In Which I Hit A Tree

As if of its own volition, the car darts to the left. A skid? I know how to deal with that. Stay calm, don’t overcompensate. And yet I am lurching drastically to the right now. My feelings are oddly not of panic and fear but puzzlement, disappointment. The steering, something I’d come to think of almost as a direct expression of my will, had suddenly decided to have its own opinion. Parents of teenagers must feel like this, as their world spins out of control.

A ditch. No wait, a tree. A slow, sickening crunch. I’m athwart the driveway, nearly facing the way I came. But I’m relieved. That tree saved me from the ditch, that’s good. I’m a whistling kettle of shock and adrenalin, but I seem to be uninjured.

So what was that sickening crunch, exactly?

I turn off the engine. My glasses have flown off in the impact, I know not where, so I get out and inspect the damage without them. Even with the glamorising effect of soft focus though I can see it’s not pretty. The right wing is crushed like foil, the water tank displaced and leaking, the wheel… doesn’t look right at all.

My glasses turn out to be under the passenger seat. So, can I drive this thing? The engine starts. The power steering does move the wheels, though the noise it makes is like insurrection at the bacon factory. I select first gear, let out the clutch and…

Nothing at all. It’s a front wheel drive car, and the front wheels don’t. That… is probably not a good omen. The damage goes well beyond one corner.

What the hell just happened? I was on the driveway to Cregg Castle, an old colonial manor house that’s being converted into an artists’ residence. It’s covered in slippery mud. The drive I mean. It’s also pocked with holes so thickly that they’re practically impossible to avoid – indeed I’d just failed to avoid one seconds before the accident. Had I simply skidded on the mud, or had the impact broken the steering? It had felt more like the latter. And indeed the two front wheels pointed in different directions now, though of course that could be effect rather than cause.

Sudden steering failure. Imagine if instead of a driveway that had been on a main road. At 95kph, with oncoming traffic. It would have been almost certainly fatal, for me and for others.

And yet I find myself hoping it is the explanation. I mean, skidding off a driveway. That’s just embarrassing.

So first problem would be getting the car off the road. I was near the gatehouse and knew the people who live there; fortunately someone was in. We couldn’t move the car between us, but soon more people came down the driveway in both directions and they stopped to help. They pretty much had to, but I’m sure they would’ve anyway. Two women tipped the balance, and we got it lined up to the point where it could be towed off the road. Thanks to James, “Lorraine Micra”, and all the cooperative people from Cregg Castle. And to the couple who were just passing by to take a walk in the woods but offered me a lift without knowing my mother’s house was only a mile away.

Now it’s the next day. I’m a little achy, though that will be mostly from trying to push the car. I await the insurance report which hopefully will tell me what happened, though I expect it will also bring the sad news that the car is a write-off. The first car I’d ever owned – and that for only about two months. It wasn’t all that much of a car perhaps. A red Nissan Micra that had been my mother’s before me, and several other people’s before that. Thirteen years old, but a tough and feisty little car. Useful, pleasant, reliable – well, it was only unreliable once. I will miss it. I may well buy another like it; I don’t think the write-off value will cover the Land Rover I really want. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it didn’t cover the excess. But I will need something if I’m going to college next month.

And you know what’s even more annoying? Literally the day before I was full of joy because I’d finally got my resident’s parking permit, the magic sticker from the city that means I never have to pay for parking near my flat again. Freedom at last! It’s almost like receiving full citizenship; finally I was a paid-up member of Galway’s horrendous traffic problem, and could park anywhere I liked in the part of town that has no parking.

But seriously, just taking the car into town for an afternoon had been costing me six or eight euros. Having it overnight was pretty much unthinkable. So since I’d got the thing it had continued to reside at my mother’s place. Now at last I would be able to make proper use of it.

Oh well. Taking a bark rubbing with your front end is another way to avoid parking fees I suppose. But the irony, it is bitter.

