Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

True Colours

Raising kids is a young person’s game. Public disdain or not, at least teenage parents should theoretically have the energy to deal with a howling bairn. Which all indirectly leads me to the subject for today. 
It’s general election time here in the UK and Northern Ireland and this week we’ve been enduring the release of the various party manifestos. During my vain attempts to calm the wee lad down I’ve been satisfying my political appetite by having BBC News 24 on constantly. Despite being geographically unable to cast a vote in preference of a mainland party, I prefer to watch their shenanigans as opposed to the usual tribal claptrap we;re forced to deal with here in the provincial backwaters. It’s hard to get excited here in Lagan Valley when no matter who you vote for, the smug twat, Wee Jeffrey, will get elected anyways. There’s no counting for taste in these parts.
First up I’ll make no bones about what side of the fence I stand. I’m essentially a liberal/leftie who reads the Guardian, someone who firmly believes that God and the church have no place in political life. It’s the main reason why I could never trust Tony Blair, apart from other obvious fact that he was a lying hallion. Given his propensity for dishonesty and obfuscation, it’s no real surprise that he kissed the Pope’s ring. Despite his dour nature, Gordon Brown typified the Labour movement more than Blair ever did. His personality flaws may do him no favours but Brown does, I believe, have the genuine interest of the nation at heart and that secretly he must desperately regret the fact that New Labour became the lapdogs of Mandelson and his evil minions. He may put it right if he is returned to power but I’m not harbouring hopes for the immediate future. The seeds are sadly already in shoot.
The Conservative manifesto today was truly outstanding. The wee fella had calmed down enough for me to indulge in a post of ironing and I listened to Cameron outlining his vision for the future of the country. To the untrained ear he was describing a Utopic vision of Britain where we could all have a say in how the country was run. No longer would we be held hostage to Big Government. The little man could rise up and control his own destiny. We would have the power in our own hands. It was no wonder the wee fella fell asleep for those initial opening bars of Blue Dave’s refrains. All would be well in a Conservative Britain. And then the wee lad woke up howling the house down. Wheeeeeeeee…metaphor alert.
The calm serenity of the baby was a false dawn. He was only resting his eyes. Even he could see that it all was a sham and he took the opportunity, with full cacophonous vocals, to remind me as such. For the time being Robert is not in control of his own destiny, and neither, ladies and gentlemen, will you be under a Conservative government. Let’s look at what devolving power to the people really entails.
The most apt word I can find is shifting. Shifting responsibility to people means shifting the blame. We gave you the chance and you blew it. Or, we gave you the chance and you didn’t take it. Either way, it’ll not be the fault of the Tories. They’re telling us you can take control of your schools, hospitals and police forces. Heck you can even sack your own MP. Doesn’t it sound wonderful? Yet there were no promises made telling you how they would support you to do this. Here. Have some rope. In times of trouble, would a Tory government assist you in overcoming those difficulties? Hey, you had your chance. If it all sounds eerily familiar, cast your mind back to the 1980’s and the me, myself and I society, generated then, unsurprisingly, by the Tories. You had control of your own destiny then and what resulted was a Britain consumed by a voracious appetite for success and the expense of anyone and everything. LOADSAMONEY!!!!!LOOK AT MY WADGE OF CASH!!!! Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. 
What it really means is that there will be as always a select few, usually always the current elite, who will exploit the loopholes and advantages of such a policy and create an even wider equality gap. Create a new business and pay no tax/NIC for the first 10 people you employ? Just rename part of your company and move some staff around accordingly. Winner! Create your own school and select only the best from your area to attend. Maybe even charge some fees. No sink estate scum for little Henry to scoff at whilst chewing on his M&S prawn sarnies for lunch. You see, putting this bluntly, the Tories tell you will have the power but they know full well that the majority of people have no impetus to and are too lazy to seize this advantage. Yet they know that those who will avail are those who are already possess the good things in life. In reality there is nothing there for the great unwashed, no mater how they dress it up with fancy words and soundbites. An old work colleague of mine in the Prudential had the audacity to promote the Tory cause by bizarrely claiming that they seemed more educated than the present government and, as such, could only but do a better job at running the country. Educated? Maybe. Skilled in the dark arts of smoking mirrors? Definitely. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I doubt there’s very few, if at all, anyone in power at the moment, who left school with no more than C grades in Maths and English.
By the end of the fancy rhetoric I have to admit to feeling nauseous. I’d a creeping sense of dread that we will soon be governed by the above-mentioned wolf, who will shed the woolly garb and metaphorically eat us for dinner. I can’t get Cyndi Lauper out of my head writing this now. And that main fear is borne from the grim reality that people will fall hook, line and sinker for it. They always do, even more so should they be readers of the Sun and Star. Like a sailor pissing into the wind, they will eventually regret it.
Tomorrow sees the launch of the Liberal Democrat manifesto. It’s the one I’m looking forward to most. I have a sneaky feeling that this year could be their year. Definitely not an outright victory but drawing enough support to throw a bloody great bull into the china shop. People should remember the last Tory government. We’re still suffering from it. Labour have, for the most part, bolloxed up their big chance. Vote for Change, Dave? Yes indeed. A vote for the Lib Dems would do it.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | Bringing Up Baby, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Under Siege

