‘Middle-class snobbishness’ curtails public transport use

This title I take from an article of the same name on the Irish Times website. I almost didn’t want to write this post, so obvious and telling is the lie with which it deals. But I’ve decided to give it a go anyway because silence (or a blank page, in this case) is precisely what politicians want.

And gods know they already get enough of that.

This is the most ridiculous and insulting article I’ve had the displeasure of reading in some time. Does this man think that all Irish people are idiots? Alan Kelly, Irish Minister of State for Public and Commuter Transport, is essentially trying to blame ‘the middle classes’ for the underuse of public transport. He says the vast majority of Irish people are too snobbish and proud to use public transport. I do not deny that this may be the case for some, but certainly not for all.

No, the main reason for which Irish people absolutely abhor using public transport is its blatant unreliability. In my experience, Bus Eireann buses are only on time very early in the mornings; as the day progresses all semblance of a timetable goes out the window. I am regularly waiting up to 45 minutes for a bus home from work in the evenings. There is meant to be one every 15 minutes.

When it finally does arrive and I hop on, the driver is by and large unbearably gruff, lacking the most basic interpersonal skills. And then there’s their actual driving, which more often than not is horrendous. I know a bus is much more difficult to drive than a car, but these people are meant to have professional training. They are forever scuffing curbs and mounting footpaths.

And their braking is just to die for, literally! Each one of the regular misanthropes I have the misfortune of driving with brakes too late, jolting their passengers forward – it’s only a matter of time until someone splits their head open on a grip bar. Or, for more hilarity, until an unintentional head-butt sends some false teeth flying.

And then of course there are the ever-increasing fares to contrast with the ever-dwindling services and quality thereof.

Alan Kelly would do well to climb down off his high horse – incidentally the only mode of transport known to Irish politicians – and get a clue. He and his ilk have no idea what it is to ‘rely on’ (read: be a time-hostage of) Bus Eireann every day, what with their chauffeurs and expense accounts and frequent Dáil bar sessions.

I despise the Irish state; I think it is a disgrace to the Irish people. The condition of our public transport system is but a symptom of an illness that runs much deeper. From politicians and senior civil servants to the Gardaí, Revenue and HSE (Health Service Executive), right down to Bus Eireann, the Irish state is a complete and utter farce.

I am certainly not alone in this opinion and it is little wonder, then, to find someone dancing on the grave of Charles Haughey, the undisputed godfather of Irish political cronyism. It is not from snobbishness that I write this post or that Haughey’s grave was danced on; it is rather from resentment, distrust and anger. It is from an average of 40,000 people leaving the country every year since 2008. It is from sheer indignation.

It is for shame and to shame that I write this post, and I hope you will share – or at least understand – my outrage. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (read: Coke and Diet Coke) have let their tribal bullshit drag Ireland down the toilet for decades now. Our elected officials do not so much represent us as rule us.

I would sincerely love to have all Irish political parties abolished for the next fifty years, and be governed instead by the EU or – why fight it any longer? – directly by Germany.

They couldn’t do much worse a job than is already being done, and let’s not forget: you can actually set your watch to the buses in Germany!

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The Mid-Knight Cowboy

This post is going to be about a piece of theatre. And BAM, I’ve already lost half my audience! For those of you still reading, I thank you and I’ll try to make it worth your while.

This week I went to a one man play written and performed by one of my closest friends, Pius McGrath (stop laughing; we can take the piss out of his name later). It’s called The Mid-Knight Cowboy, runs just under an hour long, and was performed at the Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick city. He has also played ten nights at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and one night on Broadway so it’s doing incredibly well for a small piece of independent theatre. Its success is a testament to the quality of the writing and acting and to the effort put in behind the scenes; to know and to witness Mr. McGrath in action is to be reminded of the word ‘workhorse’.

