RTE, Supremes, JFK, Duchas

Week 26, six months of being an opinionista and nobody has threatened to kill me yet, WTF am I doing wrong?

 

 

It seems odd that I grew up in the age of one TV channel. It doesn’t seem like a million years ago, but I can still remember the excitement when Network Two launched, or waving a wonky rabbit-ears aerial around the living room in the hope of picking up some HTV Cymru Wales and possibly some post-watershed nudity, as there was little hope of any on a station that carried the Angelus.

Times have changed, and although RTE still carries the sacred ding-dongs, there is little hope of salvation for them. My kids don’t watch TV – they watch Netflix and YouTube. The concept of sitting down at an appointed time to watch any show is completely alien to them, I feel much the same way. I am happy to pay my license fee, as I think it is important to support our national broadcaster from a cultural perspective, but it’s a sad state of affairs when the most enjoyable thing to come out of Montrose in the past 12 months is a Twitter account of an unnamed, disillusioned producer who is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

Secret RTE Producer appeared out of nowhere in early September and started dishing the dirt. At first it seemed like it might be a Steve Bannon-esque false flag operation being used as an accelerant for job cuts, but the sense of frustration in the tweets can’t be faked. Many of them explain some of the odd decisions made in Montrose over the years (why isn’t Fair City better, what was the story with all the Craig Doyle stuff), or help shed some light on the background operations of an entity that we all have a stake in. In the two months that the account has been running there have been plot twists, grand reveals, Cold War paranoia, and even a period when the account went silent, leaving its thousands of followers wondering if the secret producer had been caught and dispatched to a North Korean-style re-education camp in the human resources department, or a just another course in media studies in Colaiste Dhulaig.

Whatever happens to the secret producer, they probably need to start making plans for life outside Montrose, because the closing scenes of this real-life drama are not going to be pretty. The public reaction from those within the RTE machine was a little depressing – where many of us on the outside saw a whistleblower, they saw a rat. Where they saw profound disloyalty to their organisation, I saw those tweets as actual public service broadcasting. But the future for all of RTE is stark – kids today don’t want The Den, they want Stampy Longnose’s inverted guffawing on YouTube, while teenagers just want Netflix and chill, whatever that means. Perhaps instead of feeling hurt by the tweets of Secret RTE Producer, the top brass at Montrose could learn from them, and make a few changes. Don’t change Nationwide though – that is perfect.

One move in the right direction was the broadcasting live from the Supreme Court for the first time yesterday. While many tuned in in the hope of some Judge Judy style shrieking and fake cases involving bruised pets or damaged flowers, it really drove home just how devoid of drama the courts are. Far from the byzantine, kafkaesque nightmare of legal jargon and people shouting latin at each other that one would expect, it was quite like a live broadcast from the queue in the motor tax office, or a dentist’s waiting room. It was like the broadcast from my local church on the internet which I sometimes found myself watching at 4am when I worked nights. You kept waiting for something incredible to happen, but it never did – yet the expectation was always there, of some divine judgement on us all. But if the broadcasting of court cases helps deter people from taking spurious insurance claims, then RTE will have justified the license fee for at least another decade.

Conspiracy theorists rejoice, for another tranche of the FBI’s JFK assassination papers are being released. While Donald Trump announced to the world that he was allowing them to be opened, they were scheduled to be opened since long before that haunted jack o’ lantern began flushing America’s reputation down the toilet. It was actually Oliver Stone’s intensely dull film JFK which prompted the US congress to order the release all the way back in 1992. Still, you have to admire Trump’s confidence, as he is basically allowing the FBI to release a ‘how-to’ guide on getting away with assassinating a president, in a nation stuffed with gun nuts. So perhaps anyone thinking of dressing up as him for Halloween might want to rethink their costume choice.

Here at home we have sizeable chunks of our own rich history being released onto the internet. Duchas.ie has released a quarter of a million documents and almost ten thousand photographs from the National Folklore Collection on their website. With a handy search option, it is a fascinating selection of myths, legends and rumours that otherwise would have been lost. Granted, some of it is pure bunkum, but when I stumbled across two transcriptions from 1938 about treasure that may or may not be buried near my house, I found myself waking in the middle of the night and googling metal detectors and the law regarding ownership of massive hoards of gold. If I do find a load of torcs, I just hope that I get to appear on Nationwide before I flog them all on eBay.

 

Powercuts, offaly, ophelia, sean hughes

Week 25 of the column! Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not my guidance counsellor in school, who said I should be an engineer and also got my name wrong.

