Monday, March 7, 2011

Decorating lamp posts

Doesn’t the place look bare now that the election is over and the shivering lamp posts have once again been exposed to the cruel March winds roaring in like a lion? It reminds me of my sitting room after we’ve taken down all the Christmas decorations – empty and drab and suffused with the unfamiliar air of normality.
Of course, I know there are some people out there who malign this traditional poster-fest that lightens the place up and brings a tinge of brightness to the unrelenting grey struggle of life. These are probably the same people that display a disaffection for politics in general and have become disillusioned with the whole electoral business. (Yes, it’s hard to believe, but there actually are people like that around.)
But if one were honest, whose heart would not gain a little lift by driving out of their estate and being confronted by a smiling Joe Higgins? Who could fail to be lifted by the sight of David McGuinness’ boyish features adorning every second post down Auburn Avenue?
Driving down the New Ongar Road today with its unremarkable greyness, I found myself harking back to the dazzling array of posters that lit the way to the Shopping Centre like the Yellow Brick Road itself during election time. Sinn Fein’s Paul Donnelly certainly caught the eye with his colourful canary yellow posters, while the now-traditional blue skies of the Fine Gael posters sent a subliminal message of hope to the citizens of Dublin 15. And of course you had the original poster-girl herself, Joan Burton, who would doubtlessly top the poll by a huge margin if, as I have said many times, she allowed herself to be photographed sitting on the sand in a swimsuit and holding a beach ball.
An article in the last edition of Community Voice decried the proliferation of posters and expressed dismay that the Council had not sought to restrict their number, as per their own regulations. Perhaps the writer had a point on health and safety grounds. I know that during the high winds at the start of the campaign, I had a horror of driving down the N3 at 99kph (as I always do, officer) to be suddenly assailed by the sight of Leo Varadkar’s giant face blocking the view out of my windscreen. Such a scenario would make the Amityville Horror look like Bambi. But in general, the more the merrier remains my motto where election posters and tins of Roses at Christmas are concerned.
But, now that our political saviours have all gone back into hibernation, why should that mean the end of street decoration? Are those that aspire to political office the only section of society that is allowed to adorn our highways and byways in such a manner?
I don’t know if anyone went into town during the campaign. (Personally, I try and avoid that section of the city like the plague and only venture there through absolute necessity) The UpStart people, who are concerned with reinforcing the value of the arts in society, launched a poster campaign of their own to coincide with the election. It consisted of poetry and artwork and juxtaposed very tellingly with the political posters adorning the lamp posts. I actually had a short poem featured called Consider the Tree, advocating investment in poetry (particularly in struggling poets in the Littlepace area) which regaled people in what looks like the Lombard Street area.
I would suggest that this kind of poster campaign would have found a great home in Dublin 15 and that we should seriously start looking at encouraging this sort of thing, especially during the cold and bleak months of winter, spring, summer and autumn. We could have Supermarket month, say, during which Superquinn, Tesco, Eurospar, Lidl and the rest all exhorted us to make them their number one. The manager of Dunnes in Ongar could be photographed in front of a backdrop of happy shoppers, asking people in small writing down at the bottom to Make Dunnes in Blanch your Number Two.
Or alternatively, have a radio station month in which deejays (do they still use that word?) beam down from every lamp post entreating you to tune in. Vote local – vote Phoenix. Joe Duffy for a happier life. Radio Nova – Great songs, Over and over again.
How about a Republic of Ireland football stars slot with our sporting heroes vying for public approbation? Shay Given – your number one. Make Kevin Doyle your number ten. Fahy and Duff – a United Left Alliance.
The possibilities are endless and I am calling on the Council now to put the feelgood factor back into our streets.
To get back to the article in Community Voice, it went on to question the suspicious disappearance of many of the posters from our streets and reported the lamentations of both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that someone was removing them from their allotted locations.
Well, I guess that now the election is over, I can safely ‘fess up, as they say, in da house, innit? To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby’s succinct confession in one episode of Yes, Minister, the identity of the individual whose alleged responsibility for this occurrence has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led one to assume, but, not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
Yes it was I. I knew that once the election was over, they would all be shredded up to make toothpaste or cat food, so I liberated as many of them as I could. My house is festooned with posters from all walks of political life. I have Roderic O’Gorman grinning at me from above the mantelpiece and Kieran Dennison watching over me as I sleep. Clement Esebamen gazes benignly at me as I perform my ablutions every morning and a block of Patrick Nultys ascends the stairs, reassuring me that I am in safe hands.
No greater love hath a man for his political masters.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Of pancakes

(Okay, to explain, The Community Voice has risen Phoenix-like from the ashes and I back doing my Musings again, for the time being anyway)