The play opens in 1980s Ireland with Billy ‘the Kid’, eight years old, playing Cowboys and Indians. Frantic doesn’t even come close to describing it; his energy is explosive in a happy time full of childish shenanigans. All of a sudden, Billy is 21 years old. Having dropped out of college to get a job, he is now climbing the ladder with a multinational finance firm as we follow him into his thirties.

Thus are we drawn into a world of jet-setting, substance abuse and meaningless sex: welcome to Ireland in the 21st century. Money-hunger and instant gratification are the norm and the entire play can be read as the Celtic Tiger writ small. The crux of the piece is the comparison (and split-second switching) between Billy ‘the Kid’ – the carefree boy reared on his solid grandfather’s knee – and the man Billy becomes: William the conqueror of women.

Interestingly, the roots of William’s vicarious lifestyle are those same things which afflict every Irish generation to varying degrees: sexism and alcohol abuse. The individual character and his personal arc are quite well developed for a one hour, one man play; there is a great amount of historical and emotional depth woven in.

The Wild West cowboy theme is exceptionally poignant and brought a smile to the collective face of the audience. While it is an innocent playtime script for young Billy, it points to the cowboy developers, shady bankers and corrupt politicians that would eventually bring Ireland to ruin, with people like William along for the ride. The old stories simply don’t fit anymore; these days the banks (and the state, lest we forget) rob us to give to the cowboys. The eventual emptiness and cynicism of William’s adult years are portrayed as morosely as his youth is energetically.

The drama comes to a head when William’s grandfather falls ill. Faced with his idol’s and hence his own mortality, William is forced to some grave soul-searching. The line that sent tingles down my spine, after nearly an hour of lightning-quick dialogue, temporal leaps and narrative progression, was slow and sombre and delivered in Irish: ‘Ní sheasann sac folamh’.

It is William’s grandfather’s legacy: an empty sack cannot stand.

This is the beautiful underscore to the play and indeed to the entire Celtic Tiger ideal. The property bubble was indeed proven to be empty, and though it was warm and comfortable inside while it lasted, when it burst it left an entire nation out in the cold. William’s tragedy is to hitch a ride on the tiger’s back; the saving of him is to get out before he completely collapses.

Getting out in the nick of time – a certain smug and stocky former Taoiseach springs to mind. The lie that he and his revolting ilk fed us over glasses of champagne and (extra) helpings of caviar was this: the good times will last forever.

They didn’t, as this play ably and desolately attests. The Mid-Knight Cowboy is an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre. Quite simply put, it has something to say, as should any and all art worthy of the name.

‘There’s someone out there for everyone’

The devil is in the details with this lie: why must there be only one other person out there for everyone? Do you honestly believe that, on a planet of more than seven billion (fucking billion) human beings, there is only one person you are absolutely meant to be with? Fuck off Disney and every romcom ever made! And you can fuck right off while I’m at it, ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’.

The problem is not that there isn’t someone out there for us, but that there’s got to be at least a couple of thousand people we can potentially be truly happy with (and vice versa, of course). The trouble is that we might only ever meet one or two of them; Dunbar’s number holds that the average human can, throughout his or her life, maintain about ‘150 stable relationships’. This is about the size of your average prehistoric tribal community. It is the amount of people with whom you can expect to regularly have face time and with whom you will interact somewhat meaningfully.

150 individuals out of more than seven billion; the average person really only knows 0.000002% of this planet’s population (yes, I did the math, and it was easy because I cheated). This includes those ridiculous Facebook people with more than a thousand ‘friends’.

Chances are you will meet someone within these 150 or so people with whom you’ll be happy to spend the rest of your life. In fact, common sense suggests you will, for a variety of cultural, historical and social reasons. My sister’s husband, for example, is from our own neighbourhood – he grew up 300 metres down the road. My own girlfriend is from the other side of my hometown. There’s an awful lot to be said for cultural compatibility.

