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

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

Mince and Potatoes

Is Atychiphobia an irrational state of mind? Whether it is or isn’t is not the focus of this post today. As much as I love to bullshit as much as the next man, I am not in possession of a psychology degree. Reading peoples’ minds is a one way ticket to insanity if you ask me. It’s bad enough having your own demons to contend with without trying to help someone realise they’re not the lovechild of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. I’ll apologise now for that rash moment of flippancy in the full understanding that I know the practice of delving in to the human mind is more complex and demanding than that.
When it comes to cooking I admit to being a little atychiphobic though. When you leave the relative safety of your own comfort zone everyone has the fear of failure in some small shape or form. It’s only natural. The common belief is that leaving ones’ comfort zone helps one develop as a human being. The element of risk involved, the discovery of hidden talent and the joys of having created something you didn’t think was possible for you to achieve. This is evolution in one of its’ most common states. That and co-operating with other life forms as opposed to eating them.
I’m lucky enough to be married to a lady for whom preparing quality food is as natural as Eric Morecambe’s comic timing. There’s little she cannot turn a hand to in the kitchen and for that I am extremely grateful. Every once and again I’ll be in charge of the dinner and that’s where the fear kicks in. All of a sudden the simplest task becomes a matter of life and food poisoning. My corner of cooking calmness is mince and potatoes. Simple, effective and completely devoid of stress. Most of the time. I can prepare mince and spuds with my eyes virtually shut but even then I’m always afraid it’ll not turn out right. The mince will be too chewy or the gravy too lumpy. Even though you are generally at the mercy of the quality of potato, there’s still the chance that I’ll bugger up the mash. You can have all the fancy meats and sauces you want but producing pure, delumptious mash is a gift handed down from the Gods. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise about cooking the family dinner. If the mash disappears up the left, you’ll end up experiencing a texture close to chewing underpants full of porridge.
Thankfully I generally like to think I’m more successful than not. A fear of failure even in the simplest dish provokes furious concentration. Every now and then I’ll swipe Jamie’s magic torch and disappear off into the culinary unknown. Usually it’s in an attempt to concoct a tasty dessert, a meringue based mulch of some sort. I get the creeps even thinking about making a meringue and yet I’ll persist in the vain hope that one day I’ll get it right. Nigella’s meringues are a personal favourite but even she cannot rescue this hopeless cook. My most recent attempts ended with copious dollops of unsweetened language and in the bin. Cheese and feckin’ biscuits it was that Sunday afternoon.
It’s hard really to conclusively point a finger at the crux of the issue. Methinks I like the idea of cooking something special for the family and guests but without the realisation that’s it’s best left to the expert. The wonderful notion of people worshipping at the foot of my Eton Mess remains firmly in the background of remote possibility. I should really stick to vacuuming the mat.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am | , | 1 Comment

The Best Laid Plans.

