Brighter Days In Ireland

Irish tradition.Hurling
Father and child playing hurling on the beach, or uneven duel with cudgels (Photo credit: Godo-Godaj)

A hot day in Ireland – more special than Christmas. That feast arrives once a year, like it or not. Hot weather is significantly less dependable. If it comes at all, you know not the day nor the hour. Where the wind and the water currents of the Atlantic collide with land, weather is about as predictable as a fruit machine. So hot days are precious.

Which is why I gave up any idea of getting work done and went swimming. I had no choice.

It was lovely at the lake. The water hasn’t got very warm yet, but it was fine for swimming. Mostly young people there, throwing themselves and each other in. Some had brought hurls and sliotars (hurling balls) and were practising in the water. The ball landed near me at one stage and I threw it back – or tried. Ever thrown something while floating in water? It’s weird, and largely unsuccessful. I was throwing myself backwards as much as the ball forwards. Embarrassing.

I was impressed though by this positive attitude. Galway lost the Leinster Championship final yesterday, to underdogs Dublin. (No Galway isn’t in Leinster – it’s a long story.) Some might have wanted to forget about hurling for a while after that, but here these young guys were not just practising, but apparently developing an entirely new tactical approach that involves flooding the pitch to a depth of over two metres.

It may be romantic optimism brought on by the weather, but I see hope for the future in that.

This Is How It Begins

James Reilly (in front of microphones).
Dr James Reilly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What James Reilly did was nothing special, just politics as usual. That’s precisely why he has to go. What passes for usual politics in this country is the whole problem. Politics as usual is what we threw Fianna Fáil out for.

James Reilly is our Minister for Health, in case you’re wondering. For the moment at least. And believe it or not, this has little or nothing to do with the Savita Halappanavar tragedy. There was a time when, as an actual doctor running the health service instead of a career politician, he seemed like a breath of fresh air. That chapter was brief, its ending a few months ago decidedly anticlimactic. His Labour party junior at the Department gave up, accusing him of manipulating health service priorities to bring investment and facilities to his own constituency. Documents released now appear to confirm this.

Is that not just the inevitable outcome of representative democracy? People expect their reps to bring back the goods. A little thumb on the scales.

No. A TD is not a warrior-champion, not a hunter. We’re sending them to Dublin to represent us there, not to loot it. Government tends to look away when a minister slips some spoils to the folks back home. It helps keep the seat safe at the next election. For ministers, it helps them keep their job and its lavish pay – not to mention its influence. Public money is diverted for their personal benefit in an only very slightly indirect way. In other words, it’s corruption. The sort of endemic, omnipresent corruption we used to mistake for normality.

But this is not a victimless crime. Favouring his own constituency disfavours the rest of the country. By taking a hospital from where it’s needed most to where it’s needed less he’s reducing someone’s chances of survival – and doing it for his own gain. Just like the worst sort of career politician.

We have had enough of this. He’s got to go.

This – This – Will Fix The Economy

Estate agents insist that property prices in Dublin have stabilised. I remember the first time they said that, back in 2007. And they’ve stabilized regularly ever since.

But you can’t exactly disagree. In a way, house prices are always stable. A house is always worth… about a house. A person can eat a lot or a little food, own a hundred cars or none, but houses tend to stabilise somewhere around the level of one per every two adults. Because try as you might, you can’t live in much more than one house at a time. Logically then, housing ought to be one of the most stable commodities on the market. It’s actually the rest of the economy that has been vigorously swung around this anchor point. During the housing boom, wages may have gone up on paper, but in house-buying terms they plunged through the floor.

Which gives me an idea… We need a new currency, right? The euro, well, it’s lovely and all. I like the colours, and the handy map on the back. But the thing is, we just can’t really afford it. Using the euro is like having a currency on the gold standard when the world is desperately short of gold. You can’t have a functional economy when the standard unit of exchange is hen’s teeth.

And what do we have plenty of? Why, houses! Too many houses, not enough euro banknotes. Think about it.

