Sunday, 29 December 2013


Have you noticed that Whales have begun behaving a little oddly? A couple of years back we had Orca cavorting in the River Lee; then there was a whale that somehow got stuck in the Firth of the Forth; now according to reports,  humpbacks are trying to force their way up the Bandon River. Nobody seems particularly worried, but when a whale starts to submarine up an inland waterway, that’s like a human flapping their arms and standing at the top of a skyscraper making tweet-tweet noises. One theory is that radar and sonar signals from shipping are messing with the inner tracking systems of these leviathans. But I personally think that they’re just trying to get away from Japanese and Norwegian people bearing harpoons. The smarter whales have decided to disguise themselves as overweight salmon, probably reasoning that the worst that can happen is fly-impaled top lip. For some years now, these harpoon-dodgers – posing as peel – have been splashing up the Bandon River to spawn, terrifying anglers and getting stuck under some of the smaller bridges. The Government have hushed it up as far as news reportage is concerned - obviously keen to maintain diplomatic relations with Japan to keep up a supply of Toyota’s and Nintendo consoles. And antagonising Norway after their last visitation in longboats is unthinkable. Government spokesmen have been putting it all down to an angler’s natural tendency to exaggerate the size of the fish they’ve lost:
            “I’m telling ya, it must have weighed at least three tons and it was this long:”
Angler paces out fifty metre section of riverbank.
Well, last week the blubber hit the fan when two humpbacks became wedged under the arches of a bridge in Murragh. There were all manner of complaints from local farmers who claimed the whales kept them awake half the night with tuneless lugubrious singing.
“Twas like two auld fellers caterwauling after a crate of porter.” Was how one local put it to me. “T’wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d known the bleddy words.”
All of this got out only because photographs of the two whales struggling under the bridge with a coach going over the top, were posted on the Internet Site After this the whole story unravelled: accounts of anglers desperate not to relinquish hold of their rods, waterskiing on their belly’s from Innishannon to Enniskean. Even worse, some of the whales, on reaching the spawning pools around Dunmanway have been indulging in X-rated behaviour – enough to make David Attenborough blush. The problem being, that they can’t lay eggs and fertilize them like a salmon and so have been trying to reproduce normally in shallow pools. As whales are the largest mammals on earth in more ways than one, Peeping Toms have run screaming from the riverbank, vowing celibacy for life. Meanwhile, research at the other end of the salmon’s spawning cycle has suggested that weird whales are causing havoc with Canadian river fauna. Grizzly bears, for instance, who for aeons have stood at the top of waterfalls to snatch migrating salmon, have been particularly hard hit. Bears standing hopefully at the top of their local waterfall, have been head butted by three-ton minke whales leaping from a pool below. Reports suggest that the Grizzly population has been massively demoralised by it all. Understandably, waking up a little peckish and gambolling down to a nearby river for breakfast only to be torpedoed by something the size of a bus with a mouth you could hibernate in, has affected the appetite of many bears. Forest rangers claim thousands of the grizzlies are depressed and lie cowering in caves with paws over their heads. Teams of volunteers waving large picnic baskets have attempted to entice these Yogi’s from their lairs to no avail.

Clearly things will only get worse unless a ban on whaling is implemented immediately.
And if the government won’t get tough with Whaling Nations, ordinary people should take direct action themselves. Forget petitions. Just write a stiff letter to the Japanese or Norwegian governments and sign it Barack Obama. After all, if a humpback can change their identity, why shouldn’t you or I pretend to be President of the United States? Bush did.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Turkey Liberation Front


Finding myself without a tree or Christmas dinner, I set out in the Season of Goodwill attempting to spare a thought for those less well off than me, but then found myself in an overcrowded supermarket aisle listening to a loop tape of Slade’s ‘Here It Is Merry Xmas’ and couldn’t think of anyone. Ebenezer Scrooge would have spluttered: Bah! Noddy Holder! But my yuletide empathy was rescued by a freezer full of twizzlers beside my gridlocked trolley.
‘Turkeys,” I thought, “They’re unequivocally worse off than me. Even I’m better looking than a turkey. And at this time of year, the poor fowl do get awful picked on.”
