Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Democratic Revoluton?

It's difficult to write about this government without slipping into either apologetics or rage. It seems that there are the 25% who still support them and the rest of country hating them. In a time of crisis, a government unites those it governs in support of it, or it unites the opposition. Peculiarly, in this instance, the Fine Gael-Labour government has stumbled onto a third option. We are in an era where no political party or political figure can command respect outside their own particular base. Can anyone remember a government as unpopular as this one, facing such a splintered and ineffectual opposition? Where is the 'government in waiting?'  

Why is this the case? I touched on some of the themes in my previous blog post, but there is more to this, much more. Enda Kenny promised a 'democratic revolution' on becoming Taoiseach. A worthy goal, but has he reneged on that revolution or has he merely met the immovable object of overwhelming legacy?

To understand his failure, a failure that seems to have harmed more than just his own party, we must try to understand what a 'democratic revolution' might look like. 

We should begin by looking at our parliamentary democracy. It has proven surprisingly durable. Despite never getting the hang of running a consistently strong economy, or ending emigration or ridding the country of armed atavists, we never succumbed to the antidemocratic movements that have swept Europe at various times over the last century. Not that we should pat ourselves on the back and leave as is. 

In the era when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil dominated the political firmament, we, by default, had governments of consensus. The gap between these two parties on the economy and on social issues was so narrow, that when one governed they could treat the other with contempt. It was safe to do so, as one would never move very far from the other. Today that dominance is broken. Ireland has changed. Not as radically as some believe or would wish, but certainly changed. A government can now be elected, which might be entirely different in values and priorities than much of the opposition. 

This raises a crucial point about our electoral system. Are we satisfied with simple majoritism or do we think a search for consensus is preferable? There is no right or wrong answer to this. Many people see elections as simple exercises in winner takes all democracy and think it a pure and righteous thing. I happen to disagree with that quite strongly. 

I think elections are certainly to be won, but governing should include more than empty rhetoric about being a government of all the people. Governing should include everyone who was elected, wherever they happen to sit in the House.  

At present we have a very inefficient system of democracy. We elect 166 TDs to the Dáil and then add 60 members to the Seanad. That's 226 men and women who've been deemed worthy to govern and legislate. 

What happens the day after an election? Just under half those TDs are discounted as they are not in government. Of the 83 plus TDs who did 'win?' All but 14 or so are immediately relegated to being mere voting fodder. All power is vested in the Cabinet. And of those in the Cabinet, all but the Taoiseach and Tánaiste are appointed with favours given and future elections in mind. All at the behest of the party leaders who themselves are merely seat holders, like everyone else in the Dáil.     

(A quick aside regarding the Seanad. I would prefer it was abolished. That it wasn't, speaks to the mistrust voters have for politicians in general and government TDs in particular. I see no useful function for the Seanad. Ireland has a tiny population and more than enough people in the Dáil.)

So, back to the Dáil. We have somehow managed to create an almost presidential system, despite being a parliamentary democracy. I have heard it argued that the Irish character prefers a strong leader, an elected king. I've heard the Russians described similarly and look at what's being inflicted on them. We can look at the barely functioning democracy that is the USA. Imagine vesting so much power and almost religious respect in a figure, half the nation despises. Imagine a Haughey not needing to look over his shoulder for four uninterrupted years.  

I dislike the implications of a powerful executive. Now I admit that may be a personality trait. What was my relationship with my father like etc. But I invite you to consider this, who would you trust to 'lead' the nation, who couldn't be removed from office and didn't have to worry too much about keeping his or her own party, the opposition or the people, onside? It makes me shudder. 

Unfortunately, our parliamentary elections have begun to resemble presidential elections. The party leaders vie for the position of Taoiseach. The reality however is that no one has the power to vote for a Taoiseach except the 166 men and women elected to the Dáil. I'm consistently amazed by the number of people I encounter who do not realise this or who certainly act as if they don't know.

Enda Kenny won a Dáil seat just like every other TD. He was elected Taoiseach by those TDs. Yes, he's the leader of Fine Gael and the head of government, but he was never picked as the leader of the country. Now I happen to like Enda as the leader of Fine Gael. He has obviously achieved much in that position. He's the kind of leader I'd always choose. He's the kind of inspiring figure I wouldn't even follow out of a burning building.  