Of course you can’t put houses in your wallet or bring them to the shops. There will still have to be tokens. But the base currency unit should be fixed to the value of the standard house – say the sort of small two-bedroom starter home that was produced like popcorn during the boom. Notes should be denominated in fractions of a house. That way, the price of a home can never run away from you. Save up 1,000 of the new thousandth-of-a-house notes, and you can exchange them for one standard house at your nearest branch of NAMA.

It won’t stop people charging more than the standard house price of course, for bigger residences in better locations. But the existence of a perfectly adequate house at a fixed price – well, a price that money is fixed to – should act as a powerful stabilising influence. You’ll be able to look at a property ad and say “Well it’s a good house. But is it really worth two houses?”

The Land Of The Tree

My plan worked… well enough.

Of course I couldn’t sleep on the bus in the end. But I had time to stretch in Dublin airport, drink a coffee to keep me awake until boarding and get my devices recharged. (The new terminal seems at first to be a building somehow designed without power points, but they do have them in the cafe upstairs in departures.)

I suppose I got about an hour’s sleep on the flight. Slightly befuddled then, I managed to get lost inside Helsinki airport. I think due to a shortage of gates they let us out into the departures lounge; I should have realised this when the woman serving me coffee wished me a good flight. There was a lack of signage to the exit – people usually depart Departures in planes of course. I ended up in the international transfers sector, which had a door that only opens to you from the outside, presumably an anti-immigrant feature. I was trapped! The only logical escape was to take the next plane leaving the EU.

Fortunately, I wasn’t quiet tired enough to be that logical. I waited. Some Chinese people entered, I snuck through and was free.

Not a lot to report after that. I met my friend, we played on the beach with her six-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend. We came home and I managed to stay politely awake through dinner, collapsing into bed around ten in the evening even though the sun was still shining.

It was still shining when I awoke. Well OK, I presume I missed a brief episode of darkness. Helsinki is not above the Arctic Circle. But it was now even hotter. We went to another beach, warmer and more sheltered, where Finnish families from the neighbourhood go to build sandcastles and paddle. This may be a colder country on average, but they have real seasons here. The summer they’re complaining about is a hell of a lot better than the one we’re complaining about.

I went swimming! In the Baltic. The water is lovely. Being almost enclosed it’s a lot less salty than the ocean, so it was more like swimming in a lake. Except it was salty enough to allow me to float with no effort at all. Best of both worlds really.

And I arrived back to find that the world had changed. Though this was America’s day officially (Greetings to the Home Of The Brave, from the Land Of The Tree) it was all going on in Europe. The EU Parliament has thankfully rejected ACTA, yet another attempt by Big Entertainment to curtail the Internet. They wanted us to choose between freedom and their profitability. We did.

But then at CERN they found the first solid evidence to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson. It’s important? Well, it proves that the scientific theory we call the “Standard Model” doesn’t have a huge flaw, that humans do have some idea of how it all works. It’s a major step towards a complete understanding of how the universe works, and how it began.

Freedom, wisdom, and floating in a warm sea. Some days are OK.

The Road To Finland 2

Dammit, I can’t sleep. The hot sun won’t stop streaming in through the window. What sort of lake-strewn, tree-befuzzed hell have I arrived in?

But wait, let’s start at the beginning. Or at least, where I finished. Yesterday, in Café Wa, in Galway

The best part of a journey is not to travel hopefully or to arrive, but the moment that comes just a little after you set out. I mean the one when it hits you that it’s too late now to worry if you have all the right underwear and cables, there’s no point in once again checking your ticket and passport. That ship has, perhaps literally, sailed. Finally you sigh and stretch and let the vehicle carry you.

The worst part conversely is the one before departure, when searching through pockets to confirm the presence of items you know are there is still a live option. And that’s the stage I’ve reached. Essentially I’m writing this to keep my hands busy.

