Thursday, December 27, 2012

5

Do you have a minute?

Are you having a good Christmas? Have you consumed? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time giving out about things beyond your control, TV shows you are supposed to like, social media trends and the decline in quality of mince pies? Do you have a pension plan? Do you feel really satisfied with life every once in a while and then worry that you're being smug and then worry that the act of worrying about being smug is in itself really smug, or else a mask for many other concerns because you aren't all that satisfied at all, are you? Do you participate in that ah here leave it out hilarity even though you know it's not really very funny? Have you ever eaten four pieces of shortbread in alarmingly quick succession? Did it hurt? Do other things hurt? Is it OK to go shopping on the 26th of December? Is it OK to loudly proclaim your despair with the world over people going shopping on the 26th of December? Is it? Have you read a book recently and was it good? Do you not have time for reading? Do you watch more than four hours of reality TV a week? Do you believe that America will ever sort its shit out with guns? Do you gripe about auto-correct? Do you jangle your keys? Would you buy a gun if you lived in America? Do you get vexed? Do you regret a lot of the things you did in your early twenties and some of the things you did last week? Do you think that foetuses have a soul and can you explain what that might be? Do you ridicule the religious? Are you, the evangelical church up the road wishes to know, the victim of an ancestral curse? Do you ever pray? If you do sometimes pray do you mentally sign off with "almost certainly not, I know, but just in case,LOL!!"? Did you read the small print? Have you claimed your tax back? Do you do something to break a sweat every day? Can you touch your toes? Are you aware that this entire concept comes from Padgett Powell's 'The Interrogative Mood', but that this particular dude hasn't read it because writing a whole book like this and getting it published and expecting people to pay for it would be taking the piss, right? Am I wrecking your head? Has anyone ever accused you of being a hipster? Can you go now? Is it getting better? Did you get what you wanted? Do you feel at home? Did you have a good year?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

1

Priorities



I came home on Tuesday and started a new post. I wanted to to tell you about a nice encounter I'd just had on the bus, and by way of that, fill people in on what's been going on with me and ruminate on one or two things. As I do. But it wasn't coming out as I wanted it to so I left it for another day.

I won't be writing that post now.

I went to bed that night and did my usual ill-advised check on Twitter. News was just coming in about Savita and the first outpourings of anger were spewing thick and fast.

Savita.


I don't know much about her. I know she was 31, the same age as me. The same age as my wife. I know that she had a beautiful smile, was intelligent, that she taught children to dance and clearly had a sense of fun. I know that she was pregnant. I know that pregnancy can be a dangerous thing, but that modern medicine is continually making it less so.

I know that she spent quite some time in a lot of pain. That she knew her baby was going to die. That she died, and she didn't have to.

Women have been 'other' in this country for time immemorial. Our national religion and guiding light, Roman Catholicism, revolves around notions of women having sex being disgusting. There once, most likely, was a woman called Mary who lived in Bethlehem. She had a child called Jesus. She did this because she had sex. This revolts certain men, so they said that she didn't. A few hundred years later they decided that her mammy didn't either, and put it into writing. And so it began. All the words on the entire Internet could not describe the horrors perpetrated on the women in this country in the name of Jesus, and his pure mammy and nana.

They rumble on here, largely because setting up our own rituals for births and deaths and weddings is difficult, and because it hurts our parents' and our grandparents' feelings when we don't abide by traditions, like everyone else.

On Wednesday morning a student of mine, a Polish priest and a genuinely nice man, pointed to a picture of Enda Kenny in his copy of Metro and said "Is he a good leader? I hear he is Catholic and then I hear he is going to pass law for abortion." I gritted my teeth. Metro were a day behind on the Savita story, so I filled him in. He felt that he foetus should have been aborted, and would have been in Poland. I talked to students from Libya, Kuwait, Italy, Spain and Japan - all highly conservative countries in their own ways. All were sure that Savita would not have been let die in those circumstances.

This goes beyond the divide of pro-choice and anti-choice, this is about recognising women as human beings. As I walked up to the Dáil with Rosie and Colm on Wednesday evening we saw Willie O'Dea and Jimmy Deenihan slithering their respective ways out of there. They were welcome to stay for the protest. Tears were far more likely to break out than violence, but they knew what they were. Cowards who voted against doing anything about our law. It's well for them how they take the backslaps and the hoisting onto shoulders every few years, the triumphalism and the showboating, the expenses and the salary, the pints of Guinness from local businessmen when they go down the local. The prayer to shivering prayer until they have dried the marrow from the bone.

We let them go home. We hope they slept well. We knew, like Emer, that we're all complicit in this. We were glad they were plenty of men there, as it will take men as well as women to stop this from happening again. We sat on the ground and we thought about Savita and we felt sad and we felt sorry.


