July 2006: A good country to be a Banker

According to another of those interminable and infernal reports that we are plagued with these days, Ireland is now the second wealthiest nation in the world. But you all knew that already, didn’t you? Surely you have noticed how every second house in the country has a Porsche nestling comfortably beside the latest Mercedes model? No? Well, like all other reports, this one couldn’t be wrong, could it?

After all, even the Bould Bertie declared last week, in his own succinctly eloquent way, that the “boom times are getting even more boomer.” Quite.

This startling fact about how rich we all are was revealed in a “Wealth of the Nation” report published by Bank of Ireland Private Banking. The only nation to outdo us was Japan, apparently. We are ahead of the Good Ol’ US of A, probably because of Bush’s spending on war machines. We topped the Old Enemy too, Great Britain. France and Germany, the big European powers, are floundering in our wake. And Italy can have the World Cup because we have head-butted them in the chest when it comes to riches.

The bank’s boast is that each person in this nation has a net wealth of about 150 grand.  This is news to m. And I’m sure that it is news to my bank manager too, although I’m in no hurry to ring him to find out. Most of my fellow miners at the coalface of life were similarly surprised at the news of their newfound wealth. A quick check on our bank balances revealed the real truth

Like the official definition of “poverty”, this report’s definition of “wealth” is slightly different than many of us have in mind. The definition of “wealth” conveniently takes into account such things as residential property, pensions and company equity. Stripped of these star players, the Rich World Cup table takes on a slightly different look, from an Irish point of view. Our individual wealth now drops to a pitiful 18 grand per person and places us an even more pitiful eighth in the table.

I wonder does this eighteen thousand Euro include the SSIA money that we have scraped up over the past five years? If so, in the Rich World Cup, we have a relegation battle on our hands. As yet another report this week put it, we are “growth rich and wealth poor”. Now that’s more like it. Bertie might have said that we have “wealth boom but growth boomer”. Somehow, I think I know which statement sums it up for most of us.

The stark differences between the two statistics outlined above highlight how much reliance this country’s economy is on a booming property market. We now have over 300,000 millionaires in this state but they are not millionaires in the true sense of the word. Many of them owe vast amounts of money on their properties to the banks, which for years have encouraged them to take out bigger and longer-termed loans.  An ordinary house in the more desirable areas of Dublin costs over a million because of this policy. Does this make the present owner, who borrowed to the hilt to get his hands on it, a true millionaire?

I’m no expert in economics, but any report that claims that Ireland is the richest country in the world makes me nervous. Of course, when you look at who produced this report, the penny drops, in a manner of speaking. Banks have a vested interest in promoting this image. Politicians, especially those in government, will grab this golden nugget from this report and use it as proof as to how they have saved our nation and led it to world glory on the economic playing fields. They will not tell us at the hustings that a third of the nations wealth is held by 1% of the population. Now that is a statistic to really make you nervous.

Meanwhile, the bank managers and financiers lounge in their leather seats like lizards and marvel at how they have once again pulled the wool over our eyes. Hot on the heels of these indigenous reports comes another tome from the European Commission. This one tells us that Irish banks are the most profitable in Europe.

Their pre-tax profitability ratio is 50%, with the European average at less than 30%.  Irish consumers pay almost twice as much in credit card costs as the European average. The story is similar when it comes to the costs of loans in the Republic: we pay almost twice as much as our European friends.

Remember the “Yellow Pack” bank staff, those raw recruits who were literally taken in by the Irish banks at lower wages? There are part of the reason why Irish banks have such massive profits. The European Commission report cites Ireland’s “low base costs” as another reason for the banks‘ huge margins of profit.

The bottom line is that Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to be a banker. And we have a right shower of bankers here.

October 2006: Delaney’s Donkey

“Now, Delaney had a donkey that everyone admired

Tempo’rily lazy and permanently tired

With a leg at ev’ry corner balancing its head

And a tail to let you know which end he wanted to be fed ….” 

This old Val Doonican ditty sprang to mind as I watched the Cypriots’ demolition job on Stan’s Laurel and Hardy-like Irish soccer team last Saturday. It is a song about a donkey, owned by a man called Delaney, who tried to get it to run a half-mile race. You can see where I’m coming from on this.

But there is no point in blaming Steve Staunton for the footballing farce that the current Irish team has become. The man to blame is John Delaney, who appointed his own “donkey”, as it were, to run the team after the incision of the knives between Brian Kerr’s shoulder blades.

All Staunton did wrong really was apply for the job. It was up to Delaney to ask the pertinent questions at the interview. It was not as if Steve was able to bluff his way into the post. After all, if Delaney asked him what experience he had at international level, he would have been found out fairly quickly if he claimed to have any at all.

Delaney had promised the nation that he would appoint a “world class manager”. He was obviously thinking of a world that he alone lives in:  one that few of us are familiar with and one that fewer football experts know either. As no “world class” candidate emerged, Delaney should have wondered why. Could it be, heaven forbid, that nobody wanted to work for his set-up?

