It’s the sympathetic grimace and the tilt of the head to one side she can’t stand. The look from her (married) friends and older relatives, in response to her “No” to their “So, is there anyone special at the moment?”. That pained “Don’t worry, it’ll happen” look in their eyes. Followed by the “You’re sure you’re not being too fussy? After all, you’re not getting any younger” look.
What they can’t, indeed refuse to understand, is that she could possibly be happy on her own. At her age! Sure, she’s got her own place, a good job, and a career, and goes on holidays to places that they just can’t get to what with the kids and everything, but still, she can’t possibly be happy!
What they can’t understand is that she has actually crossed over the tipping point, from being one of those women who thought that maybe a man could give her what she wanted to being a woman who balks at the sacrifices she’d now have to make. She’d have to change, and maybe not go to the hotel she wants to go to in Manhattan and maybe not see what she wants to see, and for what? Well, there’s the obvious, but she can get that anyway.
But she also gets the Saturday morning in bed reading and sauntering around the house in her Bananarama tee-shirt and doing her thing. If only someone would invent an escort service that does interior decorating, DIY and a bit of plumbing on the side. Put up them shelves, a bit of a giggle in the afternoon, and you can go now, “Nurse Jackie” is starting. Is that so much to ask?
Now, from Oireachtas Industries: the DailBot 2000. Now preloaded with every automatic phrase it needs to be an Irish legislator, including:
“My position is well known on this matter.”
“No, I won’t repeat it. It is well known.”
“As I have said, it is well known.”
“This is a very complex issue.”
“I believe passionately in (insert platitude).”
“I didn’t interrupt you!”
“What we need is a full scale comprehensive review of this issue.”
“We need to be careful about coming to hasty conclusions.”
“I’m calling on (someone else) to carry out a full scale review.”
“We need an independent public inquiry into the review.”
“I would not like to comment on the finding of the public inquiry as it is now in front of the High Court.”
“I would not like to comment of the findings of the High Court as they are now in front of the Supreme Court”
“Given the findings of the Supreme Court into the findings of the public inquiry I believe we need to hold a full scale comprehensive review of public inquiries into reviews.”
“The original issue up for review should be discussed at an Oireachtas Committee meeting.”
“The report of the Oireachtas Committee should be submitted to the Cabinet for review.”
“The Cabinet should forward the report of the Oireachtas Committee to an expert group for review.”
“The report of the expert group should be submitted to the cabinet for review.”
“The government should publish the report of the expert group.”
“The Dail should debate the report of the expert group, and refer it to an Oireachtas Committee for review.”
“Yes, it is unfortunate that the Sun is about to burn out, ending life on Earth and thus meaning that this issue cannot be brought to a conclusion. That is a pity. But I think the real issue, which I hear a lot on the doorsteps, is the impact the end of human existence will have on local services, especially for young people and senior citizens and the more vulnerable sections of our society. This area in particular has always failed to get its fair share of resources. If you look at St. Malachy’s GAA club, for example, now, they have been waiting 14 months for a grant to fix a leak in the changing rooms…”
I recently published “The Gorgeous War”, a short story on Amazon.com about a product which allowed the great majority of people to be, effectively, beautiful. I wrote it primarily because it’s a subject which fascinates me, in the fact that our society, especially with the rise of handheld devices, is so incredibly visually orientated.
That orientation has had all sorts of curious effects on our society, from the manufacture of political candidates (look at Forza Italia) to the arguable reversal of feminism and the rise of the WAG, to the recent Abercrombie and Finch row, where a business suggested that a selective approach to seeking custom based on the physical attractiveness of their customers might well be a reasonable business model. Odious as it is, I’m not sure they were wrong in their analysis.
There are those who despair at it, who question the fact that we seem to value the beauty of a world class model over, say, a world class research chemist. I’m not so sure: after all, is it right to differentiate between a person who inherited DNA which made them physically attractive over a person with DNA which made them intelligent? Probably not.
Then, of course, there is the reality that physical attractiveness as a general rule has a shorter lifespan than intelligence.
But what would happen if we could manufacture beauty cheaply?We can do a lot now, of course, with plastic surgery and weight reduction surgery, but supposing we could do it at a cost that permitted pretty much everybody to access it?
If there is one political history book you read this year, Dominic Sandbrook’s “Seasons in the Sun: The battle for Britain 1974-1979″ is the one. Sandbrook tells the story (from a centre-right perspective) of Britain culturally, politically and economically from Harold Wilson’s return to power in early 1974 to Mrs Thatcher’s election in 1979.
What makes the book so good are the wonderfully human nuggets that communicate the crisis facing Britain at the time. Whether it is some of Wilson’s advisors seemingly seriously considering murdering one of their number, to the exasperation of Tony Benn’s cabinet colleagues at his refusal to accept economic reality, to retired generals and media barons actively considering the military overthrow of the democratically elected government.
But what really fascinates are the facts that contradict the myths of the era, such as the reality that private school numbers actually grew under Labour’s hamfisted efforts to make education more equal.
Or that one education minister in particular closed more semi-private grammar schools than any other in history: Margaret Thatcher.
