Twitter, Caravaggio, eclipse, swearing kids

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Column week 17:

 

Twitter gets a lot of stick. In existence for eleven years, it has been accused of everything from facilitating Nazis to allowing anonymous abuse and harassment. But its enduring contribution to modern culture is the hashtag. Used as a means of linking discourses across the platform, the hashtag turned ten years old recently, but it was one this summer that showed how Twitter can be a force for good. #NoWrongPath allowed Twitter users around the world to share their stories of how they came to their current careers, with the vast majority showing that few school leavers have a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives. It was a hashtag I can relate to. All I wanted to do in college was art, but, after failing to get into art college, I did what many people did when they aren’t sure what they want to do, and committed to an arts degree. I dropped out after four weeks. I went back to college in my early 20s, got my masters and started working in the media. I wonder what path I would have taken if I had been accepted into art college, but that’s something I will never know, largely thanks to Caravaggio.

The Taking Of Christ had been hanging in the dining room of the Leeson Street Jesuit Community for decades. Considered a copy of the original, in the early Nineties it was discovered to be the actual work of the great master, and was handed over to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1993. Art was one of the few subjects I was good at (incredibly, English was the other), and we were guaranteed that Caravaggio was going to come up on the higher paper when we sat the Leaving Cert in the summer of 1994. We even went on a school trip to see the painting, staring in awe at its scene of chaos, betrayal and loss.

Caravaggio’s short life was easy to study – he was a drunkard, a violent thug, an outsider who seemed utterly at war with the world. In his paintings he used labourers and prostitutes as life models for religious figures, wrapping the divine in the pasty flesh of profane humanity. All his paintings remind us that we are just haunted meat, and everything passes.

Being typically difficult, Caravaggio didn’t come up on the Leaving Cert higher paper (he did on the ordinary level), and I failed to get the points to study art. I have no doubt that I am better off for not becoming an artist, not least because my arse is too big for skinny jeans. My career hasn’t been what I would call a success, yet here I am, writing for one of the biggest selling newspapers in the country. However, my favourite quote about success come from Dicky Fox, the sports agent mentor of Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire: “I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”

Our mortal enemy the moon also proved that there is #NoWrongPath by moving its enormous mass directly into the path of our sun, cutting off our meagre supply of Vitamin D and attempting to give us all rickets. The occasion provided for many stunning images, but few were as beautiful as the one of Donald Trump staring directly into into the eclipse, presumably because someone told him not to do that exact thing. Perhaps we should all start telling him that he is doing a great job and to stay there forever. Although something tells me that it won’t work like that, and that impeachment is the best way to drag the whole sorry mess of the White House into sunlight.

A study this year by Marist College examined the correlation between verbal fluency and swearing, with the result that those who were more adept at swearing had greater language skills. I tried to console myself with this thought on Monday night, when I happened upon my two and a half year old son shouting ‘f**king tractor’ over and over again. It’s one of those moments where you try to A) hide your laughter and B) try not to get too angry, before turning to your spouse and declaring ‘this is your f**king fault’, because clearly, swearing is an equal opportunities employer: This week the popular site Mumsnet has advertisers concerned over their ads appearing next to posts with snappy titles like ‘I can’t f**king do this anymore’ and other howls of despair from parents at their wits’ end.

Perhaps my son will decide he wants to go to college, and will eke out a career as a sweary, boozy artist like Caravaggio. Hopefully, he will be a more sane version, as, despite all his talent, Caravaggio killed someone over a game of tennis, went on the run and died from fever aged 38. So perhaps there is #AWrongPath after all.

Public transport, not driving, Nazis in America, Ed Norton

 

Column, week 16:

 

In 1988, the British director Tony Kaye made an advert for British Rail. Titled ‘Relax’, it showed a soft focus world of comfort aboard the train, where all the ills of the world whizzed by the window, and commuters drifted off into a peaceful slumber. Unsurprisingly, there were many complaints of how inaccurate it was in its portrayal of public transport, but the ad is still considered to be among Kaye’s best work.