Along comes Stan the Man, who should have smelled a rat when he got the job so handily. This was not a footballing appointment it was a political appointment. Delaney had made it well known that he had not favoured Kerr when the FAI appointed the latter, and before Delaney became Chief Executive.

He was now making sure everyone knew that Stan was his man. His managerial credentials were secondary to anything else. Delaney had him harnessed and ready for action in no time, and Staunton was lead around the parade like the prize donkey in the afore-mentioned song.

Dressing up the appointment by adding Bobby Robson to the Delaney Dream Team did nothing to help matters. Unfortunately, Sir Bob has been in poor health and his influence on the make-up, tactics and morale of the Irish team has been non-existent, exposing Steve Staunton’s hopelessly inept qualifications for the task of managing, motivating and mothering an international group of players.

Brian Kerr was co-commentator at the game in Cyprus. He must have found it difficult to talk at all during the game, given that he probably had his head up his sleeve most of the time, laughing at how things were panning out for Delaney and his donkey. Between that and trying to voice comments that did not contain even a hint of gloating, Kerr earned his corn, unlike the hapless Staunton stuck in the stands.

Steve Staunton has been hard to listen to when doing his media thing ever since his appointment. He still has not realised why he was appointed in the first place. It is almost as embarrassing to listen to comments, as it is to watch the players on the football pitch.

He parrots out all the football clichés that one would expect from somebody who hasn’t a clue what is happening around him. He knows it is his duty to defend players’ performances but it beggars belief that he could say that “the young lads did very well for us” when they have just been trounced by a team ranked 60 places below you in the world, 5-2. Who knows what his version of doing badly is?

Similarly, moaning on about how many players were on the injured list is not valid. Against Cyprus, Ireland had a defence made up of five Premiership players who played like a St Eunan’s Centenary Reunion team: if that is not an insult to those who watched the game last Saturday after turning out for their former school earlier in the day.

Some of these injuries apparently occurred due to the long plane journey home and the delays encountered. An experienced coach would have ensured that players would warm down properly after the game and have proper after-match treatment to keep them fit for the next game. Yet Staunton says such injuries are “bad luck”.

No, Steve, such pat statements and excuses are not fooling anybody. Stop beating yourself up, man, and admit the obvious. You have overreached yourself. You are not experienced enough and the international arena is beyond you as a manager at this point in time. A man who has his own agenda within the FAI and the Irish footballing world is using you.

Your race is run, Stephen. (I could say something about “ass” and “on the line” but I’ll spare you the blushes.)  For your own sanity, get out now and rehabilitate yourself by booking into Brian Kerr’s Ex-Managers’ Knacker’s Yard. I think it’s located in Bray somewhere.

December 2007: Bertie the Bear

While the teddy bear’s picnic that is the budget may be stealing the headlines in the past few days, I came across another little publicised news item that interested me. I bet few of you have heard about the Irish schoolteacher that got into bother when she encouraged her class to name a toy animal “Bertie”, did you?
No? Well, there you go. It just shows you that they still manage to cover up some of the less savoury stories in this downtrodden country.

It all began innocently enough for this national school teacher. She was not long out of training, and she had just started her stint at the school, called “Waiting For Replacements For The Rat-infested Pre-Fabs Since 1980” National School. (I know it’s a long-winded name for the place but it’s the principal, if you know what I mean.)

Anyway, this teacher…. let’s call her Mary, in deference to the Minister for Education… was happy to take up the temporary contract, the only one she was offered. In fact, the principal was so happy to have her; he did not ask her too many questions about religion and the like. Or politics for that matter. Mary settled in quickly and four months flew by without any trouble at all. It was when she introduced a teddy bear to the class that the real ructions began.

Mary asked the children to suggest a name for the cuddly brown bear as part of a project to teach them about animals. Little Willie left down his toy rifle, after pretending to shoot his pal Seamus with it, and put up his hand.

“Let’s call him Bertie” he said “he’s my favourite animal of all time”. The rest of the class launched into a chorus of agreement, saying Bertie was the most popular boy around. Well, not all of them joined in, actually. Enda and a few of his pals, sulked in the corner as the other kids milled around the teacher: “Yes, Miss! Yes, Miss! Let’s call him Bertie!”

“All right so, children, this is now officially Bertie the Bear” the teacher announced. From that moment on, her fate was sealed.

The secretary of the school, who actually preferred Rabbites to bears any day, snitched on her colleague. She reported to the principal, saying that Mary had broken a golden rule of the state’s new religion. Bertie, she explained to the bemused principal, was the new God and for this teacher to name a teddy bear Bertie was outright blasphemy.
The principal then got on his high horse and galloped up the nearest tribunal, telling the Judge that this jezebel should be charged with inciting hatred and insulting the whole of Ireland for her dastardly deed.

The teacher was promptly arrested and pleaded her innocence. She said that she was probably a bit idealistic and too full of new ideas. She just didn’t realise that it was such a problem in using Bertie’s name in such a perceived blasphemous way. She added that cultural differences between her and the rest of the country may have caused the problem. After all, she had been brought up in Northern Ireland where such things were of little importance.