The problem is, he and the Labour leader du jour have sidelined the Dáil. I don't think this is motivated by some megalomaniac impulse. More, that these few individuals appear to place their opinion of what is required to solve the Fianna Fáil economic crisis, above the requirements and restrictions of a parliamentary democracy. Not withstanding the sickening populism and mad need of all TDs to win re-election that pervades the Dáil, the Dáil is the seat of all democratic power in Ireland, well at at least in theory anyway. 

Yes, Fine Gael and Labour have very fixed ideas about how best to solve this country's problems. Ideas that may be anathema to many in the opposition. Yes the opposition is made of apologists for murder. Yes the very people who destroyed the country are crying foul. Yes there are those who wish to abolish capitalism. Some who want hospitals built at every crossroad in the country. And then there are those who see Ireland as made up of 43 semi-independent kingdoms and say fuck the other 42.   

Each and every one of them, freely and democratically elected to the assembly charged with governing this nation. The entire point of having so many elected members, in a system with a figurehead executive, is that power is shared among as many people, ideologies, opinions, prejudices, abilities and personalities as possible. 

And again, when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represented all but a tiny few aspects of the Irish electorate, the Dáil wasn't a necessary brake on the government. To paraphrase Eamon de Valera, parliamentarians could indeed see the hope and aspirations of the Irish people in their own hopes and aspirations. (Granted, with the best and brightest emigrating and everyone kowtowing to the bishops, hopes and aspirations were rather limited)

So how do we make a government accountable to the assembly which elects it and how do we strike a balance between consensus and paralysis? I can but offer a few suggestions, while hoping that those who agree with my central thesis have better ideas. 

I would rerun the Committees Referendum, but with wording that guarantees the government of the day cannot abuse it. And on a related point, no Dáil Committee should have a government majority. Neither should the Ceann Comhairle ever come from the government side. 

Further to the Committees, the Budget should be developed and agreed to by a Committee. This is where opposition TDs will have to demonstrate mature parliamentarianism. The Government has to have the right to set the agenda and define priorities. The Committee members must work within that framework in good faith. All TDs will have to get at least some dirt on their fingers, because it is impossible to satisfy all the people, all the time. It's finding that balance between honestly representing one's particular voters while respecting those who voted for an opposing TD. Perhaps it is naive of me to think that our politicians have the ability to accept compromise, to accept that the Dáil is a collective and not an arena. But that is the revolution I think our democracy requires. 

Ireland, fortunately, is less uniform, conforming, white and subservient than it once was. We have become too complicated to have just one or two or even three parties ruling with a weather eye to their base. That means a government must include the opposition and the opposition must respect the mandate of the government. 

This balancing act of inclusion, is not just parliamentary nerdism. Ireland is dealing with two distinct crises. There is the current economic crisis and all the division and strife that is causing. But Ireland is also is suffering a crisis of authority.      

I use the word 'authority' with great reluctance. I intensely dislike much of what that word represents. I once considered myself a Libertarian and while that is my past, it still influences much of my thinking. 

The aspect of authority I am referring to, is the explicit and/or implicit trust we grant to institutions to look after our best interests, fairly and honestly. 

The overarching institution is the State of Ireland itself and its multitude of representative bodies. Separate from these (but not entirely) are the Church, artists, the media, sporting bodies, the wealthy and key professionals like doctors and lawyers.     

Over the last few decades we have discovered that we have been serially betrayed by the several institutions, both State and non-State. This Government has been left to pick up the pieces of that betrayal. To deal with the breath taking failure of their predecessors. The failures of their predecessors to stand up for citizens against the institutions that so abused and neglected them. 

And this government is not doing well in this gargantuan task. I don't even think they feel it's for them to get involved. But it is their job and the job of the Dáil to tackle the very complicated (and yes, potentially very expensive) results of that long term abuse. 

The scary part is just how easy it is to list a dozen or so of the scandals, that are eating away at our faith in this nation. The destruction of our economy and the hopes of so many citizens by the Bankers, the developers and Fianna Fáil is the easiest to remember. But the worst aspect of this example, is that this betrayal leads to the second example; no one responsible has been held to account. That is breeding a cynicism that may never be healed. 

