Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I was awoken Kraken-like from my slumbers this morning by the less than dulcet Cork tones of Orla Barry on Newstalk 106 discussing the problems facing English born people of Irish descent currently living on the Emerald Isle. One of her interlocutors was a former student of mine, Sean Folan, now a sports writer for the Indo and the other was some Irish descent guy from the British Council whose name escapes me. The latter appeared to have the possibly interesting (in the Chinese sense) job of marketing British culture on this auld sod.

The gist of this discussion was that the indigenous Irish are quite likely to engage in subtle and less subtle racist gibes and other such malarky when they hear an English accent. The old '800 years of oppression' argument was trotted out and the same dumb disingenuous questions about what football team you support if you're British born of Irish descent, etc. Blah blah blah, yawn, yawn, yawn.

Again as I recall, and bear in mind it was before I'd had my second cup of Kenyan peaberry so no jury in the land could convict me for any errors of recollection, one of the interviewees said that he wouldn't go to watch an international soccer game in a pub because of the responses of his fellow drinkers to an 'Englishman' supporting Ireland.

Now this stuff has serious implications and I've dealt with them elsewhere on this blog, but to be honest, after the best part of a decade's residence on this sainted isle I'm a bit fed up with hearing Irish descent people beating themselves (and on occasion, each other) up about an issue that was not of their making. In my view the ultimate responsibility for such self-flagellation lies with the bad faith of the gombeens who have effectively run this country since the foundation of the state, whenever that was.

These people, who smugly sat by and profited from the hundreds of thousands of their compatriots who were forced onto the emigrant boats to England in the two decades following the second world war, should have been forced to offer a public apology to every migrant who ever left to face the world of 'no blacks, no dogs, no Irish' that was Britain for the latter part of the 20th Century. Their descendants should go down on their knees and thank the children of emigrants for the sacrifice their parents made and remind themselves of that sacrifice every time they sip a cup of latté in their local Fergocino's.

Meanwhile, to British born children of Irish migrants I offer the following strategies to offset the negative effects of an English accent on life here:

1. Pretend to be from Liverpool. Cultivate a 'calm down, calm down' accent, have a bad curly perm and grow an Ian Rush/Graeme Souness moustache. Some people might mistake you for a Mullingar woman and you may have to face a certain amount of benignly patronising guff, but believe me it's worth it. Everyone in Ireland loves scousers because they know that we're better at being Irish than they are. Liverpool people are the Irish the indigenes wish they were; boisterous, aggressive, articulate, funny, friendly, and, above all, untainted by the material benefits of the Celtic Tiger.

2. Take to wearing a Celtic shirt in public places. This really confuses things for would be Anglophobes, particularly the armchair Republicans in the population. The contradiction of the English accent garbed in a Hoops shirts generates the kind of neurotic reaction Pavlov looked for in his dogs in some of his later, crueller experiments.

3. Maintain a critical and vocal disdain for Rugby Union and point out frequently that it's a garrison game played by English public schoolboys and latent homosexuals that any Irishman worth his salt should be ashamed to participate in. Follow this up by asking how they fancy England's chances in the Ashes. (Don't try this in Limerick though).

4. Ask people what soccer team they support and when they reply Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, etc. respond by saying 'That's funny you don't have a Manc/Cockney/Scouse accent' and then show them your Shamrock Rovers season ticket.

5. Never, ever go on the defensive about your English upbringing. Take the war to the aggressor. Mention things like the National Health Service (it's free, don'tcha know?), cheap beer, the relative absence of paedophile priests and corrupt politicians, and the better weather.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fat Chance

It has become a habit of my later years to deal with the inevitable existential hangover that comes with the passing of another year to look outside myself for some form of inspiration to assist in the process of surviving yet another year. As I've got older and wisdom has been increasingly been replaced by cynicism, finding something or someone to act as a source of inspiration has become harder and harder, but this year I think I've come up trumps in the substantial shape of Mr Steve Vaught aka The Fatman Walking who I heard interviewed on RTE today.

Mr Vaught a former US Marine, set off in 2005 from his home in California to walk to New York. When he set out Mr Vaught was morbidly obese, weighing somewhere in the region of 400lbs and suffering from chronic depression. It took him the best part of 15 months to complete the walk but he managed it without any major sponsorship, support team, and most importantly no motive other than, in his own words 'to break out of a negative rut lifestyle and find new meaning and resolution to life drama that I felt was holding me back.' Whatever that means.

Steve Vaught: The 'before' picture

Over the course of the trip Vaught had acquired a documentary team following him, a personal trainer, a book deal, a website which received upwards of 100,000 hits during his cross country stroll, and a huge media reception on his arrival in New York City. On his site he described his arrival like this:

So as I crested what turn out to be the last spectacular vista of the trip, a view of Manhattan, I really knew that I was there. There were a ton of photo ops there and I continued on. After a hill and a couple of turns I am ambushed by Inside Edition and as they were following me I was greeted by a bunch of kids that had poured out from their school onto the front lawn to cheer me on, Stopping periodically to get a “good background” or to answer a few questions, I actually missed a very important turn off. Route 46 becomes impassable up ahead and I needed to turn off and follow along side streets to get to Ft. Lee and the George Washington Bridge.

