Thursday, December 30, 2010

412. The Flowing Tide

Whaa yez ffff (cough) loo-lookin aa?
Tink oi’m fff-tin st
range, like? B—b-bowsy. Yer m-m-mother
dropped her draw- (cough) fff’n drawers
in Henry Street, a ho-(gasp) holy show
she was affter maykin
of hurrshelf.

Dartry grasps the situation
immediately, strides up to the autistic
albino leper, takes him by the shoulder
companiably, and shoots him in the head.
The bar staff lift him out, resignedly,
and give him a heave into the yard,
(now designated the Smokers Corner)
among the other restful corpses.

I understand you’ve been misbehaving
says D, raising a quiet two fingers
and we have to wait for the usual 5-6 minutes
while the muddy brown shite does its thing
and comes out a black and glistening Arthur G.
Such tales are exaggerated. Don’t mind me
but did you really have to go and shoot that eejit?
Overall, yes, I went to school with his brother.
Oh, right. Why would you not think

about politics? You have the makings,
guns that work and a pile of queer money,
the history of our beloved ancient country,
and you’ve only to shoot the poor gobshites
that get in the way, two minutes before
they haul off and shoot you instead.

A cute little precis of the Tan War, says D,
and what were you about in Norn Iron?
Nowt, says I, only business as feckin usual
and since when have you had the ghra mo chroi
for Presbyterians? There’s not much of a laugh
in them, says D, musingly, dour motherfuckers
like they’d had pickles for breakfast, ready
to throw their dying Granny off the bed
to get at that last hidden penny.

Our fellow countrymen. We pause and think.
Thank Christ we don’t live in England, anyway.
Do you know what they call James the Second,
says I, apropos of nothing, James the Wha, says D?
Second, never been a Third. Came over here
and got his arse kicked royally on the Boyne
up by Duleek where they have the new bridge.
Oh, I know that bridge, says D, it’s nice, so it is,
and I’m not such a goner on modern architecture
but that is a fuckin nice bridge. It’s got a nice
airy character to it, says I, floating over the river
where all that historical shite went down.
What historical shite, asks D, a typical modern
Irishman. Well, to cut things short they called him
Seamus the Shit. Who? Never mind. He died in France.

I wouldn’t mind going to France, and I don’t mean
just the Duty-frees in Dunkirk and Boulogne
but the real heart of the country, like, la France Profonde,
where nobody speaks English. Lookit, nobody
speaks English in France, period. They won’t issue
you a passport if you even give a hint of speaking English
and if you pretend to understand that bastard tongue
they’ll cut your garlic ration for the next ten years.
That bad? Believe it. How do they get on in the world?
They don’t. They’ve been fading out for centuries.
Au revoir! Une last goodbye. A finally finally last good byeee!
The fuckers can never get off the stage. A bit like us, so?
No. We are a teensy-weensy bit aware of our own shortcomings.

Do you not like our Gallic cousins, ancestral Celts and the like?
I love them to bits. They have style and panache and joei de vivre
that allows the rest of us to get on with life while they prance about
like idiots. Well, then, what about the Germans? Do NOT get me
started!! Whaa yez ffff (cough) loo-lookin aa? Tink oi’m fff-tin st
range, like? B—b-bowsy. Yer m-m … says a rough but familiar voice
and we are rejoined by a large looming figure from Smokers Paradise.
Jayz, you were a long time having a puff, Jim.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

411. Haka

Train train a sky of blue,
a winter morning crisp and tight
like ice, like trouser creases.

My heart lifts, it rises,
as I head off in the wrong direction
looking at the hard-etched houses
lined against an azure sky,
viewing the sharpcut yellow stubble
of a tiny rice meadow
that can feed five families
angled between two rather squat
office buildings with a flourish
of Chinese characters.

The return train,
it seems I am running late
and I couldn’t care

less. The fellows are still
waiting for the stadium bus,
knocking back tinnies at the stop,
and then there is Aya, a sad Filipina
with purple contacts and a helluva
bad story. I have heard so many of them
that I feel like a hidden priest, perhaps
I should parade in rough Christian robes
to hide the ice within.

I could learn to like Aya,
trouble is Aya's been "liked" before,
repeatedly, been badly done over

and so I’m only half listening,
as you do, politely. Then the match
begins, and it goes on for a bit,
with oohs and aahs from the crowd.
I used to love this stuff, this rugby,
in my young youth I played on the green
lumpy fields of three continents,
one of the gay silly things I did
before old age took over.

Rugby, savants say, is a metaphor
for war, for the playing fields of Eton:
untrue, but it can be physical chess

when the many healthy resplendent lads
stop fussing around a badly bouncing ball,
with their girls all bright and smiling, pretending
an interest they could never conceivably possess
in the furthest tiniest re-cess of their capacious
rapacious female brains. Aya is looking over
now, and I'm sorry, but I'm not looking back. I am
on the track of an over-priced fizzy beer; if a man
won’t drink, he could be labelled an Irish queer

for trailing the ladies instead of the booze.
No, no, for all of my life I've been looking, searching,
waiting to choose, hope sadly slipping away.

I reckon in the end we all may lose,
even in the hardass canyons of the USA
where rugby, I presume, is a pussy game.
We had a joke going, one of them weak no-brainers,
as the pink-cheeked girls, annoyed, yanked off their boots,
figure that one out; but then Shem tapped me
upside the head. Fuckin hurt, too. Didn’t even
know the gentleman, a situation soon
and forever about to change.

Stick out your tongue. Wha’?
More, more, more, is that the best you can do?
Was I talking too much? Glaarh --; glaa...aaarh!!

Roll your eyes: flex your knees and elbows,
Jesus Christ, man, are you bleedin paraplegic?
and what happened that tongue, that tongue,
it should be licking the end of your pimply nose!
The fuckwit silly losers they send me down
these times would wear the balls off the Virgin Mary
had she had any, beggin yer pardon, Ma'rm. Sir? What?
Can I stop licking my nose and go back to the crap
daily rhythms of ordinaryl life? Ho, Irish are we?

Limber up, Paddy, for I’m going to teach you once,
once and once only, for the first and for the last time,
how a man should feel, how he should live ... and dance!


The Haka is a Maori war dance. The New Zealand rugby team performs it before every international match to intimidate their opponents. It works.

Monday, December 27, 2010

410. Julia, Liverpool, 1924

I cannot live in this life
in the shadow of me ma and me da,
if it’s only for the shame of it;
I’ve no wish in the world to get married
to some clappety eejit from the bank
or some chap in a solid company
stroking his silly moustache.

I’d rather run off to Arabia
or race away to India and get caught up
with one of them dusky princes.
I spend a lot of time at the films, I do,
my job is to play at the piano, to fit
the music to what the actors be doing,
and I’m awfully good at it.

I love England, actually I don’t,
this country gives me a headache.
I wish I was away somewhere, far away
on a romantic wonderful weekend with some
marvellous, marvellous man
and me ma says that will never happen.

Watch out for sweet-talking men, she says,
they be only out for the wan thing.
Jesus Christ, ma, so am I!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

409. The Hidden Meaning of World War Two

Poor grandmama, she passed away
at the age of ninety-something,
leaving behind a house full of memories
upon which the family shortly descended
like circling crows, squabbling over
the paintings, her gewgaws, the furniture.

There was a darkly glowing Vermeer,
two Rembrandts, some Hepplewhite consoles,
and two whorls of canvas that were not altogether
but almost Turner. Also a Constable.
I came down in a taxi from the station.

Sad that the old lady’s gone, said the driver,
She were a good ‘un, I well remember her
from the First Do: Faith and Freedom.
And were you in that War yourself, I innocently asked,
and he growled and spat, said he'd been thrown
into capitalist wars throughout his fuckin life.

A touch aggrieved, I held back on a large tip,
thinking of my two dead uncles from the first show,
but when I stepped out of that car I had no idea, let me tell you,
of all that stood before me, hunched over in my tailored uniform,
owlishly peering: I was no soldier, no real bayonet-thrusting

Godblastyou crazy person. The Regular Army, in my view,
were gentlemen, not warriors, encompassing a collection
of grumbling commuters plucked from cosy civilian jobs, resigned
to typing the shit out of the enemy, in triplicate. Would you
kindly wait until you are called? Silence, please, and some decorum.

The tanks rolled over the charred steppes of Asia,
the bodies burned in Treblinka and Maidenek,
and all the while motorcycle messengers farted
and backfired into Bletchley Park, where we typed
and typed and, in a British way, quietly won the war.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

408. Murakami

Knew this guy was around, had heard about him,
but never got around to reading him until now.
All has changed thanks to audiobooks dot com
and long boring drives to companies in this area
where I fight against the banks by teaching English.

No, no, it’s cool. Send no money, relax.

Thinking. Even trying not to think
takes time. Time comes down, comes
tick-tick-ticking, bong-bonging on the hour
and seems placidly set to go on forever, maybe
even beyond: tick-tick. Bong.


Stars will still shine when you are dead
having sent out their incontinent pulses of light
when your great-great grandaddy, equipped
with the coarse peculiar clothing of the time was doing
something shameful behind that hedge.

It’s all right. The stars see nothing.
They are supremely self-absorbed,
they are galactical Hindus.

There is us and then there is everyone else
ran the cosy accepted Japanese view
before Murakami drove a truck through it.
He should be arrested like Julian Assange
for this blatant display of sad soiled linen

(in which ordinary people come out looking pretty good.)

The thing about Japan you need to know is that
everything works, but you don’t know how it works,
and you’re not encouraged to ask: the buses and trains
run perfectly, so do all the shops and services,
as the government strains to produce consumer heaven
pointing at all the pink and yellow balloons in the sky
while sitting on the lid of a seething stink-ridden cesspit
of foul forbidden secrets. Ho, ho, says Murakami.

