons I looked forward so much to adulthood was the prospect of telling my own children in a sneering and condescending manner that they didn’t know they were born and we had things much tougher in our day.
This is a theme I have developed to such an extent that I now view my childhood with grime-tinted glasses, regaling my uninterested children with lurid tales of being forced down the mine at five years of age and only owning my first pair of shoes when I got married. I have also developed my own set of rules, similar to the ones above, that will guide my descendants through the pitfalls of leaving school and gaining employment:
Rule 1. Find out from your parents where they keep the bread, the butter and the cheese. Then ask them for a quick lesson on how to make a sandwich. Believe me, it only takes a few minutes and the money you will save in a year by not sending out for a jumbo breakfast roll in work will pay for that holiday in Santa Ponza that you seem unable to save up for.
Rule 1a. Orange cordial plus water made up in a bottle at home can be just as nice but much less expensive than a can of coke.
Rule 2. Learn how to do some of those old-fashioned jobs like washing cars and sewing on buttons. One day you might be thankful that you did.
Rule 3. When you join the workforce, other people will not necessarily be impressed by designer clothes and branded runners. Working people are allowed to buy their clothes in Dunnes and Penneys without fear of ridicule.
Rule 4. It is very possible in this enlightened age that you will still get that dream job if you turn up for the interview with bits of metal adorning various parts of your face. But don’t be too surprised if you don’t.
Rule 5. The cost of a hair-cutting kit works out at approximately the cost of three trips to the barbers. Think about it.
Rule 6. Despite what your friends say, a car is still a luxury for many people. I had to work for years before I could afford one. Believe me, you wouldn’t be happy if we simply bought one for you. There is no greater satisfaction than working hard to achieve something.
Rule 7. Incredible as it seems, it is possible to be cool and not share your taste in music.
Rule 8. If you want to be treated as an adult, you are expected to share the “adults’ jobs” around the house. Yes, really.
Rule 9. If you do not set your alarm clock, it is possible that you may not wake up in time for work. If you do not bring a key, it is possible that you will find yourself locked out when you return home. If you do not put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket, it is possible they will not get washed. None of these is your parents’ fault.
Rule 10. You would be embarrassed if your mother and I started snogging passionately on the settee with you in the room. So please do not do the same with your boyfriend / girlfriend / whatever.
Rule 11. Your dinner may well be “gank” but at least your mother went to the trouble of making it for you. Honesty is not always the best policy.
Rule 12. Antiquated old wrecks we may be but we still remember the “staying out at a friend’s” line. If we don’t challenge you on it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have successfully pulled the wool over our eyes – we may be more enlightened than you suspect.
Rule 13. Please don’t call me by my first name. This implies some sort of parity. Even when I am a weak and incontinent old wreck who giggles to himself for no reason, I will still be superior to you, sunshine.
Rule 14. Your contribution to the overall household budget comes nowhere near the amount it would cost you if you moved out. So if you really are “a bit short this week” try stopping smoking and drinking. As the sign says in shops, please don’t ask for credit as a refusal often offends.
Rule 15. When you go around to other people’s houses, they put on act for you, just as you put on an act for them. This is simple manners. In actual fact, every family is just as odd, weird and fractious as ours. You just don’t get to see it.
Rule 16. As a parent, I have the right to bore the pants off you with long and uninteresting stories from my past.
Rule 17. Feel free to ask for advice. But as Brian Clough used to say, “If you have a problem, come to me, we’ll discuss it and then decide that I am right.” You will get to do the same yourself one day.
Rule 18. Shouting never wins an argument. I merely raise my voice to you whenever we have a disagreement. Learn to tell the difference.
Rule 19. There really isn’t €60 worth of difference between one bottle of smelly water and the next. It is possible to get reasonably-priced toiletries that smell okay.
Rule 20. You don’t have to take an interest in politics and I understand your point that it isn’t cool. Just don’t come complaining to me about income tax, the health service, public transport or employment legislation when you don’t get a service you believe you’re entitled to.
And finally…
Rule 21. Whatever problem you might have, we always had it tougher in our day. This might or might not be true but you weren’t around, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
The problem of course is that young people never listen to their parents anyway so the above rules are superfluous. It is the duty of the young to rebel and make their own way in life. It is the duty of parents to worry.
Even Bill Gates’ parents must have had their doubts at times.