You don’t have to be a member of the Turkey Liberation Front to concede that being a walking Christmas dinner has its drawbacks come the month of December. In a season when it’s nice to be surrounded by those you’re close to, what must it be like to find yourself surrounded instead by gravy and only really close to sprouts and spuds? After a narrow escape from the genocide of Thanksgiving, our dangle-nosed friends suddenly find everyone humming ‘silent night’ to an accompaniment of knives being scraped across a steel. They must wonder:
“What have we done to deserve this? Was it something we said? That gobbling noise we make doesn’t mean: “we like gobbling so much we want to be gobbled, it means: Heeeeelp! I can hear the sound of advent calendars opening!”
I’m sure as they flap up to turkey heaven, in skeletal flocks, the creatures must muse in mystification: “Feck’s sake, why is nobody eating swans?”
And they’d have a point. Why not snatch a free range Christmas dinner as it glides down the River Bandon? Why not ‘oven ready’ swans? There’s plenty of meat on them. They look snowy and Christmassy. I’ve nothing against swans per se. But if you want a white Christmas they would seem the obvious choice, and a more fitting featherless friend to put on the table and carve to bits.
Given the enormous avian sacrifice that turkeys make to the entire Yuletide experience I feel the very least they deserve is a visit from Santie. But he’s probably snowed under in the North Pole with - well, snow and seven billion letters from a population increasing exponentially with every passing December 25th. Last thing he wants is to be deluged by notes saying pretty much the same thing in wobbly illegible writing because the pen is being held in a beak:
‘Dear Santie for xmas this year I’d like – a vote. Or: my life. Or a Christmas dinner in which a large bird doesn’t play the starring role.’
Can I just say here en passant, that Santie has been a bit of a let down in recent years. I asked for a million euro in 2011, to be clever, tall and handsome with more hair in 2012. I got books, socks and jumpers. It seems when I was young, back in the early years of the twentieth century, I’d ask for an orange, or spinning top, or new penny farthing and Santie would always come up trumps. Nowadays I unwrap what I hope is a brand new BMW only to find it’s beige slippers many sizes too large.  
Anyhow, there I was rummaging in frustration through supermarket freezers for a swan, when I looked from a window to see someone purchasing the last tree from what only ten minutes earlier had been a large stack. This happens every year because every year Christmas starts earlier. Folk like me think they’ve so much time, they’ll leave off buying a tree almost indefinitely, and so my family always end up with the runt of the forest: a wonky asymmetrical mutant that’s virtually lost all its needles before the point of purchase and then sheds the rest being dragged from the car and into our front room, where it stands like a nightmarish portent of a planet deluged by sulphuric acid rain. The fairy screams when you stick her on top. Put presents under it and everybody weeps at the sheer tragedy of the spectacle.
Feeling the pressure of being treeless and swanless and with everyone bumping trolleys like dodgem cars, I heard Bing Crosby start up for the four millionth time that he’s dreaming of a white Christmas.
“Why?” I hissed into the ether: “Snow is cold. It pushes up winter fuel bills and with the price of oil the way it is and everything else we have to buy to furnish festivities we’ve barely two spuds to rub together by the time the new year swings around.”
As a dislodged tin of shortbread biscuits fell from a top shelf onto my head, it occurred to me that not only would turkeys not vote for christmas, but I wouldn’t either. I went cold turkey on the entire tinselly experience and became suddenly in favour of no christmas. No winter. Just summer and the edited highlights of Spring and Autumn. Taking a last look into the freezer, I said to the twizzlers:
‘You’re best out of it guys.’
Then made for the car park muttering: “Bah! Noddy Holder!”
I can’t see anything restoring my festive spirits except a brand new BMW and a swan leg with lashings of gravy.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Gearoid Hill

Searching for the etymological roots of the word Hill on Wikipedia and I discovered the word had it’s genesis in the name of an unsung local hero: Gearoid Hill. It seems he was born in middle of the first millennium, possibly around 660, and was mentioned in a number of early chronicles, most notably ‘Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Anglorum’
‘Gyrowd Hyll a mann from west Iyrland performs miracles of prodigious strength.’ And ‘Life is lyke the mound made by Hyll that the sparrow must fly over to reach the other side.’
