April 2008: Smiling Fatigue Syndrome

They must know something that we don’t. I wish they would tell us. I’m talking about the likes of Tony Blair, Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern, of course. These three wise men have decided to pull the plug on their political careers, take the money and run, flush the rest of their lives down the toilet….whatever way you want to look on it, they’ve decided to go in some way or other.

What is it that they know? Is there an impending disaster due to global warming? Are we about to be hit by a meteor? Is Mugabe going to take over the world as soon as he …err… wins another election? Or, worst of all, is Hilary Clinton going to win the presidential election?

I’ll tell you one thing. I’m worried now that Bertie has thrown in the towel. It was alright when Tony decided to up sticks. You could see he was tired and worn-out, having to smile and be friendly all the time with the likes of Gerry Adams and George Bush.

Ian’s retirement was more of a surprise given his penchant for saying no. The wife must have put the question to him is such a way that he gave the right answer:

“Tell me, Ian darling, do you intend staying on any longer as leader of your church and as First Minister?”

“No, no, no. Of course not, never….” Mission accomplished for Mrs Paisley.

 But the biggest shock of all was Bertie’s tearful tantrum in the Dáil last week. Fair play to the man, he caught us all on the hop. Even the dogs on the street, as well as the other journalists, didn’t sniff out that one.

While the papers were full of what he was going to say about the tribunal, how he would or wouldn’t defend himself, Bertie was giggling madly to himself as he enjoyed his cup of cocoa the night before his big announcement.

“I’ll bleedin’ show dem. They think that they can crucify me over the Easter like that and get away with it. No bleedin’ way. I’m ready for them this time. Tony took the jump and I’m not too fond of that new guy. And sure big Ian is retiring too. There’s nobody left to invite over for a few jars in Fagan’s these days. And if Bill’s missus gets into the White House, I’ll be snookered altogether. The lads would never let me entertain her in the Beaumont House. She’d never buy her own round.

“No. The more I think about it, the more I should jack it all in. Feck it, I’ve had a good run. Peace …. well, sort of… in Northern Ireland. I can claim that one. And the economy. Dat was a lucky break too, getting in when the building trade picked up. And now dat looks like it’s on the downward spiral. Time for me to get out before the proverbial hits the fan. Let Cowen deal with it if he can …”

My own theory on this wholesale decamping epidemic is that they are all suffering from SFS, a condition rare in public life but, nevertheless, fatal for many political careers. This condition, to give it its official title and explain to the layperson, is called Smile Fatigue Syndrome. Just look at evidence.

Poor old Tony ended up with a smile as watery and washed out as Lough Swilly at low tide, presenting the classic symptoms. Bertie’s smiley days are well over, having had to face the real boss at the tribunal so often, where smiling was definitely frowned upon.

And Ian, who only recently started smiling at all, lacked the fitness levels of the other two and his face muscles gave up almost as soon as he started, forcing him to cancel his planned Chuckle Brothers tour with his new mate, Martin.

You see, genuine smile takes four muscles to crinkle the eyes, two to pull up the lip corners and two to wrinkle the nose, two to elevate the mouth angle, and two to pull the mouth corners sideways. Total muscles used: 12.

On the other hand, a frown needs two muscles to pull down the lips and wrinkles in the lower face, three to furrow the brow, one to purse the lips, one to depress the lower lip, and two to pull the mouth corners down. Total muscles used: 9.

Poor Ian obviously found the shift to using twelve muscles instead of nine too much for him to grin and bear it. As further proof of my theory, just take a long hard frowned look at the guys that have replaced or will be replacing the former face-aerobic practitioners.

Brian Cowen, Gordon Brown and, probably, Peter Robinson? Not exactly a bundle of laughs, are they? Not renowned for showing their molars to the cameras. They won’t succumb too easily to the dreaded SFS, I fancy, appearing as they do to be suffering it already.

Of course, I could be wrong about all this. As I said at the beginning, perhaps Bertie and the boys do know something that they are not telling the rest of us. If I was you, I’d keep a close eye of these three lads. Don’t let them drop out of sight onto some nuclear-proofed bunker or other, even it they have recovered from SFS and are smiling and waving at the cameras once again as they do so.

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