Monday, August 13, 2012

3

"Leah was tender-eyed"

With her pissy, mewling offspring all moved on, we sent our cat to be spayed in late June of 1995. 'Smiler', was the name she came to us with - presumably intended to be deeply ironic, as she wore the mien of a feline who dwelt too often on the sorrows of this world. I learnt a lot from her.

The vet sent her back with the news that she was already pregnant, and we greeted my mother jeeringly and triumphantly at the door with the news, for it was she who had wanted Smiler fixed - aware that our childish desire for kittens didn't extend much into the household hygiene end of things. We would later learn that she had just returned from a meeting where she had been fired. It would be much, much later that I would learn what that felt like.

Three kittens were born in a contained bloody mess in our hot press early one morning. My mother brought them out to the garden with a bucket of water before we got up, eager to avoid the months of urine-drenched kitchen that lay, inevitably, ahead. She hadn't the heart to do it. Or had too much, rather.
One was black and white, like his mother, and we named him Snoopy in a teenaged attempt at subversiveness. The other two were a brindled mix of black and brown and ginger hues, like a tomcat who skulked at the end of our lane. We called them Jacob and Esau, like the biblical brothers. When the vet told us they were female they became the lesser-known biblical sisters Rachel and Leah. I liked this, because I fancied a girl in school called Rachel, but it was Rachel we sent away for adoption, and Leah and her fattening brother Snoopy we kept.

Leah grew a cancerous lump on her leg when she was one, which we had removed. It came back, and we were told that having the leg amputated was the only option. So we did. Her appetite for hunting, previously voracious, was now curbed but she managed life just fine, operating under the sobriquet 'Hopalong' and far more affectionate than ever before.She grew squawky and grizzled as time wore on, and gradually became a toothless little gremlin of a thing, ugly-pretty in the same way that gnarled old men are.

It's early August 2012 and I'm back at the family home, visiting with my wife. Leah is squawking in a different key, and doesn't sound great. My mum explains that the vet has said he'll put her down, whenever they think she's ready. "But I don't think she's ready to go just yet," she says, as we watch her slow-motion lope around the garden. I doubt I was ever told where exactly she was nearly drowned, but in my mind's eye it was more or less precisely where she was at that point, seventeen years on and moving as tentatively as a kitten.

They decided she was ready on Saturday, and buried her by the roses, with Raffa the giddy spaniel in attendance. My dad called and broke it to me with his customary gentleness while I was out in the shops. I sighed and thought I was fine and then didn't feel fine, so took the bus back to my own home to scoop out litterboxes and write something about her.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

5

who is showing whom their bloody rag now?


Every time I check your blog, to see if you've written a new post, I'm reminded of you being sad, and don't like that. I know it's not something you control, but you should never be sad, because you are a best fellow and I love you. 

Hello.
It's hard not to be stirred into action by a comment like the one above, even when it's from your younger brother, who visits the blog from time to time on his lunch break. I used to feel far more of a compulsion to put stuff down here, if only to feed the narcissistic impulse to share my epiphanies with whomever cared to listen. But what happened when I got depressed was that whatever worms of creativity lurked in my brain seemed to crawl off and die. That started with humour. Anyone who considers themself to be "a bit of a joker" should probably be publicly horsewhipped, but I suppose I do try and make people laugh on a daily basis, whether they want it or not. But that went out the window for a while, as did attempting to write anything at all. Because when you are low you feel like everything you've ever done is shit, and that when people say nice things to you then that is just them being nice. People were nice about my last post, and I appreciate that, but you kinda have to be nice when someone writes about being depressed. Really, though, if you wanted to read something unbelievably articulate about depression you'd go here. One can only assume that Allie just thinks everyone's just being nice, too.

Since my last post I've ended up doing what I never thought I would, by joining Twitter. You can felch me here, if that's your thing. I've also signed up as a contributor with the excellent new online magazine ramp.ie. You can read my first post for them here, and I recommend you have a good snoop around while you're there, as it's filled with great, diverse stuff. You can also sext them on Facebook, felch them on Twitter, roger them on your Skybox, and all those other things that the kids are into these days.

Now that I've cleared my throat I'll be back soon, probably with a post about violence. Yay!

Friday, March 9, 2012

12

I will be with you when you lose your brave

The M4, a dank Friday evening.
"I knew you'd been out of sorts for a bit, but I didn't know it was this bad."
"I know you didn't, I didn't want you to."

He looked everywhere except her face, and felt relieved that she was driving. He hadn't wanted to tell her in case she thought it was her fault. It wasn't.

