Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lines Written in Early Spring

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran
(William Wordsworth)

Language Abuse

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”


Knowing even just a little of another language besides your own can be very rewarding, and deepen understanding of your native tongue. For instance, many words which have changed their meaning in English betray their true colours in German. When Shakespeare wrote

"And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks."
(My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun)

the word reek did not have the negative connotations it now does, and in modern German riechen simply means to smell without any negative associations (unless explicitly stated). Weinen which in German means to cry is another word which in English has found itself transformed into something a little more unpleasant sounding; to whine now carries more baggage with it than a simple cry which can be done softly or joyfully.


After estate agents, property developers must rank as some of the greatest abusers of Language. Have you ever seen a new apartment complex described as anything other than luxury, no matter that they are no bigger than rabbit-hutches? And what the hell does contemporary living mean? That you are living in the present era as opposed to going on regular time-travel jaunts? "No, sorry it's not for me, I was looking for a house without a toilet or running water. Never mind, I'll take a look at the non-contemporary living development up the road. Sorry for wasting your time." Or the office block situated in an inspiring location. Since when the fuck can an industrial park overlooking a shopping centre be considered inspiring? "So, Herr ex-camp guard, what was Auschwitz like for the inmates? Sorry, did you say it was relaxing?" You wouldn't buy it for a second, so why do property developers think they can misuse words in such a blatantly mendacious fashion?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Take me out

A beautiful day for a stroll into town. A decaf latte and all was well with the world. Until I had quick leaf through the paper . Stories of infinitely heartbreaking tragedy that left me feeling impotent and disgusted at the world. When I got home there was my surfboard lying serenely against the wall. Her pleasing lines calling me like Richard Pryor's crack-pipe. 'Come on baby, please take me out, I know you wanna get wet...' How bad I wished I could, to plunge into the cleansing brine, washing away all my sins, the sins of the world. To emerge renewed and purified, to achieve that state of exhausted bliss that felt better than any narcotic.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ireland: a quiet drinking island with a fishing problem.

I took the title for this post from a bumper-sticker. (The original read 'Courtmacsharry: A quiet drinking village with a fishing problem.') Although humorous, it betrays the country's ambivalent attitude to alcohol abuse. from time-to-time the Taoiseach (an Irish title for the prime minister meaning 'chieftain') or some other minister will pay lip service to the problem but nothing seems to change, least of all our dumb sheep-mentality where we drink to excess because 'ah sure, that's what everyone does'.

In trying to find a few facts to add meat to the bones of this post I came across this very well written article that nailed down much of what I wanted to say, only much better than I could have: Ireland's Alcohol Problem. It is heartening that at least some people on an individual level are raising the issue. And In an Irish Time's feature on March 22nd, Drinking ourselves into a stupor, Brian O Connell wrote:

'At the heart of the Irish experience, there is a need to filter the way we experience the world. We're in danger of drinking ourselves into a national stupor.'

'Ireland is a hard society in which to be sober. Giving up alcohol in a country with a drink problem can mean the end of friendships, feeling like an outsider - and being treated like one too.'

what is the drink industry's response? To stick a small slogan on their ads 'enjoy alcohol sensibly'. Good one. Thy are selling a mind altering substance capable of rendering rational behaviour impossible and asking you to behave rationally while under its influence. 'Please lose your mind in a sensible fashion.' The compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary could not have defined the word oxymoron any more eloquently.

Now, added to to problem, we have other substances thrown into the mix. Cannabis has been called a 'gateway drug' by some well-meaning but misguided people. If any drug deserves that epithet in this country it is alcohol. Once accustomed to getting obliterated on alcohol, drugs like cocaine and ecstasy seem mild in comparison. Even in small towns in Ireland (or perhaps especially in small towns in Ireland) drug use is widespread. Recently in my home town a young man took his own life. He had a serious cocaine problem. When someone at his funeral suggested this may have contributed to his death he was admonished for daring to suggest that cocaine could have been a factor: 'He just couldn't handle his drugs. There's nothing wrong with the coke.' Such is the level of denial and a sad reflection of the addicts' mentality and the emptiness of their lives. I thank God that surfing came into my life. It added value and meaning to it. It gave me a reason to get fit and healthy. It became an addiction. And until more Irish people can find meaning in their lives I think Ireland will remain in a stupor.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

banana republic

Work and work and work and work till you die
There's plenty more fish in the sea to fry
(Paul Weller)

I don't think there is any connection between the words idyll and idle, except in my mind. Once upon a time in Ireland -before 1991- we had plenty of time on our hands. Unemployment was high. There were no jobs, and according to Tommy Tiernan, "we were all secretly, fucking delighted." Mine was the last generation of Irishmen and Irishwomen who had to emigrate in search of work. I remember our maths teacher solemnly pronouncing that we would have to take the boat the England (even though it actually went to Wales) after the Leaving Certificate exam that marked the end of our schooldays. We would have to bid farewell to our gentle, green land and leave friends and family behind. At the thought of living in such an iniquitous city as London I was secretly, fucking delighted.

How times have changed now that we hear people complaining of overwork, stress and traffic hell. We have mortgages, car loans, tracker bonds, overseas property. People emigrate to Ireland; I even met a Californian working in my local Supermarket. Despite all the negative effects of modernity (I do not include immigrant californians as one) not many would seriously wish to go back to the dark days of the Banana Republic, a song written, allegedly, about Ireland in the 1980s by Bob Geldof. There is a consensus, however, that a way of life has changed and that, for better or worse, we have lost something forever. Now with gangland murders an everyday occurence, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, and house repossessions and unemployment once again on the increase maybe the time will come when the benefits of economic growth are devoured by the monstrous excesses of the celtic tiger.