I love the casual way he goes about it.
He plays a subtle game with Japanese society,
setting up a number of running parallel stories
about everyday life in very flat and easy, almost bland language.
But then the stories becomes stranger, more menacing,
and the themes coalesce. The manically suppressed
secrets of a wound-up anal-retentive nation spill out,
blinking in the light, crouching, eyes darting for the exits,
but by now all the doors are closed. Nobody else in Japan
dares to, or can even think about doing this.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

407. Salami, Salamis, Salaam

Pannerola pergolum,
dammenola ergo sum;
penda quenda senda mi,
pende quende send to me

amore, more amore.

Oremus, Tio Rabbita,
non che la habita:
negroni vobiscum.
Bebemus, bebe.

Carolina del sul
io non sempre ein fool
wie du so da denkst

Non, non, pas encore,
nein, nicht any more,
malum nahii, níl is agam:
ye to bahot acchaa.

DNA veni, out to play.

Ma... ma... manaqua alam nunc,
tra la la ... faquin é slam dunc!

Monday, November 22, 2010

406. Air Lady

You go you lovely lonely lady
walking in your socks
two dry martinis at cock crow
and then the whole world rocks

you shaved your gorgeous locks
you use no makeup on your face
of all your feminine tricks
today there is no trace

white on white is the room you pace
panther-like, absurdly happy
the world calls on your intercom
say what you want but make it snappy!

The female dasein is soft and sappy:
you could see that, young, obscure.
I'll make this damn world pay for me
of that you can be sure.


Men! Their sickly syrup of desire
was never made for wedded bliss:
geisha. heitari, grand courtesans
from early days taught you this.

Now there is the yawning abyss
to conjure with, Monsieur or Madame Death,
here in a white room, with a white poodle,
disconnected, alone, a single breath

away from life's perfection.
A living male erection
from time to time is required:
one call can do it all.

One puts on a wig, applies lipstick, eye-shadow,
revels in a garter-belt, sheer sexy stockings
and in half an hour it's all over.
No money ever changes hands,
no names, never never the same young man,
so very discreet, so professional,
so very satisfactory! The porter,
some man called Jim or John or Alfonso
(as if I care) handles everything
beautifully, the groceries are always on time,
and his large Christmas tip is assured.

Been living here for the last ten years
safely cocooned on the 45th floor.
A Luftmenschin, I shall never come down.
Why should I any more?

Luftmensch (pre-Nazi Yiddish: an air-person, someone who has no visible means of support). In this case it has a very different New York sort of meaning. There are people who literally don't come down to street level from their high-level apartments for weeks and months at a time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

405. Ulaidh (Ulster) 1601

We were called to the gathering
at the hill of Tullahogue, shop-keepers
and middle-aged people of the town, idlers,
old women, children, for all the young men
had gone south with O’Neill.

There was to be a great battle.

Tullahogue with its ancient stone
is a great green valley in a dip of the woods;
we settled in, murmuring, hushing the children,
among the whispering waving trees,
we, the People of Tír Eoghain.

There were three Engish prisoners
and they were brought before us.
A rustling of sounds arose among us
for we did not like them. But then
the Sherriff of the Town, didn’t he

stand up on his legs, waving a cleaver,
and call for the butcher, McCaughlan,
who came up to the stand, by God,
stripped to the waist and the sweat
rolling off his heaving muscularity.

I knew what was going to happen
and I covered the eyes of Síle, my daughter,
and I asked my wife to turn her head away
and she said No. She said no, I want
to see the fuckin bastards killed.

The mother of my children, an O’Cahan
whose brother fell in the battles last year
when I was in my dreary little shop
scraping together the pennies to keep us alive.
God, how she despises me!

The Englishman is young, he shivers,
but not from the cold, he wants to be brave.
The butcher plays to the crowd, he pretends
to swipe, then strikes, a great gout of blood,
and the young men roar and cheer.

Why are they not with O’Neill in the South?

I catch a glimpse from my neighbour
and I can see he is thinking the same.
He has his son clasped tightly within his cloak
and as our eyes glance off one another, he sees
my woman forcing my children to watch.

Nothing good can come of this.

The second and third prisoner are likewise dispatched
but the cheers grow thin. We know. We know
that the English will come and do the same to us,
to my sweet little daughter, to my infant son. My wife
shines with a look of fiery grandeur. She has no idea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

404. panta rhei

Ettore Schwartz, Triestine, inveterate smoker,
smiles contentedly, snuggles into the couch
and analyses himself, at odds with the expensive
acolyte of Adler who sits, seriously, out of sight,
just there behind his head. This is rather nice,
thinks Italo Svevo, for this is the name he employs
when he writes his excellent unappreciated novels.
I really must have a word with my English teacher
muses Ettore Svevo, and so thinks Italo Schwartz,
as both, acting as one, reach for the next cigarette.

I cannot imagine what was going through Benjamin’s mind
there on the dusty platform, surrounded by yellow hills,
in one of those dreary arse-end towns (I’ve been through it)
every country seems to have. This is worse than most,
also, not helpfully, in Spain. Might as well be Chihuahua,
with the same hayseed police, smelling of wine and garlic,
mostly of themselves. Like mongrel dogs they smell your fear.
But suicide? Sorry, my dear, you gave up too easily.

Franz Josef was a thick-headed limited old brute
but not the worst of the emperors by any means.
Nobody thinks or even cares of this crusty old character
who went through so much personal heartache, who can
actually know what went through his dreams at night?
His wife, one of the most beautiful women in Europe,
was flighty, horse-mad, and refused to sleep with him,
his only son and heir shot himself with a 17-year-old girl,
and the Hungarians and Czechs never left off badgering.
Then Franz Ferdinand, whom he never liked, got himself shot
and the whole ramshackle Empire blundered into War.
At least, poor dodderer, you never lived to see the end.

Simple advice; when a young girl offers you adoring blowjobs
and you are a middle-aged man, married, and also happen to be
the President of the United States, you should reach deep
into yourself, balancing the pleasure against the consequences,
and say, Why not? You never know when you’ll get the chance again.

I met Bob in Hawai’i when I was driving a taxi for Charley’s.
He was new, I’d been around, I was set up as his Driver Supervisor…

Stauffenberg should have made sure, staying behind
until the final moment of detonation, sacrificing himself
and not racing back to Berlin. I do not question his courage,
which had already been proven, only his judgment, his thinking.
Room was needed, the briefcase moved, and Hitler lived.
I wonder what really would have happened: perhaps not much.
The real heroes, or victims, were Hans and Sophie Scholl.

The first thing, Bob, is you’ve got to stop drinking and driving.
OK, boss. Next thing is don’t lock the doors, let them get out before
they pay. What if they don’t pay? Bob, if I was your customer,
I would definitely pay. Everyone in the company looked askance
at Mad Bob, everyone but me, maybe because he called me boss,
and did some of the things I told him. Some of the things.
Bob had had a bit of a … chequered record in Vietnam.

O turn aside and no more weep
Upon love’s bitter mystery …
Fergus rules the burning cars.

You never loved me. At night, darling, in the darkness,
You would allow me to hover enter it in, you would
grunt and shift your hips, sustaining an angry passing joy,
and then you’d race, sticky from me, to the bathroom.
I lay behind you, dazed, exhausted, thinking this girl
wants to marry me, and if she does, her burst of spread-your-legs
will come to an abrupt skidding end. I could foresee
years of tightened lips and frowns, blanket disapproval,
and while thinking on these things, a monkey came through
the window, scared the bloody hell out of you. He was a young
hungry chappie and I laughed. You carried on so loud I knew
for sure I would never marry you. Tight body and tits to die for,
but downturning lips and that glint in your eye. No thanks.
I need a relaxed little girl, a good cook, ready with a smile.

Bob started to tell me his weird jungle stories
so I sent him out into to the bright lights of the city
which was a mistake: the garish night-scenes of Honolulu,
where the Mahu boys down on Hotel Street, bored and horny,
would fling themselves, baritone, at your crotch,
and you’d hear the polite pop-pop of handguns, soft sounds off,
as people settled their economic and personal differences.
At four in the morning you’d steer around the bodies,
most still alive, lying still, with pale goose-pimpled thighs
under a lightening sky of pale pink and streaks of purple,
and you’d take the dregs of the battered drunk young sailors
to their grey steel ships, bobbing bobbing in Pearl Harbor.

When she was young, you know, she was a tremendous beauty,
the toast of Edwardian London, Hove and the Isle of Wight.
It’s said that the Old King came out and saw her one morning
and brightened up considerably, asked her in for a spot of tea,
and said, My Word, what a sight for sore eyes, etcetera,
that kind of thing, and died, coughing, not very long after.
She preened and pushed out her chest, not inconsiderable
even then, fluttered her lashes over deep violet eyes, behaved
like the stupid bitch she has been ever since. In Wimbledon
in the late fifties, her garden  adjoined the dank collapsing
collection of bricks my immigrant poor young parents were renting
from the dying Mr Bannerjee, and she would appear fully dressed
with a damn parrot on her thin left shoulder and say (to me),
Kindly desist from making those distressing noises, as I refought
the Battle of Britain with plastic Spitfires and Messerschmitts,
and the sky was white or grey, with a menacing hint of rain. 

Theo had been to Poland, France and Russia with the victorious
Wehrmacht and reckoned it had been pretty good, except. of course,
for the last bit, freezing his balls off in Khaboroshtny, Khonovreshnyev,
something anyway with a fuckin Kh. Bernd (they all called me Bernd)
then I know we lose the war. Fuck Hitler, says Theo. One good thing,
in the Army you never must listen to the verdammte Propaganda.
But in the Rheinland, 1923, I was young boy maybe seven or eight
und die Gebrueder Meerschlag haben mich wie ein junges Maedchen
gedresst mit tennis balls als tits, eine Bluse und skirt, ja, langes Haare
mit ein Wig, dann in the Park hineingeschleppt, und die verdammte
French Negertruppe an mir gekommen sind, Hallo, hallo! Kommen
die Bruder from out die Buschen mit knives from butcher und machen
die Neger zick-zack kaput! Blut! Everywhere blut, blut! They say go, go!
I run. I laugh, ha ha. War not so good. In the beginning, champagne.
In the end, no wine, no beer. Only piss, ja, piss and dirty water.