Pretty soon, the extremists were out in force. “What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Bertie” the government press office said in a statement. Religious leaders stood up and called for her to be punished by forty days of fasting for making fun of Bertie. Some even suggested forcing her to go to mass every Sunday and to eat fish instead of meat on a Friday.

Others Fianna Failers pointed out that while there is no ban in their manifesto on using images of Bertie as much as possible, likenesses are considered highly offensive by them. The fact that the children got to take Bertie the Bear home with them one night a week, and the fact that they kept little notebooks with his name on the front only added to the outrage of his followers.

“Who knows what they are writing in those little books when they are alone with Bertie” one particularly zealous follower was heard to rant, “and Bertie will not be held responsible for anything they say he did …or didn’t do! They might even be forcing money down his throat!”

And so the poor teacher got her come-uppance for daring to slur the name of Bertie. Thankfully, she avoided the Lenten fast and, indeed, as foreigners began to hold the episode up to ridicule; her punishment was not too bad. She was told to leave the country and go to somewhere like Sudan where her devious ways might be tolerated.

April 2009: Erin go Broke

What an exciting week we had. First we were lambasted in the New York Times for no apparent reason, then we had a world-beating rallying statement from the Tánaiste, and finally? Finally, we got an inkling of Fianna Fail’s future election strategy.

To start us off, how about this for a headline?- Erin go Broke. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that this was coined by an American newspaper, the New York Times, over a piece by a dastardly chap called Paul Krugman. And you don’t need a degree in Economics to figure out that it is a ‘bad news’ story about our poor little depressed country.  The first paragraph of this article bluntly asks ‘what is the worst-case outlook for the world economy?’ Krugman’s answer to this question is that America could turn Irish.

And there was myself thinking that America was indeed Irish all along, even before Brian (the Cowen one) recently invited 40 million of them to join us in our misery. If this new American fear of being Irish is true, then it is a very worrying thing. Perhaps, even more worrying is that the article hints that Americans are afraid that they will be made to emigrate over here, despite The Cowen One’s best efforts.
You see, on Paddy’s Day, he told the Yanks that ‘the connections between Ireland and America remain strong, but we cannot take them for granted.’ So, in a move to woo Irish-Americans, Mr. Cowen proposed measures to make it easier for Americans to claim Irish citizenship, reversing a course the Irish government took in 2005 when we thought we wouldn’t ever need their money again. Up to that, you had to have as close a tie as a grandparent to claim Irish citizenship. Now, you can go back another generation, Brian told them. It’s a pity that they aren’t any good at soccer or rugby over there, really.

But before the Americans could rush, Homer Simpson-like, to buy an airplane ticket ‘home’ to the Old Sod, along comes Paul Krugman to spill the remaining beans and upset the rotten applecart. Needless to say, many people got their dander up at this latest ‘insult’, for some bizarre reason. Our very own Tánaiste,- Mary from Donegal- became indignant about this Nobel prize-winning columnist’s comments on the homeland but the facts of the matter are that he was not saying anything that really isn’t true. Which of the following statements are suitably suing material for indignant Irish ministers?

‘The Irish Government now predicts that this year GDP will fall more than 10 per cent from its peak, crossing the line that is sometimes used to distinguish between a recession and a depression,’ he writes. So true, so true, we think. He talks about satisfying ‘nervous lenders’, Ireland being ‘forced to raise taxes and slash Government spending in the face of an economic slump – policies that will further deepen the slump.’ This is exactly what certain economists here are telling the government anyway.

And finally, he comments that ‘on the eve of the crisis, Ireland seemed to be in good shape, fiscally speaking, with a balanced budget and a low level of public debt. But the Government’s revenue – which had become strongly dependent on the housing boom – collapsed along with the bubble’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

And what was Mary’s reaction, on our behalf, to all this? Speaking in Washington, ahead of an important meeting with US Treasury secretaries and the like, she babbled: ‘There has been comment which has been neither helpful nor, in my view, appropriate, and I would like to move on from that and give the view that we have collectively as a Government have, yes, difficult times, but we have the capacity to deal with these issues and we would like to revert back to the international reputation we had and continue to have’.

Read that last sentence again, if you have the wherewithal to do so. Put on your glasses if you like. It won’t get any clearer. She wants to ‘revert back’ to the reputation that we in Ireland ‘continue to have’. Where would we be without her to fight our corner with such devastating words? The poor woman doesn’t know whether we’re coming or going, it would seem. Now, I know that she was speaking off the cuff but, really, I cringe when I read muddled quotes such as this. This is not the first time it has happened. She is not a social worker anymore or even an ordinary TD. She is being paid good money to represent our interests as deputy Prime Minister and to show that she is fully in charge of our industrial and trade policies when abroad by speaking properly.

It does not help our confidence in her ability to control the tailspin of our highflying economy as it nosedives when she comes out with gobbledegook like this. The fact of the matter is that Ireland is in deep trouble. Slamming the Paul Krugmans of the world for pointing out this unassailable fact is futile, made worse when done in such inept double-speak.

