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.

November 2008: Recession Man

Today, I am making the prediction that the glorious Irish pub will soon be back to its former state of greatness. Why do I speak such madness? Have you got a minute or two and I’ll tell you? Of course, you have, aren’t you receding into a recession at the moment. You have plenty of redundant time on your hands.

Granted, up until I had this vision, I could picture myself telling my grandchildren about these places, where we went almost every evening to have a couple of pints, a quiet smoke and a chat with our neighbours. They would be enthralled by the fact that we were still allowed to light a peat fire, never mind smoke a cigarette as you sat chatting. They would be excited by the notion that we were still talking to our neighbours back in those days.

But, I digress. I was about to tell you about how the pub will be making a come-back over the next couple of years or so. This might sound like the rant of a poor pathetic alcoholic who cannot admit that there will be a drink drought in 2009 with not a pub in sight. But, I am willing to bet you the price of a pint that I am right. The pub will become the centre of attraction in our lives again.

Once more, very soon, it will feature on tourist ads populated by happy smiling faces. It will be the reference point when you are giving directions to the tourists that the same ads will attract. You mark my words. Let me lay down my overwhelming evidence in your mind.

The one most powerful argument for my prediction is the fact that the country is in a state of disgrace (as opposed to the kind that you are supposedly in after confession or death). In times of trouble, man turns to drink or religion. In Ireland, in the past, when there were enough priests to go around, we went to mass. Nowadays, the tendency has been to turn to drink, although, I’ll admit, we had this same urge in the past as well. And that is exactly what is happening, even as I write these words.

All across the country, the beleaguered publican is opening his doors on a Monday morning to find a customer waiting, with a rolled up tabloid newspaper under his arm. Ten minutes later, just as he plants the first bottle of the black stuff in front of him, Johnny-Come-Early is joined on the adjacent barstool by another man of similar ilk, the only difference being that he does not have a newspaper. He borrows yer man’s and soon both men are swapping racing tips, comparing notes and teasing out form with the paper spread on the counter before them. As the days and weeks wear on, another straggler or two joins the company.

Mr. Publican soon notices that his regular custom has grown. Pretty soon, the afternoons in his pub have become fairly raucous affairs, with much merriment and back-slapping, tip-swapping and counter-banging. In fact, there have been occasions when every barstool in the pub was occupied, something that has not happened since Ireland last played in the World Cup finals. He scratches his receding, greying hairline in puzzlement, wondering about the turnaround in his fortunes. The explanation is fairly simple. It is because of the recession (as opposed to his hairline) that these men are frequenting his pub once again.
You see, in the good old days, these men had jobs. They were making money. They worked hard, knew the bank manager by his first name, went on nice holidays. They hardly noticed the wee pub on the corner as they brought their wives or girlfriends, or both, out for meals on a Saturday night. They didn’t go to the pub to watch the football on the telly. Instead, they went to the games to see them live, grabbing a quick and cheap budget flight and a slow but expensive steak in the clubhouse restaurant after the game. But all this has changed.

With the job gone, as well as the girlfriend, Mr. Recession Man has more time on his hands. He is slowly realising how he has missed the pub. He remembers how he used to wish he could go in there and relax, as he drove past it on Monday mornings, starting his hundred mile round trip to work.. Now he suddenly realises that he can indeed do just that and he also discovers that he is not alone. There are many more Recession Men out there, just like him, who wished for just the same chance.

It’s back to basics, folks, for these lads. Recession Man needs to fill his time. He needs to feel wanted and understood. He can’t stay at home with the wife because he is not wanted there or, indeed, understood. He can’t even watch the football on the telly as he can’t afford the Sky package anymore.

So it’s off to the pub, just like the old times. He can do a bit of male bonding, have a flutter on the horses and not feel guilty about it because they are all in the same boat after all, jobless and footloose, if not entirely footless just yet. Except for the publican. He’s the only one who’s breaking a sweat and worrying about the taxman once more. Long may this recession last, he thinks as he pulls yet another pint to fuel his recession session.

November 2008: Uncle Barry O’Bama

Many people have hailed the election of Barack Obama as the latest in a long line of Irish Presidents of the United States. After a little research, I can officially announce today that Barack Obama (or O’Bama as it should really be spelled) is indeed a true United States Irishman. (It always makes me nervous when I put the words ‘united’ and ‘Irish’ in the same sentence) The translation of his surname O’Bana is, literally, ‘son of the soil’.

You see, ‘Bama’ is the official state soil of Alabama and ‘O’, of course, translates into ‘son of’ from Irish. Look it up on ‘Tinternet’ if you don’t believe me. And don’t go telling me that he can’t be a true Irishman because of the colour of his skin: that would be like convincing me that Paul McGrath should have played for England or Philip Lynott never drank whiskey out of a jar. Unthinkable.

Barack- I can address him by his first name now as one true Irishman to another- is welcome in my house anytime. Of course, my invitation will have to take its place in the queue. A little Irish town has already claimed to have housed his ancestors. Presumably, these ancestors were members of the constabulary of the time and lived in the local barracks; the new president being named in honour of this fact when he was born. This is more proof, if any was needed, of Barack’s Irishness.
Anyway, this little ancestral town is called Moneygall. Mind you, with the state of the economy this last year or so, I’m sure the people are fairly fed up at the loss of jobs there and would like to change its appalling name to something more appealing; something like Galled-at-the-lack-of-Money, maybe.

Speaking about name-changing, will Uncle Barry (the more I write about his Irishness, the more I feel I can be personal with him) change the name of the White House now to something more appropriate given his ethnics? Perhaps he’ll go so far as to paint it a different colour?