Public-Private Folly

If they were all like this I wouldn’t mind so much

And one of the biggest such partnership plans touches close to my home: The Gort-Tuam motorway. Yes, you read me right. Those are the words I actually wrote down there. A motorway, from Gort to Tuam. We have built a lot of decent roads in this country in the last decade or so, and I’m sure they all stimulated a great deal of economic activity. We needed them, they were a good investment. But you see what’s happened now, don’t you?

We’ve run out of places to build motorways to.

What puzzles me is how the private partners can hope to make a return on a new faster route between two such non-urgent points. I can only think of one way: They build the motorway over the existing road, giving people who actually have to get from Gort to Tuam (poor benighted souls) little choice except to pay. This is a worrying precedent. If it continues, free roads all over the country will be paved over with new pay-roads; in some cases, right up to our doors (perhaps). This will have the effect of transferring immense amounts of money from the general population to a few wealthy investors, but apparently that is what governments are for now.

When you think about it though, these roads don’t have to make a profit. They don’t have to be completed even. All they have to do is create economic activity. You realise what that is, don’t you. We’ve had it before, during the Famine. Landlords who believed that free food created what the rich like to call a “moral hazard” gave their starving tenants pointless tasks to perform. Sometimes they’d build a mad monument to nothing, a tower in a valley maybe, a brand new ruin. Sometimes, it would be a road.

This is a whole new class of folly: Faster, wider, vastly more pointless. A Famine Freeway, if you will.

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.

The Road To Finland

Svenska: Volvo Ocean Race 2008/2009, Stopover ...
Svenska: Volvo Ocean Race 2008/2009, Stopover Stockholm, SWE 3 + SWE 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sit in the lovely Japanese Wa Café, passing time before my bus leaves, having my hearing loss enhanced by what might best be described as zombie Thin Lizzy. Bizarre to see a band effectively become a tribute act to itself. This is all part of the carnival for the Volvo Ocean Race. It’s not why I’m leaving town, but it is one reason I’m glad to be.

This isn’t resentment over the Occupy affair. It’s true that there is something uncomfortable about holding the final of a mega-expensive luxury yacht race in a country that has been plunged into almost unimaginable levels of debt. But I hope it does all sorts of good for local business. It could use all the boost it can get.

But the crowds! Lord Jesus and his pals, the crowds. It is like an extra Race Week in July. This may be the time of year when Galway’s business makes its money, but can they really not find a less cram-the-streets-with-loud-drunken-unpredictable-crowds way? It’s a topic I often reverted to in Microcosmopolitan; as a place with little elbow-room and even less good weather, what the hell are we doing trying to be an event tourism mecca? How about specialising in something more calm and relaxing – there’s real money to be made if you can establish yourself as the place that’s best at one certain combination of things. I suggest we make ourselves the global capital for librarians. Who practise yoga.

In flotation tanks.

Westport – Best Place In Ireland?

On Saturday I drove to Westport, a pretty little town in the north-west corner of the country dating mostly from the 19th and late 18th Centuries. I was here last year to walk up a mountain, but this time was a lot more leisured.

Westport recently won a competition for the best place to live in Ireland. That means we have to hate it now. But you can see why.

In the 18th Century redesign the town was constructed around the river, with pleasant tree-lined walks along either side, humpback stone bridges, and weirs.

Matt Molly is one of the most respected flautists in Irish traditional music, and the pub he owns in Westport is an absolute classic example of the Irish pub genre.

If boots are your thing, they have boots in Westport. Moran’s shop in fact has boots literally hanging off it.

Westport’s layout is surprisingly complex. It has two junctions that you might take for the centre, both attractive enough to grace a town of twice its size or more. One is octagonal. This one has a peculiar clock.

You don’t see phone boxes like this anymore. And even if you did (which you don’t), you certainly don’t see them in green. Contrary to the mental images of some, phone boxes in Ireland where not painted green for many decades, certainly not in my memory. I expected an Irish Doctor Who to step out of this thing.

OK, letter boxes are green.

A sweet little back alley.

A handy graphical overlay guides tourists around the town and its environs. Shown here, the route to the scenic coastal resort of Loading Bay.

