Monday, May 12, 2008

Dead tigers

Cartoon by Fergus Lynch
As some of you may be aware, there are not too many tigers rambling around the general Littlepace area and consequently my knowledge of the lifestyle of this great and beautiful animal is somewhat limited. I presume that when he is about to die from natural causes, he slinks off into the undergrowth, watches his life pass before him in a series of mental flashes and then pops his clogs, lying there for a long time until the hyenas figure out that he can’t still be asleep and start giving him the odd nervous nudge.
I occasionally wonder – and with increased frequency of late – what will happen when our own special brand of economic tiger crawls away into the Maumturk Mountains for the last time. I suppose we’ll all be waiting at Oughterard for a while in case he returns, but eventually we’ll have to bite the bullet and accept that Tiddles (well, nobody else has bothered to give him a name) is no more. He is an ex-tiger. He has ceased to be.
Now my tenuous grasp of economics is matched only by my tenuous grasp of reality but I predict that as soon as Tiddles has departed for that great wilderness in the sky, there will be a mass exodus from the country. Already there are rumours of a Polish Tiger – or whatever animal the Poles have chosen to represent their economic upturn – sniffing around the steelyards of Gdansk and doubtless, Lithuanian Panthers and Nigerian Cheetahs will also appear in due course.
Even if Tiddles doesn’t actually die but just goes around grabbing people by the sleeve and telling them what a great tiger he used to be in the old days, people will soon realise that a fit and healthy Moldovan Leopard cub is more attractive than a Tiger with a gammy leg and a hearing aid. There will be a mass movement of Jah people and a lot of other people as well.
And it will not only be the new communities who will leave. As happened in the fifties and again in the eighties, our young people will head for the shores of Americay and some might even venture inland, wondering why the letter “Y” has been mysteriously added to the name of the country. Or they’ll go to Brussels or Munich or Melbourne or Abu Dhabi, wherever there are jobs worthy of their qualifications.
And what will that mean for those of us left here at home in Ireland and particularly those of us in Dublin 15? Life will probably carry on as normal for settled communities in Malahide or Dalkey but for areas that have expanded hugely to cope with the massive demand for houses – Lucan, Swords, Blanchardstown, Hansfield, Ongar and so on – the effects will be seismic.
If you live in one of the newer estates – say, one built in the last fifteen years – imagine what your particular stretch of road would look like if all the members of the new communities and say 20% of the indigenous 18-30 year olds moved away. How many empty houses would there be? The actual answer, calculated statistically with all available data, is – a lot.
With all these empty houses all over the place, it is pretty obvious that house prices in the area will, like the walls of Jericho, come tumbling down. This won’t affect those of us who live here and have no intention of moving, although those people with mortgages will be paying for a pig in a poke. And they don’t even know what a poke is!
But it will affect those who have speculated to accumulate – landlords who could now find themselves with no tenants whose rent pays for the mortgages on their expensive houses. Neither can they sell because there is nobody to buy. House prices will tumble again as they try and cut their losses.
And of course with dole centres full of lines of people pining for Tiddles, there will be no need for people to commute into town because all the jobs will have gone to enlightened countries like Burma and Tibet. The brand new Navan rail line – formally opened by President Ahern – will fall into disrepair and garden centres will buy the sleepers at a knockdown price and sell them to people in Howth for rose garden borders.
With poverty rampant, many household pets – fearful of ending up on the Sunday dinner table – will pack up their belongings and head for the now boarded-up houses in Dublin 15, claiming squatter’s rights and playing Kanye West at great volume at all hours of the night. They will grow their hair long and tie-dye their collars and doubtless engage in depraved acts such as free love and civic studies.
As disaffected animals take over the neighbourhood, humans, powerless to act due to current species-equality legislation in the Constitution, will move out. After all, who wants to live next to a house full of tibetan terriers singing protest songs till four o’clock in the morning?
As whole families wander the highways and byeways of Ireland with their belongings piled high on carts, the BBC will do a major documentary on our plight and food aid will come pouring in, though many children will perish because there will be no tomato sauce to accompany it.
(Actually this is turning into quite a promising synopsis for a science-fiction novel. If anybody wants to finish it for me, I’ll only take 50% of the royalties.)
And then, if all this homelessness and eviction and ghetto-creation were not enough, finally the true horror of the situation would kick in as a whole new generation of ballad singers would spring up and drown the country in an ocean of gut-wrenching songs about “strong Irishmen and true” being forced out of their houses by uncaring building society managers and ships bound for the mythical land of Americay. Low lie the fields of the Hansfield SDZ indeed.
Now before you all start to get palpitations and reach for the valium, this is just the product of my rather fertile imagination which, as my wife often tells me, could be put to much better use. I am neither economist nor sociologist. In fact, I am nothing that has an “ist” on the end of it, except perhaps a motorist.
So do not take my idle speculations seriously. I am sure that the good citizens of Dublin 15 can sleep soundly in their beds knowing that our new and astute Minister for Finance will keep Tiddles well and truly pampered for another few years yet.