I would have been on a bus to Dublin now but for a last-minute change of plan. My flight leaves at the unthinkable hour of 7:40 a.m., meaning they expect me to check in at 5:40 – about the time I’m usually going to bed. If that sounds convenient to you, consider that I’m the sort of person who can’t sleep until they’re too tired to stay awake. This means that I have to do the hardest part – actually making sure I get on the plane – when I’m at my least conscious.

My idea was to go to Dublin this evening, stay awake till about 5, get up an hour before that and head to the airport. There was a flaw to this plan. At the bus station though I found that they run all night. New plan then: instead of trying and probably failing to sleep in Dublin – our much worse, falling to wake up – I would leave here at about 2 a.m. on a bus straight to the airport, arriving refreshed and in good time!

Only one possible drawback to this brilliant scheme – It leaves me with hours before my bus, and absolutely nothing left to do.

I wonder if I have an even number of socks.

Sea To Ocean

Dundalk Bay beckons

We spent a lot on roads in this country. Probably more, with hindsight, than we really ought to have. So I can’t help feeling ungrateful when I don’t use them. Motorways – highways, autobahns, what you will – are convenient, sure. You can cruise along at 120k (75mph), faster than on ordinary roads. You can steer like you’re on rails. You can sleep.

No wait, not sleep. That’s the one you’re not supposed to do. But honestly, if they wanted you to drift off at the wheel this is exactly how they’d design roads. They’re so safe they’re dangerous.

I spent last night at a friend’s near Dundalk, close to the M1 that runs DublinBelfast. The M4 and M6 take you from Dublin to Galway, so I could have gone home entirely by motorway. The route makes a perfect right angle, but nevertheless it’s what the satnav recommends.

Edward J. Valentine's intriguing pub in Longford Town

I took the hypotenuse, the direct route across country via N-roads (national routes). At least, it would be direct if it didn’t wind like a bastard. These roads live from bend to bend, forcing you not only to concentrate on steering, but to change your speed and even gear constantly. Though it must be said that these have also been the object of serious investment in recent years, with accurate lines and chevron markers on every bend. Driving them is hard, but not particularly dangerous.

This is the only way to see the country – insofar as there is anything to see in the midlands. Not counting a (very necessary) break then, it took me four hours to get from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic coast. I could’ve done it in an hour less by motorway, but dammit, it would’ve felt longer.

Here’s some more pictures from the trip:

The most Zen front garden in all Ireland
Breakfast or something
Stuff on my friend's table - I just liked the colour combination

Spontaneous Com… edians

Speaking of spontaneous things in Galway, our own Spontaneous Theatre People have gotten together with two other comedy outfits to form a sort of improv supergroup. I’m having a lazy Sunday, so here’s their press release:

The Make-Up Artists Comedy Improv Tour – “A Tale Of Three Cities”

Hold on to your hats! If you live in Dublin, Limerick or Galway, ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ is coming soon to your City. Following an incredible impromptu ‘improv jam’ session at Electric Picnic in 2010, some of Ireland’s top improvisers decided that there was too much fun to be had to leave it it that.

Plans were hatched, and they decided a three city comedy improv tour was in order. Members of No Drama (Dublin), Choke Comedy (Limerick) and The Spontaneous Theatre People (Galway) have joined forces and become the Improv ‘Supergroup’ known as The Make-Up Artists!

Improv Comedy is an incredibly exciting form of theatre. It is energizing for the audience and performers alike, and no two performances are ever alike.

The Make-Up Artists‘ show promises to be a great night of weird and wonderful comedy antics. All the scenes and games are unscripted, and many are based on the audience suggestions. It will have you on the edge of your seats wondering what could possibly come next, and delighted when you find out what does!

Dublin – Thursday 8th December, Doyle’s Pub, College St
Show starts at 8.30pm, admission €10

Limerick – Saturday 10th December, The Belltable, O’Connell St
Show starts at 8pm, admission €10

Galway – Sunday 11th December, Upstairs @ The Townhouse Bar, Spanish Parade.
Doors at 8pm, admission €7/5

Any additional enquiries, email spontaneoustheatre (at) gmail (dot) com