Theo grins sardonically. Theo is my pal.
Bob is also sort of a pal but he worries me.
Mr Bloom is a thoughtful Jew, miles and miles from Trieste,
nestled, unsettled, under the gaze of doddery old Franz Josef:
K.u.K, Kaiserlich und Koeniglich, Coocoo, Kakka.
The world turns. On its axis. Not much choice.

At dinner parties, journalists back from war zones are occasionally asked what it was really like. Perhaps the most accurate answer would be to rape the hostess, murder the host, cut the children’s throats and set fire to the house, without any further explanation.

On his deathbed, Ettore calls for another cigarette.
This, he thinks, will really be the last one. The Last Time,
I don’t know. Benjamin thinks of the best way to die.
Stauffenberg, his mind ticking, looks down from a cracked
airplane window, sees the damp fields of Germany mutely yearning,
helplessly spread below. Soon I’ll be in Berlin. Soon we’ll all be
in Berlin, more a metaphor than a city. I was going to speak about
Bob and Honolulu. Bob arrived from Saigon as it was known then
after three years in Leavenworth, one of those maximum security
prisons where God-fearing white Americans send  unruly minorities
to moulder,  to grow old and crazy, die. Seems Bob had shot and killed
his Platoon Sergeant, some redneck hillbilly with a drinking problem,
stitched him across the chest, brrrppp, brrrrpp, brppp, oops, dead,
and said, I’m gettin the fuck outta here. They called it in on the radio
before the Cong wiped them out, every single last little lonely one,
and that was the end of Bob’s platoon. Bob, who was large and loony,
hijacked some poor (God-fearing) little chaplain in a jeep, rattled
his brains, and turned up with his papers at Tan Son Nhut, the airport.
First they sent him to Leavenworth and then they sent him to me.

I fell in love with Molokai. I used to go there once or twice a year
just to get away from the nyah-nyah shite of Honolulu.
There were no hotels, no cranky tourists, no grinning Japanese,
only ill-dressed locals in battered pickup trucks, a third of whom
were gay, gently fondling your balls (chug-chug went the motor),
softly sighing as the message of polite rejection sank slowly in.
They would bring pakololo to your campsite, bottles, slyly chide you.

In life you meet all sorts. Life, people, ding-ding, all that shite.
Bob was doing great until he murdered one of his passengers.
It was the night shift, I reckon the fucker deserved it, you’d almost
not want to drive on nights of the full moon, whatever people say,
the loonies would come out in squadrons. Some sweet little girlie
cracked my mate Jimmy’s head with a hammer, fractured his skull,
he’s never been the same since, tho’ not scintillating to start with.
War zone. That’s how, dear friends, I paid for my Masters degree.
The PLO, come to think of it, were doe-eyed lovely young men,
not a bit like the tattooed hard chaws in the well-trained Provies,
offhand little ‘do’s’ with both sets reduced me to trembling jelly.
I was never really a soldier, more like a civilian in uniform,
and I don’t like getting shot at. Sorry. Could be a personal thing.
One of those bullets smacks home and no more poems. I know.
I can see that hopeful glimmer in your eye.  Patience, please.
There’s always traffic accidents.

Ettore got banged up in a traffic accident, around 1927 or 37,
not great with the dates: his old pal JJ had helped to make him famous
in France, followed by the furiously blushing snobberie of literary Italy,
and he died in bed, which is generally a good thing, longing for the last,
that very last and final cigarette. Ah, such bliss (puff) to be alive ….

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

403. America Votes -- Don'cha Love It?

Midterm elections today with the Republicans reckoned to win control of the House -- they need something like 39 new seats and are thought to be heading for 50 or more. Only 37 seats up for grabs in the Senate where it's less likely the Republicans will reach a majority -- less likely but not impossible.

Midterms are generally a reaction against the President elected two years previously. Americans are impatient people and when the Mr Fixit elected in a glorious wreath of promises and declarations finds reality a tougher nut to crack, the American public duly turns against him. There never has been a her, not yet, and probably not for some time to come. Strange that other countries around the world, backward by definition, have already managed female presidents and prime ministers, but we obviously don't want to go there right now: don't want to be accused of 'America-bashing' which covers just about every damn thing any foreigner says about America that falls short of drooling praise. Not now.

Two of the things highlighted in this election round have been the enormous costs, apparently the highest ever (interesting, when one considers that the abyssmal state of the economy has been one of the main issues) and the prevalence of attack ads in which candidates, straining at the leash, fall slightly short of calling their enemies (sorry, opponents) sad camel-humping degenerate blobs of slime beneath their shoes, with some off-the-wall comments on witchcraft and ... was that some brand of after-shave? Terrible, terrible, but nothing new as Clancy Sigal reports below:

To refresh our memories: In 1800 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, once warm friends, tore each other apart because President Adams found himself running against candidate Jefferson.  Adams’s hacks called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived…son of a half-breed Indian squaw sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”   (Race mattered even then.)  Jefferson’s PR man, a proto-Karl Rove, slammed Adams as a “repulsive pedant” and “hideous hermaphroditical character.”  That’s before the mud slinging got really ugly, Tom labeling John as a hypocrite, criminal and tyrant anxious to drag us into war with France and John calling Tom a sex-mad atheist and coward. 

Mud stuck, and Tom stole – er, won – the election.   A few years later John Quincy Adams was called a pimp, and Andrew Jackson’s wife a slut and his mother a Negro-loving prostitute.  Davy Crockett accused Martin van Buren of wearing women’s corsets.  Of course Abe Lincoln was for slave-loving Democrats the “gorilla tyrant” – and he had stinky feet too.  In the 1884 elections Republicans accused nominee Grover Cleveland of fathering and abandoning an illegitimate child with the party slogan “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?”.  (And when Cleveland won the presidency the Democrats paid back with, “In the White House, ha ha ha!”)

Closer to modern times, Teddy Roosevelt running against obese William Howard Taft called him “a rat in a corner”, and William McKinley’s supporters tagged candidate William Jennings Bryan a crazy degenerate.  In my time, President Roosevelt was compared unfavorably to Hitler, had committed “the crime of the century” by giving Federal money to the jobless, was a demented paralytic cripple and probably Jewish (“Rosenfelt” was a common slur) and had a lesbian wife.   It follows that Jack Kennedy had to be the Pope’s captive, Barry Goldwater a dangerously psychotic warmonger, thrice-wounded Lt.John Kerry ‘swiftboated’ as a cowardly liar, and in the 2000 presidential primaries John McCain effectively lost the nomination when South Carolinians were leafleted that he had fathered an illegitimate black baby.
I confess to loving that "In the White House, ha ha ha!".

Are US midterm elections important in any way? Sure. They generally change the balance of power in the ornery, self-seeking, and very hard-to-handle legislative branch of government, usually to the detriment of the reigning President. Does this have international repercussions? Duh ... do bears hunt around for Portakabins? Does the Pope hang with Hare Krishna? When America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold; part of it come down with double-pneumonia when this or that program gets delayed, diluted or simply slashed or mashed. Do these voters and all these candidates in their hundreds of constituencies and havens of local concern know or even care? Course not. It's just too much to hold in people's brains which have about a 500 cc capacity to start with. Hell, what's that in ounces?

The really dangerous thing is that policy-making loses continuity, stutters, bends to the winds of political change. The Chinese don't have to worry about that. Democracy is not just an excuse for everyone to argue and fight and shout others down. It's a system of government based on the idea that power derives from the people and not from a traditional sheltered elite, although there is this tendency among the rich and well-connected in all nations. A democratic nation depends on the wisdom and common sense of its collective citizenry. A totalitarian nation doesn't have to: it just tells people what to do, or else. When the two systems come in conflict there is an initial advantage to the powers run by central rule. This goes back to the Greeks and Persians. Hitler revived the Asiatic ideal in the very heart of Europe, as did Stalin in Russia. The real history of the Second World War is how these two conflicting political empires tore each other apart like snarling wolves. The British "won" by holding out in their island fortress in 1940-41 and waiting for America to come to its aid. America, dilatory as usual, hung around for a few years and came in to bomb Germany and apply the coup de grace in the Normandy invasion, when the war had already been lost by the Germans in the East. This is not the history you learn in school but this is what actually happened. The German Wehrmacht was broken on the Eastern Front where they took 8 out of 10 of their total casualties. The Russians lost millions, not only soldiers but civilians.

The subsequent Cold War between the US and USSR changed the whole way of thinking about how Nazi Germany had really been defeated. Just look at the movies, the comics, the TV shows, every damn thing. Of all the nations involved the United States suffered the least. I'm talking in terms of comparison with other nations. The US had military casualties, many, but far fewer than other combatant nations and hardly any civilian casualties to speak of. Their homeland was never under threat. They were never bombed or invaded. There were no refugees on the roads. The country went on pretty much as normal, as it had during all its wars since the last real war on its own territory which was the Civil War of 1861-65. Every war since then has been in other countries which provides us with the "F" in the VFW cap badge. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. No way! From any point of view it was a damn good thing. Who needs burning cities, dead children, concentration camps?