In typical fashion, we also read this week that the main government party are not allowing any sitting Fianna Fail TDs to be nominated for MEP elections. The reason? Not because they are too talented to leave the Dáil in these crises times. No, it is because they know that the party that has in government for all of the boom years would not have a pup’s chance of winning a by-election in these terrible times. Once again, we see evidence that this government is not really capable of getting us out of this mess and is really only interested in survival. They are like the band playing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ on the Titanic. And out of tune, at that. They might as well stick to rearranging the deckchairs on that same ship for all the good it will do us.

March 2009: No news is good news

 

– I’ve given up watching the television.

Is it the cost of the licence that’s caused this most dramatic of decisions?

– Not at all. In fact, that’s only the start of many decisions that I’m going to make.  I’m giving up the radio as well. And the newspapers.

– Somehow, I feel sure that you are going to enlighten me as to the reasons for these actions.
–  Well, if you insist. I reckon that if I don’t hear what’s going on it won’t affect me.  Take the recession. Sure, I’m sick and tired of people telling me how worse off I am since last year. There was a time when they told us that we didn’t know how well off we were and now, all of a sudden like, they’re falling over each other to tell me how badly off I am.

– You have a point there, my good man.

– My mother never stopped telling me how well off I was; how in her day, they went to school in bare feet with a sod of turf under their oxter. God, I used to feel guilty about having a pair of socks on my feet, even if they were darned with a different colour of wool. And the other day, I realised that I was feeling even more guilty nowadays than I was back then and suddenly I realised why…

– Pray, please proceed with your line of thought.

– You see, it’s all to do with the Information Age.

– Really?

– There’s too much information flying about. In my mother’s day, she thought she was well off because she knew no better. They had only one newspaper a week, the Sunday Press. And divil a bit of bad news did that carry what with it being a Fianna Fail paper and all that. Sure, my mother being a De Valera woman, she couldn’t hear any bad about Ireland, not to mind allow another paper into the house for fear that we’d be corrupted. And so we grew up thinking the world was a grand place, how we never had it so good because the paper and our mother told us that it was a grand place. Now, we can’t even get out of bed before we hear how bad things are. The alarm goes off and the clock radio kicks in with the latest news; all bad, of course. If we have the courage to crawl out from under the covers, the television is switched on by some unknown and unseen hand and we get more of it. You hop in your car and its depression, recession, inflation and deflation all the way to work.  Then all day, every day, you have to listen to your workmates as they moan; ‘Did you hear yer man on the radio yesterday about the property bust?’ And: ‘I see on the telly that such-and-such is laying off ten thousand people next year’; they’re all infected by it.

– I have to admit that I understand your state of depression completely, my friend.

– I knew you’d understand. Sure, like yourself, I only come in here to retain what’s left of my sanity. Keep your head when all around you, and all that. Where was I? Ah yes, the Age of Information. Then there’s Tinternet. Look at all the rubbish that they write on there.  Most of it lies too. And the politicians are all at it now. Doesn’t that young fellow from this town run the Fianna Fail site-for-sore-eyes? It’s not enough that they broadcast the drivel from the Senate every night on ArrTeeEeeToo to keep us awake. Now they want us to log on and read about it as well the next morning.

I must admit that I avoid that programme myself.

– Too right you do. Like the plague. Too much information, I say. All bad news that we’d be better off never hearing about any of it.  This is what I’m telling you. In the old days, we never heard about banks going burst in America. We could be throwing the pounds around like sods of turf and America could be a dustbowl like it was in the Thirties, for all we knew. What did we care? I’m telling you, we might never have got ourselves into the mess we’re in today except for the invention of satellite telly.

-How so?

-Well, all the Irish banks got the jitters when they heard about the credit crunch in the States, they stopped lending to the builders and the builders couldn’t build any more houses. Then the banks heard about the property crash as well and stopped giving money to people to buy houses. And all because they switched on Sky News. Need I go on?

I think I can see your logic all right.

– Good man. Now you know my plan. If everybody in the country took up the challenge, we’d be as right as rain in no time. There’s a lot to be said for thinking outside the box. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, as they say. I’m a far happier man today since I stopped watching Brian Dobson and listening to George Lee. No worse off than yesterday anyhow. And just as much money in my pocket. Long may it last. As the old saying goes; no news is good news. Are you in the mood for another?

March 2009: The farting tax

You’ll have heard about the Goose that lays the Golden Egg. How about the Cow that lays the Golden Fart? And you think that that harmless looking animal in that field over yonder could never hurt you? You’re wrong. That cow, despite its innocent looking chewing-the-cud look, is planning the destruction of this planet. If you don’t believe me, ask the environmentally-terrified minister, Jolly Green Gormley.

All this talk about Cowen’s Cow Tax- otherwise, no doubt, to be known as the Farting Tax in less polite company- is getting a little out of control, if you ask me. I never thought I’d see the day that we’d have to pay a Farting Tax; fart in this instance, standing for Flatulence and Recession Tax. What else did you think I meant?