We often laugh that folk in earlier times believed the world was flat. But in fact, it was flatter then, and might have remained so but for the visionary efforts of this one man. For years, Bede’s words were dismissed as yet another example of his eccentric belief in miracles. But gradually, with the advent of Creationist theory, geologists have come to reappraise the Venerable Bede’s words and conclude that much of our present landscape may have been inspired comparatively recently.  
There’s good reason to believe Hill was from Munster. A slip of Vellum in the illuminated manuscript of the Book of Durrow alludes to: ‘The man Hyll who bringeth us all closer to heaven when he maketh mounds in the rains of the southern west’.
Early converts to Christianity, as Hill would have been, often thought that the higher you stood, the closer you were to Heaven. And this may have been what first prompted his astounding feats. Evidence from a little known 7th century poem of Celtic origin: recently unearthed and transcribed from Latin by scholars in Frankfurt University, speaks of a man, dwelling west of Cork, single-handedly inventing the hill - discovering one had appeared behind him whilst digging a ditch in his back garden. If Gearoid was this man, and there will always be controversy and dispute about historical figures from so long ago, the prototype hummock he created may have been no Croagh Patrick, but it was certainly the beginning of a lifelong obsession. Gearoid was inspired to create ever more ambitious humps over the flattened plains of the Irish countryside. Many archeologists and geologists now think some of his early attempts at earth-raising were in the Dunmanway area. They certainly appear a little rough and unfinished in comparison to say McGillycuddy’s Reeks. But whilst local chieftains must have been impressed by his industrious ability to raise large earthworks as the end results were excellent sites for forts and lookout posts, Hill’s endeavours were fraught with difficulty. For at this point, as Bede mentions in his ‘Historia’, Hill had only invented up and had not properly formulated down.
“They that walk up Hylls not knowing down must pray mightily.”
 This led to people getting stranded at the top of his hummocks and becoming hermits – an ancient corruption of the word Herbert. Mercifully for us all, Hill eventually came up with down and his increasingly megalomaniac visions of how soil and rock should be arranged saw him start on McGillycuddy’s Reeks around 685 and a few years later, in a fit of enthusiasm whilst on holiday in Westmeath: the Mountains of Mullingar. These were tremendous achievements for one man – especially in the face of violent hostility from many unfit lazy people who preferred the world flat and hated having to struggle breathlessly over the difficult and demanding terrain that Hill was designing. One of the striking similarities between modern Ireland and that of 700AD is that then, as now, many suffered from poor diets. They were unfit and overweight and didn’t get enough exercise. This led in 704 to Hill being thrown out of the country by angry and exhausted Dubliners after he created the Wicklow mountains.

Undismayed by this expulsion, he went on to greater things. Travelling first across the Irish Sea he built Snowden, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands. Differences in geological formations to his early works suggest that by the time Hill started on Ben Nevis he had a number of assistants laying down the foundations for his artistry in the way that apprentices would be later employed by Renaissance artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci. Whatever, pursued by irate Scotsmen, he fled to the European mainland where he fashioned such masterpieces as the Alps and the Pyrenees before moving south to fashion his piece-de-resistance: Everest. Many think Hill died in Australia trying to carry a large point up Ayers rock. We’ll never know. One of Ireland’s unsung heroes, Hill’s legacy was a leaner, scrawnier, populace with fewer coronary problems and respiratory diseases. Yet this man who quite literally changed the face of the earth was soon forgotten. At the very least he should be seen as the father of modern landscape gardening – a Capability Brown of the Dark Ages. I’d like to think that the County Council could perhaps scrape together enough money to erect a fitting tribute and memorial to Gearoid in commemoration his incredible achievements. Surely with all our modern plant equipment we could fix it to honour the man with small mountain range, some Irish Alps or Celtic Himalayas, between Ballineen and Dunmanway. And place a large statue of him at the top, gazing out intrepidly over the earth. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Trans-Ireland Moustache

Ah yes, the financial crisis. There I was minding my own business when all of a sudden I ‘owed’ 80,000 euro to mega-rich bondholders. Now I’m constantly being woken in the middle of the night by my wallet sobbing that it feels empty and that it’s fed up of being upended and desperately shaken. I long to know the identity of these Bondholders so that I might saunter up to one of them in the Ritz or wherever they hang out and say:
“Excuse me. Stop eating that lobster and caviar for a moment. My wallet is very upset. There are many wallets like mine in Ireland that seem to owe 80,000 euro each to prop up banks for some dodgy speculation you were involved in. How’s about emptying your wallet – yes that ebullient leather monster that seems to have an insatiable appetite for Irish taxpayer’s money – so that we can all go back to having jobs and public services. And if that means you wind up eating jam sandwiches in a transport caff, well…” Alas, this won’t happen, because no bondholder would currently dare to pop up from behind their chaise-longue and say yoo-hooover here. But it set me thinking: two can play at hiding behind the sofa.