Recent trips to our local supermarket in Ongar have served to remind me that the most important festival in the Christian calendar is fast approaching. I refer of course to the Feast of St. Pancake, a 32 stone Irish saint from the 5th Century, who lived most of his life just behind Ryan’s Garage in Blanchardstown.
The legend is of course well recorded in the annals that Pancake, when a young boy, had a visitation from God in the form of a frying pan. God told Pancake that he was omnipotent and Pancake figured that, if this were so, the fatter he got, the godlier he would become. He therefore gorged himself on mixed flour and eggs (adding lemon juice or maple syrup for taste) until he became Buddha-esque in appearance and incredibly holy.
His followers tried various initiatives to commemorate the great man – Easter pancakes, Trick or Pancake etc – but in the end they settled on the day before Ash Wednesday – usually a Tuesday – as it was found that pancakes were the perfect medical antidote to the ashes the priest insisted on smearing on your forehead the following day.
It has always been a source of fierce debate in our household – sometimes leading to wrestling matches that my wife always wins – as to how the ritual of pancakes should be enacted.
In our house, growing up, my mother would always make the pancakes instead of a normal dinner and I had always assumed that this was how everybody did it. Looking back, it is perhaps a salient fact that ours was a family of cheapskates and there was a definite financial element to this interpretation of the scriptures.
In my wife’s family, however, they ate their normal dinner and then after Coronation Street – Pope John Paul II was apparently very specific on the timing - the pancakes would be made. How they were hungry for pancakes after already eaten a big dinner was always a mystery to me (who rummages for biscuits at 8pm on a normal evening)
The supermarket in Ongar is now advertising pancake makers, which seem to be glorified frying pans, and frankly, if I was sitting on the jury panel of Dragon’s Den, my pockets bulging with wads of cash, I would soon spot the flaw in the budding entrepreneur who waxed enthusiastic about the pancake maker. I mean, to dedicate a factory to producing these items which are only retailable for one month of the year, for people who don’t want to use a frying pan? And where do you keep the damned thing for 364 days of the year, taking up space?
One concession that we have made to modern living though is that instead of going to the enormous trouble of mixing the raw ingredients of flour, baking powder, sugar and salt – a task that would doubtless have Jamie Oliver reaching for the blender – we now buy a packet of something called Pancake Mix. Traditionalists may scoff but it does the job and saves so much back-breaking work.
The problem is, that you don’t need to use the entire packet for the pancakes, meaning that the packet lives up in the press for years on end. Our current one, which is still perfectly all right, has a sell by date of 2003. The unopened packet that we bought in 2006, when we weren’t sure if we still had a packet in the press, was up last year but hey, we have a lifetime’s supply now. We have even gone to the bother of bequeathing it in our wills to future generations.
Of course, you still have to break eggs and then add the eggs to the mixture and beat the whole lot, so the culinary element is not lost altogether. Not that I have much to do with the technical stuff – my job is to hover and pass over implements like an assistant in an operating theatre, a task I perform admirably, even if I say so myself.
My father – who also used the cooker primarily for telling the time – always maintained, even on this death-bed (which we found rather odd) that the best pancakes were fried on the fat of a female goose that had been humanely killed at approximately 36 months of age and then hung upside down on the washing line for two days. We use Stork. Again, it does the job.
When the pancake is nearly done on one side (x-ray eyes are handy for this) the pancake should be tossed onto the other side, a phrase which always caused us to snigger as adolescents. For years, my wife, doubtless influenced by cartoons of pancakes sticking to ceilings or landing on people’s heads, refused to let me do this, preferring to simply turn it over with a spatula herself. After years of wheedling, I am now allowed to toss the last one and now insist on dragging in all the family to watch me.
As everybody knows, pancakes must not be eaten straight from the pan, no matter how hungry husbands and children crowd around you licking their lips and rubbing their bellies. First they must be placed on a plate sitting on a pot of boiling water on top of the cooker. In this way, the steam from the water seeps through the plate and infuses the pancake with enamel-flavoured moisture. Or maybe it’s just to keep them hot. Who knows?
Choice of filling is possibly a hereditary thing too. For myself, a line of sugar down the centre makes the perfect pancake, though I have been known to experiment with raspberry jam on occasions. Nobody in our house has ever been a maple syrup fan – my apologies to the maple growers of Canada – and I have never understood the concept of squirting a sour lemon into your pancake. Is this the healthy option? Adding citrus fruit to your amalgam of flour and eggs?
Besides, I suppose I’m a bit prejudiced against the followers of St. Jif, a seventh century, yellow, oval-shaped cleric, who lived and preached in the carpark of Power City. For years they have been trying to usurp the venerable St. Pancake with clever advertising campaigns but it won’t work, I tell you.
The common refrain after the last pancake has been scoffed is always – we should have them more often during the year. At least it would help to use up the packets in the press. In fact, last year, I marked down October 17th on the calendar as being the feast of St. Pancake the Lesser, but when it came round, there was something good on telly after Coronation Street.
This year, perhaps.