The distance from the real horror of war -- the stinks and the smells, the collapsed rubble of towns, the bloated bodies of humans and animals scattered all over -- has inoculated this country in a way to the decline of respect for the military in Europe. Europe, having seen two devastating wars in the 20th century, wants no further part of militarism. All the pomp of the Kaiser and his goose-stepping armies, not to mention Hitler with his tens of thousands of troops in steel helmets at mass Party rallies, is a thing nobody ever wants to see again. We all know what happened. No, thank you! Military officers do not wear uniform in public in European countries and the enlisted men would never even consider it. Conscription does still exist in some countries (the most effective of all is in Switzerland, probably the most historically belligerent country in Europe, but that is a strange Minute-Man story all of its own) and the general status of professional military people is low. Been there, done it, never again, is the public attitude.

The public attitude in America remains totally different. The military hold a position of respect. It's OK to wear your uniform in public. No politician would ever dare criticize the military (have you ever heard one doing so?) The military are as American as Mom and apple pie. Why? Because, I would suggest, the civilian population of the US  has never had to live through any of its wars since 1865. They haven't actually seen or experienced what war is actually like. It's all movies and TV and computer games. Sure, the military went through a bad patch during and after Vietnam -- but that was far away and overseas. Some poor returning GIs, survivors, got spat upon by ignorant anti-war activists, and I call them ignorant for the good and simple reason that they were spitting on the wrong people. But memories are short. The hippie chicks of the 60s are, many of them, roly-poly grandmothers -- with a little stash of weed on the side. Vietnam might as well be a million years ago.

If there was an active national memory (take Germany, for example, or even Japan) there would be no rush on the part of any young men to engage in a new war. If you don't know what war really is, how destructive it can be, and if it doesn't affect your own home and community, it can become a false test of manhood. God Bless You, Son ... Defend the Flag! The Hemingway, the John Wayne mystique: once people read books, later they learned about life from movies. Ironically, a great deal of this nationalist fog derives from Germans such as Fichte and Schelling, Schopenhauer and poor bloody Nietzsche. The whole neo-Prussian ideal under Bismarck (partially effective) and the wild-eyed revival under the (eventually self-destructive) Nazis came from these airy-fairy philosophical sources extolling the supremacy of the nation-state . Mystical, unquestioned nationalism. But that's OK. Only foreigners are nationalists. Americans are patriots.

This is where I remind you about China. It's huge. Every fifth person on the planet is Chinese. I was in Peking (Beijing) last July-August and the young people there were open and friendly but blame their unhappiness (not enough goddam money) not on their own government but on the Japanese. Huh? They are incredibly nationalistic, or should that be patriotic? Since I was there these young people have been out on huge anti-Japanese demonstrations (late September) and all the violence and noise comes across as an "allowed" diversion policy orchestrated by the government. You'd have to be really dumb to forget Tian-An-Men Square in '89.

If the people are unhappy, wrote Machiavelli back in the 1200s, the Prince must direct their rage on outsiders. Over the centuries, this paleo-con policy still seems to work. The Chinese seem to use it effectively, and so do some American politicians when their target is immigrants, possibly the hardest-working people in the country. Always target the outsider. If you trawl through the oral histories of any immigrant group into the US from the Famine Irish of the 1840s to the Boat People Vietnamese of the 1970s you'll find the same sad story of intense local hostility. The Negroes, now elevated to the title of Afro-Americans, have been living this story for, what, nearly 400 years?

But this election doesn't really seem to be about foreign policy  does it? The economy, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, the Mexican Border (if that works, what's to stop the Canadians building a fence to keep the Yanks out?),  environmental protection, health care, one hears about all these things but very little about the two wars that are smouldering (Iraq) and intensifying (Afghanistan), in the latter country to the point of possible defeat. Even Lord Petraeus admits the US can't defeat the Taliban according to Woodward's recent book on Obama's War. The best plan is, apparently, to separate them from Al Quaida and go after AQ in Pakistan instead. Sure, guys, run into nuclear military-run Pakistan, presently funding the Taliban through unacknowledged elements of ISI, their military intelligence branch, while the government is also engaged in a proxy war with nuclear India using militants in Kashmir and (very secretly) arranging the terrorist attack on Mumbai.

Simple. Americans are can-do people. We make plans.
Right. Well, that's OK, then.

The British were facing more or less the same problems with the unruly Afghans back in 1897 when a young junior officer, some uppity pudgy little chap , wrote a book about it called 'The Malakand Field Force'. His name was ... em ... Winston ... Winston Spencer Something.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

402. Major the Honourable P. Arker

Four miles over the thing
the road begins, complaisant, lovely
just what you'd expect. When I look I see nothing
and everything, kaleidolly, scopically, slotting
bangles and hairworn twisted tangles
into dust. I must be brave. I can only save
some, not many; perhaps, I think,
not any, as the rivers race down to the sea.
I could have been happy, you know, as these things go,
in Middleton Park, 28,  just down the row,
happily coming home for tea
with my mad mother, my distanced father,
books in the library and a bit of cricket
on bumpy greens with a snarling yeomanry.
When I hit my ball through your window, darling,
did you hold it in a lewd lascivious way, thinking
Omigod I can carry on from this. When I had to piss
in the trenches (the War), booting aside the bodies,
I never thought of that, I thought of kidney pies
and roast pork and crackling. My mouth positively
watering with the thought of everything but you.
It's true you stood beside me on the hustings,
leatherlunged, God Bless You, in the khaki election
and I was so happy. Alive, like, after the war.
I'm so awfully sorry I had to murder you, doll,
but you were becoming such a pain and you wouldn't listen
so with a wink and a nod the lads did you in
and I attached myself to Churchill, the coming man,
and with my red-rimmed eyes and hoarse croaky voice
he believed every thing I told him. This radar, I said,
is a waste of time, and don't send boats to Dunkirk.
Bombing Germany is total nonsense, Winnie you berk,
and tell the bloody Yanks to back off, stay home.
I managed to extend the war by two or three years.
Later, when I was running my high-class nightclub
between several bombed-out buildings down in Soho
the girls would come screaming for champagne, naturally,
and so we'd give them shaken Algerian fizz. In this way
we set the taste for the next three generations. 
Later still, when I was elevated to the House of Lords,
I voted against everything, we always did on principle,
and had a charming pied a terre in nearby Pimlico,
where, rising from bed among languorous naked bodies
I'd complain, Can't you bitches cook an English Breakfast?
Laughter. I'd knot my tie, slope down to the Allingham Café
for bangers and mash, bacon, toast and railway tea.
And this is how I ruled Britain for the next twenty years.
Bring back hanging! I became peculiar and more dangerous
and was incarcerated off in the wilds of Walthamstow
not far from the High Street pub called the "Victoria"
where I'd appear on gala nights in tutu and lace stockings
because I knew the manager and they couldn't fence me in.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

401. Auden Reads Robertson Davies

In darkness, deep complexity,
dots of light and understanding
shine amid perplexity.

Words are not mere signifiers
for untold millions of civilians.

No, they act as signal fires,
calling, reassuring, reaching down

into shared uncertainty,
(born too late or born too soon)
deep in the human cocoon.

400. Moscow Ballet: 1917 (rewritten as a Rainis Sonnet)

This poem was rewritten in collaboration with Tony of Poetry Magnum Opus who introduced me to the form and came up with two alternate versions; he also contributed the final killer couplet!

Lithe and willowy, the sad-eyed soubrette
retreats from stares. Her alabaster lips
seal in cares she cannot speak of yet,
her gliding young body sways and dips.

Hidden are the yellow rotting fangs
brought on by war. In art she can forget
for passing moments her hunger pangs.

Grace under pressure by a crushed coquette,
foreshadow years of Soviet roulette.


Rainis Sonnet is a short meditation. Whether or not it is a true sonnet is up for debate. It is a lyrical meditation with a turn or volta, however it is shorter than the usual quatorzain of the sonnet. It is named for the Latvian philosopher and poet Janis Rainis (1868-1929)

Rainis Sonnet is:

1. written in 9 lines made up of a quatrain, followed by a tercet ending with a couplet.
2. metered, primarily iambic pentameter.
3. rhymed, turned on only 3 rhymes. Rhyme scheme abab (cbc or cac) and (aa or bb or cc).
4. written with the epiphany arriving in the tercet.

(with thanks to our very own Tink of PMO!)

Original version:

Young and willowy, the sad young soubrette
retreats from glances; she cannot say, not yet,
anything from behind her closed alabaster lips
as her body sways and moves, glides and dips.

Those lips press over stunted decaying yellow fangs
that all young Russians possess, from hunger pangs
brought on by poverty, despair, and this dreadful war
and they do not, cannot, understand what life is for.

Yet in moments of beauty and stylish grace
attention turns from a suffering face.

399. in a field of sorrow fling your medals at flying birds

Three-sevenths of my precious world
is under water, no longer responding to signals,
desparate signals, sent out by a mind, a brain,
itself water-logged, now somewhat clogged
by thoughts. O God, thoughts! Them things.

I recall an old newsreel, possibly from the BBC,
some hesitant bloke at the top of the Eiffel Tower,
strapped into homemade wings, his own invention,
hoping against hope he can fly. He stands thinking
much like me: I will, I won't. I must, I can't.

In late August at the Berghof, 1939,
an angry roiling sky of purple, green, azure, pink
confronts Herr Hitler and his retinue
on the very day the Soviet pact is signed
and they stand and look, appalled: this means
death and rivers of blood cries a Hungarian lady:
Was muss sein muss sein, barks a rattled Fuehrer,
thinking men, not the gods, control destiny.

Our man on the Eiffel Tower pauses  ... now he jumps!
He drops like a stone, a few moments for final thoughts,
maybe like Hitler. Sense of the end before the sickening SPLAT.
Expectation can make cowards of us all.
We do many things we do not want to, do not have to do
out of pride, out of the shame of turning back,
often out of the fear of being seen to turn back.
It is a feature of the weak to carry through with their convictions.