The third example is the state of our police force. It has been found to be consistently incapable of policing itself or sufficiently meeting the needs of those it serves. In response, an insider was appointed to lead the necessary reforms. 

The fourth is the medical care we provide for pregnant women. For years we were told that Ireland was the safest place in the world to be pregnant. Then we discovered those figures were incomplete and that 'ideology' in the place of best practice was costing lives. From denial of cancer treatment, the imposition of symphysiotomies and rank bad practice, the illusion that our maternity hospitals have the best interests of pregnant women at the core of their service, is no more. That the government is not bending over backwards to help these victims is chipping away at the idea that this state exists to benefit its citizens. 

Fifth, is the historical abuse meted out to pregnant women and their babies. Enclaved and locked away, their babies either sold or disposed of in mass graves. While the Roman Catholic Church benefited financially from this criminality, they apparently broke no laws. They were enabled and empowered by the State to deal with the inconvenience and scandal of unmarried sexually active women. No one has been held to account for this. Not that a few people being locked up would be sufficient. Whole generations of Irish people were complicit in this outrage. How do we hold a society to account for its crimes? Are we even trying?

Sixth, is the sexual abuse perpetrated by Roman Catholic Priests, aided and abetted by their superiors. No one has has yet to be held responsible for this connivance. 

Seventh, is the wholesale abuse and neglect suffered by so many vulnerable people in our Church and State run institutions. There has been precious little done to heal the wounds of the past and apparently little done to stop that abuse continuing. 

Eighth, is the realisation that Ireland may have been complicit in the rape and torture of CIA prisoners. Will this government or any future one, ever seriously investigate if any of the victims of the CIA were routed through Shannon Airport? 

Ninth, is the simple matter of a law clearly benefiting the rich over the poor. Up to recently we had a clearly ridiculous bankruptcy regime. A bankrupt would not escape that state for 13 years. It was changed to three years, with a five year add on, to serve the banks interests. A rich person simply goes to the UK to serve nine months. It is so obviously unfair it leaves me speechless. 

Tenth, is the cronyism that pervades our political system. We'd hoped that the new government would stop this dead. It hasn't. 

Eleventh, is our relationship with the EU. I am a europhile to the tips of my fingers, but the relationship is strained. I can understand why our partners think we should pick up the lion's share of the banking debt. I understand it, but I disagree with it. And it is important for the health of that relationship, that this government are vocal in their attempts to alter the terms of the bailout. Little Irelanders aside, the European Union has been a very positive experience for Irish people. Paying for the mistakes of UK, German and French banks can only turn people away from further unity.   

And finally, though this list is in no way exhaustive, is the HSE. Hailed as a Great Leap Forward in the rationalisation and improvement of Ireland's health system it has been a hope sapping failure. Saddled, from day one, with too many of the wrong kind of staff (a template wholly copied by Irish Water) it has singularly failed to make our health system anything more than an income and location lottery. That it is under resourced is obvious, but convincing people that ever more taxes will solve the problem is fast becoming impossible. People are willing to pay for 'a' health system, but not this one.        

I'm sure there are innumerable other expanses of historic and current failures, that are contributing to the idea that this republic is failing. To even begin to tackle the enormity of this floundering requires a parliament, not just a government.  And no, this is not a call for a National Government, more it is a call for our government to include the Dáil. And for the opposition to negotiate and legislate without prioritising short term goals.   

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A view of the water charge protestors

First things first, a few disclaimers. I have a water meter and I signed up to pay the charges. Paying won't be easy, but I will. I'm a member of Fine Gael and I also supported two of the previous three governments. Finally, I entirely agree with the concept of paying for the amount of water I use 

So there are my cards on the table. 

It's also important to note that I think if this government falls because of the water charges controversy, they will have entirely earned that calamity. Even if I am knocking on doors, canvassing for a Fine Gael candidate, I won't be pretending Fine Gael and Labour acted sensibly. Everything about the setting up of Irish Water smacks of arrogance, incompetence and noxious presumption. When a government fails to fear its electorate, then it's time for that government to get a firm slap or go. 