 

The worst storm that I can remember was in December 1996. It seemed to come out of nowhere and pummelled east Cork right before Christmas, ripping the roof off the local Co-Op and leaving thousands without power. We lost our power on Christmas Eve and didn’t get it back for ten days. This, of course, would not be that bad, only for the fact that we have a well, and no power meant no water – to drink, to flush, to wash. That Christmas was never going to be an easy one, as we had lost my sister earlier that year. I can remember my parents and I sitting around the fire, all trying to be strong for each other, all pretending that somehow this live reenactment of The Shining was a much more traditional Christmas, as opposed to an incredibly sad week and a half of darkness, despair and poor personal hygiene. We didn’t even have a TV to distract us from the loss, or clean water to wash away the tears. Thank god I had a massive supply of beer to keep me hydrated.

The most memorable part of the storm and its aftermath were the simple acts of kindness. People we hardly knew showed up to the door with gallons of water, hot food, and even a couple of roasted turkeys fresh out of the oven. It was incredibly touching, even though it meant I had to eat about 30lbs of turkey in 48 hours so it wouldn’t all end up in the bin. To this day that storm ranks as the worst and best I have lived through, and I still use it as a gauge for any other natural disasters – the only questions I ask are; are we all here; is everyone ok; and who wants more half melted ice cream. As long as you are safe and together, things are generally ok – although a decent supply of Febreeze and babywipes also helps.

It was disappointing to see Offaly get hit by Ophelia. The recent census figures showed that the county has the highest percentage of Catholics in the country, which I assumed made it some sort of promised land for the chosen people of Ireland. Apparently not; they got smote just like everyone else, despite being the home to important pilgrimage sites like Clonmacnoise and that Barrack Obama filling station in Moneygall. Granted, there were a few missteps along Offaly’s path to righteousness, as the county is responsible for not one but two Cowens, while they also declared war on heaven by Birr physicist George Johnstone Stoney coining the term electron in 1891 as the as the “fundamental unit quantity of electricity”, thus undermining the power of prayer, which up until that point had been fuelling the national grid. I’m sure all the poor souls without power in The Faithful County will enjoy the irony of that. Perhaps this latest testing of their faith might make them want to move to Dun Laoghaire, which not only had electricity right through Ophelia but also has the lowest number of Catholics in the country. Coincidence? Probably, yes.

I spent Ophelia trapped in Dublin. My daughter and I travelled up on Sunday to make a hospital appointment on Monday morning that was subsequently cancelled, along with all of the trains out of the city. The culchie in me felt a rising panic as I realised I was going to have to spend another 24 hours in this terrifying metropolis, trying to hide my uncool, non-ironic country ways and singy-songy Cork accent. I stood at the Luas stop for a tram that would never come, desperately trying to remember what the Five Lamps were, or how to make coddle, in case a local started talking to me. The last thing any culchie wants is to be identified as such in the Big Smoke and subjected to the hate hoots of the million or so first generation Dubs whose parents only left a bog in Mayo two decades ago. We kept the heads down and just prayed that we would make it out alive, ready to burst into Aslan songs if anyone tried to chat to us. As we walked through the city centre, businesses were pulling down the shutters, as staff got sent home to ride out what has become known as Bank Holiday Ophelia with important provisions like Netflix and cans. We passing throngs of bemused tourists who obviously failed to listen to the Nuacht warnings that the weather was going to get ufasach ar fad, as they clustered around important cultural attractions like Carroll’s gift shops, those Paddywagon places, and Starbucks. But it’s good to know that when the trumpet sounds and the fall of man begins, we will still be able to get a pumpkin spice latte and Kiss Me I’m Irish bonnet.

In the middle of the storm the new broke that Sean Hughes had passed away. Aged just 51, he was one of the great surreal comedians of the Nineties, but more than than, he always seemed like a nice guy. There was something loveable about his witty misery, his love of indie music, and his wet, sad Irish eyes. One of my favourite quotes is his thoughts on religion, of which he once said “I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a man or because I was brought up a Catholic. But sometimes I find the whole idea of sex repulsive and at other times I’d gladly stick my penis up a drain.” Hopefully when he gets to the pearly gates they will see the funny side.

Norovirus, flu, maccie d’s, Mickey d

Week 24 of the column and I finally get around to talking about my ass. Also, check out that layout up top: They used my name, like you would with other important thought leaders like David Quinn, John Waters, Ronan Mullen, or any of those other great guys who I am totally friends with on Bebo.