It came to mind during the recent ad campaign by Irish Rail. It shows a family on a journey from hell, everyone stressed and bug eyed, dad white knuckling the wheel as the kids bicker, before someone tries to open a two litre bottle of lemonade in the back seat, and it explodes across the windscreen. It cuts then to the family relaxing on board an Irish Rail train, at peace with the world.

If I wasn’t a lifelong user of public transport, it might appeal. Sadly, I am one of those rare people who, for non-medical reasons, does not drive. This statement is usually greeted with ‘did you just never learn?’ I said I don’t drive, not I can’t drive. I did the lessons, drove very briefly a couple of times over the last two decades, but generally, I don’t drive. I can give you a list as long as my arm as to why this is, virtue signalling about a greener planet, and how I have the carbon footprint of an especially petite geisha. But really it is just that I don’t like it.

The next comment I get is ‘you don’t meet many men who don’t drive’. Actually, you do, they just don’t announce it as for some odd reason it is seen as the lynchpin of masculinity – get the car, get the girl, do donuts in a shopping centre car park, rule the world. Perhaps I am just missing the boy racer gene, or that passion for mechanical devices that some have. Either way, I spend a lot of time on buses, trains, footpaths and puddles. Public transport in this country isn’t great. This is why almost everyone drives. Which is why public transport isn’t great. The people who drove past the picketing bus drivers and beeped to show their support failed to see the irony of their actions – support them by using the service. I do, and it is inconvenient at best, because the real price of public transport is not a financial one, but of time. If I leave work and hop in a car, I will be home in half an hour, an hour on bad days. If I leave work and use the usual combinations of walking, bus and train, I get home almost two hours after I am done. I turned 42 last week, so the best case scenario is that I am halfway through my time on Earth. I just can’t waste any more time. So I got a car, or death machine as they could also be known. But however dangerous they are, anything is better than cycling.

Everytime I see someone on a bike in the city I think of the Italian Futurists, who fought in the Lombard Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists and Automobilists in the First World War, making their stand in the alpine regions. Seeing a cyclist weaving through traffic is a harrowing thing. If it was a deer, people would show it more respect. And there is no point in saying ‘well, cyclists are a menace’, because so are motorists, so are pedestrians, so are kids in the back seat playing with fizzy pop. I don’t cycle (I am able to, as, much like riding a bike, you never forget how) because I don’t want to die. However twitchy I am in a car, the thought of trying to navigate a bike through the panzer division of the morning rush makes me sweat. I see people using City Bikes and want to scream at them to wear a helmet. Yes it will ruin your hair, but so will a massive head trauma. You are profoundly vulnerable and there are people at the wheel who do not see you as a human, they see you as an annoyance.

On public transport, people might annoy you, but you generally control yourself because that is what thousands of years of evolution does – it gave us a certain amount of self control when face to face with other human beings. But give us a little distance from each other, or a few barriers between us and we find is distressingly easy to stop caring.

The American alt-right – or fascists as they should really be known – are a generation that seems to have spent a little bit too much time online, who seem to have obtained their sense of history from video games and films. It seems unlikely that any of them have a true grasp on war in any form, and have become totally caught up in some odd role playing game where they are the heroes, or the stagers of an especially cruel prank. But what can the internet do? How do you reconcile the right to free speech with hosting the views of people who preach hate and murder? Well, it seems that even the internet has really had enough, as both Google and GoDaddy have both banned the Neo Nazi site The Daily Stormer. Naturally, it has now simply moved to the dark web, and the question is what will happen on that site now, with the lights completely out, and zero control. It’s hard to see how the situation in the US could get worse – and we have been saying that for months – but here it is, American Nazis in the land of the free, home of the brave. A nation of immigrants, pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war whilst preparing to eat itself alive. Every day brings a fresh hell, a torrent of awful news – so why not relax and unwind with a good film?