Now obviously, any sensible person faced with large debts they are reluctant to dig deep into the pockets for, will lie low. Change their identity. Disguise themselves with a straw boater, facial hair and pretend to smoke a pipe. But might it not be possible to do this on a National scale? I hear you hoot: What? Disguise all of Ireland? Go nationally incognito? Bear with me. Don’t laugh and log off braying ‘the man’s mad!’ Remember it’s this or 80,000 a household. My modest and practical suggestion is that we should pretend to be Iceland.
You see, adopting ‘Iceland’ as a non-de-plume would involve no great effort, no vast Soviet-like five year plan? We merely scratch out the R in Ireland and replace it with a C. Many a creditor can be shown the door because they have a bill addressed to the wrong name.
Pretending to be Iceland would also be cool. Well, alright, cold. Not existing on the edge of the arctic circle, we might have to turn off the central heating in winter to get our teeth authentically chattering and introduce a few polar bears into the wild. Sure, where’s the harm? We could rechristen DublinReykjavik’, scribble ‘Krona’ over our euro notes in felt pen and all bleach our hair blonde, no problem. There wouldn’t be a lot of cultural changes as we’re already listening to Bjork and digesting interminable sagas – the economic crisis saga being already harder to swallow than The Passion Hymns of Hallgrimur Pètursson. It might help to learn a few Icelandic words. Just eight really. Something like: Nei Við höfum engar peningar fyrir þér kveðja” (No, we don’t have any money for you. Goodbye.) The very worst that could happen is we might have to eat Hakari – beheaded shark that’s been buried underground for a couple of months.
I don’t deny we’d need changes in the landscape. But how much would it cost to bore some big holes in the Wicklow mountains and conceal smoke machines at the bottom to make the country seem a bit more volcanically and geologically active? Not 80,000 per household. Catapult a few tons of cinders from the holes now and then and talk up an ash-cloud to ground planes across the entirety of European airspace and we’d be halfway there. With the winters we’ve been having, we wouldn’t even have to paint the fields white. As an added precaution we could build a large trans-Ireland moustache:  blonde, dropped-handlebar lip whiskers, unmistakably Nordic in appearance. This would extend from Dublin to Galway and droop down to the ring of Kerry on one side and the Wicklow mountains on the other. Being 150 miles wide, 5 miles deep and constructed from millions of straw bales shaped to look like a shaggy moustache, the project would provide massive employment opportunities. Satellites looking down (because the EU are wondering where we’ve got to) or IMF henchmen arriving by air, would be completely flummoxed by the nation’s impenetrable disguise. 
Just imagine those IMF or EU heavies landing in Dublin’s Reykjavik airport. They step off the plane to see a man dressed as Viking Chief Ingōlfur Arnason, one of the first Icelandic settlers, sinking a double-headed axe very deep into a negotiating table and bawling:Nei Við höfum engar peningar fyrir þér kveðja.”  Because Icelanders don’t take any crap, you see. They voted in a referendum to let their bondholders burn. Which means - and here’s the big payoff - if we pretend to be them, we can do the same!
            As a practical solution to the nation’s woes I really can’t see where objections would come from. My solution is cheap and more craic than the alternatives. It’s the kind of practical action that ordinary people want: something that doesn’t involve marching - which causes blisters and fatigued legs - and spreads a little happiness. Not least, to our wallets.