Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
You know, in school, those guys who are always picked last when teams are being selected for football (or whatever)? That was me, back in my teens (and the end of every year is a celebration for me as it is 365 days further away from secondary school). I was small, frail, wore glasses, read science fiction, and couldn’t see why the hairy hell I should be interested in charging around a muddy field after a ball while some stubbly, hungover adult with a grubby tracksuit and a whistle shouted at me. Doing it was pointless and uncomfortable, while watching other people do it was tedious in the extreme. I also hated the whole competitive aspect of sport; in any match that I did end up watching, I would always take the side of whichever team happened to be losing, and I always felt sorry for whoever didn’t win in the end. So once I shook the dust of my school off my heels, burned my uniform, and flung myself into the boozy, badly dressed, bearded, anarchic world of art college, the part of my time devoted to physical exercise (never that large even in school) shrank down to a tiny point and imploded. And this remained the state of affairs for nearly two decades.
Of course, the side effect of this neglect of the body was a conspicuous lack of energy. My endurance was pitiful, my physical strength laughable, and work colleagues found it hilarious that the most frequently uttered phrase on my lips was “I’m tired!” But my contempt for exercise was such that it never occurred to me that this could aid me in increasing my vitality; besides, working as a waiter kept me on my feet, and cycling around the town no doubt gave me the bare minimum of aerobic exercise needed to prevent total collapse (I am also blessed with a naturally slim physique, so I rarely put on weight). However, as I proceeded into my thirties, and especially once I fled, laughing, the by-then tiresome world of catering, this disregard for my body’s condition began to take its toll on my constitution, and certainly within the last two years it has combined with anxiety and depression to seriously affect both my work and my life. When I read accounts of other people’s lives, I marvel both at their achievements and at their energy, and I began to seriously ask myself: why can I not maintain such a work rate? Why do I get headaches and exhaustion after the slightest exertion? I went to several fine physicians, who prodded me and bled me and gazed knowledgably at various fluids that I produced; they concluded that, slightly high cholesterol aside, I’m as healthy as a well-fed flea. But the real shock was when I went to the gym in a nearby town and did a fitness test, which revealed that I am (unsurprisingly) grossly, even dangerously, unfit; testing my lung capacity, they pointed out that 80-year-old men could do better than I. This clearly cannot stand!
The reason I went to a gym is because exercise is a tricky thing to do down the country. Communal sports (like football) are impossible, as I hate the competitive, tribal behaviour that accompanies them and my endurance is such that I wouldn’t last ten minutes in such a fast-paced environment. Jogging is both excruciatingly boring and hard to do safely, as well as being conditional on the weather; the torrential rains we’ve seen recently add little to the experience. Cycling, which I’ve always enjoyed, is too dangerous on Irish country roads; one quite literally takes one’s life into one’s hands amid the tyre-bursting potholes, hurtling lorries, and careless speed-freak drivers. Besides, for someone as unfit as I, a trained assessment of my capabilities and limitations was necessary before embarking on any life-changing courses of action; I could just picture jogging for six months on the nearby beach and due to my appalling jogging techniques, my kneecaps one day exploding off my legs like mortar shells and greviously injured a passing walker. And so, finally, after several years of prevarication and dawdling, I began my set programme of cardio-vascular exercises, weights, and stretches, which should, in a few months, have me on the road to full fitness, increased vitality, and the ability to crush bowling balls to powder between my thighs (one never knows when that skill could come in handy!). So, as this is my absolute priority for the next few months, I hope y’all wish me luck. And, after two sessions this week, my first response is: “Damn, I’m knackered!” My feeling about sport hasn’t changed, of course, and here’s a song I particularly like on the subject:
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
I was in work recently and half-listening to two people nearby chatting about this and that, when I started to notice that one of them, a middle-aged guy, was swearing continuously. But not in a dramatic or emphatic fashion - he wasn't discussing a stirring event in his life - but used simply as pointless adjectives. "So I went down to the f****n shop to buy a f****n paper, right, and I met this f****n guy I knew..." and so on and so on. I found that it began to bother me, because it coloured his entire discourse with an ugliness which was both unpleasant to listen to and wholly extraneous. Of course, if I had said this, he probably would have retorted "What are you talking about?" (or, more likely, "What the f*** are you talking about?"). The following is my response (a rather excessive example of l'esprit d'escalier, methinks!).