Finger pointing is generally frowned upon as being socially ignorant and insulting. It rarely accomplishes anything other than raising the hackles of the recipient even further, a sure-fire method of fanning the flames of futility where an argument is concerned. Once the finger is raised the defensive barriers slam shut and progress decides its’ had enough and goes on vacation for 2 weeks. In the meantime, the protagonists in the original debate continue finger-jabbing and the common man loses all hope in ever having a satisfactory outcome achieved.
I used to be a Union Rep whilst I worked in the financial services sector. The union at the time was Amicus which has since merged with other organisations to form the largest collective in the United Kingdom, Unite. Honestly speaking, it was a thankless task. The country was in the throes of an economic boom, one which we now know was a feckin’ great Trojan Horse, generously presented to us by Bank Plc. Unions  and their members were considered a nuisance but were generally accepted as the itch that could be lived with. Times were good so the itch could be controlled easily with a little dab of cream here and there and all of us continued on our merry way. Rarely was there a need to upset the apple cart. Unions were content with the minor issues in the corporate world and the HR departments and Directors across the country were just happy to have their staff under a modicum of control. Who was to know that the Garden of Eden was in fact located in Denmark?
Now it seems the world is falling apart. Unemployment is rising at a rate last seen in the 1980’s. Many people are facing financial hardships, admittedly caused by frivolous over-spending but primarily caused by unscrupulous lending practices by the bankers and their lust for gluttonous bonuses. Amidst the maelstrom, there are people fighting for survival, for their jobs, their homes and their families. I’m not convinced we’re remotely even near the end of the storm but like all economic cycles the boom will once again return some day. For now though we shall struggle on. As a union rep I always believed I was part of something special. Even in the days when everything was carefree and easy, we always had some issue or other to deal with on behalf of our members. The big movement at the time was trying to prevent the outsourcing of our own jobs to India, a fight which has since disappeared into the bigger picture.
I mention the Indian scenario as it has a major relevance in highlighting the blatant hypocrisy on display in certain parts of the media and the political establishment the past few days. The current cause celebre is the impending BA cabin crew strikes planned for the next two weekends. In one corner we have Unite, who have balloted their members on the basis of protecting jobs in the face of extreme cost cutting measures proposed by the company. In the other we have quite an array of scrappers all lining up to have a free potshot at unite and its’ members. Naturally one of these is Willie Walsh, a cut-price Michael O’Leary, only without the witty quotes. He states the strikers have a hidden agenda to destroy British Airways. Now to this untrained eye, that’s akin to turkeys striking for a better quality of birdfood. Yet as a highly-charged soundbite designed to cause Janet and Charles to spit their Earl grey over their copies of the Daily Mail, it’s incredibly clever. What better to provoke popular disgust at the strikers, than to pander to the literate numnuts of middle-England. We’ve all witnessed the power of the “horrified from Henley” brigade whenever their plumes have been ruffled. I can hear the tuttings from here.
Then we have the Government weighing in, calling the strikes “deplorable and unjustified“. The same Government which has decided to obviously pish in its own bed, deciding that they can probably do without the £11+million it gets in donations from Unite. Can this finally be the definitive proof that New Labour is truly divorced from its roots as a party of the people, the working man? Let’s all cosy up to whichever fat cat is in trouble this week and keep the defecting voters onside. Mind you, it’s not terribly surprising as we all sold our souls when the good times flowed.
Whatever side of the fence you might fall on is entirely up to you. That’s your constitutional right to do so living in a “free” society. However, I’d like to point out one thing to those out there who are the rabid, fervent supporters of everything they read in the Daily Heil. The next time you complain about some Indian called Sanjit or Meenu talking to you about the Market Value Reduction on your Bond, you are the architect of your own displeasure. Those bolshie unions, whom you are currently spewing over like fleas round a pile of manure, fought in vain to prevent those jobs moving to the call centres of Mumbai and Bangalore. Even when the circus was rolling in admittance fees, the ringmasters still outsourced their performers. You shrugged your shoulders and returned to your golf clubs and your places in the sun. No over-zealous sense of moral outrage to be seen back then. From that perspective you can keep your whines to yourself and consequently you have no reason for complaint this time either.
Apologies. I’ve wandered off down the road of polemical ranting. I hadn’t intended to but it takes a certain degree of discipline to maintain a focused mind on such a topic which is close to my political mindset. It’s incredibly frustrating to constantly have to contend with right-wing, anti-employee, smug disgust from the cloistered  denizens of suburban and rural comfort. Whilst I firmly believe in dialogue as the natural means to overcome all issues, there comes a time when the ordinary people amongst us have to make the decision to get up, walk away and take the ball with us. If not, then the corporations win again. Just like the banks. I believe the term is riding roughshod.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Politics | , | 1 Comment

