Merry Christmas, War Is Over Again

Saddam Hussein shortly after his capture. Deut...
Remind you of anyone?

Today is our first thoroughly frozen day in Ireland. I had to chip the car out of its cube before going to the shop. At least I was better off than my girlfriend. She takes a train to work.

I have to say for the shop, you’d hardly think it was Christmas there at all. I’ve noticed that in general this year people haven’t been playing up the celebrations excessively. I’ve only heard that damn Slade song twice so far, when in other years it’s seemed like it was on a loop. I guess this is to do with the disaster we politely call the recession. It’s not in good taste to trumpet your wares to the financially bereaved.

But this local shop has taken it to the point of austerity chic. Among the groceries, hardware and sheepdog treats, there is but one aisle-end display of seasonal stuff like Christmas balloons. And even these were red, white and green, which to me is completely wrong. Red and green is Christmas. These I suspect are really just Italian balloons.

But back to the business of the world. It may seem strange that I didn’t mention Iraq this week, but it’s because there’s no positive aspect of the war’s end not immediately trumped by the fact that it can never be quite as good as not having had the war in the first place. They liberated Iraq from Saddam’s dictatorship, but at the cost of probably more than half a million Iraqi lives. They stopped him torturing, but now America tortures. Bush’s war has been appalling not just for Iraq, not just for America’s standing in the world, but also perhaps for all of us. I strongly suspect that much of our current debt crisis can be traced ultimately to the fact that America has spent the last ten years fighting wars it couldn’t afford.

My Twitter Hobby – #ExtendedProverbs

A mother plays the guitar while her two daught...
Children should be seen and not herded onto trucks

A house divided against itself cannot stand Christmas.

Brevity is the soul of wit generally speaking.

If music be the food of love, play on this pork piccolo.

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive on time.

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved a tall Swedish woman.

A cat may look at a king cobra, albeit briefly.

It’s no use locking the stable door after the horse has bolted it.

Too many cooks spoil the broth; ideally, broth should contain no cooks at all.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away but attracts fruitbats.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks except ‘play dead’.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration, three percent error.

It takes a thief to catch a thief disease.

Life begins at forty, according to new sentencing guidelines.

Flattery will get you nowhere, sexyboots.

It is better to give than to receive anal.

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys to do your bidding. Cool.

Actions speak louder than words, especially if that action is ‘yelling’.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison, which is half the fun of fugu fish.

Spare the rod and spoil the child, if the child requires major spine surgery.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, but the unjust have your umbrella.

Children should be seen and not herded onto trucks.

There are none so blind as those that will not see, nor deaf as will not hear, nor anosmic as will not smell.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is no defence in a sexual harassment case.

A drowning man will clutch at a straw, but throw him a lifebelt you bastards it’s not funny.

All’s fair in love and war and Grand Theft Auto.

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, it gets jealous.

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, so ask strange men to help you bury your junk.

The boy is father to the man in parts of West Virginia.

 

Reindeer Sandwich

Sami woman reindeer milking in Kvenland, Weste...
Two people about to make a "Reindeer Sandwich"

I’m having a reindeer sandwich. This is not some bizarre sexual practice. It’s a sandwich with reindeer in it. Makes a change. It was all I could do not to hum Christmas songs as I buttered the bread.

I’ve wanted to try reindeer since I was in Finland over a year ago, but didn’t know enough Finnish to chance it. Their supermarkets are great, but they stock such a vast range of meat products that you feel they can’t all be the parts of animals we think of as edible. Yesterday though I was in Ikea, where reindeer is helpfully sold in English.

Ikea is weird, isn’t it? A vast warehouse full of what comedian John-Luke Roberts might describe as perfectly adequate furniture. Absolutely nothing was actually ugly, but I hardly saw a single thing I positively liked either. Some of the ceramic sinks were satisfactorily solid. The mattresses seemed excellent value. But I was expecting more somehow. And the Swedish names were nothing like as amusing as people make out.

OK… Except for a set of storage containers labelled Slubb. I enjoyed saying Slubb.

Slubb.

The deli section was rather a letdown too. There just wasn’t that much variety, and I was expecting, well, a smorgasbord. I did get some pickled herring of course, and some fish roe paste in a tube which I dubbed ‘The Antitoothpaste’. And then the reindeer. Smoked reindeer slices, which look rather like brown ham and, disappointingly, taste rather like brown ham.

So much for reindeer then – or ‘pigs with antlers’, as they may or may not be called in Finnish.

Jesus Saves

Duh. Week in Dublin was great, but I was up early almost every day. Reloaded with sleep this morning, and followed that up with a nice lie-in. Which ended when I sprang upright, suddenly remembering I had a bus to catch. Got out of bed, dressed, made it to the stop in fifteen minutes flat.

When I remembered I’d forgotten my phone.

Just as well perhaps. Staying in town gave me a chance to help a friend with a computer problem. But oh… It made me wish I’d caught the bus. This was a sick kitty.

Never mind, I got a Christmas present! Secret Santa, from my secret internet community. (Yes, this is pretty representative of how together we are.) It’s… Jesus. A plastic Jesus, Jesus Cartoonabout a foot high, covered in the most tacky silver glitter. With a slot on its back. Yes it’s a Jesus money-box. Even as an atheist I find that disturbingly sacrilegious. It’ll have to be used to save for something very special… Any suggestions?

And the big news: My girlfriend’s sister just had a baby boy! That makes me a…  a…  Guy who’s girlfriend is an aunt. Dammit there should be a word for that.

When The Road Hits Back

Wheels CartoonYou remember just after Christmas I was complaining about the potholes in Corrandulla village? Perhaps I should have given credit to the County Council for getting them all patched just a week or so later.