I've been thinking a lot recently about language, and swearing in particular. Or whatever you want to call it: cursing, vulgar/foul/bad/coarse/obscene language, four-letter words, expletives, profanity, et cetera. Essentially, I mean words derived from bodily parts or functions that are unlikely to be used on children's TV or in a church sermon. Such words are commonplace in our society these days, and tend to proliferate in certain circles of the Irish bloggoverse like nettles. Some people dislike them, while others seem to feel that liberally peppering the stew of your speech with cuss words is part of what makes us Irish so wonderfully irreverent and cheeky. It's also tied up in class consciousness; the perception is, it can be argued, that swearing is associated with the working classes because they are coarse, badly educated, and vulgar (but also down-to-earth and unpretentious); while the middle and upper classes traditionally avoid swearing because they're prissy, snooty and repressed, and have Hyacinth Bouquet-style delusions of respectability. It seems to tie into this peculiar horror that so many Irish people have of being seen to be "above" yourself, and that being impolite, brusque and oafish (the Michael O'Leary School of Etiquette) means that you're somehow in touch with the common man and feel no need to put on "airs and graces". I once had an argument with an English English teacher (as in a woman from England who taught English) that the reason that a lot of Irish people swear so much (and we do!) is because they subconsciously wish to deform the language of their oppressors. I do swear myself on occasion, and used to quite frequently when I worked in catering, but then everyone did - it was a way of getting through the evening in a very pressurized and crowded environment. I try not to now, for reasons that I will go through anon.
Obviously, there are times when swearing is entirely understandable. For example, you are out in your dusty garden shed reaching for the shovel when you accidentally fall against the rickety leg of a overladen set of shelves, and the entire structure collapses, bombarding you with paint tins, bottles, boxes of nails, and other sundry junk before a two-litre drum of creosote you hadn't sealed properly bursts open and pours all over you like a tarry, glutinous shampoo. You stumble to your feet like an extra from Dawn of the Dead and lurch out the door of the shed, trip over the aforementioned shovel, and fall headlong on to your future mother-in-law's Pekinese, which has just trotted into your yard to alert you of the arrival of your fiancee's parents, who've held you in contempt ever since you fell in their door blind drunk one night and threw up on their expensive imported carpet. Glued to you by the creosote, the Pekinese begins to howl like the damned as you try to yank it off your person, and when you do finally dislodge the horrid brute it is with such violence that it hits your mother-in-law's gleamingly white and very expensive trouser-suit like a sticky and wailing cannonball. At this point, it is perfectly acceptable to exclaim: "Oh, bollocks!" However, I dislike excessive (or what you might call wallpaper) swearing for a number of reasons, and it especially bugs me when people write it down.
Let us first put to bed that curious notion, espoused by people who support excessive swearing as being wonderful in every way, that they're only words. This shows a fundamental (and self-serving) misunderstanding of language: words are never "just" words. Words represent real things, and can possess enormous power. If you doubt this, fly over to London and take the tube to Brixton, walk up to the nearest black guy in the street and ask directions to Coldharbour Lane, ending your request with the N-word. You will very quickly discover, as a large and angry mob forms around you, that words can get you injured or even killed. Or, for those not adept at outrunning an enraged mob, call your wife/girlfriend/partner a "c**t" or "b***h" casually, in conversation, and see if she minds (perhaps I'm out of touch with the kids of today, but it's my experience that a lot of women have a problem with these particular epithets if directed at them). Or, on a more highbrow level, I remember reading once that the poet and concentration-camp survivor Paul Celan never once used the German word for "race" (as in ethnicity rather than athletics) in any of his poetry, due to its associations with Nazi ideology. Words can be very powerful indeed, which is all the more reason to treat them with respect...
Why do I have a problem with swearing? Firstly, swearing is essentially coarse; these words, derived from bodily functions, are designed to be rough and unpleasant to the ear. I never use the word "f***" in the sense of its proper meaning; I would always say "slept with" or just "was with". But in general I feel that both sex and the toilet, from which all swear words originate, are fundamentally private things that should only be discussed with your nearest and dearest (or a doctor if needs be). I'm definitely not a prude as regards bodily functions, which neither bother me nor interest me, but I certainly do not wish to have my attention drawn to those of others. Why should I? They are messy, noisome, and best kept out of sight (especially if you're one of these overfed oafs who boast about the size and effort involved in your bowel movements, as if it's an defining part of your masculinity). My partner was at Electric Picnic last year and was both surprised and disgusted by the amount of Irish guys who'd whip out the chap and urinate in public, often right in front of her. Her point was that it's unhygienic, thoughtless and ignorant. I believe this view is shared by a lot of people, especially women (who tend to be more circumspect in these matters for obvious reasons), so surely common courtesy (seemingly a foreign concept in this brutish land) should dictate that you try to avoid offending people's sensibilities needlessly. Of course, in the privacy of their own homes (or on their blogs) people can roar on all day and all night about what comes out of them, urinate in their kitchen floors, and frame their turds on the mantelpiece if they wish, but in public such behaviour (or discussion of it) is entirely unnecessary.