"This is different, I've been low before but there was always something rational at the root of it and I don't think there is this time. I really don't. I feel useless all the time and so, so fucking stupid."

They talked about it, calmly. They talked about him maybe going to see someone about it, calmly. They parked  outside the hotel and sat in the car for a while longer, the unwelcome nagging of tears in both their eyes. She rubbed his hand and they went in. They went out for dinner and he said very little and she didn't mind.

There was a wedding the next day. Not theirs, theirs was ages ago. The bride was beautiful and the music was nice and the kids were cute and the priest was crass. The usual, all good. He played nice at the table and ate too much and waned after a fashion and retreated upstairs to watch Match of the Day and drink scotch on his own. An hour or so later she texted to say that she missed him. Not that he was being antisocial and inconsiderate, just that she missed him. He told her that he was finding socialising hard at the moment and she told him that she'd mind him.

 So he went back down. They smoked and they talked to nice strangers and they danced, even though he never dances. Nor does she, really, but she took him out there in front of real people and she made him dance to Gay Bar and Florence and The Grating Voice and laughed when he cried "I can't believe what happened to Tony!" like he always does when that Journey song comes on. She smiled patiently when he tried to sing Creep  at 4 a.m. with some bloke he'd just met who had a guitar in the residents' bar.

He felt better for a bit, and then awful again and then better. Beyond the mountains there are mountains, he thought to himself. And she knew that people don't make mountains.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

4

äppärät yeah!

Chancing My Arm is now available to all my readers in snazzy mobile device form! Everyone else has had their blog available in this format for fucking ages, you say! I know! But I'm still excited! I'm even writing this post on a mobile device! I'm so modern I'm next week! Back soon with a post about depression! If I can be ringed!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

6

of course i've had it in the ear before

This is a post I handwrote in late October 2009, a few weeks after I'd been (temporarily, but indefinitely) laid off from my teaching job. I'm not sure why I never got around to typing it up, but a visit to my grandfather on Friday night reminded me to do so.


My grandfather calls me at about 10.30 in the morning. I'm relieved that he doesn't seem to realise he's just woken me. He asks if I'll meet him for lunch later, and I happily acquiesce. I'm delighted to have any excuse to leave the house at the moment: three weeks into unemployment and I hate that it now doesn't matter whether I get out of bed or not. Lunch with a man of wit and dignity is as good a reason to do so as I've heard. It's over a year and a half now since my grandmother died and he's wearing it well - better than I could possibly have imagined.

We meet on the steps of the Dining Hall in Trinity College. I'm late, sodden and flustered. He's punctual and characteristically pristine, as though the rain wouldn't be so insolent as to try. The man is effervescent, and frequently taken for my father. He looks me up and down in bemusement and greets me warmly. He fumbles with his key to the members-only door for alumni and staff and we head in. I was in there only once before, for coffee and a chat with a senior lecturer. He wasn't grooming me, it was for a chat about my dissertation. I spent five of the last eight years in Trinity and I don't really know anyone here. Despite it being over twenty years since he retired from working here my grandfather seems to know everyone, and they're all pleased to see him. "George!" says one chap enthusiastically and expectantly. My grandfather looks somewhat blank.

 "It's Henry Winter. You don't remember me, do you?"
"Of course I do, Henry - a fine, handsome young fellow like yourself!"

Henry is about 45 and not particularly handsome at all, but beams with the compliment. We bid polite hellos and goodbyes and move on briskly. "I've no idea who that fellow is, or what he's about," confides my grandfather in tones of disappointment and relief.

It turns out that the magic door leads us to the same eating area as all the proles and students use. But they're barricaded out of the place for a little longer and we get superior eating options. I end up with a three course meal in front of me, owing to his generous encouragement and my reluctance to admit that I only horsed my breakfast into me half an hour ago.

During the meal I spot a blogger* whom I recognise from pictures beside his journalistic work. I like what he does and, being on his blogroll as I am, I imagine he'd be only fucking thrilled to meet me. So I contemplate going over and saying hello, but decide that it's bad form to interrupt a chap over his lunch. and besides, I'd feel compelled to explain to my grandfather why I'd gotten up from the table to introduce myself to some bloke who had no idea who I was or what I was about, and I don't feel like explaining what blogging is to an 84 year-old.

A few minutes later he makes a casual reference to some bishop or something in cork landing themselves in a bit of trouble by whinging about someone on Twitter and having that whinge read by the person in question.
"Sorry, did you just say Twitter?"
"Yes, Twitter. It's like blogging but with more back and forth, as I understand it."
"Uh, yeah...I suppose it is."

