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

The Value Of Nothing

Property prices in Ireland
Property prices in Ireland converted to 2011 currency. The red line shows the pre-boom average. ©RonanLyons.com

So house prices in Dublin have reached half what they were at the height of the boom. That’s a good sign. If they halve once more they’ll be back to what they were pre-bubble. Look at the graph (ganked from the very interesting ronanlyons.com) if you don’t believe me. Converted to 2011 money, an average house cost about €100,000 for decades. At the height of the boom it peaked at nearly four times that. Well over a third of a million, for an ordinary home.

Just one question springs to mind. What the hell were we thinking? Houses costing the price of a house, plus three other houses? Cars didn’t quadruple in price in just a few years. Food didn’t, even drink and cigarettes didn’t. During boom times, market prices are supposed to fall behind rising incomes. Otherwise they wouldn’t be called boom times, they’d be called mysterious outbreaks of rampant inflation. But during ours the cost of housing left incomes for dead. Clearly, the housing market is a deeply flawed one – almost an object model in fact of how capitalism goes wrong.

In theory the price of something is set by supply and demand, which is both efficient and ethical. Well let’s pretend it is for now, it works well enough for most things. Why does it go wrong here? Because the supply and demand of housing is almost irrelevant to the housing market.

What does a house cost? It’s an interesting question. A house in an appropriate location can be a very important asset, so in general people will spend the absolute maximum on a house they think they can afford. That’s clearly unlike wine or cars or dinners or phones. So in short, the answer to the question “How much does a house cost?” is “Whadya got?”

Or more precisely, what can you raise? If easier money is available therefore, people will borrow more. They’ll pretty much have to, as prices will rise to meet the available credit. Of course they have the option of only borrowing as much as they would have before prices went strange, but if they do they’ll get a much worse house than they could previously have afforded, while those willing to avail of the softer terms will get the shorter commutes, the better school catchment areas, the safer neighbourhoods. Competing for their and their children’s futures, it is hard to blame them for taking all that the banks and other financial institutions offered.

Speculation happens in such runaway markets of course. People will buy houses in the hope of selling them at a profit, just as if they were buying shares or gold or currency. Capitalism teaches that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The vast, vast majority however are buying houses because they need a house. And while some postponed purchasing in the hope that prices would come down, far more rushed into buying out of fear that they would not.

There are other factors, but we shouldn’t overemphasise them. People had become better off, yes. But did your income double? Mine sure as **** didn’t. The euro facilitated the boom because such an influx of credit would otherwise have exploded the currency, but it didn’t cause it. Houses were said to be “historically underpriced”, but even if you can bring yourself to believe a thing could be consistently underpriced for decades without anyone noticing, could it seriously be by a factor of two, even four?

And there was net immigration, that could have been expected to fuel the market. After all prices go up when demand outstrips supply. Only… Supply vastly outstripped demand. People were building houses up the sides of cliffs.

There are no two ways about it. We had a housing price bubble because we had an oversupply of credit. The blame rests squarely with the financial institutions that offered these loans. That is, all of them. Major banks should have known better and could have resisted. Had just a couple of lesser institutions been left to their excessive lending the larger banks would have lost custom, yes. But they would have survived. And minor institutions could not by themselves have super-inflated house prices.

But these lending practices were adopted by the whole industry, and quite literally they forced people to pay too much – far, far too much – for houses. There is a clear case for debt forgiveness therefore. There is also a case for punishment – though of the lenders who made the irresponsible loans rather than the borrowers who had little choice except to take them. And by punishment, I seriously mean prison sentences. There must surely be some law against business practices so reckless that they ruin individuals, families, even a whole country.

Isn’t there?

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.

Five Facts To Help You Forget How Crap Today Was

Leinster House
Little-Known Fact: Leinster House, the parliament building of Ireland, is on another f***ing planet.