Come To The Comedy Show

First I march in Germany, now I’ve helped organise an anti-capitalist comedy gig. I’ll be living in an Occupy tent next. If there are any left. As a cartoonist and columnist, I always felt that having political opinions was the day job and my spare time was my own. These days though I don’t know what the hell is happening.

Anyway, this looks like it’s going to be an excellent show. More than a show really, a kind of event. A tour of free gigs powered only by goodwill, cutting out the middle-oligarchy. Demonstrating that the way we’ve been doing things is not the only way.

3:00 this afternoon, at Kelly’s on Bridge St. It’s a great venue for comedy, they’re great comics, it’ll be a great gig. See you there I hope.

Free Comedy Gigs Versus The Banking Industry!

In or near Galway? Doing anything on Sunday afternoon? Like free entertainment? Enjoy comedy?

Good. Those are all nice things.

Wait, yeah. There’s a free comedy gig in Kelly’s Bar in Bridge Street at 3:00pm Sunday. Comics Abie Philbin Bowman and Aidan Killian are touring the country in protest against the bank bailout. You’ve got to do something.

Stand Up Against the Bankers is a show fuelled not by profit but goodwill; no accommodation has been booked in advance and tour dates are determined in large part by the willingness of a community to host the pair. The audience is invited to attend free of charge and get into the meitheal spirit by supporting however they can. Some will cook them dinner after the show, someone else will put them up in their spare room. Some will throw a few quid into the hat and some will help to publicise the next leg of the tour. Aidan Killian explains:

Touring like this creates a different kind of relationship with the audience. We’re not asking them to buy a ticket in advance. And we better make sure our jokes are damn funny. Otherwise, we’ll end up sleeping in the car, eating nettle soup.

Aidan Killian, a former banker with the once prestigious (now disgraced) Bear Stearns, saw the writing on the wall in 2007 and decided to do something he believed in. He left the job, still carrying a huge mortgage for a house in Florida he has never seen. With his understanding of how banks had cheated the system, Aidan turned the tables and forced the bank to accept their liability for the property. This story forms a key part of his comedy set.

Abie Philbin Bowman took the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe by storm with his debut, Jesus: The Guantanamo Years”. His one-man comedies have since toured from London’s West End to Hollywood LA to Lahore Pakistan (during a State of Emergency). His jokes have been taken seriously by everyone from the Ku Klux Klan to Al Qaeda.

Abie spent the Celtic Tiger era pursuing his comedy dreams. He couldn’t afford to buy or rent a house, so remained living at home with his parents. He recalls the day the financial crisis broke.

It was awful: people were in negative equity, losing their jobs, facing repossession… At some point, I realised: ‘Hang on. I don’t own a house. So I’m not in negative equity and nobody can outsource my job to China.’ Somehow, I had gone to bed, a textbook loser… and woken up, an economic genius.

The two stand-ups travelled to last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival with solo shows on Ireland’s financial crisis and won rave reviews. They wanted to tour Ireland, but realised the country was broke. Explains Abie:

The financial crisis makes us all feel powerless. Every time we spend money, we’re paying tax, which is used to bail out the banks and pay off the Troika. But the Troika can’t tax barter, or generosity, or laughter.

Admission is free as they say, but please give them some money anyway. Otherwise they may eat all my food.

 

The Galway dates in full:

  • Campbells Tavern, Cloughanover, Headford on Friday June 22nd at 8:30pm
  • The Hop Inn, Athenry on Saturday June 23rd at 8:30pm
  • Kelly’s Bar, Bridge St, Galway on Sunday June 24th at 3pm.

The Frankfurt Mission 1 – Knock Out

What’s Obi Wan doing in there?

Only now can the story be told – because since I got back I’ve been too shagged. How did I become involved with the Ballyhea Burn The Bank Bondholders band? I have to be honest, I am not altogether sure. It sounded like a wild thing to do. It was a noble cause. It would mean spending time with one of my favouritest people. I had some time, flights were cheap, what the hell.