In the face of much misery and boredom there may be love
for the lucky few: there are times, my dear, when it seems
that the world passes by in a great parade, a rigoumalade
of kings and emperors, ticker-tapes for heroes, marching soldiers
and blasting bands and bunting, wild and waving cheering crowds.
It is never a bad thing to have a holiday: elections and wars
in their starting and in their ending seem to fill the streets
with non-involved citizens in an excess of emotion, an expression
of their national, safely removed, detached and private feeling.

Coming back from the war, this left me reeling.
I was unimpressed. I think this is true for all temporary soldiers.

I thought I might find some private paradise
between your thighs, heaving and groaning with gasping sighs,
but found instead your face and eyes, and something else.
When we visit Paris, long after this, our splendid honeymoon,
I shall not jump off the Eiffel Tower, with or without wings.
I shall do nothing to displease you, love, unless my love
you hold my hand. So easy then to jump together.

398. Anno Dom

O God, O God, O God,
get your blessed head out of the clouds
and look down here below, or else
give a final dumb paternal nod
to idiots speaking in Your Name!

Hindus and Muslims share the blame
of birth, brought up outside the empire
of our great cathedrals: here the stamp of grandeur
establishes holiness, in a place where shame
is thrown upon women, upon the weak,

and with contempt: the dark thick mud of centuries,
the long long generations of living in darkness.
But suddenly, O, such soaring music!

We are told to turn the other cheek
but never do. We engage in warfare,
unceasingly, with better and better weapons,
pretend all the while we are mild and meek,
kill people in their thousands.

Monday, September 27, 2010

397. The Eblana Reel

Three burning castles shall no longer illumine
my Dublin dreams, nor will splintering glass
awake me, nor heavy knocks at the shuddering door.


Sweety-pie, my Dove, my Love,
Pleeze, pu-leeze be true … ting!
Angelina, Angelina ...


carried her chest to Argentina …
both of them, by God, bazooms,
and a spare one in the baggage


What?? But … but that’s outrageous!
You can’t possibly expect people to believe …
Omigod, you have the photographs?

All right, all right, I’ll do it.

Herr Hitler this is Senor Franco
No doubt you will wish to discuss the War
over a refreshing cup of Irish Coffee?

I’m in love with love and loveliness
myself. I cannot, Lord, quite help it:

Three sugars?

Tha buaidh air an uisge-bheath'
Tha buaidh air cha chòr e cleith
Tha buaidh air an uisge-bheath'
Gun òlainn teth is fuar i.

But you must tell me more, dear Adolf,
Well, yes, all right … Adi Baby,
Was Geli the Right Girl for you?

She was quite young, I believe?
Ahhhhh …. Hmmmm. Ah. Hmmmm.
Rotten luck she shot herself,

and now you do be with another young wan
in your big house there in the mountains?
Jolly piece, is she? Ah, that’s a step up, Adi.

She wants wha’? Kiss and make up with the Jews?
Fair play, but you can't allow that class of carry-on!
Step down hard, Adi, ship off another two million

and she's sure to come round, she'll be all over you,
sure, you'll be having to dig yourself outta her!
I crossed the frontier that evening just in time

not that the French had much going for them.
Dunno why nobody seems to like the French,
I’ve never had a problem with the bastards

apart from money, and that’s always the women,
great big fat craythurs with moustaches and abaci,
them clickety things, got up in their black bombazine,

eyes on them like gimlets, doing me bleedin head in
down in Mers-el-Kebir or wherever that place I was,
with the ocean, the Mediterranean, it must have been,

crashing on the shore, and the oul head none too steady
after those seven bottles of local plonk the night before
which I knew it was bad after the fifth, but carried on.

Soldiers, soldiers, such as we
Serve in the King’s Infanterie!
Bravely, bravely we’ll advance
Our Monarch’s fame we shall enhance!
Mister Cope do you have a hope
To shoot the head from off the Pope?

I’ve always had a fancy for that jolly little song
even as a Catholic, as if the Pope really needs me,
some oul' swarthy Italian git, I geeve you my blessssing,
my shhonn, I steek my finger up your …

That tune now, it’s so essentially English,
dunno how to express it rightly, it’s sprightly,
bouncy, so very jolly and profoundly stupid,
so English, expressing the genius of the race

who are without doubt gawky simpletons at play,
hee-hawing, dressing up with delight in silly costumes,
but hard as steel in business, harder still in war.

I do not think I love them.
I can't think of anyone who loves them.
And yet they seem to love themselves.

Hello, I am English. Do you love me?

Angelina, Angelina,
believes in things I no longer care about,
stalks me from a previous century.

God, I know, I can be stiff and boring!
Boring you, dear, when stiff, and poking fun
at the thrust of your missionary disposition:

you clutch a Bible in your left little hand
and a baby-pink (oiled & ribbed) in the other
and I fear you, my dear, your raw demand!

For now the wimp is limp,
half-hearted, garrulous,
what you might call Welsh.

O Darling!

You are the finest woman I have ever seen
(from a distance, anyway).
May we meet, my love, in Stephen’s Green.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

396. Vita summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.  

           -- James Elroy Flecker

Too much bone and blood
and fortitude, too much straining
for the evanescent: passing years
drip by, form streams, gurgling,
receding, all too rapidly draining
to where we are today. I must say
there were some bloody great parties,
helpless laughter, incandescent trysts
with ladies now of a certain age,
fresh and gorgeous in my memory.

Girls are lovely, they really are,
most of all when they are young,
coming up like fresh little flowers
in each generation: the young boys
never figure this out, thinking the present
will last forever. Sad. Sad, also silly.

Detached from our purblind monomania,
age executes its subtle daily attacks
on hairlines, jowls and bellies; we rarely
seem to pay much heed or attention,
until, after a sudden glance in a mirror,
or faced with a photo of a recent funeral,
(not so long ago we attended weddings)
we think, Jesus God, can that be me?
No, it is not me. It is a cruel parody
of the brave young man shining within.

Too much bone and blood
and fortitude, too much straining
for the evanescent: how the years
drip-drip, creating streams, gurgling
down the diverse and the dreary drains
to where we are today. I must say
we had some bloody great parties!
Helpless laughter, incandescent clicks
with ladies now of a certain age,
fresh and gorgeous in my memory.
Girls are lovely, they really are,
most of all when they are young,
coming up like fresh little flowers
in each generation: the young boys
can’t figure this out, thinking the present
will last forever. Sad, but it never does.
For us non-gay boys it doesn’t matter;
automatically married, dazed, a bit
sidetracked, a bit blind to our senses,
a bit unaware in our purblind monomania
to how age executes its savage attacks
on hairlines, jowls, and bellies, we never
notice or pay attention to these things,
until with a sudden glance in a mirror,
or faced with a photo at so-and-so’s funeral
(until not so long ago it was weddings)
we think, Jesus God, can that be me?
No, it is not me. It is a parody.
I am the brave young man that shines within.

Monday, September 13, 2010

395. West Clare, August

The wind, rippling across unruly fields,
is chill, not warm, on this summer night,
and it runs in a rush down the narrow road
between tangled bushes of unripe berries.
A tall shape appears, dark from the darkness,
a bicycle of the sturdy kind, its dim light dancing,
of a type much admired by bachelor farmers.
A song, a sweet tenor, separates from the air,
and the clear heart-breaking song of youth
arises: it is the thrush-like throat of Dinny Joe,
who was all of eighty-four when the sister died,
his housekeeper, last year or the year before?
I retreat without words into silent shadows
for I would not for the world interrupt him
as he cycles into darkness, legend and death.

The wind that rustles the fields of grain
is chill, not warm, on summer nights,
as it runs in a rush down the narrow road
among tangled bushes of unripe berries.
A tall shape appears, dark from the darkness,
a bicycle of the sturdy kind, its dim light dancing,
of a type much admired by bachelor farmers.
A song, a sweet tenor, separates from the air,
and the clear heart-breaking song of youth
comes from the thrush-like throat of Dinny Joe,
who was all of eighty-four when his sister died,
his housekeeper, last year, or was it the year before?
I retreat without thinking into silent shadows
for I would not for the world interrupt him
as he cycles into darkness, legend and death.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

394. The Easter Rising

All is changed, changed utterly,
A terrible beauty is born

-- W.B. Yeats

Idiots, really,
drunk on oratory and illusions:
a poet's rebellion with real bullets.

I love how they went to the tailors,
taking fittings for fine new uniforms,
tunics and belts to be buried in.

It was the style of the thing --
sauntering out, sartorially splendid,
at lunchtime on a public holiday.

Christ is crucified.
Christ is risen.
Christ will live again.

A sidelong smirk, a furtive wave,
Jayzus, Jim, and what’s the craic?
Can’t talk, Joe, I’m on Parade!

The GPO. Left Wheel! Attack!
Look here, young fella, do you mind,
amn’t I next in the queue for stamps!

Kindly leave the premises, madam:
Volunteer Muldoon! On yer bike, missus,
G’wan, get away on out of it.

Run up the flag, the Plough and Stars!
Read out the lengthy Proclamation!
Ehh, ... hell's that fella after sayin’?

Look, here come the bloody Lancers!
Clippety-clopping along the cobblestones:
Volunteers! Five rounds rapid … Fire!

O God, dey do be dead!
Bear up, Muldoon, they are the enemy.
Feck the sojers, dem lubbly horses!

Agnus Dei
qui tollis peccata mundi

The English are capitalists, says Connolly,
they would never destroy public property!
Soon shells rain down on the central city.

Machine guns, snipers, rake the roadsteads,
and in little heaps, in shapeless huddled rags,
stray civilians go down in the crossfire.

Explosions, the zing and ring and ping
of bullets caroming off the stonework:
Get away, ya bleedin' hoor, ya missed!

Fires take hold, walls glow, grow white-hot,
the ceiling burns, then sags, starts to collapse:
ammunition low, the lads keep banging away.