This blog post however isn't about the prospects of an early general election. I want to write about who I think the protesters, who have thronged our streets, actually are. And for all of Fine Gael and Labour's fault, they did finally provoke 100s of 1000s of people into protesting. A fitting epitaph, if one is soon required. 

Obviously, as a member of Fine Gael, I am expected to rail against the 'sinister elements' that are piggy backing on public discontent to ferment anarchy and threaten our very existence. Pure bollox, but it's a good lie because it resonates. It resonates with me, even though I know it's bollox. 

The attack on Joan Burton did shake me. I despise, with all my being, anyone who uses physical violence to make a political point. I am quite content to get all reactionary conservative on people who indulge in those kind of antics. It is not correct however to seek to understand the multitudes who are protesting, by referencing a fringe of a fringe. 

I will not discount them entirely. But a tiny few organised thugs combined with some easily led (or eager to be led) young men, hungry for action, is in no way representative of so many people from all over the country. They are just not prevalent enough to tar such a huge movement. 

So to my list of participants. 

I will begin with those who actively (which does not equate to violently) seek to overthrow our system of government and uproot its foundation stones of democracy and capitalism. I'm talking about the Far Left and the even further left. Marxists, Trotskyites, communists, anarchists and various other labels I don't understand, even after consulting Wikipedia. Fortunately, for this democrat and capitalist, they are few and far between. I'm glad they exist though. Capitalist democracy is far from perfect and is often guilty of missteps. If nothing else, a radical and explicable alternative, waiting to pounce if our democracy loses popular support, should help keep anyone with a vested interest in the status quo, honest.  

The second group are the political opportunists. I would put Sinn Fein, various independents and shameless members of Fianna Fáil into this category.  I can't criticise any of these groups for this. Water Charges are not some social or moral issue that must be supported by decent folk. It's merely a money raising scheme, with some theoretical environmental and state finances benefits. If opposition politicians didn't jump on this issue and use it to beat the government with, then this country would be in a worse state than it already is. Now, I'm not saying I'd trust anything these opportunists say, but if protests of this size had no politicians involved, then democracy, as I understand it, would be in serious trouble. 

The third group are those who are taking a principled stand against what they understand to be a double taxation (triple if you throw in the Household Charge and quadruple if you include the USC). It's difficult to argue against this. We've paid for water through general taxation since 1973. Now we are expected to pay for it again, but with no discernible decrease in income tax. The answer given, is that our water system has been so neglected, that we need extra money to fix it. It's a compelling argument, unless one asks why has it been allowed to deteriorate so badly? Then politicians are forced to look at their feet and suddenly remember a pressing engagement elsewhere. It has been neglected for one reason and one reason only, there were no votes in it. The vast majority of us have been getting more or less drinkable water for decades, so why promise to spend money on something not yet in crisis? But now the crisis has arrived. And it's arrived during an economic meltdown. Who's going to pay for the decades of neglect, those politicians who prioritised elsewhere or the ordinary citizen? Exactly. 

The fourth group are the people who simply can't pay this new charge. If you need that explaining to you, then you probably stopped reading at the part where I didn't give the leftists a bit of slipper. 

The fifth group are the citizens who probably can pay, but have this feeling in the pit of their stomach that tightens when they think of the so many billions of euro that have already left Ireland to pay bank debts. Ordinary people, with reduced standards of living, people who got nothing from The Boom. The people who have lost family members to emigration, lost family members to suicide, lost their homes, face the prospect of losing their homes, have gone hungry to keep their homes, people who are forced into internships, the people who are losing hope that this iniquitous austerity will one day end. The response of Fine Gael and Labour to this, is a blind faith that more and more low-paid jobs, in a possibly improving economy, will cause enough people to forget that we've been royally and systematically screwed. And it's a policy that may succeed. I'm hoping it does to be honest, but I wouldn't put any money on it.    

The sixth and final group are the 'enough is enough' people. This is pretty self-explanatory. Fine Gael and Labour promised all sorts of utopian nonsense at the last election. They won a huge majority, yet instead of radical change, the most they appear to be able to do is 'the best small country in the world in which to do business.' Has there ever been a rallying call so uninspiring? Worse, it is now virtually impossible to distinguish this government from the governments (the ones I supported don't forget) who destroyed our country and condemned so many to poverty, immigration and despair. Enough should certainly be enough. 