A Timely Warning

Oh gather round and heed my tale,
Translate it into French and Braille,
And spread the word around the globe
About this chronomentrophobe.
To some I’m really just a melon,
Others see me as a felon,
A curse on our society
To show such impropriety.
But listen good and listen true
Lest my sad fate should come to you,
And learn from how I fell from grace
And ended in this wretched place.

One Sunday morn, as I recall,
When March’s roar began to pall,
‘Twas in the small hours of the night,
I saw a blue and flashing light.
And then began the klaxon’s wail,
Like some demented nightingale.
Now when the moon and stars come creeping
I have little trouble sleeping,
Because my conscience is as clear
As unpolluted atmosphere,
But if a dog, a mile away,
Should break wind in a violent way,
I wake up in a merry sweat
And need to light a cigarette.
So, wide awake within a second,
Fun and games from outside beckoned.
Throwing back the crocheted spread
I clambered quickly from my bed,
And to the curtained window flew
To get a better, grandstand view,
For crime, thank God, is very rare
Along our quiet thoroughfare.
I watched the squad car turn the bend
And make its way toward our end.
I squinted round the curtain’s drop
To see exactly where he’d stop.
Perhaps those lads at fifty four
Were on the wrong side of the law?
Or maybe him at sixty one
Was really someone on the run?
Had those Swedes down at the corner
Got permission for that sauna?
But holy moley, saints alive!
The squad car turned into my drive!

I put on socks and dressing gown
And very sharply hurried down
To answer their insistent knock
At very nearly two o’clock.
The neighbours would be wide awake,
Not knowing this was some mistake.
They must have seen the squad car come
And heard the pandemonium,
And now my name was likely mud
Throughout this genteel neighbourhood.

I pulled the bolt and turned the key
And opened up the door to see
Two burly cops, grim-faced and armed,
Which made me very much alarmed.
One yelled my name, and I said, “Yes?”
And in my state of half-undress,
They pushed me down upon the floor,
As shock ran through my every pore.
I felt as though I might be sick,
On hearing those strong handcuffs click.
There and then I made my mind up
One could see this was no wind-up
(Thoughts which, reader, you will see
Were laced with bitter irony)
They flicked the lights to lift the gloom
In kitchen and in sitting room
And then these swarthy time-police
Took photos of my mantelpiece.
They photographed my microwave
And clock above the architrave,
And laid my wristwatch in full view
And took some pictures of it too.
They read my rights, and when complete,
They hauled me brusquely to my feet
And bundled me into the car,
As neighbours gawped from near and far.

I sit here in my prison cell,
A malcontented ne’er-do-well,
And wonder what ungodly fate
Awaits this surly reprobate.
At first, I’d claimed my innocence,
But knew full well I’d no defence.
The clocks they brought into the court
Exposed my guilt in words and thought.
There really was no need to show
That they were all an hour slow.
And sweet Anne Doyle, from RTE,
Stood on the stand unflinchingly
And told the jury to peruse
The transcripts of the evening news,
In which she’d stated to her flock
That clocks went on at one o’clock

Yes, I’d been warned and paid no heed,
A criminal in thought and deed.
The clocks were changed at one o’clock,
And I admitted from the dock
That though the hour had come and gone,
Oh shame! I’d never wound them on.
So listen ye, who hitherto
Have left the clocks till morning’s dew,
When told to add an hour more,
‘Tis not “advice” – it is the law.
And woe betide the eager loon
Who winds his clocks an hour too soon,
For he may face a fate like me
Within the penitentiary.
I face a future breaking rocks
For daring to ignore those clocks.
Ironic though, that this foul crime
Will mean I end up doing time.