Bloody glad I didn’t though, because the fucking things are back already. What did they use to fill them, loose gravel and spit? Once again, a drive to the shops is more like an amphibious assault up a defended beach.

It’s damaged our car. One of the headlights has failed. At least, I thought it had. I was just going to remove the bulb today to find a replacement, but wisely I gave it one final test first. (OK, I’d forgotten which one had blown.) Weirdly, it worked this time.

A little investigating, and I notice the right bulb connector is hot. Much too hot – melted and blackened. It must have come loose and been shorting. I pushed it back on tightly and it seems to be working all right since, but it will need to be replaced. And soon, because the NCT¹ is coming up and they probably don’t take kindly to a burning smell coming from the engine compartment.

I can’t prove it was the potholes that shook it loose of course. It might have been, say, trained enemy marmosets.

What worries me more is the other roads they repaired, particularly the one between here and Headford. This is my favourite local drive. It’s excellent exercise for the learner, full of blind bends, blind hills, a hidden entrance or two, turns with lousy camber. Sometimes all these at once. Challenging. OK, dangerous. Certainly, plenty dangerous enough without the extra hazard of holes big enough to bite a wheel off.

They still haven’t finished repairing it. If it’s being done to the same quality as Corrandulla, then logically they are never going to finish.

  1. National Car Test. That was an easy one, wasn’t it?

You Called That 2010?

You may (perhaps) have wondered why I didn’t do the usual year-end review in this column last week. The truth is, I just wanted one week after Christmas without having to be depressed again. But now, like pretty much everyone else, I have a stinking cold. Being in a foul mood anyway then, I might as well get on with it.

2010, the year the country was taken into receivership. The year we agreed to smash up our health and welfare systems in order pay for the mistakes of bankers. If overcrowding is any measure, our hospitals are now in the worst state that they have ever been. The year in which we found out that we are basically slaves to the whims of a financial market, in which our government became our pimps, offering out our services for the best terms they could get. One easy country, only slightly abused, willing to work into the next generation.

And it’s not going to get better soon. Beware a false dawn, as Fianna Fáil tries desperately to spin anything not immediately disastrous into ‘recovery’. Expect them to make complete asses out of the Green party as they continually put off the election in the desperate hope that some good news will arrive. Or, more depressing but more likely, that we will eventually come to see our current state of oppression as normal.

In the end we may have to hold a general strike or other mass protest to force them to stop harming the country. The fact that they have not already resigned out of sheer embarrassment tells us a lot about the kind of shower they are.

So 2011 is not shaping up to be a good year… The President has asked business to project a dynamic image of Ireland abroad but you know, I think if they could they’d be doing it already. How can they when the people responsible for this mess are still in charge? At best we look forward to a desperate endgame followed by a divisive election, our impossible financial situation growing worse all the while. It will be a year of damage but… Well, at least it won’t be dull.

I can’t finish though without a quick word about Ivan Yates and the collapse of his business. It is a sad situation of course when a company goes under, especially one with many employees. But I cannot find it in myself to feel sorry for the man. Recall what business he was in – gambling. It’s not exactly productive industry. Gambling is something we need a whole lot less of in this country. In the madness of the last few years, Ireland changed from a growing economy into a property casino. And yet, in a complete reversal of the norm in these things, it was the house that lost.

It must be said though, at least Ivan Yates doesn’t expect the rest of us to make good his losses. When banks could learn a lesson in socially responsible business and basic morality from a bookie, you know what they’re worth.

It’s A White Christmas, Dammit

An end to global warming? No. Climate is what happens over centuries, this is bad weather. At least people call it that – I happen to like the snow. The chief reason I like the snow is that it is not rain. If something cold must fall from the sky during the winter months, I prefer if it’s the one that brushes off.

And there’s the fact that it’s beautiful too, that helps. I know, a lot of people hate it for solid, practical reasons. It’s dangerous – well yes, but I bet deaths and injuries will be down compared to our usual Christmas carnage. Transport is buggered it is true. A friend of mine is trapped in Paris as we speak, another in San Francisco – I’d really like it if they could make it home for Christmas. Shops are going to be insane of course. If forecasters are to be believed and the snow won’t clear until Christmas Eve, all of Connacht is going to be in town for a last-minute shopping frenzy. I urge you who actually live here to get your shopping done before then, while there are still things left to get. Loved ones are puzzled and rarely pleased by a gift-wrapped supermarket shelf.

It has been inconvenient for me. I’m trying to learn to drive right now, and obviously you can’t really practise anything much in this weather. Apart from skid control. A lot of skid control. And as I was saying the other week, if I’m out of town it’s a mile walk on a Teflon pan to get to the bus. There still seems to be little sign of gritting from the County Council. I don’t say no sign – there is a light scattering of rock bits on the road just outside, at a density of maybe two gravicular particles per square footfall. Looks like they’re trying to make their precious dirt supplies last through the winter, but I’m not entirely sure what good so little actually does. I had to get outdoors early this morning to take delivery of a Christmas present – the house is so well hidden that you have to walk down to the road if you don’t want couriers to get lost. (Note to online retailers: I will buy from the one of you who clearly says “Will deliver by genuine actual post”.) He called for directions at 7.55. I had been asleep less than four hours at that point, so I wasn’t too clear at first about where he was – or indeed, where I was – but it transpired that he was just two miles away. He said he’d call back when he was close. He did. Half an hour later.

But wouldn’t it be good if this became our regular winter weather for a while? Yes I’m serious. It could be lovely – if we actually planned for it. If we could arrange not to need to fly the week before Christmas, if we actually could get our shopping done and supplies in. If the weather enforced on us that break from our hectic and ill-considered lives that we never seem to find time to take. We could have some, you know, Peace. On Earth.