These groups are not discrete. They overlap in several places, but for the most part, they feel they have a genuine grievance with those elected to govern this country through an existential crisis. And they have enjoyed a certain degree of success. The government has already backed down once, quite considerably too. Unfortunately, it appears that this government thinks it has moved far enough. Almost a million households have signed up for the charges. This has all the appearance of overwhelming compliance, which the government presumes to mean satisfaction.     

But I can't help thinking they've misunderstood the multifaceted and complex motivations of the protesters. Or worse, they have understood and have decided to now only concentrate their efforts on appealing to their base. If that is the case, this government, which I wish to support, will end, being thought of as even worse that the previous one.   

Friday, November 7, 2014

Well I finally did it.

Well I finally did it. I ticked another item off my 'oh my Gandalf I've turned 40 and I'm going to die' Bucket List. On Tuesday, November 4, I performed a five minute stand-up comedy set in the Ha'Penny Bridge Inn.

It went well. It went very well.

I've been going on about this event for weeks. I shudder to think about how many people must have muted me, on Twitter, to protect themselves from my incessant neediness. On the night, despite my near overwhelming nerves, I could not help but be moved by the wonderful, generous and beautiful people of Twitter who turned up in such large numbers to support me.

Not only did the denizens of Twitter show up. Friends and family, from Dublin, Meath and Kerry did me the great kindness of paying good money to endure what could've been an immensely uncomfortable disaster. In attending, some of my family did experience an excruciating calamity. The MC, Ruairi Campbell, realised Kerry people, all related, were in attendance. Kerry jokes about cousins abounded.

The night began with an improv group. I found myself tuning out as the realisation hit me, I would actually be standing up to make a roomful of people laugh. I tuned back in when the excellent Eleanor Tiernan did a few minutes of new material. She was very funny. Then I tuned back out. Ordinarily I might have tried some Dutch Courage, but an experienced comedian had advised against it. I suppose being a shambles is forgivable, but being a drunk one is just downright disrespectful.

I had prepared a seven minute set, but as things were running late, we were asked to reduce our sets to five. I gotta say, this really worked in my favour. I was so nervous I forgot bits. This led to my timing being perfect as part of my act involved relating a particularly filthy story about me, which would be interrupted by a timer I had on stage. The problem was, people took it as a genuine interruption and urged me to continue. I had to explain I never intending telling the story.

What I remember of the performance itself? Expending a great deal of effort on appearing calm. Remembering a lot more of my material than I thought I would. Thank you to the comedian who told me to rehearse. A lot. And even then, I think I should have rehearsed more. I remember the laughter but I wasn't in the moment enough to really take it all in. And I remember the applause at the end.

I went outside to calm down a bit, then returned to watch the final comic, Oisin Hanlon. Now he was genuinely funny.

When we had all done our bit, the MC did the 'victory by acclaim' thing. More than half the people left in the room were friends and family of mine, so victory was assured. Though it was a close run thing. Oisin was that good. I even got a certificate, which I will be framing my certificate. 

Then I got to thank everyone who turned up. Some weren't surprised it went well. Others were hugely relieved I hadn't died on my arse. My partner could finally admit how nervous she had been, a fact she'd successfully hidden from me from the very moment I embarked on this ridiculous venture.

I couldn't relax for hours after. It was a wonderful adrenalin rush. I now understand why comics would choose (or be drawn against their will) to a way of life that is so financially precarious.

What have I learned? First and foremost, I learned I have the coolest friends on Earth. That memory will stay with me forever. Second, I'm really good at appearing calm, even when I'm shaking with nerves. Third, I can write stuff that's funny. As long as it's about my deteriorating body. Finally I learned I want to do it again. I want to do it again, but be more aware of the audience and more aware of how I am feeling when I am on stage.

So that's it. Another item ticked, a new experience experienced, something new learned, and most importantly, a new item added to my over all Bucket List; finding out if I can be any good at stand-up comedy. Well not exactly good at it, I'll settle for being on stage and not being so nervous I have to shut down whole parts of my brain.