Worrying about wagtails

Out of all of the creatures that swoop down from the heavens to feed in our back garden, birds are the ones I like best.
As I have previously stated in this column, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from seeing the garden teeming with our feathered friends, squabbling loudly over the peanut feeders and fat balls. Some may find sparrows and starlings boring but I get a real kick watching their mannerisms and jealousies. A blue tit visits us early in the morning and late in the afternoon when he has the place to himself. A wren is sometimes to be seen skulking in the undergrowth (having no sense of date, he is probably afraid it might be St. Stephens Day). Sometimes those big black bullies, the rooks and jackdaws, sweep down from their lofty perches, though they are always the first to scarper at a peremptory knock on the window.
And we have a wagtail.
He is a Pied Wagtail, a subspecies of the white wagtail, found commonly throughout Europe, according to my I-Spy Book of Garden Birds. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t actually wag his tail, which causes one to doubt the compos mentis of the great ornithologist that named him thus. Instead he nods it up and down incessantly as though his backside is on fire and he’s trying to cool it down.
Now, until recently, Mr. Wagtail (or motacilla alba yarrelli, as they probably refer to him in Rome) rarely ventured into our back garden. I would often see him in the mornings when I came out to get into the car hesitantly running backwards and forwards across the road, like a child taking swimming lessons. Whereas the other birds seem to prefer the foliage and food of the back garden, or the grass of the green opposite, the wagtail appears to regard tarmac and concrete as his favoured habitat, which has always struck me as somewhat odd.
But anyway, I would drive off in my car and watch him scurrying to the kerb as fast as his little legs would carry him. And here is another thing. If God had given me wings, I wouldn’t waste all that energy running to avoid traffic. But I put that particular trait down to the fact that he likes to remain in shape and keep his figure, while robins and dunnets just let themselves go.
Last year, I had cause to visit another estate in the locality. Being an un-wagtail-like person, I hopped into my car, watched the little black and white shape hurry out of the way and drove around. As I parked on the roadside, I idly watched another wagtail ostensibly foraging at the base of the kerb where the dandelions grow. And the thought naturally occurred to me that maybe every estate has their own wagtail. Just as every gang has their own turf, maybe the wagtails divide suburban estates amongst themselves, each ruling the roost on their own patch and anyone who crosses the boundary is cruising for a bruising.
As time went by, I had cause to test this theory and it usually held up. Whenever I visited another estate, I would normally see the familiar black and white shape doing the widths of the road, apparently unconcerned at the massive machines that approached him menacingly. He’d be pecking at something on the tarmac – surely not the greatest feeding ground he could choose in a location full of lawns and bushes and shrubs? – and then, judging it to perfection, he’d dash out of the way at the last moment.