Fear takes on many forms. Without doubt there’s the brown trouser instances of fear, moments which would genuinely scare the insides out of anyone. Having a gun pointed at you would be high on that list of frightening experiences. I can only imagine what that might feel like and like most individuals would have no desire to discover what it would be like. Being assaulted would be another, a few smacks in the gob that arrive without warning or ones that you knew were inevitable because your fat legs couldn’t move fast enough. I have to admit having first hand knowledge of the latter kind. 
I never mitched from school, except for one unfortunate time in my fifth year there. I enjoyed high school immensely so there was no real excuse for non-attendance.  Near the school itself were the ruins of an old tower. I say tower, but to be honest, it was more like a crumbling old mini-castle which belonged to some bigwig of yesteryear. For the life of me I now cannot recall the name but I do remember the surrounds of the property. It sat proudly on the crest of a large mound with what resembled a dry moat at the base. There were numerous trees in the vicinity making the whole scene rather picturesque. At lunchtimes the tower was a popular haunt for those in the older classes in school. Many, including myself, would gather there to muck about and generally act the eejit. This usually consisted of forming groups and throwing stones at each other. I’m sensing many a raised eyebrow at this point and with good reason. Such is the folly of youth that such a pastime seemed normal in those heady days of adolescence. I now cannot imagine what would have happened if one of those projectiles actually connected.
Our lunchtimes didn’t solely consist of mock warfare at the tower. It was more common to just chill out under the sun and shoot the breeze. On that fateful day, an impromptu plan was hatched to head back to the school, gather our belongings and return to the leafy surrounds of the tower to spend the afternoon enjoying the privileges of being one of the seniors in the school, namely that we thought we could do what we liked. If I recall correctly, there wasn’t much happening that afternoon so the guilt quotient was remarkably low, unusual for young Catholic boys at a school run by the De La Salle Brothers. A guilty conscience was a pre-requisite growing up in those days, whether you were involved in anything roguish or not.
Actually in hindsight it was PE we were supposed to participating in that afternoon. There’s a reason I remember this well, one of those “bloody hell, what if”, moments you have on occasion. My PE kit resided in a tattered old green, leathery holdall with the strap slowly unattaching itself on one side. Also inside the bag was my Walkman, one which played cassettes. This was 1991 after all and long before I could ever have afforded a CD player in any shape or form. It was only after the subsequent events that followed that it occurred to me what I might have lost.
We arrived at the tower as planned and everything seemed as it should have been. The weather was warm and welcoming, no need to wear our heavy blazers or shocking blue jumpers. What we hadn’t anticipated was that we would have company and our idyllic day descended downhill rapidly.
As mentioned previously, we were not active in the dark art of truancy. First time for everything and so forth. IN our rush to carry through our cunning plan for rest and relaxation, we forgot to contemplate that there may have been others who were of similar intent, ones for whom skiving classes was not just a regular event but a badge of honour. It was to be our misfortune that they had actually even bothered to turn up to school that day at all, even only to scarper after lunchtime as was apparently normal. We were impinging on their territory that afternoon, with the added inconvenience that we, as casual, inexperienced mitchers, would attract attention to their habitual arrangements. It’s only now, when I look back on that day, that I realise were disrupting something more than just truancy. It makes sense now why these budding young hooligans never fully engaged in the schooling process, preferring to wander around half-dazed most of the time. Add naivety to the guilty conscience. The tower did have a reputation for being a drinking den amongst the hallions of Cox’s Demesne, the local sink estate, at the weekends. Seemingly it wasn’t just confined to Friday or Saturday nights.
What followed happened in a whirlwind of teenage cruelty, casual violence and nausea. Funnily enough there is still the odd occasion when I get a cold shiver thinking about it. It started almost immediately. Our belongings were wrenched from our grasps, the contents of satchels and holdalls, mindlessly emptied down the sides of the mount. For some reason I had taken my Walkman from my bag on the way there and it was safely in the inside pocket of my blazer. You can understand now why I breathe a sigh of relief about that day. The occasional fist was flung, at this juncture not towards me, mainly due to my normal cowardly position of not wishing to become involved in a ruck, such was my ineptitude at scrapping. You could feel the tension, the slow dawning realisation that all was not going to end well. A rare moment of calm ensued as we gathered up our scattered sportswear and schoolbooks. Had their sadistic interest in us subsided?
Ahhh, the chase. We had quickly and wisely opted to leave. To stay would have been a request for a beating. AS we trundled off towards the large iron gate which guarded the entrance to the mount, the gallumping of thuggish hooves was heard. One last infliction of misery to sate their bloodthirsty lust for violence. We ran. I was never the fittest person in the world but could move if the mood took me. The mood was up that day but the pins weren’t. Smack! Two jabs to beak later and I was allowed to depart, my tail firmly between my legs, my mind suffering a dizzying incomprehension of the previous 10 minutes.
We never went back.
To me, that day encapsulated was it means to be afraid. If asked to recall a time when I experienced fear of the intensely physical kind, that sunny afternoon in Dundalk, in 1991, will always be my choice. There’s something inherently frightening about having an ideal situation or scenario ripped away from you without warning. It’s the feeling of helplessness, the damning inevitability of what was about to happen and the sickening sense that you could do nothing about it whether you wanted to or not.
Note: I had intended to write about a more light-hearted interpretation of fear. This story was supposed to be the introduction but the stream of consciousness took over. If I were to continue with this post both ideas would clash and be lost in a wordy stew. I do believe, however, that there is space for both humour and seriousness in the blog. I hope you will agree.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Times Past | , | 1 Comment