Anyway, the Jolly Green Party’s suggestion for this new tax, following prompting from the bright boys in Brussels, nearly made me explode (if you’ll pardon the expression) with laughter. One should always be wary of people who invent new ways of taxing people ….or animals, for that matter.

Okay, maybe John Gormley can claim that this is not a new tax, as such, given that the English used to tax the Irish peasant for having a pig in his kitchen. And, indeed, unlike the Smoking Ban, Ireland will not be able to claim to be first in subjecting the country to a Farting Tax. Estonians have been paying through their noses, as it were, for this since last year.

Of course, if they try and lumber the farmers with this new tax, there will be the usual tractors of protest outside the Dáil. And in no time at all, you’ll have a few of the boys claiming tax relief as compensation on the basis that they live downwind of the Big Farmer who has a four hundred head dairy herd and therefore have to suffer enough without their own single cow and calf being taxed for their innocuous efforts. This proposal brings a whole new meaning to the term wind-farm.

Scientists around the world have known for years that animal wind could be a problem closely related to global warming. The real question is though; how much of a problem is it? As you can imagine, it’s very difficult to measure just how much methane an animal is farting out in any one silage session.

Even if scientists manage to measure the size of the farts, they then have to work out how much gas they contain. We all know that there are different types of farts and, logically, different levels of methane therein. If we transfer, for argument’s sake, the cow-tax to humans, you can imagine what I mean.

The tax payable on a soft, apologetic lady’s fart should be far less than that payable by a man we lets off after sinking eight pints of the black stuff. It stands to reason, doesn’t it? Cows obviously work in the same way. A big bullock could chew his way through a bunch of clover to discover he was farting like a street-singer’s accordion whereas Daisy the dairy cow might munch quietly in a newly-mown meadow with nary a sound at all. So how do they do it then? (Take measurements of methane levels, I mean, not how do they fart)

As you probably know from school science lessons it’s very important to take accurate measurements when you’re running an experiment. Otherwise, other scientists won’t take your results seriously. So how might you capture farts, without hurting yourself or the animals and whilst making sure the conditions were similar to their natural environment of the field, where they can fart away to their heart’s content without interference from busybody scientists. And how would these clever-clogs know that the cow was not holding onto its farts until after they left? Or sneaking a quick blast when they weren’t looking or listening? It’s all a bit of a mystery to me.

 

Consider this though. The tax is not going to save the ozone layer or stop global warming from happening. After all, you cannot rely on cows farting less just because they know that their owners are being charged for them. I mean, would you dare to fart less if you were a cow being subjected to eating half-rotten hay that they call silage?  This new tax is like paying money to offset your cow’s carbon hoof-print. Except you have no control over improving the climate while paying it. It is not a deterring tax. One cannot hold a fart forever, as some old wise man once should have said.

So what will they turn their thoughts to next to get the country out of debt?  You can be damn sure the human race is next on their hit list for the Farting Tax, and they’ll squeeze us until we can pay no more. What about cats and dogs? Do birds fart? If they do, does each species have a different sound? Can you buy CDs and tapes titled; ‘The Farting Songs of Irish Birds and How to Recognise Them’? And how would you explain this to your children: ‘No Johnny we can’t get a dog, we can’t afford the Farting Tax.’

March 2009: Cost saving exercise

-Its all right for them bucks, so tis.

-Who?

-Them bucks that are up there in the Dollchamber. Fightin’ the Celtic Bear.

-Ah, doubtlessly you are referring to our elected representatives?

-Yes, that Blaney boy and that McHugh fellow. Did you see that thing in the paper last week about them?

– No, I’m afraid I was incommunicado last week. A spot of socialising in New Delhi for St. Patrick’s Day. You know yourself……

– Indeed I don’t. You should be ashamed of yourself. And you with a large wife and small family at home. I suppose you were under out there like a slumdog millionaire on the pretence of drummin’ up a bit of business for yourself?

– You were talking about our elected representatives.

– Hmm, yes. Yes I was. As I was saying, them are the boys that can cry the crocodile tears for Ireland.

– Whatever are you implying?

– Well, I read that they are not taking a pay rise this time around. Making a big deal of it they were. Sixty quid a week extra, I read. Three grand a year. I ask ye. An’ do you know what they were gettin’ the rise for?

– I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest inkling.

– For being there.

– I’m afraid you’ve lost me.

– Well. Apparently the two boyos have been servicing the country so well that they are due a rise. One of them has all of six years full service and the other has less than two. Only a wet week in the place really and this means that they are entitled to get three grand extra on top of their wages. A kind of bonus like. Like the bankers.

– Methinks that you are not comparing like with like.

– Lookit, they’re all the same. They wear striped suits and red ties, don’t they?

– I don’t recall …

– Well, anyway. My point is that they were all over the front page, telling us how they were helping the country off its knees. We have to save five billion, one of them announces, so me and the other boyo are saving six grand between us. Isn’t that great, sez he. Then he goes on and sobs that it’s easy to have a go at politicians. I ask you.