So, I filed him away as a suburban estate bird, a little eccentric, considering his choice of habitat, but a familiar sight around the urban sprawl of Dublin 15.
And then I began to see him at work.
Now, I work out in Leixlip at a giant plant famous for producing pentium processors. It is right on the outskirts of Leixlip in a predominately rural area and as I pulled into the carpark one morning last November, I spied the familiar black and white figure scurrying out of my way. Ha, I thought. He’s spread his wings a bit, venturing from his familiar suburban stronghold out to the countryside.
And then another thought occurred to me – what if it’s the same bird?
Now, I’m sorry to death such a disarming idea ever entered my tiny head, because it has lodged there and won’t go away, pecking away at me whenever the nodding loner hoves into view.
What if the bird that I see when leaving for work in the morning is the same bird that is there ostensibly examining dandelions when I pull up in another estate? And is also there pretending to eat tarmac in my carpark at work? Spooky or what? Obviously he tails my car and swoops down unnoticed when I’m turning off the engine.
The more I think about it, the more the evidence seems to add up. This bird obviously has a personal interest in me and where I go. This explains why, unlike every other bird, he alone stays outside the front of the house. If he goes into the back garden, he might miss me leaving and won’t be able to pick up the trail. It also explains why he pretends to be feeding on tarmac when there are gardens full of slugs and juicy worms all around. Because he’s not really feeding – he’s reconnoitering. And it explains why the little blighter runs everywhere – he’s conserving his wing muscles in case he might have to make a sudden trip somewhere.
Farfetched? Well, would you be able to tell two wagtails apart? I, for one, am now pretty sure it is the same bird. Now, when I see him, I eye him closely and I am certain he is doing the same to me. We both watch each other out of the corner of our eyes and I fancy he is a bit disconcerted that I have blown his cover.
There are of course two possible reasons why this ornithological private eye is shadowing me. Instead of a guardian angel, he could be my guardian wagtail, watching o’er me to ensure I come to no harm, though quite what he intends to do in the case of an emergency is difficult to predict. Give me the peck of life?
Or his fixation with me could have more sinister undertones. Suppose Douglas Adams is right and white mice really do rule the planet? Could not this wagtail be part of their secret service, tailing me everywhere I go and noting down my movements? Maybe its tail hides a concealed radio transmitter that sends data back to the white mice’s lair and that is why it is incessantly moving? Maybe every human being in Ireland has their own personal wagtail that follows them everwhere?
My wagtail has taken to coming into the back garden now. It doesn’t squawk with the other birds on the pyracantha or squabble on the peanut feeder. Instead, it runs around the concrete patio while we are eating Sunday dinner, occasionally glancing in through the glass door to make sure I am still there.
As the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