I’m a Celebrity, Vote me in Here.

At the current rate of going, we should not be surprised if Orville the Duck puts himself forward for election in May. It’s quite possible he might give Paisley Junior a run for his money in North Antrim. Aye, the silly season continues unabated in the pantomime that is Northern Irish politics. Two local TV journalists/celebrities are being nominated by their parties for the forthcoming elections. There’s nothing really wrong with that per se. Martin Bell fared well in the general election in 1997, although admittedly he had an extremely soft target in Neil Hamilton, along with the sweeping emasculation of the Tories as a whole that year. The main question is, though, is where will all this lead?
Will May McFettridge stand in North Belfast and give Dodds a run for his money? Personally I fancy the idea of Roy Walker running in East Belfast. He certainly would have a catchphrase or two, ideal for a political soundbite. As the best known presenter of Catchphrase, he described Paisley Junior, on a 2005 NI Celebrity Christmas Special of the show, as “the poster boy for legalised abortion”. That’s bound to ruffle a few feather and give us all some cat-fighting to chortle over as opposed to the tedious hubris we’re so accustomed to.
Over on the mainland, how long do we reckon it’ll be before Katie Price decides to run for election? All she needs to do is determine the constituency with the largest voting base consisting of 18-year-old female Oompa Loompas. A shoe-in I would have thought. To counter-act the inevitable madness of such a nomination, we could have Emma Thompson, running for the Lib Dems, adding a touch of class to proceedings. It would certainly bring back fond memories of the formative male years watching The Tall Guy. Coincidentally, the Lib Dems are in the process of nominating a pornography director as one of their candidates. Conservatives are now fearing a “well-hung” parliament.
When the weird cult of celebrity inveigles itself into political life, it’s a sure sign that the future isn’t bright. In northern Ireland it’s plausible to think it’ll not be orange either for much longer. Unless of course Jordan opts for Mid Ulster.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Politics | | Leave a comment

Whose Ball is it Anyway?