 

There are many pleasant occurrences at the changing of the seasons – shorter days mean the awkward among us breathe a sigh of relief as they slump into social hibernation, while the drop in temperatures means we get to light a warming fire and then use it as a mini-incinerator for everything from broken toys to pink Roses.

But there are some things that happen at this time of year that are less welcome – the mass migration of giant spiders into our homes and, presumably, our hair; or having to pretend you care about the budget beyond diesel and pints. But the least welcome seasonal occurrence of all has to be the return of the Norovirus. It is better known as the winter vomiting bug, in itself a complete misnomer as ‘the ebola of the arse’ would be a more fitting title. It may be simply a side effect of age, but I just don’t remember this bug being around when I was a child. I don’t recall the horror of when it takes hold of a family, spreading from person to person like wildfire, forcing violently unwell parents to chase nauseous toddlers about the house with a basin, like some deranged medieval parlour game, or if Caligula directed an episode of It’s A Knockout. I can remember measles and mumps, even the odd demonic possession, but not this. It seems like a very modern bug, one that preys on our very modern belief that just about everything is going to kill us. True, it does make you want to gather the children and bid them farewell, or even just to curse them for bringing it home from playschool, but as actual illnesses go, it does little real damage to healthy subjects, apart from helping us shift a half stone just in time for the Halloween treat binge.

One virus that definitely needs a rebrand and relaunch is influenza, a life-threatening bug that we have become so blasé about that we don’t even call it by its full title, instead opting for a rubbish nickname – ‘flu. In fact, we are so blind to just how dangerous the ‘flu actually is that we now use it as an umbrella term for anything from a nasty cold to the shame-filled endgame of a bad pint. If only it had the caché of new kids on the block, bird flu and swine flu, who went truly viral in the last five years. Even the uptake of the influenza vaccine is poor – because hey, it could never happen to me, and even if it does sher I’ll be grand. This year, however, is different. There is a particular strain of it that has hit Australia with punishing ferocity. Where previously it was a serious threat to the elderly or those with underlying conditions, now it is a threat to the young as well  – three children are among the casualties already. Influenza has always been dangerous, but it would appear to be getting moreso. So for those of us who previously thought we were invincible, this is a wake up call. At the ripe old age of 42 I now have to accept that I quite like being alive and the chances of me staying that way are diminishing day by day, so the onus is on me to actually get the vaccine. It’s a sad sign that I am both getting older and getting sense, and I worry about what comes next – pension plans? College funds? Minding my cholesterol levels? Dark nights in front of the fire watching The Great British Bake Off whilst enthusiastically discussing flans are my MDMA now, prompting me to ponder – was it for this that the wild geese spread? Yes, it probably was, as we are living longer, freer, and better than ever. So off I go to get the jab and try not to die. Now if only they could come up with a vaccine for the Norovirus.

Spare a thought for local mom n’ pop food chain McDonald’s, who seem to be struggling to produce that most basic of foods – condiments. Inspired by the hit adult cartoon Rick And Morty, Maccie D’s decided it might be fun to reintroduce their long gone Szechuan sauce for just one day, but in very limited supplies. They seem to have underestimated the demand, as some outlets only got 20 sachets, while there were scenes of screaming children and angry adults shouting at slightly bemused staff. In some outlets, the police were called to deal with irate customers. Within hours, three packets of the sauce went on eBay and sold for US$280 each, while Twitter went into its usual meltdown over the fiasco. The facts are clear – McDonald’s are running out of food, and we are all doomed. Either that or it was a cynical marketing ploy to create buzz, which backfired spectacularly. Still, given that this was America, let’s all just be thankful that nobody got shot.

The campaign to make Michael D Higgins President for life starts here. His tenure in the Aras has been a huge success – from his compassion, to his communication skills, to his general je ne sais quoi. You just get the sense that were you ever found yourself lost in the Burren, he would emerge from a dolmen to teach you how to read ogham and show you which mushrooms to eat, before guiding you back to civilisation by the stars. He has done such a great job, it is easy to forget the also-rans from the 2011 campaign. While he didn’t just win by being the best of a fairly uninspiring lot, it was a pretty poor line up. There was the Uncle-Fester-in-Louis-Copeland guy, the sad eyebrow guy who looked like ALF, I think Enya was there, and some others that I don’t recall. Michael D won because he is both a man of letters and someone who knows how to deliver an intellectual headbutt to those who deserve it; listening back to his surgical takedown of American right wing radio host Michael Graham – in which D uses his keen intellect to eviscerate him and also manages to call him a wanker – will make you want to declare him president for life. And if that role isn’t possible, let’s just stick a throne on Tara, give him a couple of wolfhounds and make him high king of Ireland. All hail King D.