We must charge the barricades, cries Connolly,
Jayz, Muldoon, yeh shoulda stopped in the pub!
Ehh, could we not, like, crawl behind them, sorr?

Hippety-hop, out one of the side doors,
the bullets spark on the flags of Henry Street:
a skip and a jump and it’s into Henry Lane.

Fires all around, bullets at every crossroad,
sandbag redoubts at the end of each street:
The O’Rahilly leaps up and leads a charge

but they’re all knocked over, bowled like skittles,
bleeding, groaning, beside upturned market barrows
among the cabbage leaves and cauliflowers.

It’s then that a bemused Commandant Pearse,
after seven days of ceaseless noise and slaughter,
decides the time has come to pack things in.

But how to get the English to stop firing?
White flags have been no help to the poor civilians,
nor even the sad appeasement of Union Jacks.

The Army over time has gone wild and feral,
enraged by the sting of huge, unexpected losses,
it means to impose revenge on this rebel City.

Let me try, says the nurse, Elizabeth O’Farrell,
and with a great big wave of her Red Cross flag,
she boldly steps out in the street …

And the English hold their fire.
Silence: Christ is on the Cross.

What follows is a tale of the times:
General Lowe, the British Officer Commanding,
cannot accept surrender from a woman!

Three hours later, the whole thing’s over,
and we can see the blurred but famous photo:
Pearse surrenders to General Lowe.

It’s over, so quixotic, so silly,
such a desperate hopeless military fling
in the face of a furious Empire

(who were none too bloody pleased
at this stab in the back, as they saw it,
in the midst of a War they were losing!)

Comes the question of retribution,
and with it comes the turning point,
when England loses Ireland forever.

With their city thrown into flaming ruins,
the populace is enraged, and not with the English,
but with these home-grown damn'd fanatics!

When the prisoners are led to the docks
the whole city turns out to jeer and pelt them:
Look at yez now, yeh bleedin’ bowsies!

England has only to be calm and cool,
to be reassuring, play on the prevailing mood,
but opts instead for savage executions.

First there is silent and stunned disbelief,
whispered murmurings, a stirring of anger,
and then the photographs begin to appear.

Images of the executed leaders proliferate,
first in private homes, then in gathering places,
then in public places throughout the land.

When the troops go angrily tearing them down,
the well-known stubborn streak comes out,
and the mood of the whole country changes.

The lads fought a fair fight, stood up to them,
and were good clean-living boys, the most of them.
No need to go shooting them down like animals!

Christ is Crucified.
Christ is Risen.
Christ Will Live Again.

1916 was the blood sacrifice,
a purity of belief that stayed in our minds
and gave rise to Irish freedom.

When I think of the men of 1916
I wish I had been one among them,
racing down to the barricades

and fighting for Ireland, not actually dying,
(Muldoon muddled through, very glad to hear it)
just dodging the bullets, having the craic

and then boring the pants off people in the pub,
cadging drinks on the strength of a '16 Medal
for ever and ever and ever and ever. Amen.

Slideshow link:

Pearse surrenders to General Lowe at the top of Moore Street. Elizabeth O'Farrell has been airbrushed out of the photo (one can see her feet and the hem of her skirt beside the feet of Pearse).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

393. With the World Cup Over, Is There Nothing Left to Live For?

Oh well, another disgusting final. I'm glad Spain won (mildly) since it would have been an affront to see the brutal hacking Dutch walk off with the prize. I like the Dutch, who doesn't, but not this team.

What's to do now for the next four years? Slip back into the black hole of anonymity ... if that's even a word. Work. Earn less money than I spend. Spend it anyway. Write. Enjoy cooking. Drink less. Eat more pickles. Avoid young & beautiful women. Search Google Images for pictures they'll ALLOW me to use to illustrate this shoestring Blog. Go to Peking next Wednesday ... that should be good.

Friday, July 09, 2010

392. Spain Brings Germany to Heel 1-0

 The Germans had been doing so well, racking up four goals in three separate matches, and they'd been playing a very attractive kind of football. They were so lightning quick on the counter-attack and could move the ball down the field in seconds. England looked absolutely stodgy and clueless against them and the vaunted Argentines simply fell apart. Then they came up against (arguably) the best team in the world. They certainly didn't buckle under and held on as dangerous contenders throughout most of the game. The Spanish were just the better team. The score doesn't really reflect the psychological game. The eager young German team tried everything and none of it worked. The Spanish foiled all of their moves and took over the game, inexorably imposing their superiority. The Germans simply couldn't rattle them. The header was brutal, to be honest, had nothing to do with the finesse of the passing game till then, but you could almost see the Germans losing heart. Schweinsteiger (pig-climber?) started losing his cool as did Ozil and Klose -- my personal bete-noir for reasons below -- and desperation began to set in. They began to realise they couldn't crack the Spanish defence. It was an absolutely intriguing game to watch.

Fair dues to the Germans, though. They were a young team with many players brought up from their Under-21s -- England take note!! -- and they played excellent attacking football against the big-name stars of the Premier League and South America. Spain simply contained them and then struck for the winning goal. Germany were hardly humiliated but they were taught a lesson in football all the same. You can be sure many of these same German players will show up in World Cup 2014 with more experience and could prove to be even more lethal. They played extemely well and they have nothing to be ashamed of.

I was hoping for a Holland-Germany final, if only for the drama. It would be like Celtic-Rangers on the world stage. Every match these two teams play is a mini-war with sheer hatred being the driving force. In the runup to the England-Germany match the British tabloids were plugging the Battle of Britain and World War Two but the Germans were basically indifferent. They are never indifferent when they play against Holland which they see as their main rivalry.

Too bad about that. Spain-Holland (a European Final, who says we've lost the plot and become a shower of wimps?) is almost as good, but the Dutch are going to have a hard time cracking the Spanish nut. The Dutch are tough, spirited and opportunistic in the best traditions of high-seas piracy but this Spanish team is so good, so confident, so abundantly bursting with talent that they'd be very lucky to win. Even so, this is football. You can never predict what is going to happen. We have a good match to look forward to next Sunday!

In my unbounded enthusiasm for the Spanish team I nearly forgot to add on the reasons I dislike Klose and would like to give him a good root up the arse. It goes back, as many things do, to the World Cup in Japan/Korea in 2002.

It was impossible to get tickets. People who were here then can remember that distinctly. Anyway, a pal from Ireland was coming over with spares and I could go to all three matches in the qualifying round if I wanted. This was June, but with the end of term exams looming I couldn't go mad altogether. Choose one, I told myself. Obviously that would be Germany-Ireland.

We met up in Tokyo and went off in a cattle train to the ground in Ibaraki. You can read the details here.

The Irish fans outnumbered the Germans by about 10-1. It was a Sea of Green and the Japanese wearing German kit were suitably intimidated. We had the bodhrans going ratatatat and we were roaring out The Fields of Athenry. The German team looked rattled when their national anthem sort of drifted away into the sultry air and ours shook the very foundations of the stadium. The match was nervy to start with as many first round matches are. The Germans were the superior team but the Irish were doing what they do best, tackling very hard, chasing every ball, and mounting unexpected counterattacks. The first half was inconclusive until Klose, an incomparable predator it has to be said, got his head to a high ball in the area just below where we were sitting and flicked an unstoppable header past Shay Given. It was a brilliant goal, but it's what happened next that pissed us off. He did his usual run and slide along his knees, fists pumping. So far what you'd expect. Then he stood up and shook his fist at the Irish fans in the stand with a look of pure malice on his narrow face. What?? This was met with a shower of Boos. Righty-o, mate, your card is marked!

End of first-half. Ireland down 1-0 ... I mean, it was a good goal ,,, but the fans are seething over this arrogant bastard. Second half goes back and forth, a few chances here and there, nothing serious, time starts running away. Next thing you know we're into overtime -- 4 minutes. First minute, nothing happens; second and third minutes, ditto, and then in the last thirty seconds of the game Robbie Keane bursts through into the area and slots one past the large and hairy German goalkeeper, Kahn. Goal! For a moment there is stunned silence and then the whole stadium erupts in a roar of delight from the throats of 5 or 6000 Irishmen. Tweet! goes the whistle and that'ts the end of the match. The German team seems to disappear in about twenty seconds and the Irish do the rounds of the pitch soaking up the cheers of the fans for ... oh, I don't know ... 10, 15, 20 minutes?

I'd told my school I'd be away for two days. But the match is on Tuesday (or Wednesday, or whatever, it was a weekday) and you can return that night or the next morning, surely? Ahh, no, I don't think so. My friends want me to show them around Tokyo. Total bullshit. I knew damn well that win, draw, or lose we'd be legless until 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning either celebrating or commiserating and that I'd be in no fit state for any sort of social intercommunication until well into the following afternoon and possibly for some time thereafter. Good thinking for so it proved. The Irish took over half the bars of Tokyo that night with our flags and songs. Ah, Klose, you miserable bastard: it's never as easy as you think!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

391. Saved from the Flames

Excerpts from Granddad's Diaries
(the bits Grandma couldn't find to burn)

In my younger days I'd gape
at famous people: I was a fool,
when I think about it. I’d forgotten
the old and everlasting rule
that nothing, nobody lasts forever.

Too many friends
having topped themselves,
not very well, hardly
artistically, often with rather
messy consequences

I thought, I felt, well ...

My dear! Have you seen
what a train can do to a human body?
Grotesque! I had to identify
Emil in his various pieces.
Only his signet ring was conclusive.

I thought, but thinking
in those days, as in any day

was not encouraged … I harboured doubts,
let's say, as to whether literature was the path
to tread, waiting for my mind to be pure or totally dead
among many high-strung fine-featured females,
who never once, not once, were seen naked and beguiling,
and who had no intention ever, never,
of becoming naked, or of being beguiling,
as they could have ... so easily done, the bitches,
by sliding happily, gloriously into bed,
by being nice to you, making the whole world
in a moment ten thousand times better.