Or what about the fact that by the end, with inflation threatening to soar into the late 20s, it was the Labour government, at the behest of (amazingly) trades union leaders, which finally got a grip on public spending.
From an Irish perspective, there’s plenty here too. There’s the Ulster Worker’s Council strike, where a fascist mob basically staged a coup in Northern Ireland, but also a glimpse of what might be: In Tony Benn’s ridiculous pouring of public money into loss-making worker’s collectives making products that no one wants to buy, we see what life under Richard Boyd Barrett could be like.
I listened to it as an audiobook, which I seriously recommend as David Thorpe, the actor reading it, does a very credible impression of nearly all the key players of the time. A super, informative, entertaining book.
Watching the strong performance of UKIP in the English county council elections, I couldn’t help thinking how an English version of Fianna Fáil would do.
I suspect quite well, especially when one considers that one of the more curious aspects of modern British politics is the breakdown in traditional concepts of left and right along the political spectrum.
In particular, the assumption that left voters go to the centre before the right, or vice versa, just isn’t true. A more accurate reality is that modern British voters are prone to cherry picking from various points along the political spectrum, being left wing on health care and spending, but right wing on immigration and law and order. Tony Blair (a Fianna Failer if there ever was one) recognised this, and translated it into three successive election victories. Nigel Farage does too, judging by UKIP’s cross party appeal.
But what really would work for an English FF would be its classlessness, the fact that both entrepreneurs and social welfare recipients would feel perfectly comfortable lobbying the party, and not feel that the party owed a pre-loyalty to a different section of society. Fianna Fail’s centrist “whatever works” approach is a very attractive proposition for the modern non-tribal consumer-voter, provided it is accompanied by competence and not marred by self-obsessed corruption dressed up as party loyalty, something which Fianna Fáil suffered from in Ireland.
Perhaps Fianna Fáil should consider opening a UK franchise. After all, isn’t that effectively what it is in Ireland?
There’s a lot of talk recently in Tory backbench circles about joint Tory-UKIP candidates. If I were Nigel Farage, I’d be treading very carefully at this moment, and pondering what it is that has elevated UKIP to its current handsome showing in the polls. Looking at the polls, and where UKIP voters are coming from, there is a Tory bent, but that’s not all. There’s a reasonable suggestion that some disgruntled Old Labour voters are also coming onboard, and also that section of voters that just hate the political establishment. As both the Lib Dems in the UK and Green Party in Ireland discovered, a party can shed votes as quick as it secured them if it gets too close to one of those political establishment pillars. Be warned, Nige.
There is a sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” which could provide a wonderful metaphor for the future of Irish politics. In it, there is an astronaut in a spaceship, clean, modern, advanced, the very epitome of progress. Juxtaposed against that image is a group of prehistoric apemen, throwing shapes and grunting at each other, as they scrabble in the dirt.
A scene from a film. Or a reformed Seanad operating alongside an unreformed parish-pumping whip strait-jacketed Dail. A Seanad that looks like the modern Irish nation, with both sexes having at least 40% representation, peopled not by professional politicians but teachers, businesspeople, farmers, artists and trades unionists. A Seanad that the Irish in Sydney and Sydney Parade Avenue both vote for, approaching the nation’s business from one side as Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy Rae do their thing in the other house. If the Zappone/Quinn model is adopted, the serious discussion about the nation will happen in the Seanad. It will be where the grown ups will meet, and the Dail will suddenly find itself under scrutiny for its archaic practices and vast swathes of strutting chest-thrusting pointlessness like never before. This is all to the good.
That’s potentially what’s on offer, and it is the most exciting prospect not just in Irish politics, but as a fascinating model for other countries in a post-party political age. If we do this, other countries will point and say “we want one of those!”.
And yet… I’m a sceptic about Seanad reform. If the Zappone/Quinn model is on offer, I will vote for that. It’s advocated by many people whose judgement I trust and respect.
But the fear still remains, that reform is only being dangled now because those who have defended the status quo for so long are now staring into the abysss of abolition, begging and pleading with us for their institutional lives and offering us anything, anything to let them live.
But what if we do? What if we spare them? Will it bring the Zappone/Quinn Seanad, or instead be used as an excuse to say that the status quo has been given a democratic mandate, and radical, big reform of the Seanad vanishes back into the mists they have kept it shrouded in for so long?
I want to believe. I really do. I want to believe that the choice in September is not between retention or abolition but abolition or reform, and that a vote to retain will lead to the Zappone/Quinn bill. But I need to hear it from Enda.
Sean Fleming TD’s odd intervention on the property tax, where he either a) did not read the legislation but nevertheless managed to have a strong opinion on it, b) read it but did not understand it, or c) was being deliberately obtuse in selectively interpreting it as a political stunt.
Whatever was the reason, he made Fianna Fáil look bad. I find this particularly annoying because it is not as if this government has not lied enough about real things that it should be held to account on, as opposed to deliberately omitting facts.
Fianna Fail is actually above this sort of stuff, and it’s not often you’ll hear me say that.