 

Little Nellie, Leo vs LCD, guns, marilyn manson

Wee 23 of the column, in which I drop a steaming deuce on all of Cork and all religions ever.

 

Little Nellie Of God has worked another miracle. The ‘unofficial patron saint of Cork’ (sorry, Gerald Kean) has somehow managed to land Spike Island, her former home, with the title of the best tourist attraction in Europe. Little Nellie lived on Spike in the heart of Cork harbour while her soldier father was stationed there, and the tour of the island begins on the pier outside her house. The tour of the island is fantastic, covering the rich history of the island, from monastic settlement, to star fort, to holding pen for penal transports across the world.

However, Little Nellie must really have pulled some strings to win them the title of top European tourist attraction for 2017 at the World Travel Awards, beating competition from the likes of the Eiffel Tower and the Acropolis of Athens, but also our own remarkable attractions such as the Skelligs, the Cliffs Of Moher, or Kilmainham Gaol. Perhaps even more miraculous is the fact that this is Ireland’s third win in a row, with the Titanic Exhibit and Guinness Storehouse winning the same title in the last two years. While all are worthy winners, the fact it is a public vote (with tourism staff getting double votes, bizarrely) brings to mind the time in 2002 when the BBC World Service asked the public to name the greatest song of all time, only for the Wolfe Tones’s belting rendition of A Nation Once Again to take the crown. Spike Island is a fantastic tourism asset, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there are other attractions in Europe that might actually be – whisper it – better. Perhaps this is just a cynical outlook, after all, I also find it odd that Little Nellie’s life of illness, hallucinations, constant pain and death whilst in the care of nuns at age four is somehow seen as evidence of a kind and compassionate god.

There are many great rivalries in music – Tupac versus Biggie, Katy Perry versus Taylor Swift, The Wolfe Tones versus the BBC World Service – but few are as odd as Leo Varadkar versus LCD Soundsystem. Leo attempted to have a night off and enjoy some great music, but after popping backstage to say hi to the band, he allegedly disrespected Al Doyle’s Repeal tote bag, whilst allegedly enjoying a free taco too. Leo learned a few harsh lessons – never meet your heroes, don’t go on Twitter, and don’t leave your gaf until this referendum is out of the way.

The downside of the spat for LCD Soundsystem, one of the cooler bands of the last 15 years, is their credibility being in shreds due to the fact that they had a bunch of politicians at their gig, the death knell for any hipster outfit. Let’s hope Leo mentions that in his upcoming diss track.

Another mass shooting in the USA, and another moment for the world to stop and marvel at America’s love affair with weaponry. The fact that someone was able to get their hands on an estimated 23 guns so powerful that they could kill more than 50 people from the 32nd floor of a hotel is terrifying, but the response from pro-gun groups is confounding. In the aftermath of mass shootings and in the fact of overwhelming evidence that gun controls could have made a difference, they come out with lines about how control is not what is needed, and that there was no way to prevent this.

Nevada has some of the most lax gun laws in a country that is notorious for lax gun laws, so it’s hard to understand how they think shootings would take place if there were no guns. The majority of gun-related deaths in the US do not happen in large groupings. More than 33,000 people die each year from gun violence in the US. Two thirds are suicides, the rest homicides. There is a constant, steady flow of gun murder, but it is the mass shooting that make the world wonder why they cannot give up their guns. In fact, in the aftermath of shootings like the Orlando nightclub massacre, gun sales actually go up – people are scared, so they get more guns, and their much-touted ‘price of freedom’ climbs ever higher. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school killings, it became clear that America will never give up its guns, and ‘the greatest nation on Earth’ will continue to reap a bitter harvest.

 

In the Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore’s documentary about the Columbine high school massacre, musician Marilyn Manson made the point that American consumer culture has trained people to be afraid and angry, as it made them easier to control. This fear also made them cling to their guns. Manson was scapegoated for the Colorado shootings, after he was incorrectly identified as being one of the bands the shooters listened to. Manson was injured this week during one of his shows, prompting the cancellation of the rest of his tour. The singer tried to climb a prop on the stage only for it to fall on him and knock him unconscious. The great irony of all this is that the prop was in the shape of two huge handguns, making Manson another victim of gun violence, albeit in a surreal way. If only Dr Leo Varadkar had been nibbling a taco backstage, he could have tended to his wounds.