They carry around their god-given bodies
nervously, without an ounce of comprehension:
words, words, so many words instead.

The mustachioed pale-faced gentlemen
held delicate scented handkerchiefs
to their bony twitching noses, ultra refined,
leaving no echo of the sweat the blood and stink
of Arminius, of the looming Nazi hooligans,
who were coming on, like Werner.

He came up to me at the ‘Babalanka’
one of these forgettable but fantastic
cosy places we used to love in Berlin:
fizzy very bad champagne on the tables,
young girls pretending to be loose and wild
while thinking about Papa, of their riding lessons
on the weekend. Hello, Jew.

That’s what he said. I was so incensed,
amused, I let him believe it. After that,
throughout all my outrageous spying forays,
he protected me. He thought I was a Jew homosexual,
not one but two counts against me. He was
visibly startled and in spite of himself, impressed.
After the war started, not long after,
the Yanks, the Irish, pushed out the boat of neutrality
while the Brits, Canadians and the rowdy Australians,
and even the quiet New Zealanders (all three),
swiftly skedaddled. I was able to pick up
some used furniture on the cheap. The Germans
were not keen on the idea of war. It was obvious
they hated the whole idea. Um Gottes Will,
they said, downing liters at the local, Was soll denn
das alles sein
? (the fuck’s this all about then?)

So, no enthusiasm. None whatsoever.
I was scribbling all of this happily down
and sending it out through US embassy pouches
thanks to Nick and weird Oklahoma Julie
because the so-called Irish embassy was run by
one of our very own anti-British fascist manqué,
a total blinkered idiot, so shaming, you didn’t
even want to go to the receptions. But I did

occasionally, so that’s how I first met Hermann Goering.
I’d brought a wee tin whistle and that's what got him going.
I played a few tunes, a jig, a reel, and then a plaintive air
and the fat fucker just went berserk, mouthing off
about Aryan purity and asking me up for the weekend,
so I went off to his place up at Karinhall. My God!
You wouldn’t believe the luxury this fellow lived in,
wall-to-wall paintings and tapestries and sculptures
and the whole bloody house lined in marble. He was
on his best behaviour, slapping me on the back,
bad-mouthing the English, saying the Irish were so pure.

Idiot. The fuck he knows about the Irish.
Anything that happens outside of Germany,
these people simply don't have a clue, I mean,
look at Ribbentrop: he says “Heil Hitler” to the King.
Then he hates England because the English laugh at him.
I laugh at him too. That’s normal. Even the Germans
want to laugh at him but that, of course, is not allowed,
Strengst Verboten! not in a land where an unguarded remark
can send you straight to prison. I'm sorry I bought
the furniture; I really think I ought to leave.

I got back to Berlin and who’s sitting in my room,
there in the chair at the foot of my bed, but Werner?
The hell you doing here, I say, pass over my pajamas!
I have message for you, Bernd, you must send please.
O God, that’s how it started. Neutrality, I’d have to say,
went out the window. The Americans got chucked out
in ’41 after Pearl Harbor, the Irish stayed on. Not many.

By then we knew what side we were on. Oh, but listen,
must tell you! Must tell you about the time I met Herr Hitler
and taught him a few words of Irish, Conas ata tú,
which I hope, you know, he took with him to the grave
along with Eva Braun. He could have turned to her
in their last moments, smiled and said: Conas ata tú ?
How are you? How are you? How are you?
She'd have had no reply, she never did, I only met her
the one time and it was Hermann who introduced us,
and after that to some sly sarcastic little dwarf,
a very nasty little piece of work who faded out of the picture
after I’d challenged him to a foot race: a name with “b” or “g”.

Werner was gobsmacked when I left for Sweden
so casually in the winter of ’43. You could still do that then,
even after Stalingrad. The truth hadn’t quite hit them.
I met him after the war in Hamburg, running a bar on the Reeperbahn.
People like Werner never go under, they just bob to the surface
while others are dying in droves all around them. They flourish,
eat well, screw and drink. He looked at me cagily, benevolently,
still thinking I was a corkscrew Jew so I pretended to kiss him,
but his smile went rigid when I whispered in his ear.
Crooks (this is the good thing) don't write books.

390. Germany Annihilates Argentina 4-0

Golly, this is no joke any more!

I am nearly praying for a Holland-Germany Final!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

389. Germany Demolishes England 4-1

So much for a rivalry. Germany made certain just who the better soccer club was Sunday by sending England off the pitch hanging their heads and on the bitter end of a 4-1 defeat in the first round of the knockout rounds of the 2010 World Cup. England controlled the tempo early on but could not overcome some precise ball movement from Germany and an unrewarded goal as Germany asserted themselves as the top team for at least one day.

Germany struck first blood when Miroslav Klose, who missed Germany's 1-0 victory over Ghana due to suspension, made his impact. Klose nudged the ball past England goalkeeper David James twenty minutes in. the score brought Klose three goals away from a tie for the all-time World Cup scoring record, held by Ronaldo of Brazil. Klose had made it clear that he intended to at least tie the record during this World Cup.

Miroslav Klose slots in Germany's first in the 20th minute

Twelve minutes later Lukas Podolski scored an incredible goal at a very tough angle, just barely hitting the far corner of the goal to put Germany up 2-0. England was quick to respond with a goal of their own, coming from Matthew Upson on a header roughly five minutes later. Then controversy took center stage as England's Frank Lampard kicked a ball off the cross bar of the German goal. The ball landed behind the goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and should have been a clear goal to tie the match (more on this goal below), but the refs failed to see where the ball landed. With no video replay system in order with FIFA the score remained 2-1 in favor of Germany.

England attempted a furious come back in the second half but Germany showed better athleticism and a better scheme to solidly put England away. On a free kick by England's Lampard the Germans defended nicely and created a 3-on-1 rush up field to the England goal. Thomas Müller capitalized on the rush by notching his first goal of the match to put Germany up 3-1 with 67 minutes played. Just three minutes later Müller once again scored a goal to put Germany up 4-1. At that point it was clear that Germany was going to cruise to the next round as England appeared deflated.

It did appear clear that with the first half winding down, England had in fact tied the match at two goals a piece. A shot by Frank Lampard hit the cross bar and landed clearly behind the goal line, as seen on television cameras, by at least a foot. Regardless, the refs missed the goal as they were behind the play and had a poor angle.

In this combination image composed of five photos, Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer looks at the ball hitting the bar and bouncing over the line during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Germany and England at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Sunday, June 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

England never scored again and allowed two more goals the rest of the way so one might say the unrewarded goal would not have changed anything. But to argue that would be ridiculous as the whole course of a game could have been altered if England had gone in to the half tied with Germany, rather than trailing and needing to press more for a goal. England came out in the second half on a mission and played the more aggressive soccer, but they may have used up all of their energy in efforts to tie the match. Had the game been correctly tied then England could have played a different style in the second half, before running out of energy and seeing Germany blitz past them.

-- report from Kevin McGuire at Germany Football Examiner, June 27

Friday, June 25, 2010

388. Why Are We Not Surprised Dept.

A post by David Beaver on the site Language Log:

First, a new twist on a story that our legal desk covered back in February: at the annual Ig Nobel awards ceremony earlier tonight, the Prize for Literature was awarded to the Garda Síochána na hÉireann (i.e. the Irish Police Force) for the 50 or more speeding tickets they've issued in the name "Prawo Jazdy", Polish for "driver's license."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

387. Feeling Sorry for the French

Come to think of it, I don't feel that sorry at all. The Irish team should have been there instead of you. They would have done better. They couldn't possibly have done worse. Somebody (not me) put a right good curse on the French team. Now it's the long trip home, if they'll have you, in shame and disgrace. That's what you get for cheating, Thierry me bhoy, with your double handball, and you Domenech, FIFA and all the rest of yez. None of my doing, as I said above, but these things have a way of working themselves out. I take no delight in it but confess to no surprise.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

386. Holland-Japan and the Night

It was good craic for the night that was in it ... so let's get on to the visuals.

Fu'ball at Marty's Kitchen & at Mehmet's KK

Click on the title under the picture above and you get sent to the slideshow in two moves: you need to click on the "Slideshow" button in the top left corner when the next screen arrives.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

385. The Lighter Side of Adolf Hitler

Having discovered the Internet Archives a short while ago, I have been happily listening to and downloading a wide range of music, audio books, and just recently, recorded speeches from the worldwide uninvited trauma of the Second World War, in which various nations in Europe and Asia went under and others seemed teetering on the brink.

It is eerie to listen to the tired dispirited voice of Neville Chamberlain as he informs his bemused countrymen that a Final Note sent through diplomatic channels has not been answered … “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently, this country is at war with Germany.” He goes on to record his disappointment that all his efforts have come to nought, and that Herr Hitler had not been … well, quite honest with him. It comes as a relief to hear the infinitely more pugnacious tones of Winston Churchill who replaced him as Prime Minister in May, 1940. Churchill talks to the nation in a series of memorable, literate, punchy, well-phrased speeches in which his loathing of Hitler and the Nazis comes through loud and clear. It’s nearly impossible to listen to him without wanting to pick up a gun and go out and fight on the beaches, in the hills, on the landing grounds, in the fields, and never never surrender! If all else fails, pick up a club or a hammer or a sharpened stick ... and all this for Ireland’s ‘ould enemy’ England, mind you!

Then I started to listen to the Germans.

My German is not bad. I lived there as a child, many years after the war, and languages you pick up when you’re young often stay with you. I can still function in Germany, no problem: the fluency and speed comes back in a day or two.