– What?

– Isn’t that what they’re there for? I mean, this boy thinks he’s linked to the public servants and that is the reason he gets these rises. I never saw him wheeling a trolley above in the hospital, did you? Or directing traffic at the end of the Convent Road. Come to think of it, I never saw anyone directing traffic there….

– Is there a point to all this?

– Well, my point is very simple. If these boys want to attach themselves to the public servants, there must be a good reason. Maybe it’s because they know what’s comin’ in the budget.

– And I suppose you are privy to those details too?

-Of course I am! Sure, every dog in the street knows what’s happening there.

– No doubt you’re going to enlighten me

– Well, between you and me, there’s going to be a few basic changes to the way things are done in the civil service. First of all, there’s the writing bits and bobs.

– I cannot wait to hear about it.

– Well, you know the way we inherited the English laws and all that? The lads in the Dollchamber have a great plan to do away with all those high-falutin’ English words.

– And what, pray, will they replace it with?

– Well, simple words like. Words an ordinary man would understand when he has to stand up in court. Take the one about murder. That’ll be; ‘Don’t kill nobody’. Plain and simple for the plain and simple man in the street. And; ’Don’t park where you block people in a hurry’. That class of thing.

– Hmm. The mind boggles.

– And there’s more. They’ll be asking all the civil servants to change their style of writing letters. From now on, they’ll have to ignore all grammar rules, full stops, commas and semi-colons; even our old friend the exclamation mark will be banned! They might even force them to run all the words into each other if the economy gets worse.

– I see. Pray tell me what is the purpose of this alteration in policy?

– It’s the cost of ink and the paper. Imagine what they’ll save over a month. Or even a year. Capital letters, of course, will be a thing of the past. Terrible waste of ink and paper, those things. Sure, it’ll be a great saving for the country. More than three grand a year, anyhow.

– Yes, indeed I’m sure it is.

– Indeed it is. Indeed it is. There’s another thing could be done. They could stop repeating themselves in the Dollchamber and then the recorders would save more ink and paper.

– I’m curious. How did you procure this vital information?

– Sure, it was easy. I just wrote a letter to one of them boyos and he wrote a letter to the relevant body and they wrote a letter back to him telling him the story and he wrote a letter to me telling me the story. And I’m doing my own bit for the country now.

-How do you figure that?

– Well, amn’t I just after telling you the whole shebang? I could have written you a letter about it instead, couldn’t I? There’s another few bob saved and not an inverted comma wasted. I suppose you’re not up to another one, are you?

December 2008: Pig Revolt

A further meeting of the Bah Humbug club took place last week. Naturally, as the dreaded Christmas season gets underway, these meetings are getting more regular and, indeed, are attracting more passionate pleadings from the members. The old hands amongst us try to calm the freshmen, soothing their fear of the forthcoming festive frolics with utterings such as; ‘don’t panic. It’ll all be over soon’ and ‘never fear, Santa doesn’t really exist.’

After we settled everybody down, we got to the real business at hand. Huddled around the meagre fire (no Yule-fuelled extravagance for us, you know), we discussed the first item on the agenda. It was the recent Wexford pig revolution. So successful ahs it been, that man ahs panicked into offering a reprieve from death to every pig in the country in an effort to make peace.

The timing of this latest revolt is no coincidence, of course. Most members of the BHC recalled that this time last year, one hundred and fifty pigs made a similar strike for freedom. This was the time that they escaped from a lorry outside Sligo town, a vehicle that was transporting them to the dreaded death camps in Rooskey.

This was a marvellous time to be a pig as they cavorted around the countryside, causing havoc for traffic and police who tried to negotiate with them to return to their normal, but doomed, lifestyles. Boy, did they make the headlines. So much so, that they feathered cousins, the chickens tried the same thing, with as much success,  a few months later.
Then there was Butch and Sundance, two Tamworth pigs who led their would-be executioners a merry dance around the English countryside for a whole week back in 1998. They finally surrendered when promised a reprieve from death. We wondered what had become of them in the end. Did they really live out their days in peace with their owners? Or did they end up as fodder for Gordon Ramsay’s knives?

Banishing this depressing thought from our minds (although, if I may say so, most members of the Bah Humbug club thrive of depressing thoughts), a vote of support for the latest pigs’ stance against the Christmas slaughter was passed unanimously. One speaker got fairly animated about pigs, keeping himself warm at the same time by jumping up and down. ‘It is a heart-warming thing to see how the pigs have revolted against being forced to become Christmas hams.’ he said.

‘There is no worse sight than seeing them sliced to bits, to lie alongside their two-legged turkey friends on a plate on Christmas day, only to be poked at, half chewed and then dumped out the next day, along with the uneaten, cold brussels sprouts.

‘I have nothing but admiration for the pigs. Their sabotage job on the oil in the feedstuff machinery was a brilliant bit of engineering. They have saved so many pigs from the unnecessary and wasteful killing that takes place at this time of the year. I hope that the turkeys will take a leaf out of their book and revolt in the same way.’