There’s one thing you can almost be certain of in Northern Ireland and that’s a healthy dose of manky rain. The past three summers in the Province have been a duck’s paradise, an ideal destination for waddlers of all persuasions, except the Loyal kind. A clingy drizzle is not conducive to a pleasant dander in the middle of July. Recently we’ve been experiencing an unusual phenomenon as in it hasn’t rained in what seems like months. Admittedly it’s colder than a polar bear’s nadgers but there’s a general acceptance that as long as it’s bright and sunny, we can endure a touch of frost. You would be not alone in believing, hoping even, that this period of sustained sunshine would engender a positive attitude throughout our political establishment. The old adage of making hay while the shines would be an apt description of the opportunities available at Stormont, to progress a devolved government and get on with resuscitating a faltering economy. But for some it seems they’re only happy when it rains
Over the past few months we’re been playing a never-ending game of whose ball is it anyways. The bearpit haggling of Hillsborough was supposed to have drawn a line in the sand on the matter of devolving Police and Justice to Stormont. Naturally not everyone was fully enamoured with the agreements made but there was the glimmer of hope that at last something workable had been achieved. So it’s with no great surprise that we wake up today to find that the one of the Unionist parties has opted to throw a the whole box of spanners into the works. 
I’ve stated before that I have no political affiliations in the Province. Previously I would have leaned towards the ideologies promoted by the SDLP but even they in recent times are indulging in the whose ball is it game. It’s very hard to offer support to any political party whilst they insist on endlessly trying to score points off each other, a game which only serves to remind us that as long as our political elite remain as they are, Northern Ireland will never grow up and leave the past behind.
Today it’s the UUP throwing their rattle out of the pram. At Hillsborough it was the Shinners, followed immediately after, by the SDLP who wanted the Justice Minister ball on their side of the fence. It’ll be someone else tomorrow when the usual recriminations begin flying. At the time of writing this the Assembly vote has not occurred. The likelihood is that the vote will be carried but at what cost? Once again, at the core of all issues, will the the failure of grown men and women, predominantly educated, to look beyond their petty spites and grasp one of the final major chances at their disposal to move forward. Are we approaching the last chance saloon? For one thing, the benevolence of Dublin, London and Washington will not last forever. The financial impact of discord is immeasurable in the face of a potential and dare I say it, increasingly likely, return to violence in Northern Ireland. Only for so long will the afore-mentioned governments pledge financial support to Stormont, in the hope that Reg, Gerry, Peter, Paul and Mary, will one day agree to agree on something.
One wonders if it will ever be different. The forthcoming general election is the mouse in the pantry. All sides are positioning themselves, ready to canvass their constituencies, on the basis that they’re standing up for what they believe in and behaving accordingly. Alliances are being formed and divisions are widening, especially within Unionism. I worry for the traditional Unionist voter. It can’t being easy deciding on which brand of “No” to vote for this time. Sinn Fein may think they can sit back and look smugly upon the unfolding mayhem within Unionism but in reality, and ironically, their position will only be weakened as a result. There cannot be an exciting game of football without equal competition and more importantly, a ball to play with. And if one side decides to burst that ball then who knows whether the game will ever be re-scheduled.
As I write this the sun is cascading through my window and I’m swathed in a comfortable heat. Experience is telling me it isn’t going to last. We live in Northern Ireland after all, where the only predictability is the fact that sooner or later it’ll all go belly up. A warm summer ahead? I wouldn’t bet on it, petrol bombs or otherwise.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | Politics | 1 Comment

Two Steps Back.