Prior to the March 2007 edition, Community Voice was published once per month

Some tips for house buyers

As Yossarian states in “Catch 22,” “all wars are fought over real estate.”
Property has always been the single most coveted commodity on earth and for most of us, buying a house is by far and away the most expensive investment we will ever make. The cost of a house these days is truly frightening, though not as scary as pulling back the bedclothes and finding a deadly black mamba coiled up ready to strike. Yet how many of us truly examine our prospective purchase with the proverbial fine toothcomb before putting pen to paper?
Here in Dublin 15, because of our expansionism and incessant search for lebensraum, we can lay claim to being the house-buying capital of the world. As such we would know more than most about what to look out for when purchasing that des res.
Most people in “Property World” – a mythical kingdom inhabited by people with clipboards and an ability with adjectives that defies logical comprehension – will tell you that the most important things when purchasing a house are “location, location, location.” Quite how a single house can have three locations is difficult to fathom, but I suppose the general point is that you should try and choose a house that has a location. Whatever you do, never buy a house that doesn’t have a location. It will only bring you heartbreak and you’ll keep forgetting where you left it.
However, one man’s meat is another man’s cheese, particularly if the other man is pretty stupid. To some people living next door to a public house would be a living hell. To others it would be sheer heaven. Living facing a green is desirable to some people, but not to those who are allergic to green. Having a house near a bus stop is great but not if you have to keep picking used bus tickets and hastily stubbed-out cigarettes out of your garden.
What I’m trying to say is that buying a house is fraught with dangers and lack of thoroughness when inspecting the property can bring about untold misery further down the line.
For example, most of us bring out microscopes when examining paint on a light switch cover but how many of us would check for molten lava erupting through fissures in the garden? Geysers, too, and gaseous emissions are a surefire sign that the house is built on a volcanic fault and my advice in this case would be to choose a house a bit further down the road.
The house may look sturdy enough but have you ever tried to take a bite out of it? The practice is rare nowadays but in days of yore, builders often constructed property out of gingerbread to cut costs. Fanciful? Check out The State vs. Cheapskate Builders, Supreme Court 1698, and the real reason for the great caster sugar shortage in the Caribbean at the end of the seventeenth century.
In Iceland along the southern road between Reykjavik and Hafn there is a little shack built at the bottom of a cliff surrounded by massive boulders many time its size that have become dislodged from the heights above. It is colloquially called “The Optimist’s House” and Paddy Powersson up there run a book on when the fateful boulder will fall. For those of you with a nervous disposition, it would probably be best to give this sort of house a miss.
The same applies to house-hunters attracted to a property which is perched on top of a cliff prone to severe wind and wave erosion. Thankfully there are not many such properties in the Dublin 15 area but if you should come across one, take a trip down to the Royal Canal first and borrow a bargepole. And then be careful not to touch the property with it.
That tiny ant languidly crossing the kitchen counter may seem innocuous enough, but the buyer beware! An acquaintance of mine once came home to find ten thousand termites curled up on his sofa making caustic comments at “Big Brother.” When they refused to hand over the remote control, he was obliged to phone Panasonic to find out how to change channels manually.
Get your solicitor to check the deeds of the house very thoroughly, lest your prize possession should turn out to have been built on an ancient native American burial site. Again, the chances of this occurring in Clonsilla or Ladyswell are quite remote, but it is a small price to pay to avoid having vengeful war-painted braves rampaging through your sitting room walls at three o’clock in the morning.
Older residents may recall a similar occurrence at Cut Throat Cottage in Porterstown in the nineteen forties. The new owners tentatively pushed open the attic door and belatedly discovered that it had been cursed by the High Priest to Rameses II in 1275 B.C. The ensuing plagues of locusts and scarabs had an adverse effect on house prices in the area for the next twenty years.
Most of us employ the services of an architect to prepare a snag list when buying a house but how many of us think to get in touch with Astronomy Ireland? Its all very well to find out that your soffia board needs a second coat of paint but it becomes pretty irrelevant if you find out that a meteorite is due to obliterate your house and all life forms within a fifteen mile radius in twenty years time. If you feel gung-ho, at least check out the small print on your insurance to see if you are covered for space debris.
Of course, not all potential hazards are preventable. Wherever you choose to purchase your house, you can never be sure that in twenty years time the runway of the second Dublin airport will not bisect your kitchen. This will cause mayhem at meal times and you may be obliged to eat out.
Or maybe some blindfolded planner in Fingal County Council will joyously stick a pin in your house to mark the site of the county’s incinerator which will send twenty thousand tonnes of food packaging a year up into the ionosphere. Nothing you can do about it, I’m afraid, though you may get a reduction in your service charges to compensate.
The point is that buying a house is always something of a lottery though you’d be wise to avoid plumping for kids’ birthdays and anniversaries. A quickpick is usually best though even here, you could end up living next door to someone who likes to play “Lionel Richie’s Greatest Hits” at all hours of the day and night.

