Friday, July 29, 2005

The Deal

As an Northern Irishman myself I have always felt entitled to indulge in what I would describe as "forthright" comment on the behaviour of my lying, cruel, cowardly, secretive, self-pitying, ungrateful, whining, greedy, backward, whey-faced, morally bereft fellow-countrymen, but today, the day after the I.R.A.'s announcement that it has given up murdering people in cold blood, I can only wish them well.

I wonder what has led this bunch of roguish, rosy-cheeked, twinkly-eyed assassins to arrive at their momentous decision? I can't see that there's been any real progress in terms of Ulster politics, although as it's a place where "progress" translates as "not going backwards as fast as usual", I might be failing to pick up on some of the subtleties of the situation.

Many times over the last couple of years I've tried to work out Tony Blair's rationale for supporting Bush in Vietraq; Bush's agenda was crystal-clear - after the September 11th attacks Someone Had To Be Seen To Pay, and although nobody believed Saddam was involved he was unpopular, virtually unarmed and not quite white. I don't go for the Iraqi Oil conspiracy theory - it ascribes to the U.S. administration far more guile than I believe them capable of.

But what was in it for Blair? The decision to take the country to war made him deeply unpopular at home and in the rest of Europe. Surely he must have made A Deal?

So that's it, I reckon. "George, old chum, we'll back you up in Iraq if you stop funding the I.R.A. and if they step out of line you have to let us fuck 'em up. We might even have to give Dublin a bit of a seeing-to. A sort of slight carpet bombing kind of thingy. How's that sound? All right with you, that's great. And can you make sure they know we've made this deal? That'd be lovely. Thanks, mate."

Could be completely wrong, of course. Anyway, apparently the lads are going to "de-commission" their weapons (whatever that means) although apparently they won't allow the process to be filmed or photographed because that would be "humilating", and of course it would be.

Their spokesman declined to comment on whether it would be more or less humiliating than having to hire someone to wipe your arse for you because your hands have been blown off by an I.R.A. bomb.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

July 27th 2005

If my Dad hadn't had a dodgy ticker which dropped him in his tracks for good way back in 1986, he'd have been ninety years old today, probably still drinking too much whisky and wandering about singing "Minnie The Moocher". I'm absolutely sure that I was the only five-year-old in the village of Saintfield, County Down, Northern Ireland who'd heard of Cab Calloway, and much good it did me.

My Dad was an intelligent, kind and strikingly ugly man, who looked a lot like Quentin Blake's drawings of Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant, although he wasn't thirty feet tall, which was fortunate as it would have made his career as a teacher pretty much impossible. Before going into teaching he had served in the Middle East and Africa in the Pioneer Corps, which left him with admiration for the African tribes of Basutoland, a profound dislike of Egyptians and the ability to swear in Arabic, which came in handy when stray dogs got into the garden and crapped in the flowerbeds.

I'd only just grown out of thinking my Dad was a buffoon when he went and died, and I have a lot of regret that I know so little about his life as a child and as a young man. He was a teenager during the Depression of the thirties and the family moved from the North of England to London to try to find work. On the outbreak of war he joined the Army, reaching the rank of Captain and meeting Sergeant Sarah McMillan of the ATS, who ended up as my mother, was eighty-five years old last month, and is also, I know, thinking about him today.

Happy Birthday, Dad. We miss you.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bent u zekere Greta bent geen travestiet?

You know I wouldn't lie to you, so I know you'll believe me when I tell you that I spent last weekend at the U.K.'s First International Boogie-Woogie Piano Festival. As it's a bit of a minority interest here, musicians and audience could be crammed into the village hall at Fontnell Magna, Dorset, later spilling over into the local pub, where much Woogie-ing and consumption of foaming ale continued into the early hours.

I've never had much time for the piano, believing that musical instruments should be things that you can pick up and cuddle; playing the piano has always seemed to me too much like sitting at a machine and pushing buttons. (The fact that it's a lot harder to play than the bass guitar might also have something to do with my inability to get to grips with it.) Were it not for the fact that my friend Matthew is a keyboard player and was keen to go to check out the opposition I'd probably have given the festival a miss.

Anyway, I can tell you that those Boogie-Woogie chaps are fiercely competitive and one of them was pretty damned funny for a German. They also show off almost as much as rock musicians, although playing the piano with your teeth or behind your head is not really an option. You could set it on fire, of course, but you'd need a lot of lighter-fluid to get a really satisfying blaze going.

Interestingly, apart from one Brit most of the performers were from the European mainland; two pianists from the Netherlands, one from Germany ("Now I vill tell you ze joke about ze muzzer of my vife, yes?"), and one from (I think) Belgium, plus a Dutch vocalist called Greta, who was so tall, so blonde, so pretty, with such big hair and such a sparkly frock that I assumed she was a transvestite until I got up close and took a good look at the hands and the adam's-apple. I'm fairly sure she was a girl.

After a couple of hours of Boogie-Woogie I had to suppress a desire to leap onto the stage and slam the piano lid down on the wrists of the musician, but by downing many pints of muscle relaxant and breathing deeply I was able to recover my sang-froid.

A little of that stuff goes a hell of a long way.