Back in the late Nineties, someone in Hollywood had the bright idea of getting ad director Tony Kaye to make a film. Titled American History X, it went down in the history of troubled productions as one of the greats, with the director falling out with the star, Edward Norton, the studio and seemingly much of Hollywood. The film itself was overshadowed by all the controversies, but is a beautiful if flawed portrait of an American Neo Nazi and his search for redemption. Whether it proves to be prophetic and there is some epiphany in the alt-right is unlikely, but let’s hope it paints a more realistic picture of the human ability to change – or at least that it’s closer to reality that Kaye’s depressingly inaccurate vision of public transport.

Scarla Poochie, Iceland flights, oasis reunion, adam clayton

Somehow I still have a weekly column in the Indo. My folks would be proud and probably slightly ashamed, as they usually were.

 

I haven’t had the most glittering career, but I am comforted by the fact that while I may not have scaled the giddy heights of high office, at least I’m not Anthony Scarramuchi. The Mooch, a modern day Icarus (or possibly Dickarus), apparently flew too close to the giant orange orb currently occupying the Oval Office. He spent a mere ten days as White House comms director, during which time he actually managed to be even more zany than his predecessor, Sean ‘Spicey’ Spicer.

Looking like a Mafiosa version of Steve Guttenberg, Mooch’s lack of understanding of the role became apparent just a few days in when he gave what he claims was not an interview with the New Yorker, in which he ranted in the style of Scarface’s Tony Montana about killing leakers and how Steve Bannon attempts to fellate himself. It is presumed it was a metaphor, as Bannon doesn’t look like he could tie his own shoes.  

The question now is, who will they get to replace him? The world waits with baited breath to see what deranged goon President Caligula hires next to oversee America’s steady descent into madness. I hear OJ Simpson might be available soon.

The news that WOW Air are suspending their Cork-Iceland flights came as sad news, although hardly surprising. Why would you want to go there when you can have all its benefits in our beloved capital city, Dublin. Marvel at nine euro pints, gasp at the Northern Lights of O’Connell Street as you stumble back to your hotel at 3am, and be enthralled by ancient geysers blowing hot air about Dublin’s superiority in the GAA. You can even bring back a memento of your trip with a tasteful bag for life full of traditional Icelandic party food, as recommended by Peter Andre and Kerry Katona. Sher where would you be going.

The will-they/won’t-they saga that is the possible Oasis reunion drags on, to the point where you have to say that surely it is time to let it go. Some moments are best left in the past, as evidenced by my friends who went to the Guns N Roses reunion gig in Slane. Twenty years ago they didn’t have a care in the world, crowdsurfing and moshing like there was no tomorrow. This time round they complained about site access and wait times, as infrastructure and well planned logistics became more important than chugging pints and forming human pyramids. The message was clear: Rocking out is great, but so is lying on a sofa eating nachos watching Love Island.

By the time I’m 57 I plan on having an empty nest. My youngest child will have turned 18 and I plan on drop kicking them into an unforgiving world and turning my house into an Air BnB or possibly a cannabis grow house, depending on which is more tax efficient. It was a thought that crossed my mind when I heard that Adam Clayton and his wife had a baby. Clayton is perfect dad material, as through his time with U2 he has learned how to deal with youngsters (Larry), how wrapping up warm and wearing a wooly hat is important in all weather (Edge) and how to deliver a long, tedious lecture about personal responsibility to disinterest teenagers (Bono).

I often see my role in my house as being like the bass player in a rock band – my wife is the vocalist (obviously), my feral sons are like Animal from the Muppets on drums, while my teenage daughter is on lead guitar, performing screeching solos any time anyone tries to get her to keep time. I’m just there in the background, dum-de-dumming away quietly, apart from the occasional prog-rock style solo when electronics are left on overnight. Despite my less than stellar role in the family, I think that this period of my life is my Joshua Tree, when I am my best self. I’m sure that despite my idle thoughts of the bliss of an empty nest, come the time I will be desperately trying to get the band back together and roll out the classics, like The Time Dad Thought He Had Broken His Arm In The Waterpark And It Turned Out To Just Be A Bruise, or Dad’s Attempt At Lasagna Makes Everyone Sick. Hopefully they will want to get back together, even once or twice a year, and they don’t sue me for royalties for turning them into fodder for a column.