This is not to say, however, that only people from your own milieu are the most suitable mates. Not at all. I also know many people who are happily married to or going out with people from all over the world. Let’s call it globalisation because this certainly would not have been the case two or three centuries ago. More people these days speak the same languages – English, French and Spanish in particular – and this makes cultural communication that much easier.

And now for the romance (or lack thereof – apologies). From a very young age we are conditioned to think that there is one person we are meant to be with. Girls grow up listening to tales of how Prince Charming will rescue them from their mundane lives. But – sorry girls – Prince William has since married Kate Middleton’s already privileged ass. Fantasising about his brother (only third in line to the throne; why bother?) will have to do for the time being.

Now for some illustrative soul-bearing (again, sorry). Five years ago I met a girl who I thought was the ‘one’ for me. We went out for a few weeks and then it ended – she ended it, obviously. I haven’t taken anything this hard in my life, not even some relatives’ deaths. I thought I’d never get over her, and it did indeed take a hell of a long time, relative to the relationship’s brevity. I’m not going to get too deep into all of this – the world has enough emos already.

Let’s just fast forward to five years later: I’m a year and a half into a (hopefully lifelong) relationship with a woman I love. The woman I love, in fact. That girl I thought was the ‘one’? Turns out she was only one of several possible ‘ones’. I’m incredibly happy with my current girlfriend, while my ex is now a very close friend.

It bears mentioning, for the purposes of this post, that the first ‘one’ I spoke of is Latvian, while my current girlfriend is, like me, Irish.

Cultural compatibility.

Several close friends of mine are on their second or even third ‘ones’. I’m on my second (and again, hopefully definitive) ‘one’. So if your first ‘one’ happens not to work out, don’t worry, just go out and find another!

Please do share any thoughts or stories of your own.

‘The French are assholes’

This is a lie. The French are not assholes, they’re just… coconuts.

Let me explain. While working in Paris a few years ago, teaching English to Air France employees, I attended a workshop for said employees. It was for their cabin crews, to help them better deal with foreign passengers, to understand foreign mores and sensibilities. A class on ‘cultural sensitivity’, if you will. I was there as an ambassador for Irish civilisation and susceptibilities.

During the workshop, we were treated to an exposition on a rough theory that proposes there are two types of people, usually based on their cultural background. People are either peaches or coconuts. Peaches have a soft exterior; they are friendly, outgoing and chatty. Coconuts, conversely, have a tough exterior; reserved, stoic and distant. Irish people, for example, are typically peaches. French people, on the other hand, tend to be coconuts.

Due to their hard exterior, French people (especially when in France, and even more particularly in Paris) are thus perceived to be arrogant assholes. This is simply not the case. They just have a different way of doing things; different rules for interacting with each other. It can thus be very difficult to fall in with a group of strangers on a night out in Paris, for instance, whereas in Ireland it is the norm to interact with as many people as you like.

The flipside is that Irish people, according to this admittedly loose theory, have a hard core, an inner sanctum to which they will grant very few people access. They will befriend 20 people for a night and then never see any of them again. The French, however, true to their coconuttiness, have a soft and sweet interior. Once their hard outer shell is cracked open (by having the craic, perhaps), they can be effusive in their warmth and friendship.

When one person is a coconut he or she is called quiet and introverted. When an entire nation acts like this, they are labelled arrogant assholes. This is actually quite unfair – think about how many of your close friends are through and through introverts. Maybe you yourself are one. I think you’ll agree that they are some of the most steadfast and reliable friends a person could wish for.

For a single person to be a coconut is acceptable, but not so for an entire nation. On the other side of the coin, peachiness is accepted both individually and nationally, and for obvious reasons. Who doesn’t like that guy or girl who is the life of the party? And then there’s the whole Irish nation! A good-sized island off the Northwest coast of Europe, full of people who are perceived as being warm, friendly, and ‘mad for the craic’.