The very kind Ruadhri Ardiff recorded my few minutes. (May not be safe for work, depending where you work)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Identity and Sinn Fein

I've avoided commenting on Sinn Féin's appalling treatment of Maíria Cahill because truth be told, I've nothing useful to say about Sinn Féin. I despise them as apologists for murder and I despise them for their rabid nationalism. Though of course, I would say that, I am after all a member of Fine Gael. And there's nothing I can say here to convince someone that my antipathy predates my membership of Fine Gael.  

What I can do, is try to explain why I think Sinn Féin finds itself in a situation where it is, yet again and with great harm to its particular brand, defending a man like Gerry Adams. 

I have been on Radio Kerry a few times trying to promote the idea of secularism, as our present laws and institutions discriminate against atheists. The consistent response, and it is a hostile one, is that Ireland is a Catholic country, or if the caller is particularly openminded, a Christian one. There really isn't any answer to that, because Ireland is in fact a Catholic/Christian country. It is right there in the Constitution. 

More important than the Constitution however, is how people feel. How people view themselves. And in Ireland there is a preponderance of people whose national identity is almost indistinguishable from their religious identity. So when I argue a crucifix in the Kerry County Council Chamber is offensive and discriminatory, I am not (and it took me a long time to realise this) making a discreet philosophical point, I am in fact, attacking someone's identity.  

That is a wholly different game to the one I'd thought I was in. It's a game I'm not entirely sure how to play as I struggle to empathise with identities that are not malleable. I especially struggle to empathise with people who offer blind loyalty based on those identities. 

For example, I cannot empathise or sympathise with LGBT Roman Catholics. I understand that is a shortcoming of mine. My identity does not allow me to offer loyalty to anything or anyone who chooses to look down on me. I don't know if that is arrogance or self-respect, but I do know it colours my opinion of all Roman Catholics who are harmed by their loyalty to that church, yet continue to identify as Roman Catholic.

There are other examples. I was once a member of the Progressive Democrats. We were part of a series of governments that destroyed the Irish economy. The PDs rightly ceased to exist because of this. And while I have occasional bouts of nostalgia (I did identify with them from the age of eleven after all) I would not countenance their revival. There should be consequences for causing harm. Which is why I struggle to understand the massive number of people who still cling to Fianna Fáil. 

If by the next election, my party hasn't met my expectations of it, I will go elsewhere. As a political party is nothing more than a coalition of interests, be that coalition broad or narrow. There again I suffer from a failure of empathy. I can understand an emotional attachment to something, even if it is a massive failure, but a mature person moves on. A mature person is not bound by wistful thinking or is not bound to follow in their parents' footsteps. 

Thus the difficulties facing the individuals that make up Sinn Féin. For they are not in fact a collection of individuals seeking a coalition within which to better their interests. They appear wholly wedded to the myths and ideals of that organisation. Wedded to such a degree that the prospect of toppling their great totem, Gerry Adams, represents an identity crisis. 

Adams, may or may not fall. I wouldn't bet either way. But that there is even a doubt about it, points to the greatest strength and greatest weakness of Sinn Féin; its membership believes its own bullshit to a degree that would make a Fine Gaeler and even a Fianna Fáiler blush. 

(As an addendum, with FG, FF, SF and Labour now all discredited, isn't it time for the ego driven micro-parties of the far left to get their acts together. If they can't even coalesce with each other, how can they expect voters to give them the power to govern?)  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kerryman letter re atheism.

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 14 October 2014 edition.

Reading Father Brian Whelan (October 1) I was amazed by how defensive he seems. One would think we weren't living in a country with a sectarian constitution that bars atheists from high office; a country with a church dominated education system. How scared he seems to be of a noisy minority, despite the many privileges afforded his church.

To me his complaints and concerns about atheists seem bizarre given that a prince of his church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, suggests that atheists are not fully human.

Father Whelan is free to believe in the unseen and is supported by the laws and institutions of his country in that decision. Let him try not being a part of the majority tradition for a while, then he might have something to complain about.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Stand-up Comedy

I should be writing and rehearsing a seven minute stand-up set right now. Instead I am going to write about what I'm supposed to be writing. On Tuesday 4 November, 2014, I am going to realise an ambition of mine, I'm going to pretend to be a stand-up comedian for seven whole minutes.

