View From The Grassroots 2

I was saying to myself, “You can’t write a post like this, you did that two weeks ago.”  

After saying that, two things occurred to me.

Firstly, it was actually five weeks ago since I last wrote on this subject (that’s scary) and secondly, there’s so much talk and attention on it, it seems almost churlish to write about anything else.


I live in Ireland and, boy, have we made International News this past few weeks?  Well, yes, yes, we have.  If I understand the situation correctly, and I probably don't, our national banks became bigger than our country could provide backup for and, then, when big trouble finally hit the banks on a very bad day two years ago, our country guaranteed all of the banks losses thus putting the burden on us, the tax payers of Ireland.  The banks have run up more debt that we can currently afford to cover so we are about to be loaned a huge amount of money by Europe and the IMF to keep us afloat.  It’s something of a nightmare scenario and, as my son might say, I may not have told it exactly right.

Having read many international news stories over the past weeks, I have some feeling about how this looks to the world as it peers in upon our plight.  In return, I just wanted to try to give a taste of how it feels to the Average Joe here in Ireland, looking out.

(I’m in danger here of imposing my own feelings on that of the whole country but, if you take me with the customary pinch of salt, we’ll probably be okay.)

If there was one word to describe how we are as a people at the moment, I would say it is ‘Bemused’.

People haven’t been here, at this place, before and they are not being given any indication of where it will all end up.  Will we literally have no money?  Will we starve?  Is it the end of our lives as we have known them?  These may seem like silly questions in the cold light of day and in another country but, like I said, we haven’t been here before and, while we may not actually starve, nobody is reassuring us that we won’t.

We are firmly in uncharted waters. 

More accurately, perhaps, we are like a bad swimmer in a pool who is asked by his instructor (who is safely at the side) to wade a little further into the deep end with every passing moment.  We do it, because we are asked to but the water is getting up over our mouths now and we don’t know when we’ll be allowed to stop.  The Instructor wouldn’t let us drown, surely?  He wouldn’t ask us to keep wading until there was no ground left beneath our feet, no air left to breathe?  Surely not?  But there’s something good on the telly in the swimming pool and the Instructor seems quite interested in that.  Perhaps he won’t notice what he’s done to us until it’s too late?

There is a perception in other places that we threw some kind of ten year party here, that everyone did everything to absolute excess and now we are about to pay the righteous price for this debauchery.  The trouble is, there wasn’t any debauchery – not for the Average Joe at grassroots level.  The Average Joe got a little more Unemployment Benefit or paid a little less tax or had a few quid more in the old age pension, nothing wild or outlandish, just a little more. 

In those last ten years, The Average Joe worked harder than before and was bemused to see other people doing exceptionally well while only apparently working just as hard as he was.  They were the ‘Brave Ones’ who took out second mortgages, and more, in order to ride the expanding property boom, to make their fortunes in a brave new world where big prices never went back down…  When it burst - as it had to eventually, those brave Ordinary Joes were the ones left at the sharp end of the nightmare.  Their depleted employment, their empty unwanted properties and their debt that that will never go away.

And the incessant news reporting makes half-arsed experts of us all.  We are like a guy who knows nothing about soccer trying to talk soccer with his mates.  We have the key phrases and we throw them in to conversations and we really don’t know what the hell we are talking about.  We see now that the people who should have known didn’t know either and that is a stark and worrying revelation.

So here we are, in our little country, bemused.  At least, that’s what I reckon we are.  We go to work each day (those lucky enough to have some) and we greet each other on the street and we cheerfully tell each other that we are ‘Fucked’ as we pretty much always have done. 

It feels a bit as if there is a war looming, a dark cloud descending over our little isle, and we don’t know when it will blow over, or if it will ever blow over, how how dark it will be.

In many ways, we have been blessed down through the years.  We haven’t known famine for centuries, the weather is mostly gentle and kind to us… are we really now heading into something worse than we can possible comprehend?

If not, would somebody please tell us so?

Thanks.  Bye.

Liked This, Liked That…

This week, I’m simply imagining that I am sitting in the pub with someone, just  nattering about stuff  -movies, books, telly programmes - that I’ve enjoyed over the last little while.  

It’s not something I do much anymore but it’s always nice, isn’t it?  To try to instill your enthusiasm for something you like into somebody else, particularly if they’re completely trashed.

So pull up a stool, what are you having?