 

Indeed, our embracing of Uncle O’Bama is in stark contrast to the ‘welcome’ (and I’m sure you’ll forgive my choice of verb here) rendered onto George Bush while he was in office. This is not surprising really considering that he probably thinks that Shannon is the capital of Ireland and consists mainly of a long strip of concrete with landing lights and a huge coffee shop, complete with smoking area for his gasping troops.

Some of you might recall that time when George actually found his way to our dear little island in 2004.  The welcome he got was not exactly comparable to that received by other presidents such as Reagan in Ballyporeen (another town that could have done with a name change, incidentally) and Kennedy in Wexford.
No, back in 2004, Bush visited Ireland for all the wrong reasons. He was garnishing support for the war in Iraq, trying to steal a bit of Clinton’s thunder by associating himself with the Northern Ireland peace process and, of course, he was wooing the Irish American vote for the upcoming second-term elections. Not exactly a sentimental fellow was George, and certainly we Irish never felt sentimental towards him. But now, finally, after eight long years, we have Uncle Barry to bring back to the oul’ sod.

O’Bama has already indicated that he is interested in visiting his ancestral homeland. The Washington Post wrote that Moneygall consists of ‘one stoplight, two pubs and a population of 298.’ Now that really amazes me. Only two pubs? And, according to the National Post newspaper, 100 of these villagers, a third of the entire population, packed into one of those bars on the night O’Bama was elected.

God knows what the place will belike when he finally gets to visit for the pint that he says he will have there. Showing another sign that he is truly Irish, he made this rash promise on 17th March 2008: as rash a promise as any Irishman has ever made on St. Patrick’s Days down through the ages.

No doubt, it will be a pint of the black stuff that our new Uncle will drink. . At least he won’t have to contend with Bertie trying to shove pints of Bass down his throat.

And in the same vein, I’ve just thought of an apt new name for one of the two pubs in Galled-at-the-lack-of Money. They could call it the Black Bush.

So we look forward to Uncle Barry O’Bama coming home to Ireland in the near future. Never mind that he has a different colour of skin to most of us. Sure, we’re all colour blind over here; the Irish for a ‘black man’ is ‘fear gorm’ after all, as I’m sure he’s been told already. And anyway, it could have been worse as far as we’re concerned and we should count our blessings. Heaven forbid if the new president was a woman.

November 2008: Patriotism

‘They say that patriotism is the last refuge

to which a scoundrel clings.

Steal a little and they throw you in jail,

steal a lot and they make you king …’

These words of Bob Dylan echoed in my head as Brian ‘The Brain’ Lenihan delivered the final words of his budget 2009 speech when he made his  ‘call to patriotic action’. (Yes, I know. I promise that this will be the last mention I’ll make of the budget. If I keep going like this, I’ll still be writing about it when the mini-budget comes about in January).

Anyway, we were talking about patriotism or the lack of it, maybe. Apparently, Brian would like us all to play our parts in the patriot game, to paraphrase another song. He has some neck really, as Bob Dylan points out so succinctly. Or maybe, he’s just cottoned on to the next big buzzword of our times.
After all, the American election threw up its fair share of patriotic speeches. Obama felt he had to defend himself when McCain … or McOld as one wag called him … questioned his patriotism. In a speech entitled ‘The America We Love’, the president-elect said; ‘I … believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.’

This is the bit that Brian obviously read. But when you read further into his speech, you get this: ‘We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programmes. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and (be) cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.’

Perhaps Brian didn’t have time to read that far into the speech. If he had, he wouldn’t go about cultivating and nurturing patriotism in the hearts of our children by piling them into classrooms occupied by half a teacher (the upper body half, of course, in order to retain the brain which is vital to any teacher), would he?

Charlie Haughey and patriotism are not words that make easy bedfellows in any person’s mind. Apart from The Great Escape artist that is. Bertie, in his graveside oration at Haughey’s funeral, laid heavy emphasis on his former leader’s patriotism, his “proud identity with the people of Ireland …all of them”. Many people choked into their hankies during this speech and it was not tears that they were shedding.

To get to the origins of this patriotic kick that the current government is on at the moment, we have to go back to Cowen’s triumphant Offaly homecoming speech. I wasn’t lucky enough to be there myself but, according to my sources, the speech was delivered a little like one that an All-Ireland winning captain would give when he was about to receive the Sam Maguire.

He got a little bit wound up, apparently, as winning captains often do. Thankfully, on this occasion, my source tells me, he didn’t give in to the temptation of scratching his nether regions (although he didn’t put it that politely) as All-Ireland captains often do, or forget he had a microphone in his hand and shout so loud as to blow a speaker in the PA system.

However, he did come out with the words; ‘all national progress can only be predicted on an upsurge of patriotism’. This phrase, of course, was borrowed from Sean Lemass, another son of Fianna Fail. So Cowen seems big on the patriotism thing. Unlike Bertie, he bellows out the words of the national anthem at Lansdowne Road and Croke Park. Whether or not he’ll sing ‘Ireland’s Call’ will be interesting to see. Then again, he prides himself on being a ‘bit of a singer’, as we patriotic Irish quaintly have it.

So that’s where Mr. Lenihan was coming from in his wrap up of the budget speech. He was taking his cue from his leader. He wanted the old age pensioners who had already showed their patriotism in the 1980s by paying out over half their wages in tax and health levies to now start paying the state again to look after them in their final years. You have to hand it to The Brain. He gave us a whole new twist on the patriotic act of dying for your country.

But back to the future, and the real world.  Barack Obama, of course, continued on the patriotic road with his speech when he gave his victory speech in Chicago on Wednesday: ‘So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other’. Hmmm.

I wonder if the two Brians were listening to the president-elect, especially to that bit about looking after others. Maybe Cowen could ask Obama to explain real patriotism to him when he shoves the bowl of shamrock in his hands next March. That is, of course, if he is still Taoiseach then.