Today yet another report on clerical abuse revealed yet more rape of children. The government says that child neglect is a thing of the past, but that the terms of the EU-IMF bailout deal require it to end the jobs of 200 Special Needs Assistants. That deal is supposed to get us back into the bond markets, yet following it has made these markets declare our bonds worthless. And the Euro is on the verge of collapse anyway, so it’s actually all meaningless.

However the hottest news item of the day was a personal remark about someone’s appearance made in parliament. Sometimes you just want to give up.

So I gave up. Unable to say anything meaningful about so much insanity, I went outside in the sun and painted the gateposts to match the wall.

I’ve decided that the colour is really 50% Grey – the shade exactly half way between black and white. I can like 50% Grey. (It’s probably more like 53% really, but I choose to ignore this.) It reminds me of Photoshop, and it’s a good mount card colour for black and white images. Anyway, it all looks nicer now that the walls and gateposts match. That at least was productive.

So here, instead of a proper post, are five things I learned today while drifting listlessly about the Internet:

1) There’s a company in England that sells a handmade sports car called the “5EXi”. Presumably this is a vehicle designed and built specifically for the needs of twats.

2) A disease called “nodding syndrome” is spreading in Africa. The symptoms include stunted growth, and a lack of neck muscle tone causing the characteristic nodding. No one yet knows what causes it.

3) Teapoy is a word of Indian origin meaning a three-legged table. By erroneous association with the word “tea”, it is also used to describe a table with a container for tea. So if you were stuck on today’s Irish Times simplex crossword, now you know.

4) There are now at least three people on Google+ posing as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Well I guess that should be “at least two”. One of them could be real.

5) There’s a fashion currently for women’s pants with the crotch hanging down at the knees. A friend in the States was prevented from boarding a bus because the driver considered them unsuitable attire. They call them harem pants, I think because women in harems wore them when they wanted their Sultan to leave them the hell alone.

Ulysses

Was fixing someone’s e-book reader, so for the day that’s in it I put on a copy of Ulysses. I’ll be surprised if he actually reads it on his Spanish holiday of course, but at least I committed larceny against the Joyce estate, something I feel is all our duty. This is the last chance in fact as next year the work will finally be free from copyright, which will take the fun out of it.

On the other hand it may help bring an end to the Great Ulysses Wank, the interminable argument about what is the one true and sole definitive version of a fictional work much revised by the author himself. This quote from Wikipedia should give you the flavour:

According to Joyce scholar Jack Dalton, the first edition of Ulysses contained over two thousand errors but was still the most accurate edition published. As each subsequent edition attempted to correct these mistakes, it incorporated more of its own. Hans Walter Gabler‘s 1984 edition was the most sustained attempt to produce a corrected text, but it received much criticism, most notably from John Kidd. Kidd’s main theoretical criticism is of Gabler’s choice of a patchwork of manuscripts as his copy-text (the base edition with which the editor compares each variant), but this fault stems from an assumption of the Anglo-American tradition of scholarly editing rather than the blend of French and German editorial theories that actually lay behind Gabler’s reasoning.

I can actually hear the skin-on-skin fiction.

 

The Back of Beyond, And Beyond

County Monaghan
Monaghan - Even Some People From There Have Never Heard Of It

I was rushing for this bus so there wasn’t time to look twice but I could swear that as I passed a shop I caught a glance of tanks full of fish on the floor, and people sitting on benches with their bare feet in the tanks. Funny, I thought. I never took all that much acid.

Bu that’s a thing now, isn’t it? Supposedly the tiny mouths of very small fish are meant to clean you better than scrubbing or using a soap. Better in what way exactly, I am unclear. More erotically I would think. But perhaps that’s just me.

There’s the Shannon. Just leaving Connacht now and entering Leinster, next stop Dublin. By tonight though we’ll be in Ulster – in the tiny and pretty much unknown town of Ballybay, County Monaghan. By this circuitous route we plan to reach a little literary and music festival tomorrow. But God knows.

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.