For a long time now, I’d been longing for a TV programme to hook me in.  Since Sopranos, West Wing, etc passed on, I’ve been a bit adrift, searching for something that I would enjoy coming back to every week.

Downton Abbey’ surprised me by doing just that.  I never thought it would be my kind of thing but, every week, I was back, settled on the couch, waiting eagerly for it to start.  It was lovely to look at and (although I know nothing about it) it seemed well-informed on its subject matter.  Plus it did something unexpected - which is always a good thing – it portrayed the relationships between the upstairs folk and the downstairs folk as being so much more personable and human that I would ever have imagined.  I was sad when it ended, I look forward to more of it next year.

After it ended, I even mourned its passing with a wee ditty, you’ll guess the tune.

Downton, where all the lights are bright
Downton, where all the servants fight
Downton, we’ll be here waiting for you…


On the polar opposite, I also got myself into ‘The Walking Dead’ on FX on the back of some positive advance word from Stateside.  It’s comic book Zombies stuff and I’m sticking with that too.  The acting is sometimes a wee bit wooden (and I don’t just mean the zombies) but the production looks great and the gore and mayhem are done in a rather no-holds-barred way which I really like.  The ‘Downton Abbey’ following may not all find a totally comfortable home here.

Movies?  Just last night, I watched a little movie called ‘Frozen’ which I really liked.  Thanks to the wonderful Sarah Pinborough for mentioning it.  It’s a nervy American film about three young people who get stuck up a mountain in a chair lift.  My son and I found that it built to some fine tense moments and was an entertaining 88 minutes.  Perhaps not for the faint-hearted.

Reading wise, I spent quite a bit of time with  a novel called ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin.  This is a huge book, an end-of-the-world, vampire saga (yes I seem to be wrapped in horror related things at the moment).  I liked this a lot but with a couple of reservations.  I can’t give anything away but there is a plot point in the book which seriously disrupted my reading of it – having settled into the setting and pace of the book, the gears were crunched-down deliberately and hard and I, for one, found it unsettling.  The end, too, lost me a little bit but generally it was a big book which I rushed home to read and that’s a good thing.

I’ve been re-reading some original Sherlock Holmes too.  It’s ages since I have been near any – perhaps not since I was a teen.  They’re really great, very readable and involving.  Give ‘em a go.

I also read ‘Let The Right One In’.  Having fallen in love with the film (blogged about it here), listened to the soundtrack, got the tee-shirt (kidding) I thought I should read the book which started it all off.  It’s a good book but it’s also a prime example of a film improving on a book, in my opinion.  Now the American version is in cinemas… I hear good things about ‘Let Me In’, it’s got a good pedigree… but I think I’ll stick with the original for now.

How about you?  What are you enjoying this last month or so?
Oh, before you start... I believe it’s your round?

The Only Orient Express Memories I’ll Ever Have

If I was any good, I would have been watching the Rugby yesterday afternoon.

I love a bit of International Rugby but, for whatever reason, I wasn’t in the mood yesterday.  Then there was the boys, who had commandeered the computer for a few hours, preventing me from getting at the writing stuff I needed to do.

So I put the telly on and pottered about the house with it going in the background.

RTE were showing a Poirot, one of the ITV David Suchet ones.  Typical Saturday afternoon fare – those older hour-long episodes – I wasn’t into it.

But then I noticed the setting, the opulent train carriages, the locomotive snowbound in the Balkans, and I quickly became interested.  This wasn’t just another ancient repeat, this was a 2010, brand-spanking-new remake of a story that had meant quite-a-bit to me when I was younger.  This was Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.

Before I tell you a little bit about my relationship with that book, back in the dim and distant past, let me hit you with an impromptu review of the version I saw yesterday.

I thought it was sublime.

Far and away the best adaptation of this book, in my opinion and, at the centre of it all, sits David Suchet – an ageing, troubled Poirot, weighed down by the burden upon him, introspective and, at times, wonderfully still.

It’s a difficult story to make work – there’s lots of characters and the setting is as closed as closed can be.  Plus, it suffers from the same problem as Anthony Shaffer’s ‘Sleuth’ namely; who in the world does not know the famous solution by now?  Don’t worry, if you’re the one who doesn’t know, I won’t be the one telling you.  You are quite safe here.

How typical of RTE to place one of ITV’s biggest productions of the current year on the telly at three in the afternoon.  Still, if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have seen it so thanks guys.  If you get a chance to see it, please do.  The script adds some stuff to the original story, particularly at the end, but the iconography and moral grappling which this introduces is well worth the revisionism.