Our journey begins as it ends – in Knock. Knock is one of the world’s weirdest little airports. It has a runway long enough for 747s, but it is miles and miles away from anywhere almost anyone would want to go. The nearest cities are Galway, Limerick and Derry, but the closest of them is an hour away and they all have their own airports anyway.

Knock was the brainchild not of a planner or politician, but of a priest – who thought that the site of a minor and, it has to be said, suspect apparition could become a major destination for pilgrims, if there were only an airport to bring them. But the maxim “If you build it they will come” applies poorly to superfluous infrastructure. Knock had to wait for a new miracle and a new prophet – Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who knew how to put unwanted airports to good use. So from Knock, an hour away from Galway, we can fly to Hahn, two hours away from Frankfurt. It’s a very useful service – and not only for us, as we were to find.

Knock though is well worth visiting for itself, if you enjoy mocking people’s beliefs. Perhaps I can find a better way to put that… It’s fascinating, because it displays religion at its most incredible. The town of Knock is more or less a religious strip mall, selling objects of veneration in boxes of a dozen beside charming isn’t-drunkenness-funny souvenirs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone’s faith could survive a pilgrimage here.

I would swear that religious art has just got more dumb-looking in recent decades. These figures seem actually to have concussion, the features weirdly cartoonish and toy-like. The 3D pictures of animals are… unexplained. Virgin Marys now come in Standard and Luminous. I resisted the desire to buy a luminous one.

I do not know what a Happy Death Cross is, or how it differs from the usual sad death type of crucifix. We speculate that if you look close, Jesus has a big smile.

So we tear ourselves away from the anthropology just in time to meet up with the Ballyhea folks at the airport, and board our flight. Though not before paying an extra €10, for Knock is a toll airport.

Aboard then, and of course the first thing that greets you is Ryanair’s extraordinary panoply of warnings, right in front of your face. They know that the usual safety cards are often damaged or taken as souvenirs (seriously, I have a friend who collects them), so to save a few cents every flight Ryanair plaster them to the back of the seat in front of you. You spend your entire journey being constantly reminded of the things that can go wrong with a plane.

And I ask you, if you didn’t know all the safety drills already, would you really be able to work them out from this? What the hell is that guy doing with the yellow vest – the hula? And look at the first panel of “Exit B Overwings”, the bottom row of the right side. The whole point of doing this in pictures is so you don’t need to read English to understand the drill. But without that caption, the picture seems to say “If you look out the window and see fire, stay in the plane”. That’s really only good advice if you’re flying through a fire.

Gotta say, plane wings are lovely things.

When we boarded though, someone noticed a thing that took us all by surprise. Among our fellow-passengers was one of the people we were hoping to meet in Frankfurt – Doctor Patrick Honohan, the governor of Ireland’s Central Bank, on his way to the very meeting we were going to picket. This, I admit, was troubling. Were we so broke that our Central Bank Governor had to fly Ryanair? It seems almost shameful. Of course to his credit, Honahan had recently turned down a pay rise in the hope, naive as it might seem, of business and public sector leaders following suit. So perhaps this was another example of economy.

Or perhaps he’d just wanted a quick pray.

The Claddagh At Evening

Let’s have a break from the politics and return to the quiet beauty of the Claddagh, Galway’s historic fishing village.

Sunset in the Claddagh. The rightmost of the buildings we used to call the Claddagh Bank, back when it was a social welfare office. Before that it was the Piscatorial School, an institution for the education of fisher-folk.

Where there’s boats, there’s ropes. Or sheets, as sailors call them. In turn, sailors call sheets “sails”. This is where they get their name.  I should get PhotoShopping on this to bring out the contrasts, but I’m really tired. This was at the start of a walk that ended up taking three hours.

A similar angle to one I took last time, but now the higher tide completes the illusion.

The Claddagh At Low Tide

Well the last couple of days have been intense. So much so that I’m far too tired to tell stories now. Here then are some pictures, of Galway’s photogenic Claddagh. Where the rings come from.

Incidentally, a shout out to all the people who visited the blog from Switzerland today. I have no idea why you came, but I was very glad to see you.