Later, over coffee, he asks out of nowhere whether I do any writing to occupy myself while I'm unemployed. I end up telling him about this blog, about the piece i wrote for Homepages, about the couple of piss-takey pidgin Gaeilge columns I've written for the Irish language magazine Rosie contributes to, about my painful, stunted attempts at short story writing.
"I'd never make a career out of it, though" I say, lest he or, worse, I start getting big ideas.
"No, but it's good you're keeping active."
So the conversation moves on to what i might make a career out of, given how hard it seems to be to land a teaching job right now. He's fascinated to hear how much I enjoyed my time in South Korea a couple of years back, and I regale him with a few anecdotes from there. I don't think it's anything I hadn't told him in the immediate aftermath of my trip, but I'm enjoying telling it again.
"And would they know you in the Korean embassy here?"
"Well, I think was only there briefly a couple of times to sort out my working visa before I went, so..."
"I think it would be a good idea for you to go in there and ask to speak to someone significant and explain that you're someone who has spent time in their country and has very positive things to say about their country and that you could be useful to them."
I ponder the fact that the only use the Koreans would have for me is as a spokesman for soju.
"Mmm, sure, I might do that sometime."

I love his career ideas for me. Previous ones have included sourcing Polish food for all the expats here (he was shocked to here that the supermarkets have been all over that for some considerable time now), and opening a language school with Rosie where I teach English and she teaches Irish. They beat the hell out of "put your name on the teaching substitution register and maybe get a job in Tesco in the meantime", which is probably exactly what I should be doing.

He calls an abrupt halt to our time together, as is his tendency. He presses an envelope with a very generous cheque inside into my hand as a belated birthday present, and hurries off towards Dawson Street. I feel a certain twinge when I realise that this 84 year-old has more pressing engagements to attend to than I have, and wonder if I'll manage to get my shit together before he starts losing his.



*In my original draft I had named the blogger and intended on providing a link, but in the subsequent couple of years I have encountered him once or twice and discovered that he's a bit of a prick, so anonymity would serve him better now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

6

Beasts of no nation?

When I was eleven or twelve some knacker walked up to me on the street, said something in Cant that I didn't understand, and punched me in the stomach. It was ideal, really: it didn't hurt very much but it allowed me not to feel bad about referring to Travellers as 'knackers', and to lustily join in with every badmouthing of them that I was every privy to. I learned quickly that, despite everyone and their dog understanding the term to be pejorative, it was nearly always completely socially accepted. Usage in front of teachers and other adults would, at worst, be met with a mild frown - the same one you might get if you said 'crap'.

I don't know how many times it took being punched by settled people for me to write that one childish tap in the gut off as part of life, rather than symbolic of the values of an entire ethnicity. I don't know exactly when I grew out of using the term 'knackers' (I suspect it was shamefully recently), but I did.

Last Saturday I read a piece in the Irish Times about the rugby players Denis Leamy and Rory Best. A puff piece, in fact, that had little to do with sport and a lot to do with the fact that the aforementioned are now 'Bushmill Brothers' (there's a remarkably similar piece in The Examiner - it seems that the edict from the marketing people was to use words like 'brothers' and 'bond' prominently, and mention the brand name at least once. Tacky. One can only hope Messrs. Thornley and Lewis got a nice case of whiskey or five for their trouble). But what was jarring was not the thinly-veiled-infomercial nature of the piece, but the part where Rory Best is asked about his BFF's playing style and says he is "a complete knacker on the pitch, as you can imagine."

Does Rory Best mean that Denis Leamy is in the habit of finding old horses on the pitch and turning them into dog food and glue? He would undoubtedly claim that he's using the word in the other sense - that of a person behaving anti-socially or thuggishly. Some say that it's an entirely separate meaning, with no reference to Travellers at all. Bock does (or did, I'll allow for the fact that that post is three years old). But most of the times I've heard people use the phrase "some knacker..." in the middle of an anecdote they will inevitably have to clarify whether they are referring to a scumbag-knacker or, you know, a knacker-knacker. The etymology of any term is a complicated thing, but there seems little doubt that its origins are connected to Travellers. The term is still heavily connected to them, in my experience.

Rory Best has always seemed like a decent enough skin, but he might want to think again about publicly using a term that is highly offensive to an entire culture, even if a lot of people use it freely. They used 'nigger' freely, too, once. If he must use it in the context of Bushmills Brotherly Bonding Banter, then perhaps the Irish Times might think a little more carefully about publishing it, and potentially perpetuating its use among the thousands who will have read that article. Twenty percent would deny citizenship to them, remember, lest we claim that Ireland doesn't have a problem with Travellers. Perhaps they'll redact it later, as they do.