“I exited bankruptcy in July 2016 and was questioned on RTE news about what would now change. ‘Nothing’ I said and it was true at the time. If anything I was in a harder place than when the banks repossessed my home and my business collapsed six years ago. I was heart-broken and good for nothing. I wrote an article about homelessness in the Irish Times and the next day a friend offered me a cottage to rent. One year later it feels like home. My tiny cottage sits snugly in the hills overlooking the pretty village of Shillelagh. I have work in PR and as a freelance journalist. I pay my bills. I even go out to dinner on occasion. I have never been happier. My children live nearby and they are amazing young women. I get up each morning with gratitude in my heart. I have put the survival mode behind me and I am shining now. Every human being deserves to shine and this time is mine.”
First printed in the Irish Independent on Feb 6, 2017
The last time I had a special relationship with another person we did, I confess, hold hands. It is what special friends do to show their affection and is moreover tolerated in public, even by puritanical bystanders.I recall vividly that the hands were not small; they were warm and friendly, closing over my fingers in a comfortable fashion.
And that is why I watched with some small horror the scenes between Theresa May and Donald Trump, arguably the two great leaders of the free and English-speaking world. It was a first press conference and their smiles were wide for each other, both giving the open-mouthed braying hahahas of leaders in debate. She, smiling coyly over at Mr Trump as she answered for both, dismissing the gaps that lay between them and focusing on the ties that bind.
Mr Trump on his part swirled his flat-topped Barnet Fair like a small boy in a shop. Looking this way and that and waiting to be offered his choice of confectionery.
Smile, smile, smile – the hallmarks of a special relationship. But it did not end there. Later as they walked, another visual cue of solidarity, his little hand sought out hers. Captured by an observant videographer, his fingers crawled over hers and in a sweet demonstration of the special relationship enjoyed by the two countries, by the two leaders, their fingers entwined.
But wait – that is not the handholding required between nations. I have never seen two world leaders cosy up into a handholding, ever. What were they thinking?
As Mrs May went home, she discovered more gaps between them, the ones she had tried to cover up in the press conference. The subsequent travel bans on citizens from Muslim-majority countries. Mr Trump had not deemed it important to tell Mrs May this little surprise was up his sleeve. She went home and straight into a storm of criticism from the opposition benches. Had she known Mr Trump was about to sign those executive orders? Was the handholding more of a walk of shame?
And what strange accident of fate decided that the two leaders of the English-speaking world had verbs as their family names? What is the universe playing at there?
Later, at the start of Black History Month, Mr Trump, with notes in front of him, spoke of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist leader. He said: “Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognised more and more, I notice.”
People scratched their heads at this. Did he not know who Mr Douglass was? Later his press officer Sean Spicer added clarity to the remarks. Yes, he said, what the president meant was that more and more recognition is being given to Mr Douglass.
People scratched their heads even more at this explanation which offered no new insight. It was up to the descendants of Frederick Douglass to post a statement of 15 achievements in the ‘Huffington Post’. We are not sure if Mr Trump read them, but on balance I think we can safely say not.
Which brings me to the novel ‘Transatlantic’ by Irishman Colum McCann. This fantastical book traces in part the journey by Mr Douglass when visiting Ireland in 1845. For Mr Trump’s benefit, let me quickly summarise the events. Mr Douglass had escaped slavery in the south and moved into Maine, where slavery was abolished. There he penned a book on his life which made him a potential target for bounty hunters wishing to return him to his ‘owner’. Aided by the abolitionists, Mr Douglass left for a two-year lecture tour of Ireland and the UK.
Mr Douglass acknowledged that speaking in Europe would greatly increase the chances of his being heard in his native America. A self-taught man, Mr Douglass was charismatic and a powerful speaker. While on his travels around Ireland he met Daniel O’Connell. Mr McCann writes of a meeting of the two, now with Mr Douglass being called the Black O’Connell in Ireland.
Mr McCann writes: “Two days later, in Conciliation Hall, O’Connell brought him [Douglass] on stage and he thrust Douglass’s hand in the air: Here, he said, the Black O’Connell! Douglass watched the hats go up the rafters.”