Goebbels is easier to understand than Hitler. He speaks quickly but in a fairly standard educated accent (he was, after all, a Doctor of Letters). Hitler requires more time. I had plenty of time. My job requires me to drive long distances to various Japanese companies so I’ve long been in the habit of whiling away the driving time with Audiobooks. Now I listen to Hitler.

In the beginning it was difficult. His accent and his rhythms are hard to get accustomed to. In American terms it would be like listening to someone with a very pronounced Southern accent, much stronger than Jimmy Carter’s light Georgia drawl (for which he was much ridiculed). In British terms it would be like listening to a Geordie, if not quite a Scot. He doesn’t use dialect as such but the sounds are significantly different from ‘Hochdeutsch’, Standard German. The ‘r’s are very heavily rolled and the vowels are frequently swallowed. He speaks quickly, and when he gets excited his voice rises to a barking crescendo with what seems a hammer-fall of words. He seems to be literally banging on the side of your skull.

We all have an image of Hitler. He is widely believed to be the most evil leader the world has ever produced (Stalin was on our side) leaving behind the also-rans who people the modern world, those who nevertheless manage to ensure thousands of people – usually their own, sometimes foreigners -- die before their time or live in abject misery.

I think Hitler was a disaster, and not only for the neighbouring countries of Europe, but ultimately, as the war turned against him, for his own people. My lengthy subjection to the hours and hours of recorded material has not changed this opinion in any way. Keep this in mind as I wander into new and unfamiliar territory below!

Hitler can be funny. No, honestly. He doesn’t tell jokes, as such, but he is a very accomplished storyteller. This hardly ever comes across in his set-piece speeches when he is addressing the party congress at Nuremberg, or the Hitler Youth Congress, or when he justifies the murder of old comrades during the 1934 ‘Night of the Long Knives’, or, later, the annexation of the Sudetenland in September 1938. The annexation of Austria, earlier in the year, has a load of laugh lines. He lies brazenly to the nation about the reasons for the attack on Poland on September 1, 1939. After Stalingrad there are no more anecdotes and very few public speeches. Towards the end of the war there are no speeches at all – except one after the failed assassination attempt on 20 July, 1944.

Hitler is at his most relaxed when he is addressing the “Alte Kaempfer”, the Old Fighters, who were with him from the beginning in the early 1920s. These speeches are very obviously ex tempore, because there are a number of verbal hesitancies. He makes sounds like ‘emm’ or uhh’ and you can see he is gathering his thoughts about what to say next. He goes off into a little story about some guy who did something silly, usually in the face of some stiff and respectable figure of the hated Weimar Regime, and the stories are actually quite interesting. The crowd roars. He rambles along every now and then and tells these little stories and of course they never got reported in the foreign press who had to concentrate on the political content.

He never strays very far from political content. It becomes increasingly apparent that the most exciting time of Hitler’s life was getting this tiny little unknown political party off the ground and eventually taking over the whole of Germany. He comes back to this again and again. All the difficulties! All the problems! No, it seemed hardly possible … but we did it! And we did it because the German people were simply waiting for us (for him) to come along and show them the way. Obviously. Otherwise the Party would never be where we are today.

The thing that struck me was how similar (in some ways) he was to Churchill. Both of these men were totally committed to an enhanced historical and rather romantic notion of their own country and its place in the world, and both were totally convinced that only they knew what needed to be done and that there were crowds of useless and annoying people that had to be swept aside to allow this thing to happen. Both went through years in the political wilderness before finally attaining the power they earnestly sought and both fell upon it greedily, elbowing aside all contenders and possible opponents. The significant and telling difference is that Churchill was a dyed-in-the-wool parliamentarian, steeped in the long traditions of the House, loyal to the Crown, a self-described Servant of the State. Hitler felt no such restrictions and effectively dismantled the power of the Reichstag, took over the Presidency upon the death of Hindenburg, and sidelined, imprisoned or even murdered any opponents. He was Caesar in all but name ... but the name suggests it, "Der Fuehrer".

It was a conflict of political systems and two strong leaders in which Britain seemed slated to lose. If Hitler hadn't attacked the Soviet Union or declared war on America after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he could conceivably have won the war in the West. The RAF could not have held the Germans off indefinitely had the Nazis had no other enemies to contend with, in spite of the brave and fortuitous victories in the summer of 1940. The June 1941 attack on Russia took the pressure off Britain; the entry of the USA into the war told Churchill (he says as much) we have won; we can no longer lose.

Both men were gifted speakers, capable of rousing their people to heights of patriotic fervour. The difference was Churchill knew his people better than Hitler knew his. Churchill dealt with known strengths he had recognized from his own years in the Army and at the Admiralty: obstinacy, bloody-mindedness, a cheery surface, class-hatred tempered by admiration for courage or a touch of grace, understatement, a display of insouciant flash. The Scots and the Irish (the latter not even in the war, officially) were less enamoured, but the English lapped it up. Even the dogged class warriors of the Left got this vapid grin on their faces when the upper classes behaved nicely towards them, found themselves tugging at their forelocks: so depressing, so inevitable, so intrinsically English. Hitler, on the other hand, had no such "Fingerspitzgefuehl", fingertip sensitivity, a German expression never put into so many words in Britain but automatically acted upon. Hitler depended on blood loyalty, a racial vision of the German people that went back to Hermann (Arminius) and the German tribes who had defeated the Roman Legions in 14 AD. No Jews then! Most Germans neither knew nor cared. What was he on about? Hitler believed in all this turn-of-the-century Viennese rigamarole (he had lived there as a down-and-out) and Himmler was the little rat who set about exterminating the Jews of Europe by planned, efficient, industrial methods. Death factories. Hitler (quite carefully) never signed any papers but never raised a finger to stop him, either.

Isolated in his own glory, a stranger to any opposition, losing touch with reality, Hitler held up impossible standards of perpetual victory to his soldiers with not even the option of tactical retreat, so that after all the initial successes, the elation, when the first setbacks came on the Russian Front his adamant refusal to accept them gradually turned the Wehrmacht and his own generals against him. It was an Army conspiracy that tried to assassinate him in July 1944. Churchill visited the bombed areas of East London and other cities, went out among the people. Hitler never did. The Nazi bigwig who did go out and talk to the people was, perhaps not surprisingly, Goebbels. Goebbels was an opportunist, a professional liar ("Das Propaganda!") but he had one or two saving graces, a willingness to face the people being one among them. At the end of the war he was far more popular than Hitler. His speeches, although easier to understand than Hitler's, are unleavened by jokes or anecdotes. That was left for the more relaxed style of the Boss ... "Der Chef".

Hitler was amazingly indulgent to damaged and at times quite embarrassing public figures (Julius Streicher, pornographer; Hans Hoffmann, photographer and falling-down drunk) who dated back to the early days of the Party. Nearly everything was overlooked if you’d been with him in the Old Days. At times you feel as if they all used to play football together, or served in the same unit during the First War: Alte Kamerad! Churchill picked up and dropped people like playing cards: all he cared about was performance and Action This Day! He drove his staff crazy. His secretaries were scared stiff of him. Hitler, on the other hand, liked familiar faces and was courtly and fatherly to his secretaries, drank tea with them, and never fired anyone. He shot and hung people with piano wire instead ... but never any of his Inner Circle. Except, in the final days, the greasy Faegellein (Eva Braun's sister's husband).

Hitler's little stories are quite amusing, self-deprecatory, e.g. there were about 500 people in the hall back then, you know, and only 50 of them were listening. Some of them didn’t know why they were listening (knowing laughter) and I was in charge of a “Haufen”, a shapeless lump, but they were my crowd and I was happy and proud to be in charge of them. Maybe it's the way he tells it, the storyteller. The delivery is always dry, straight-faced, throwaway. If you didn’t know who this person was and what was about to happen, it could be seductive, calling forth complicity of a kind. I found myself smiling or grinning several times and I had to think … wait, wait, wait!! … this is, this is ... Hitler!

Time and time again he goes back to the insurmountable difficulties that were eventually overcome by “faith” and “will” and adherence to the principle of restoring the honour and freedom of Germany. There can be no question he believes this. Violence is always a method employed by the party’s many enemies – not a word about the SA or the SS.

At times Hitler sound quite genial, not the screaming fanatical fool we have been led to believe in. The crowd are obviously listening to him and hanging on his every word. Once you get used to his rhythms and the heavy accent it all starts to make more sense than before. He was a political disaster, a new Black Plague … but the charm and charisma in his less formal moments is undeniable.

What does this mean? It means, if nothing else (and I’ve been reluctantly honest about my reactions 70 years later, even with the benefit of hindsight) that what the Germans of the time heard and responded to was a form of rhetoric that was not simply a hammering political harangue in a spiky unpleasant-sounding foreign language but a series of stories and anecdotes that were often spontaneously connected and even humorous and amusing. Hitler was the Boss, sure, but he never came across to his public as a cold demanding poker-up-the-arse Prussian militarist. In reality he was far more dangerous than any Prussian but he never sounded that way: he could sound reasonable, he could tell stories, he could be avuncular, he was everybody's "Uncle Adolf". These recordings were an absolute revelation.

But none of this changes what happened. Hindsight is 100%. This is not a luxury afforded when you are living through events. When wars are far away (however unjust) and none of our friends or family are physically involved, we tend to be apathetic, if not simply content to allow them to happen. Too bad about the local Afghans and Iraqis these days, for example, just as in those days it was too bad about the Slavs and Jews. Of course it’s not the same thing – just another, slightly different, watered-down version. The aversion to doing anything about it remains, then and now, precisely the same.
What if Hitler had invaded Ireland? Here is a rather chilling article from the Irish Times which makes it abundantly clear that the Nazis had no respect for Irish neutrality and fully intended to take over the country. Our survival as a free nation had little to do with our own efforts and everything to do with the victory of the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Thank God there were at least a few young men like Paddy Finucane who could see that!