Secondly, it's more often than not entirely extraneous. I would also say that, for a lot of people, prefixing words with "f*****" has become a habit, in the same way that teenage girls use "like" ("I was so, like, annoyed with this guy, like..." (or whatever)). Most swear words that you hear in public are not being used to describe what they were intended to describe; when they are not being used abusively, they are used as a pointless substitute for other words, or as an entirely irrelevant form of garnish. "I was going down the f****** shops and I passed by this f****** s***hole of a f****** pub. The guy who owns it is a right c***" and so forth. What do these words add to this sentence? Nothing: they don't make it more colourful or exciting or dramatic, but they do make it uglier. And isn't the world ugly and brutish enough? Listen, if you will, to the following video.
I get very tired of Connolly's continuous use of the word "f***", primarily because his material is so weak that it comes across as a desperate attempt by a self-impressed but uninspired comedian to make himself sound edgy and outrageous. It comes across as forced, but once you notice how ugly it sounds, it becomes unbearable, primarily because it’s so unnecessary. The sense of his discourse would not change one iota if you simply tweezed all the swearing out. But swearing, in this instance, is also a way of showing how unconcerned you are with social mores; like smoking, getting wrecked on cider and drugs, and listening to the music of [fill in the blank] it's thumbing your nose at respectability, and demonstrating how much of a rebel you are. You're just another celeb now, Billy, so stop pretending you're an angry young man! "I might be rich and famous, and a pillar of the Establishment I once professed to despise, but deep down I'm still an anarchist at heart! Listen to how f***** irreverent I am!" But, crucially, in addition to being extraneous, it also adds a strong sense of aggression to his performance, one of the other things I dislike about swearing. If I can once again test your patience, watch the following Connolly video (back when he was a lot funnier):
I remember that at one stage I had a temperamental video player, which would most often act up when I'd fallen in from work in the middle of the night and wanted nothing more than to watch something I'd taped earlier to chill out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. I'd pop the cassette into the machine, and it'd spit it out. This could happen up to thirty times before it'd accept the tape. By this stage I was gibbering and screaming like a psychotic on steroids, shrieking foul-mouthed abuse at this infuriating piece of equipment. It was therapeutic, though, and better than breaking the bloody thing. However, as said before, it points to a key feature of swearing: it is often an accompaniment to heightened passions, especially aggression. If you watch a film like GoodFellas or Glengarry Glen Ross (the scene with Alec Baldwin in particular) it's clear how the non-stop swearing is a major factor in increasing the film's underlying sense of threat and anger, the way it is used as a non-physical form of violence. Watch the following, and see how the swearing increases the temperature of this rather odd scene:
But a problem arises when swearing is used continually, especially in writing. Not all swearing is meant aggressively, but without facial or other cues it can come across as unnecessarily belligerent and confrontational. This may be your intent - you may be a belligerent and confrontational person, whose idea of debate is shouting your opponent down with insults rather than dealing with the substance of their argument - but I certainly find it wearing. Too often "belligerent and confrontational" can mean "bullying and abusive"! I hate confrontation, dislike raising my voice, and view argument as a way of pleasantly discussing ideas rather than competitively scoring points off the other person. But swearing also has the effect of diminishing the power of anything serious that a person writes, by reducing the impression that they are in control of their emotions and transforming their argument into a rant. And I am so tired of reading rants! Some bloggers obviously believe that it makes them sound uncompromising and hard-hitting, that it adds to the force and immediacy of their writing, but I would argue that it does the opposite. A quiet, calm, controlled voice always carries more gravitas in an argument than the swearing ranter! Of course, as said earlier, the occasional swear word, judiciously inserted, can pack quite a punch, but an unremitting barrage just becomes tiresome. Brian Aldiss once compared horror to salt: wonderful as a seasoning, but indigestible as a banquet. The same applies to swearing, in my opinion. Unless you're the sort of person who believes that statements like "Brian Cowen is a fat c***" are the height of political satire, this kind of abusive, foul-mouthed "commentary as entertainment" (a phrase I heard on the radio recently) comes across as diatribes pandering to an immature audience rather than being the challenging, daring analysis their creators imagine them to be. And, as I said before, isn't the world ugly enough, that we should try and avoid making it uglier with our language?