As he sat down to a chorus of ‘hear, hear’, a meek voice was heard. ‘But what about my breakfast roll? I miss it.’ There was silence. Then, our president spoke up in a levelled, but authoritative voice.

‘There will be no need for breakfast rolls in the new year, my good friend. After all, Breakfast Roll Man, the invention of the construction industry, is now extinct. He has evolved into Recession Man and the only breakfast he needs, or can afford, these days is a boiled egg and a bit of dry toast, if he’s lucky. And there’s no suffering for any animal in the making of that, my friend.’

As he sat down, there was a polite clap. For myself, if I was honest, I missed the smell of bacon and sausages frying and, looking around the room, I could see other Bah Humbuggers were feeling the same. Nevertheless, we had to make sacrifices in this world, especially around Christmas time. The main thing was that the Christmas ham would not be making an appearance on the table this year and this was another small triumph for the club.

The proposal was made that we should mark the success of the 2008 Pig Revolt in some way. Various ways of doing this were discussed. One man proposed that we march a pig down the main street of the town with a few of us following behind carrying signs, such as ‘Free All Pigs’ and ‘Long Live the Bacon Bringers’.

Another man suggested that we invite some old boar to give a speech at our next meeting but a wag at the back commented that it might be a ‘bit boring’ to have to listen to snorting and snuffling all evening. That brought a rare smile to the faces of the Bah Humbuggers.

Finally, it was decided that the most appropriate way of marking the occasion would be to do a reading from George Orwell’s book, ‘Animal Farm’. This will take place next week at the Bah Humbug Club’s usual venue. You are all invited, of course.

December 2008: Ruinair Revolt

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Ruin Air’s…..sorry, Mick’s Monopoly Monoplanes’ … flight to Timbuktu. As you will have noticed there have been a few changes since you were last on board. Firstly, we have done away with the silly uniforms that we had to wear when Aer Lingus were still in existence. I know Mick said at the press conference the other day that he’d keep the oul’ green ones but that was just a bluff…..yes, another one.
“Now, you will notice, all our staff, including the pilot, are wearing jeans and open necked shirts, married to a semi-casual corduroy jacket. This new look was, of course inspired by our boss, Mick O’Leery, who always likes to make it look as if he’s one of the hard-working underpaid staff. Isn’t he a ticket, lads and lassies?

“Speaking of tickets, please note that you can now avail of a ticket for the loo, at the reduced introductory price of two euro, every time you buy a cup of tea. Families can get three tickets for a fiver and you can fight about who gets them later. Those of you who decide to drink our overpriced beer or wine on this flight can get a book of six loo-tickets for a tenner. Who says we don’t look after you then?

“You may have noticed that we only have one pilot on board with us this evening. The co-pilot has been let go and is signing on the dole in Bray as we speak, together with the other 500 pilots that Mick sacked when he took over Aer Lingus. Don’t worry if anything happens the one remaining pilot, our flight attendants are fully trained in all health and safety procedures and could land a 747 on a sixpence if need be. They’ve had plenty of practice with all the scares we’ve had over the past few months.

“With regards to safety procedures, we’d like to ask you to stuff the breathing apparatus back up into the cubby hole above your heads when they fall down, as they tend to do mid flight. Of course, this is an additional feature of our flights for your entertainment. Just have a look at your neighbouring passenger’s facial expression when this happens without warning and you’ll get a good laugh out of it.  Believe me; I laughed myself sick the last time it happened. If this happens to you, there is a very small charge for use of the sick bag, which you can keep as a souvenir after use. We certainly don’t want them.

“You will be aware of our brand new second-hand seats, which you were able to upgrade to for only ten euros extra. These seats have been recycled … who said that we weren’t a green company … from the grounded Aer Lingus fleet. Unfortunately the paint we used to change them to our logo colour hasn’t quite dried yet on some of them. In order to compensate anybody who ends up with a blue bum, our scratch tickets will be sold at an earlier time than normal so that you can entertain yourself by scratching them instead of scratching your painted rear end.

“We hope to have models of Aer Lingus planes for sale soon on board all of

our flights. These will, no doubt, become vintage collector’s items in years to come. We’ll also have snooze blankets, specially woven from the surplus Aer Lingus uniforms, available to passengers for a small charge, as soon as we collect the finished product from our sweat factory in Asia.

“Also available on your flight this evening is our new bare-all calendar, featuring real live Ruin Air staff. The 2009 calendar is only eight euros to all passengers, both male and female, which goes to prove that we are not a sexist company. And anybody who wants to complain that we are can do so by leaving through the nearest emergency exit mid-flight.

“Don’t blame us if those dopes in the RNLI aren’t around to pick you up from the sea after you leave. Oh sorry, I got carried away there. I can’t call them dopes any more, can I? Not after their compliant against our recent ad has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland. Silly me.