You know those days that come along every once in a while where you just feel totally and utterly bushwhacked, devoid of any capacity to function properly? Today is one of them. Without sounding too much like I’m standing staring into a raging abyss, I’m completely drained, bloody freezing and in dire need of six jars of the black stuff. Don’t listen to the man kids, the gargle is good for ye. As Homer rightly said, it’s “the cause of and the solution to all life’s problems”. Frustration’s the order of the day. We’ve all been there, trying to get something done , not knowing how to feckin’ do it. To slap some icing on the cake we’ve had another bomb here in Norn Iron.
I’ll readily admit to having an interest in politics. There’s a small part of me that would love to run for election, throw a few Daniel’s amongst the grannies. I then wake up, smelling the Nescafe, realising that in this neck of the world, such an exercise would be the epitome of pointlessness. As much as I’m fond of many people here in the Province, when it comes to politics and voting, they’re as thick as four cartons of contraband Superkings in a bingo hall. Small exceptions to every rule apart, they either vote on the basis of their religious convictions or because they believe the otherfla is the spawn of the anti-christ. I paused for a moment after writing that last sentence, to consider whether  I was being too general in my tarring of the Northern Irish public. Luckily for them though I decided to leave my feathers at home. Sadly I believe Northern Irish politics is more about general matters than specifics and as such the people who vote for this pond-life deserve whatever ridicule they get.
The two largest parties, the Ballymena Hillbillies  and the Illegitimate Sons of Peig pulled off a remarkable coup at the last election. Somehow or other they managed to achieve two remarkable feats of strategic electioneering.  Firstly, the managed to persuade the shell-suited, sovereign ringed members of their respective tribal hinterlands to stop watching Jeremy Kyle and get out and vote. What’s equally as impressive and infinitely more disturbing, is that they managed to hypnotize the yummy mummies and jumpered dads into indulging in a spot of tactical voting, thus depriving the more liberal-minded parties of their traditional voter base. So now we’re left with two Bumble the Beadles and a horde of Olivers begging for scraps from the masters’ table. We have one lot who believe that all public documentation should be translated into a language spoken only by three bogmen and their donkeys in Donegal and the other lot who believe that to say yes to anything would be akin to having John Barrowman leading the faithful in hymnal praise in the Martyr’s Memorial.  Subsequently we’re left with a political merryground whose anthem is “anything you can do, I can do nothing else but disagree with”. I can only imagine why the recent talks in Hillsborough took so long. 
“No No No Gerry. We’re not having the Honey Chilli Chicken tonight. It’s brings Edwin out in a rash”
“Oh Buíochas le Dia, Nigel. What about the spring rolls?”
“Oh we can’t have anything vegetarian, Gerry, It’s a bit, well you know, fruity
“In that case Nigel, I’m leaving here now and getting some mince and spuds. You can take it or leave it.”
“Sorry Gerry, but mince? Next you’ll be telling us that tonight’s entertainment is Graham Norton Live. Here! Have you considered Tikka Masala?”.
“That’s not a proper Indian, that’s a British bastardisation of a good curry” 
You get the picture. However the majority of people in Northern Ireland can have no reason for complaint. You know what they say, don’t shit in your own bed. Or something to that effect. A false sense of fear engendered on both sides has created the vacuum we are now residing in. Unfortunately, as the more sensible forward thinking politicians in the province are marginalised, a familiar entity has entered the field of play, an invasion of unwanted streakers. All tits and beards you might say.
A number of months back BBC Newsline showed a press conference from some supposed birdwatching  faction of a dissident republican movement. It might have been “Ogle the Herons” or something similar. It was a depressing blast to the past, right down the scraggy bumfluff on the chin of the chief speaker. I half expected him to stand up and reveal his Che Guevara tattoos. It was the 70’s and 80’s all over again. They were obviously educated which only compounds the depressing nature of it all. None were older than I am so where, in this modern, post-troubles enclave of Europe, were they getting the idea that a resumption of political violence would achieve the desired United Ireland. It’s a rhetorical question as we all know the answer. Into the political vacuum there steps the disaffected freedom fighter from the “armed struggle”. They detect a lack of leadership and stalemate. “The Proddies are still saying no and the Shinners are shining their shoes for them. The Brits are still here, driving round in unmarked white vans, spying on your families”. The seeds are being sown afresh. The only difference this time being that the “new” type of republican will have a degree before he goes to Maghaberry.
Admittedly there’ll always be those who believe that violence is the only option. It’ll be generations before this mindset is removed. The problem is that while Tweedledum and Tweedledee sit waving their hands at each other up at Stormont, society is struggling to cope with current change. We’re no longer in the boom years. As long as who marches where and who speaks what language dictates political debate, rather than education, housing and employment, then we’re all up the Lagan without any paddles. The ordinary citizen has a choice to make in May. Do you keep Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks in power all on their own or do you give Catweazle, McManus and Kung Fu their chance to try to make things better?  Or will you just continue to cling to your comfort blankets, content with mediocre familiarity, unwilling to try to make a difference. Something has got to give in this matter, otherwise there’ll be a few short sharp shocks to the system, likely administered by Ruairi or Tomás and their bands of bearded bandits.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Politics | , | 2 Comments