At this stage one one may hear the phrase "freedom of speech" come looming into view. "Why shouldn't I be free to say whatever I want?" shouts the inveterate swearer. Well, bearing in mind that you're not free to say whatever you want - make a slur on a public figure without facts to back it up and m'learned friends will give you an expensive demonstration of this - there is also the question, as I said earlier, of simple courtesy. I'm not saying that people should be prohibited from swearing by law, but that in a public place the hoary old concept of respect for others should be exercised. In the same way that a person shouldn't play their stereo too loud in an apartment, because those living downstairs have a right to peace and quiet, so a thoughtful person shouldn't swear in public, because people who dislike swearing should not have to listen to it. Seeing as swearing is, as pointed out above, usually extraneous to conversation in any case, this shouldn't be too hard. In my case, I would never swear in front of strangers or children, and try to avoid using such language altogether unless the person I'm with approves of it. It's not prissy, or prudish, or repressed, nor am I embued with a "superstitious" fear of certain words. I just believe in good manners, in trying to use language properly, and I'm sorry to say that this is a concept upon which a lot of my countrymen (and women) seem to place no value.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Venting Some Spleen: Yet Another Rant About Ireland, Saying Nothing That Hasn't Already Been Said Elsewhere, But With An Amusing Song At The End...
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Taken (by my partner) near the entrance to the woods in Courtown, and yes, I know it's a bit of a cliche, but it's still an interesting image.
This one's for you, Stan...
All distance is relative...
Another fine day out in County Wexford...
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Curiously, the offending panel has been airbrushed out in the church's official website, seen here. (There's no link to the exact page, but click on 'Photo gallery', then 'Ballymurn Church', and it's the last picture in the row). I wrote a letter to the bishop of Wexford recently about this and, while I received a reply from his secretary, I am still awaiting his response. The following is the text of the letter (I won't publish the bishop's reply as it would be discourteous, for I didn't inform him that I have a blog when I sent the message).So, despite the numerous complaints and warning signs over the previous years [in Ferns], Fortune was allowed to make a full-time return to parish life in September 1989, when he was appointed to the Co Wexford village of Ballymurn ... As part of the job, he was appointed chairman of the board of management of Ballymurn National School, and gave classes in religious instruction in the Bridgetown VEC. Serious problems arose during Fortune's time in Ballymurn. Complaints were made in 1991 by a number of parents about the content of religious classes given by Fortune. They said he encouraged children to tell lewd jokes, used sexually inappropriate language and "asked prurient questions while hearing confessions". When confronted once again by [Bishop] Comiskey, Fortune vehemently denied the allegations. He was forced to leave his VEC position in 1991, but remained as curate and on the primary school board until December 1995, at the nomination of Comiskey. “He also continued to give classes there until he was arrested by the gardai in March 1995,” said the report.
Dear Bishop Brennan, I was recently in the church in Ballymurn and found it to be well maintained and very interesting, especially the Meyer of Munich stained glass window. However, I was extremely surprised - shocked may be more appropriate - to see there a modern window containing the inscription "Dedicated by Fr. Sean Fortune 31st Oct. 1993." I was curious as to whether there are any plans to replace this with glass which doesn't contain the name of this ... well, it is hard to think of a phrase that one would use in civilised company to describe him, frankly. Omnium bipedum nequissimus, I think. (I notice that the offending phrase has been airbrushed from the photo of the window on the parish website.) Although I am not a practising Catholic, I feel that from a community - indeed, from a human - viewpoint, to have the name of this person on display is grossly inappropriate. I was wondering what your feelings are on this matter. [The Latin phrase translates as "Of all two-footed creatures the worst".]
Friday, July 24, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Harvey Milk, who later became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, first became acquainted with the Temple while running for a seat in the California State Assembly against Art Agnos. Jim Jones initially telephoned a Milk campaign worker and stated that he wished to back Milk, apologized for earlier backing Agnos and said he would "make up for it" by sending volunteers to work on Milk's campaign. When told by friend Michael Wong of Jones' earlier backing of Agnos, Milk retorted "Well, f**k him. I'll take his workers, but that's the game Jim Jones plays." Temple member Sharon Amos organized the Temple's leafleting campaign for Milk. Amos requested the delivery of 30,000 pamphlets and Milk's campaign delivered them to the Temple ...
[And finally:] On the evening of November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Jones ordered his congregation to drink potassium-cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. In all, at Jonestown, a nearby airstrip and Georgetown, 918 people died, including over 270 children, resulting in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of September 11, 2001. Congressman Leo Ryan was among those killed at the airstrip.