The Coolmine Regatta for the Appreciation of Poetry

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. In the last week, I wrote a lengthy ballad composed of rhyming couplets, three haiku and a meandering free verse about the “dappled sky that o’er the slumbering earth now breaks.”
Confession they say is good for the soul. And it is therefore with a certain lightening of mind and heart that I bare my soul to the readers of Community Voice and admit, “Yea verily, I too have been a poet.”
It has always been thus. As a morose and frankly insufferable teenager, I was always prone to scribbling down maudlin and introspective verse into well-thumbed copybooks, perhaps with the hope that my genius would one day be discovered after my tragic death from consumption at an early age. Unsurprisingly, I survived and my teenage efforts are sadly lost to the literary world for ever (at least I hope they are!)
As I matured, so did my poetry, though, in truth, it couldn’t really have got any worse. Instead of angst and tortured hearts, I wrote humorous light-hearted verse, often with a witty pun at the end, again with the hope that my genius would one day be discovered after my not-quite-so-tragic death from consumption in middle age.
Nowadays I write poetry about football and current affairs and, well, anything that comes to mind. I find it more satisfying than watching “Big Brother” or “Emmerdale” and whereas Seamus Heaney might not be shaking in his boots at the thought of competition, I have started to branch out and discover the real world of poetry in Ireland today.
As part of my self-education, I began to enter a few of the poetry competitions that appear on the Poetry Ireland website. After a while it became clear to me that every little town in Ireland, as a way of raising revenue in its local hostelries, seems to have organised some kind of literary festival associated with a famous writer from the area. Listowel has a week long programme of events which celebrates new writing and the legacy of John B. Keane. Kiltimagh in Mayo has a festival celebrating the blind Irish poet Raftery, Celbridge has grabbed Aidan Higgins, Donegal has gone for Allingham – the list is endless.
The basic premise of these weekends is that the local writers’ group organises the festival. This consists of readings in local pubs – it is something different to loud wailing rock music for the pub clientele and it also gives poets the opportunity to read their work in public. The White House pub in Limerick is a famous poetic pub where scribblers of all shapes and sizes grab the mike and strut their stuff. Poetry is the new rock’n’roll. Yeah! The landlords are happy as more people are attracted in, the poets are happy and the public enjoy the craic. Everybody is happy, except perhaps the tiny minority that recognise bloody awful poetry when they hear it.
Aligned to the festival, the smart towns organise a writing competition. Basically, like myself, there are thousands of hopeful scribblers out there who just know that they are the next Paul Durcan if only someone would discover them. So they set up a writing competition and a closing date and charge €5 a piece to enter. It can be free verse, rhyming couplets, limericks, tanka, descriptive prose – whatever you want. The World Haiku Championship in Donegal recently – I kid you not – was charging €10 per three line verse submitted. It can be themed or open. People like me, dreaming of our big break and perhaps a crack at the Booker Prize, then send in four of our poems for consideration ands a nice crisp €20 note.
The local writing group then nominates a well-known local poet to do the judging and, because all writing is subjective, nobody will argue with his final choice. In the meantime, those shortlisted travel to the town for the weekend of the festival and so help bolster the town’s economy. The monies raised can help fund a Festival Anthology, perhaps, or the local writing group’s new publication, or maybe it can simply be spent on more drink, as the organising committee think fit.
Actually, I’m being a bit harsh here on these festivals. When you go along, they actually are a huge amount of fun, they can be very inspirational and they do introduce you to the best proponents of the poet’s art. And of course you’re away for the weekend!
Historically, my attempts to bolster Dublin 15 tourism in the August 2004 edition of Community Voice appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Seemingly the proposal to build a blue flag beach in Blanchardstown is impractical, although I do think it could have become a reality with a little lateral thinking.
However, I do believe this scheme could be a winner. An application could be made to the Arts Department of Fingal County Council, who I’m sure would be delighted to support such a worthy and cultural enterprise. There could be an ‘open mike’ poetry competition with the heats being held in local pubs and the final at Draíocht. Local poets could do readings and thus raise the profile of their own writing groups. We could give it a catchy title like the Coolmine Regatta for the Appreciation of Poetry, or maybe use an acronym if that title was deemed too long.
The only setback is that we don’t really have a famous poet associated with the Dublin 15 area. (Forgive me if I have offended anybody living or dead – I am sure there must have been some poet out there who has achieved a degree of recognition who we might claim as “one of our own” but unfortunately, in my unread state, I am not aware of him or her) But all we have to do is invent one. We can call him Blind Michael O’Grady, the wandering poet from Tyrrelstown, who used to roam the highways and byways of the Greater Dublin 15 area, reciting his free-flowing verse and looking for his home. A well-known figure in the locality, he became a firm friend of Jonathan Swift who he bumped into at a cheese and wine party in Porterstown and the two spent a great evening swapping poetical anecdotes. Sadly, we can say, none of his verse has survived to this day but his legacy lives on through this festival etc.
I would suggest that we hold the Festival in the middle of summer and have a special showcase evening with invited poets from around the world waxing lyrical on magical sunsets and grizzled old men with careworn eyes. And hold it in the specially erected marquee on the blue flag beach.