“Are many of you emigrating? Well, consider yourselves unlucky. Now that we have taken over Aer Lingus and the government has put a tax on departures from Ireland, we consider it our duty to slap another tenner on the fare of each person who is flying one-way out of Ireland. We call it the Unpatriotic Tax. It’s not fair to emigrate and leave the rest of us to pick up the pieces. I’m sure the ordinary man in the street has our backing. After all, We now what he thinks he really wants. No frills.

“So sit back and enjoy your maiden flight with Mick’s Monopoly Monoplanes. During the flight, if we ever get off the ground, we’ll be telling you about some forthcoming exciting offers that will be winging your way in the New Year. You have

heard, no doubt, that we will soon be allowing you to use your mobile phone in flight. The cost will be only two euros per minute. This price might change depending on how much we can get away with.

“This is to cover the cost of the technology of allowing you this luxury. You can now tell all your mates that you are ringing them from a plane and they’ll be so impressed. Did I hear someone say they want a quiet flight? No chance, mate. As our boss says; ‘If you want a quiet flight, use another airline. Ryanair is noisy, full and we are always trying to sell you something.’

“Have a nice flight and get your wallets ready because Ruin Air now rules the air.”

 

December 2008: Bah Humbuggers

You may not be aware but there is actually a secret society that monitors the movements of Christmas and its associated works.  I myself, of course, am a fully paid up member of the Bah Humbug Club and proud of it. This year, my first complaint came when I spotted a ‘dedicated’ Christmas shop next door to one selling Halloween fare in late October.

You know the type of shop I mean. The one that has tinsel coming out its doors, gaudy musical Santas and gaudier trinkets for the even gaudier trees that it sells. These shops make hay while the snow falls, if you get my drift. Come January, they are closed again for another ten months or so and the proprietors go back on the dole.

These shops prey on people’s sense of season: as do the advertisements on the telly, telling us about holidays that are coming and snowmen walking in the air. It all gets a bit much for me really and the rest of the Bah Humbuggers. Every year the members of the BHC complain about how Christmas starts too early, advertisements are too moody and Christmas music is too loud. All this, and more, came to be discussed in the first annual Bah Humbug Club meeting the other night.
There was a fuller attendance than normal, probably due to the recession. We had some members rejoining us, those weaker ones who lapsed when they made a few bob during the Celtic Tiger, got caught by the Christmas spirit and ended up in the Best Lit-up House competition last Christmas. One broke down as he showed us a photocopy of his electricity bill from January 2008. ‘Imagine’, he sobbed, ‘I’ve been such a fool. That bill is more than the redundancy money that I got when my job went in July.’

Needless to say, he didn’t get much sympathy from the diehards amongst us. We just demanding his membership fee from him and told him he should never have fallen for that type of Christmas malarkey in the first place. After the usual moaning and groaning, the meeting livened up when an emergency motion was put to the committee from the floor. A proposal was made to send a message of congratulations to ‘that fearless woman’ (as it was put by the speaker), one Barbara Heavey from Cork, and inviting her to speak at our next meeting on Christmas Eve.

This woman is the latest heroine in the eyes of the Bah Humbug Club and there was no problem finding a seconder for the motion. She shocked the nation last Friday night by informing Pat Kenny that she couldn’t be bothered to attend the Late Late Toy Show and he could keep his free tickets, thank you very much. To horrified gasps from the audience, Kenny strayed from his script (a rare and dangerous thing for him to do, my sources tell me) and ripped up the tickets there and then, live, on air. ‘There’s your toy show tickets,’ he said, teeth clenched in a forced smile, ‘I will give them to someone who appreciates them …’ Nobody pointed out to him that, as he had already torn them up, it would require some deft sellotaping to get them back into working order, but that’s what happens when Pat strays from a script.

You have to hand it to Barbara. She followed up her ‘insult’ to Pat (who indeed seemed to have taken it personally) by telling a national newspaper that she only entered the competition out of ‘boredom’. We all can sympathise with her on that one.

Poor Pat seems to live on his own little planet, along with his ego (now bruised, no doubt.) He cannot understand how anybody would not want to attend ‘his’ toy show, the same show that doesn’t allow children in the audience but allows Pat to act childishly and foolishly himself in front of adoring adults. On Sunday last, still reeling from the shock of it all, he said that he was at a loss at to why the woman had entered the competition if she didn’t want to attend The Late Late Toy Show. Eh, Pat … hello? It might have something to do with the fact that there was also the small matter ten grand on offer as a prize, five in cash and five in vouchers.

And Pat likened the demand for tickets to his show to the demand for another, less in demand (to his mind), show. ‘Tickets to The Late Late Toy Show are impossible to get’ he ranted ‘no one can buy them. There are people in PR who can get you tickets to Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. They can’t get tickets to The Late Late Toy Show.’ Right, Pat, right.

And so, it was with a spring in our step that we left the Bah Humbug Club the other night. Sometimes it takes the Barbra Heaveys of this world to remind us Bah Humbuggers why we exist. We are all looking forward to our next meeting when our campaign against ‘Greatest Hits’ CDs by has-been 1970s singers , as well as our efforts to have ‘Fairytale of New York’ banned from the airways will be discussed. I shall keep you informed of developments.