And, hey, once again, David Suchet is simply marvellous in it.

So why does it mean something to me, this rather silly story of murder in the Balkans?

I’ve referred to it before, in other posts, but, when I was eleven-or-so, my best mate’s dad was the station master and he used to take his son to Dublin on the train for free to see all the new movie releases in the cinema.  In 1974, one of the big movies was the adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express.' starring Albert Finney.  Hard to believe, I know, but it really was.  There was an impressive advertising campaign before the film came out, which was quite unusual in those days, there was a rather stellar cast and the premise looked exciting.

So, when Martin headed off to see it in Dublin, and it was still several months from arriving in Sligo, I took my extremely limited revenge by buying the book and reading it.  Martin returned from Dublin pronouncing it to the best thing he had ever seen, with the most extraordinary solution.  He chatted to me every day as I read the book, asking my opinion on the various characters, the scenarios and such.  The effect was very much like I was on the train solving the mystery for myself.

In the end, I failed to solve it and I was as stunned and impressed with the book as Martin had been with the film.  Bear in mind that I was only eleven years old.

When the film finally arrived, I was extremely disappointed with it, although the music was good.

So, the reading of this book marked a few important ‘firsts’ for me.  It was my introduction to Agatha Christie and the birth of a drive in me to create some of my very own mystery stories.  It was also a revelation to see how much more satisfying a book can be than the resulting film.

But perhaps more importantly, it provided me with a taster for social media.  Nowadays, if I want to talk about a movie or a book, I can do it anytime, here in the Internet.  Back then, though, to find a common point of discussion like that was both exciting and intriguing.

It planted a seed, I reckon.

Here’s a link to another book that struck me hard, in my youth, if you’d like to investigate further…

…’see what I did there?


I got a bit of a pain in my stomach, one morning this week

In truth, I reckon it was the worst pain in my stomach I ever had.

For two hours, starting at eight thirty am, I was crippled.  I couldn’t stand up, ‘couldn’t lie down.  I shuffled around the house from room to room and wished fervently for this pain to ease.

And, after the two hours, and some drugs, it did.

There wasn’t any of those rather gross drippy pukey things that can sometimes go with tummy ache.  It was just a pure pain, blunt and tight.  Afterward, someone rather unsympathetically suggested that it was a fart that went the wrong way.  That may well be all that it was.

But it showed me some things.  For starters, it showed me that I’m not nearly as good with pain as I thought I was. 

I always reckoned I was something of a tough cookie.  I never take sick days, no matter how I feel, I struggle-through.  And those few times when I have seriously injured myself, I have bourne the injury with a fair measure of stoicism and calm.  So, yeah, I’m Indiana Jones, me.

But the other morning suggested to me that, in my life, I have been blessed not to have known much real physical pain.  Also that the degrees of pain I have known may have been relatively low on some acknowledged Richter Scale of Unease.

This thought worried me quite a bit.  It’s easy to be blasé about what may lie in store for you in the future when you haven’t had an actually taste of it.  It’s like watching someone getting lashed with a cat o’nine tails in an old pirate flick and you say, “I could take that…” and then someone casually flicks the beast at your own bare back and you finally have yourself a little context for your statement.

Because when my own little pain hit, there was nothing else in the world.  Beforehand, I had a meeting to get to, calls to make, there was worries about stuff… none of those continued to exist while the pain was in town.  There was only The Pain.

The other thing I got from my twinge was a little more respect.  Respect for the people who suffer.

Apart from thinking I am Iron Man, I also reckon I am a pretty emphatic person.  I reckon I share in people’s pain a little.  It turns out that I was wrong about that too.  Someone close to me regularly phones up and says they are having a ‘bad day with their stomach’.  Until the other morning, I had not the first notion of what they might be talking about.  So, if pain is a part of your life, you have my sympathy – and a little more understanding than I had this time last week.

The last thing the pain did for me was it have me a little context.  When it was gone, I felt released -  delivered from something - and all the meetings and the phones calls and the general weight of the day ahead did not seem as heavy as it had before.

I’ll try to hold on to my feelings of empathy and release.  I’ll try to hold onto the fear a little too.  But, like the pain, these feelings dull and lessen quickly as time passes.

I may have to read this post back, to remind me.

That’s why I wrote it.