The Roquefort terrorist

A while ago in this column, I urged the down-trodden citizens of Dublin 15 to take up cudgels and throw off the yoke of 800 years of oppression by seceding from Ireland and declaring an autonomous republic, tentatively titled The Principality of Castlehuddart.
The response was very encouraging with a 100% increase in membership in the past two years, though I suspect my wife is only humouring me. I daresay the take up would have been greater but for the exorbitant price of cudgels in Dunnes, which is yet another example of financial repression.
What we needed, I told my wife, was a coup.
“Cooooo!!!” she said sleepily. And thus I knew I would have to work on this by myself.
After months of feverish planning, the first blow for freedom and liberation was ready to be struck. We would announce the arrival of the Dublin 15 Liberation Army in style, grab world headlines and call on socialists around the world to rally to our cause.
So, armed with only a credit card, I entered the Ryanair website one night and purchased two return tickets to Rodez in France. This is a new addition to the Ryanair schedule and we chose it as we felt that airport security there might not be up to speed yet. It lies in the Aveyron département of southern France and is well known for being quite near other well-known regions of France.
We travelled there in mid-April, posing as tourists, ostensibly on a three day weekend break. Security, we noted on arrival, was perfunctory, with a sleepy-eyed custom official barely glancing at my proffered passport.
We checked in to our hotel in an otherwise deserted village in the Cévennes countryside and, in order to maintain our pretence, we acted like tourists. We visited the spectacular Tarn Gorge and the mediaeval hilltop village of Conques, gasped in awe at the highest viaduct in the world at Millau and then unselfconsciously made our way to the little hillside village of Roquefort sur Soulzon.
Following an EU directive – I am as yet undecided if our autonomous principality will secede from the EU or not, it probably depends on the size of the subsidies – only cheeses matured in the caves of Roquefort sur Soulzon may bear the name Roquefort. Known in France as the King of Cheeses and in Ireland as That Smelly Mouldy Stuff, Roquefort is produced by injecting penicillin found in a particular species of mushroom into the ewe’s milk cheese and allowing it to spread. I am still wondering who first thought that it might be a good idea to try that out.
Whistling with an air of complete unconcern, we made our way to the visitors’ entrance of Societé, by far the largest Roquefort producer. We paid our €3 and took the guided tour, which did not particularly add to our knowledge of the cheese making process, as neither of us had got much further than “le chat marche au bibliothéque” in our rudimentary French.
We did discover that there were three main types of Societé produced, depending upon the cellar in which they were stored. There was Original (That Smelly Mouldy Stuff) Templier (That Very Smelly Mouldy Stuff) and Baragnaudes (That Smooth Smelly Mouldy Stuff.) At the end of the tour, still whistling unselfconsciously and thus attracting a lot of curious stares, we purchased a gift box containing a 200g wedge of each of the three Roqueforts.
On the final morning, I stuffed the cheese in amongst my used socks and jocks in my hand baggage, figuring that any nosey customs official would choose discretion over valour. We donned sunglasses to make ourselves look inconspicuous – even though it had rained solidly for the three days – and drove to the airport at Rodez.
We only had cabin luggage so proceeded directly to security. My wife went first and I could see from the beads of sweat on her forehead that she was either very nervous or very warm. She got through okay and then I stepped through the metal detector. It didn’t beep and I breathed a sigh of relief which in my experience is the best thing to do with sighs of relief.
“Arriverderci!” I beamed affably at the security girl, who regarded me warily. “Is this your bag, monsieur?” she replied, indicating my holdall. “Si, si,” I answered and felt a lump in my throat, the remains of the croissant I had hurriedly devoured that morning.
“Will you open it, monsieur?” she said. I felt the cold tendrils of fear clawing at my stomach as I slowly unzipped the bag.
“And remove ze contents please.”
The game was up. Although I dallied, hoping she might get bored, she watched my every movement and the moment the three pieces of Roquefort came to light, she pounced on them with glee.
“Zees are forbidden,” she said and handed them to the guy at the x-ray machine. I couldn’t help marvelling at the technology that had allowed a machine to pinpoint cheese through myriad layers of underwear.
To my surprise, she didn’t lead me to a little room where I would be confronted by anti-terrorist police, forced to strip naked and then driven in an armoured convey to the offices of the Sûreté in Paris. Instead she just waved me through.
I clenched my right fist and yelled “Freedom for Dublin 15” at the top of my voice. Well, actually, I muttered it under my breath and stretched my arms as though yawning. Not only was my fiendish plot scuppered but I had cunningly been denied access to worldwide publicity by their failure to arrest me.
“Serves you right,” my wife said.
The plan had been simple. Under the pretence of going to the toilet, I would burst in through the cockpit doors and put the pilot out of action with the Baragnaudes. I would then hold the Original Roquefort to the co-pilot’s throat and demand to be flown to Dublin, even though that what was where the plane was bound anyway. In the meantime, my wife would hold any have-a-go heroes at bay at the cockpit door with the Templier.
We would demand the release of all Dublin 15 Liberation Army prisoners around the world and an Urbus to bring us back into the rebel heartland. The resulting publicity would advance our cause and bring the day of our glorious independence a step closer.
Later that night, at home on the Web, my wife discovered that all liquid-based foodstuffs are prohibited in hand baggage. No wonder my Roquefort had been summarily confiscated.
I am not by nature a bad-minded man but I earnestly hope that the penicillin in the Roquefort was from a faulty batch and that whichever security official got to take it home suffered violent stomach pains as a result.
Vive le fromage!