From 9.30pm till 9.37pm I am going to have (hopefully) an audience, eager to laugh and expecting me to supply those laughs. To say I'm terrified would be an understatement. I've been to open mic nights and watching bad comedy is possibly the most excruciating experience there is. I've had a root-canal done, so I know of which I speak.   

The performance will be taking place in the Ha'penny Bridge Inn. It's €7 at the door, €5 if you mention my name. I really hope that's not the best thing I do for you that night. 

This is one of the more outrageously self-indulgent and ridiculous items on my 'oh my god I've turned 40 I'm going to die and yet I've nothing done' Bucket List. 

I can't promise you quality entertainment, but I will be putting my heart  into it, so if I die on the stage, it'll be with all guns firing. 

And at worst, it will be an opportunity for a comedy themed tweet-up. (I will also be sporting a truly stupendous moustache, that I've been carefully cultivating these last few months. It alone should attract some titters)

So please, even though it's a school night, I hope you can attend. 

See you there.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Rifle

Sam, Sammy to his friends, watched Jess delicately arrange the large bone between her paws, to gnaw in comfort. He watched her grey flecked snout curl back, as her yellow worn teeth scored the grey treat. Sprawled mere metres from the roaring fire, Sammy knew she was settled. The anger at having medication forced down her throat, forgiven and forgotten. Though the livid marks on his wrinkled hands, throbbed. He reached down to scratch under her ear. Chewing paused to fully enjoy.

Satisfied, he stood. Slowly working his seventy-three year old body upright. Greeting and countering each of the several aches and pains and tiny rebellions his body now insisted were his due, if he dared called upon it to act. Jess returned to her glee.

Shuffling as best he could, Sammy reached the bedroom. His bedroom now. Only his. He closed the door. He contemplated the photograph. A much faded, black and white, mired in dust and dirt, picture of a smiling couple from another time. He reached for it. The years of neglect shamed him. With handkerchief and spit, he restored the little window as best as he could.

The safe drew his eyes before ever turning to it. With a sigh and the written scrap, he tapped the code. The safe gave up its charge of a rifle, carefully wrapped, diligently cleaned, but long unfired and the box of .22s. 

Bared and placed on the bed, it lay in waiting. Reassembled. Loaded. Ready.

There was scratching at the door. Sammy's shoulders slumped. He knew what needed to be done. He let her in. Arthritic hips and arthritic back did not stop her reaching up to lick his hand. Her big wet tongue gliding over the damage she’d caused. Sammy dropped to the bed and then to the floor. Resting his back against the wall, he hugged her close and hard. 

Cancer had once left him bereft, the prospect of it doing so again, left him empty with terror. Rheumy eye, met rheumy eye. The dread shivered him. Not again he spoke into the enthusiastic licking. He playfully pushed her away, wiping saliva from his face with his much stained sleeve.

Months of agony lay in store, death and bereavement. Sammy knew his measure of strength. It no longer extended to hope after loss. Jess rested her large head on his knees, drool soaking through the fabric. With careful slowness, he reached his right hand to the rifle. His left hand never leaving the centre of his being.

Jess whined and in her curtailed state, climbed uncomfortably to a sitting position. Her face quested his. Her tongue tasted his tears. Her licks more frantic. She started at the sound of the bolt sliding the round into place. She pushed onto his lap. His aged knees rebelling at the weight. Her whines more desperate. Her paws looking for purchase in his chest. 

He didn’t resist, his heart already broken. He’d thought it through. He knew to the brain would be instant, but the mess of spatter horrified. Feeling for the heart he looked Jess straight in the face. Their ancient eyes made more opaque with tears. He pressed the barrel against the heart. Jess pushed harder against him, pushing it away.

He hummed soothingly to her, rubbing his head against hers. His left hand held the barrel back in place and his right hand reached and just found the trigger. Jess became more distressed. Her paws now ripping the tissue delicate skin of his chest. The pain didn’t reach him, couldn't move him. 

He pulled the trigger and she howled. The rifle dropped from lifeless hands as her licking now frantic, desperate to save.

the end

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