The French have a reputation in the English-speaking (read: Anglo-Saxon) world for being arrogant and difficult. As well as the abovementioned reasons, there are also some salient historical factors to consider. The English and French struggled against each other for world dominance for centuries, and then along came the States – another English-speaking world power – to take the reins. The French have thus been on the back foot, culturally, for about two centuries now. Imagine that, several generations of playing second fiddle; perhaps they can be forgiven for being a little prickly.

In no domain is this better epitomised than that of language. For centuries, French filled the vacuum left by Latin as the language of international diplomacy. As such, the French take their language extremely seriously, to the point of refusing to speak anything else in certain situations. Just watch this short clip of Sébastien ‘the Caveman’ Chabal, a French rugby player, funnily refusing to answer a British journalist in English.

Such obstinacies do little for the public image of the French, but they are of course entitled to speak their own language when, where and how they please.

And there you have it. I hope to have done enough to plead the case of the French and their apparent asshole arrogance.

Just remember: back foot, two centuries. How do you think you’d feel?

‘Well, aren’t you lucky to have a job?’

Read: you’re lucky to have a job. It is not a question; it is a challenge meant to pacify your restlessness.

I am, I don’t deny it: I am lucky to have a job. This soothing banality does, however, hide a sad and infinitely damaging lie. I will pose a question: do you like your job?

You will spend about one whole third of your life working i.e. doing something for money to live. To buy food, to pay rent, to survive. I would venture a guess that very few people in this world enjoy their work. We have ‘evolved’ so far that we no longer have to hunt and gather to survive. Nor do we necessarily have to tend crops year in year out. No, now we are expected to sit in front of bright screens manipulating information for entities greater, in size and worth, than we, as individuals, will ever be.

Some people (certain professional rugby players come to mind) are very happy to tend farms to make a living, and I respect these people enormously. They know what exactly it is they want to do and they are very happy to do it. Their professional sporting careers seem more an interlude – an obligation to province and country – than a career. When age tells and the caps have accumulated, they return to the earth and to their happiness.

Very few of us seize this opportunity. Most often, we simply fall into a position wherein we earn enough money to live, or to exist only. We do not like what we do; there is no enjoyment in it. Perhaps in the beginning there is motivation and idealism, but it soon becomes lost in the mire of spreadsheets, memos and meetings about meetings. Where there is no passion there is only tedium. This is as true for an office job as for any other; manual labourers, craftsmen, lawyers and teachers are all in the same boat here.

I put it to you that this is not how things should be. I do not believe that we must hunt and gather or sit and Excel in order to live. I do not mean Excel as in ‘to do extremely well’, but refer rather to the manipulation of mind-numbing spreadsheets; yes, I’m attempting to coin a new verb. Example: ‘I’m Excelling the shit out of this information, Ted.’ For my money, Excel causes more depression than reading Waiting for Godot while listening to Nirvana in a dark room (not to be recommended).

Never-ending mindless tasks are the surest fountains of unhappiness.

Few people do what they want to do. There are traps we fall into which make us think that we want a job that pays well, and so we learn whatever skills will make us the most money. IT, engineering, insurance; our ancestors are laughing at us. From their warm and happy campfires they laugh at our poor posture and straining eyes.

What do you do? Did your five year old self want to do that? Your ten year old self? Probably not. But look, you were five and ten, and not to blame you for your lack of focus. Very few people truly want to or indeed end up becoming astronauts, cowboys or ballerinas.

But still, what says your inner voice now? (I will not call it your inner ‘child’, for it is certainly not that. It is wiser than you or I, in all our pubescent development, will ever be). Children: perhaps they are our future.

What you are reading right now is my stab at breaking out of this trap, at breaking out of the sickening circle of debt and consumerism.

Writing.

That is what I want to do. I want to study and research and read and write. I want to do a PhD in literature, but I do not want to deal, day in day out, with mindless technical documents while I work – and save – towards this goal.

Writing: that is why I have started this blog and why I will continue it.

Tell me, what do you want to do with yourself?