Now I can almost hear the cynics amongst you muttering 'So what, just another Oprah moment.' That would normally be my own response. Another media myth perpetrating the bogus ideology of individual redemption through a struggle against adversity leading to 15 minutes of fame and an example to us all. Hollywood couldn't have scripted this guy's story better. He kills 2 pedestrians in a car accident, gets depressed and fat, and seeks and finds existential redemption along the highways and by-ways of America. He returns home healthy, wealthy and wise to a loving wife and children. Fade to titles and wait for the Oscar nominations to roll in.

But there were 3 things struck me as I listened to Mr Vaught. The first was that I'd never heard of him, the second was that he sounded like a well-grounded, decent and honest human being and, finally, that unlike the Hollywood version, Vaught's life had not been fixed by the journey in a way that would get him on Oprah. If anything, by the standards of western materialism his life has got worse. He's still fat, around 320lbs, the book deal fell through, the media turned on him, he and his wife divorced and he's now working nights as a tow-truck driver and finding it hard to find the time and resources to sustain the collective redemptive process that began with the fatman walking.

Steve Vaught: The 'after' picture'

Prompted by the radio interview I went to his website and read his journal of 15 months walking from coast to coast. It's no picturesque travelogue, there isn't much Brysonesque wit or knowingness about it. It's a sincere, serious, sometimes humourless account of a self-obsessed struggle to come to terms with, well something, everything, and nothing. There is no Hollywood story here. He doesn't start fat and end slim; he isn't discovered as a poet through lyrical descriptions of passing Americana; he's not a model or an inspiration to anyone and, this is why I really respect the man, he doesn't really want to be. What's more, and I may be mistaken, but I suspect he knows he didn't have to do the walk at all to find out whatever it was he found out.

In my view what he accomplished on his long walk was something that can't be bartered for 5 minutes in the media or the quick fix moral economy. No-one was going to make money or ride his coat-tails to fame. No-one is going to be selling the Steve Vaught weight loss programme to hapless fatties. He did what he felt he needed to do in the hope that something good might come of it, but this was definitely not the career move that others, less honourable, might have made of it.

This is the true story of a common humanity in an seemingly uncaring self-obsessed world. It's not about eating or buying or selling yourself to a happiness that is at best transitory and usually illusory. It's not about finding or becoming a guru. It's not even about the search for a true self. As the man himself said:

You see, once you open a door, even a metaphorical emotional one, you night not be able to close it again and instead have to stand and face what is on the other side. This is exactly what occurred in my case, I found an awakening and now I need to pursue it.

Well, Steve, if you ever read this, all I can say is I wish you well.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

An aside on the Brit Awards (aka The Honours List)

As an Irish citizen, and one who is not fit to polish a pair of Armani shades, I am nonetheless proud to live in a country where titles of nobility are outlawed by the constitution (Article 40.2, check it out). So it's always a disappointment when one of my compatriots takes the symbolic equivalent of the Queen's Shilling.

Some you'd expect nothing more from, such as rugby playing multinational capitalists and South County Dublin pop singers who once claimed to be punks and who'd do anything to stay in the media eye (including marrying Paula Yates). But what have we now but arise Sir Paul (and I don't mean McCartney). And despite what he says on the U2 website, there can't conceivably be any doors that an honorary knighthood will open up for the short-arsed sunglasses devotee that weren't open already. I for one intend to return my CDs in protest!

Meanwhile across the Irish Sea

Having bought into the British Honours system, Sir Bono might do well to take a look at the case of boxer 'Prince' Naseem Hameed. In an extremely rare, if not unprecedented act in recent times

The Queen has directed that the appointment of Naseem Hamed to be a Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, dated 31 December 1998, shall be cancelled and annulled and that his name shall be erased from the Register of the said Order.

Naseem lost his gong after serving a jail sentence for a dangerous driving incident in which another driver was seriously injured. On the off-chance, I caught a phone-in show on BBC Radio 2 yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to hear the great British public in outcry about the annulment. Accusations of racism and 'What about Jeffrey Archer, then?' abounded. At least someone somewhere knows what the score is.

According to the Cabinet Office "Forfeiture will be considered if evidence comes to light that someone has done something which shows they shouldn't have received an honour." I would guess that perjury, witness tampering, and writing execrable fiction might just meet that criterion. Former prisoner FF8282 and Baron of Weston-Super-Mare, was unavailable for comment.

And finally, if that weren't enough to convince Sir Bono about the nature of the system he's bought into, long term tax exile and wannabe Scotsman Rod 'the Mod' Stewart joins the list of past their sell-by date popsters with a CBE, presumably for services to blondes (thanks to Sandra Leckie for that joke!).