Face-Painted Experts

Congratulations to Amy Williams, Great Britain’s first and probably only gold medal winner at this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Not only has she a shiny bauble to hang around her neck but she can look forward to having a lucrative career in television when she retires. I’m envisaging Celebrity Skeletons in the Closet on Ice, a reality show where a celebrity’s past catches up on them, slamming down an ice tunnel on a bin lid and crashing through a wardrobe door. It could be hosted by Jeremy Kyle, with Amy training those “skeletons” to slide accurately down the tube. She’d need to learn how to train a 4 person bobsleigh team for Katie Price’s obligatory appearance though.
You have to love the Olympics and other similar global gatherings, such as the World Cup and a G8 summit meeting. There’s nothing like a large-scale shared experience to prove our ability to instantly become an expert of what’s happening in front of us. This idea came to me the other night when I switched on the TV about 2am, in preparation to sit down and feed Robert. The sight of an 18 stone Canadian’s Lycra-clad arse staring you in the face sure as hell conjures up a few bizarre thoughts. It’s only natural that after watching the first few attempts in the two-man bobsleigh, I became an expert in what was required to achieve Olympic gold. “Oh no, he’s gone a little high round that bend”, or “he doesn’t have the muscle mass to produce a quick start”.  You find yourself knowing half way round that their efforts would be in vain. At least you think you do. You shout at the curlers to produce a draw shot and wake the rest of the house up yelling “sweeeeep sweeep” at the top of your voice. Speaking of which, I wonder if they’d entertain the notion of doing the luge on an ironing board. I’d fancy me chances.
I’ll draw the line though, at painting various parts of my anatomy in support of my favourite team. That’s one of life great mysteries. A great global sporting event comes into the public’s eye and all of a sudden we’re slapping painted flags on our cheeks. Why is that? Does it help Rooney dribble better? Will Massa’s car accelerate faster just because you’ve painted a prancing nag on yer forehead? Maybe it engenders a nationwide sense of community, a feeling which I would heartily endorse rather than smirk at. Then again I would argue that the reason for these bouts of communal frivolity is all wrong, or at the very least, should not be solely confined to sport. With a general election, one English team is guaranteed to win something. No more misplaced hope on that front. A nice red rose for Labour, a tree for the Tories and a compost heap for the Green Party. What better way to bring politics to the proles and get the kiddies involved. Gangs of northern voters could take their tops off for Gordon, their beer bellies slathered in oily depictions of miner’s helmets and the Southern toffies replicating with top hats for David. And like following the world cup, we’ll all become experts once again on our Gross Domestic Product*, knowing our macro from our micro economies.
Such blind wisdom isn’t necessarily confined to great sporting events or elections. Currently I am an expert on the Argentine Tango and Alexandra Burke just doesn’t have the same vocal range as Leona Lewis. Thanks to modern television we’re all opinionated geniuses and what’s more, we’re now allowed to air our views in varying shapes or forms, be they phone votes, Internet forums or as gullible consumers in your local supermarket. Never before has so much power been put in the hands of the ignorant and we are loving it. We crave it without realising that we are being manipulated. We design our Jedward placards and buy our DVB jeans, safe in the knowledge that there’s food in our cupboards and heat in our homes. I’m not intending to veer down the sanctimonious route of ethics and morals. We live our lives the best we can in harsh times. However, there is more to life than believing that Sharon Davies was under marked for her triple salko or painting your face to support those who genuinely don’t give a two hoots about you in the first place. You don’t need Simon Cowell to tell you that either.
I’ll admit that I’m as guilty as the next man. I voted repeatedly in this years Strictly for Chris Hollins, mainly for his honest endeavour and warmth. I will also vote in the general election in May, the only sad thing being we won’t have that option to choose from. Anyone out there fancy painting my face?
* Otherwise known in our house as Robert’s nappy.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Ondatelly, Politics | | Leave a comment