And later, towards the end of that chapter: “O’Connell walked on stage and raised his [Douglass’s] hand in the air once more. The Black O’Connell he said again.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how world leaders, arguably the main leaders in the English- speaking world, should hold hands. Not in the sweet touching of fingers almost hidden from view but thrust into the air, on a platform, with a message to give. The cause of humanity is one the world over.
Unless your surname is a verb that can alternatively be happily employed in a whist drive or used onomatopoeically as slang for flatulence – and then anything goes.
You’d have to have your head under a rock to miss #piggate. It signals the return to parliament and the end of the silly season. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that the Tories had something to hide, some big scandal coming up along the way or perhaps they do. Perhaps this is the latest detraction story from their abysmal record on the refugee crisis. Cameron is up there with the most militant, entrenched Hungarian politician with his rhetoric and actions. ‘The swarms of migrants’ are not gaining traction in the UK. ‘Build higher fences’ and keep them out. Cameron is right on cue when he marshals the xenophobic excesses in ‘Great’ Britain into ‘Fortress’ Britain. He is guilty of pedalling the myth that multicultural societies do not work. They do. The proof is in London and he just must just try harder.
It is interesting in this day and age that the vile accusation is a matter of one man’s word against another. Neither had the benefit of a smart phone and camera to record the incident. I presume the publishers of Lord Ashcroft’s autobiography must have had a team of lawyers swarm all over the claims. And that by the way, My Cameron is the correct use of the verb swarm. It relates back to the subject and while wasps and lawyers are fair game, fleeing families risking death are not.
Of course, while smart phones did not exist in the last century, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram do today. In fact, we can dispense with the formalities of truth and imagine up any number of memes with Cameron and pigs. There is even a song out already with Mr Cameron ‘getting piggy with it’. The jokes are very funny, as long as you not the prime minister of the UK. Of course, it could be worse, he might have been the president of the greatest Western Super power inserting his phallus into a living receptacle. And then be grilled by Grand Jury as if it were a matter of state.
Which is an interesting point. Why should we be concerned about where the prime minister put his member while a student, especially as the object was dead? It is pretty gross and not really a vote getter but does it diminish his ability to lead his party? I would argue his actions regarding the refugees, or rather his lack of proper action, is way more damning.
Of course, this propensity to insert dicks into objects has been covered at length before. Back in the 1997, Fiona Giles, feminist and scholar approached dozens of well-known female artists, poets, authors and scholars and asked them what they would do if they woke and found themselves genitally altered. The resulting book ‘If you had a dick for a day’ provoked funny, witty and sometimes sad responses from the 50 or so women selected to reply. But I don’t recall anyone suggesting sticking their dick into things, just to see if it fitted (insert urban myths of vacuum cleaners stuck here). Although Germaine Greer bucked the trend and said if she was given a long enough one she might try having sex with herself.
Still, women tend not to engage in such merriment. In fact, I don’t seem to recall, ever, hearing about a sorority game that encouraged women to insert their bits into dead animals. I could be wrong of course. On the internet much strangeness can be found.
There were two interesting fallouts from this account. The first is the dark dystopian TV series Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker which featured the prime minister having carnal relations with a live pig. Mr Brooker has been interviewed all over the media, and indeed went live on Twitter as soon as the story broke, to confirm that he had no knowledge of the prime minister engaging in such an act. One wonders instead did Lord Ashcroft watch the series and did it jog his memory? Art influencing life in reverse perhaps?
Or the second, more cynical approach lies with a repeated story about US president Lyndon B Johnson in an early congressional campaign. Johnson apparently told one of his aides to spread the rumour that his opponent had sexual congress with pigs. His aide rebutted the idea, saying they could not spread out and out lies, to which Johnson replied: ‘Of course it ain’t true but I want the son of a bitch to deny it.’
And right on cue Mr Cameron has come out to say that he will not dignify the accusation with a denial. Which is a rose by any other name.