Cities, Eurovision, giant rats

Column Watch – week three. The mood is tense. Somehow it hasn’t been cancelled yet, but this one might do the trick: 

 

We are flocking to cities. According to the data provided by Census 2016, nearly two thirds of the population of Ireland now lives in an urban area, with 25% of us living in Dublin. Perhaps it is the lure of The Pale’s high quality broadband,  Starbucks and Subway on every street corner, or the fact it has every mode of public transport short of a monorail, but we are heading in our droves towards its bright lights. However, there is a downside.

The Japanese understand the negative effects of too much time spent in cities, as the greater Tokyo area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The Japanese  have a word for healing the soul through a return to nature – shinrin-yoku. Its closest translation is ‘forest bathing’, or simply the medicinal benefits of taking a walk in the woods.

It is one of many Japanese words that have no direct translation into English, another being Shogania  –  or ‘a situation that can’t be helped, and also is out of our control’, much like our epic losing streak in Eurovision.  

Japan aren’t in the Eurovision – but it can only be a matter of time. The presence of Australia in the competition is an open door to all of planet Earth (and much of our solar system) who fancies having a go at music’s zaniest song contest. This year’s spectacle even featured a streaker, draped in an Australian flag, baring his backside, presumably as an allusion to a nation from the arse-end of the globe taking part in what is theoretically a European event.

The culprit turned out to be a Ukrainian who has made a name for himself in the worst currency of all – pranks. The ancient art of pranking had died a well-deserved death until YouTube came along and made upsetting children/the elderly/cats into an actual career for the chronically annoying. But Vitalii Sediuk, the man behind the behind, made a rookie error – he chose to try and make his mark on a TV event that looks like an explosion in a fireworks factory. For all his ‘hilarious’ efforts, he ended up a vanilla also-ran on a night of giddy, deranged cabaret.

But beyond the buttocks, dancing Harambe and yodelling, the most striking thing about the competition was how eerily familiar the songs sounded, from Germany’s take on David Guetta and Sia’s Titanium, to Moldova’s Saxobeat-aping take on the sax solo from My Lovely Horse. The winning act, a young psychology graduate from Portugal, made a plea for ‘real music’, which would suggest he didn’t take much notice in college when they covered passive aggressive behaviour. Salvador Sobral’s lofty stance was a bit rich, coming from someone who came seventh in Portugal’s version of Pop Idol, singing a song that sounded like a knockoff from the soundtrack to LaLa Land. However homogenised the music seemed, it was nice to hear Sobral singing in his native tongue, especially for some Portuguese speakers who have taken up residence in Ireland.

The awkwardly titled coypu is native to Brazil, but has settled right into the grassy savannahs of the Lee Fields on the edge of Cork city. Also known by the less appealing name of ‘swamp beaver’ (or the terror-inducing ‘giant river rat’), they have a thick, dark pelt and bright orange teeth, much like a 1970s TV presenter.

The coypu have fit right in Cork – AKA Ireland’s Brazil –  with its subtropical climate, passionate footballers, lilting dialects and oppressive Catholicism. While the coypu pose no direct threat to humans, and are noted for being friendly – or as friendly as one would want to be with a giant river rat – they have caused extensive damage in other countries, devouring aquatic plants, collapsing riverbanks and generally freaking people out by virtue of the fact that they are, as already stated, giant river rats. Although if building on swamps and collapsing banks is their forte, they could always go into property development.

The important news about our newfound fauna is, of course, that they are edible. Their meat is low in cholesterol and they are bred for food markets in countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as ‘a poor man’s meat’, which is really only a negative if you consider how poor the average person in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is.

A recent upsurge in their popularity (as food, not friends) has been noted in Moscow, where a hipster restaurant has put them on the menu as burgers and hotdogs. The meat is described as being ‘somewhere’ between turkey and pork, a flavour description so vague that it is somehow less appetising than the entire concept of eating a giant river rat.

But Cork tastes are exotic. Thus, given the Rebel City’s love of tripe and drisheen washed down with Tanora and Beamish, chowing down on a massive rodent should be no bother, especially when it is cost effective. Like most city dwellers, Corkonians have a crippling addiction to dining out and overpriced coffee, leading to a state that the Japanese call Kuidaore – or to have bankrupted oneself buying good food and drink. So the next time you go wandering the banks of your own lovely Lee in pursuit of some shinrin-yoku, it might be an idea to bring some condiments with you.

 

Communion: A True Story

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So my son made his First Holy Communion. He goes to a Catholic school, was baptised, and we generally operate within the structures of Catholic Ireland – simply because it is easier than trying to operate outside it. There are few non-religious schools, and to be honest, I went to a minority faith school and always felt like a bit of an outsider in the community, although that might have had something to do with my Camus-style existentialist angst. Nobody needs a guy quoting Nietzsche on the sidelines of a hurling match. Community is as much about who is excluded as who is included. Much of Ireland operates on this level – who ‘we’ are not.

The pic above of us at the Communion without the youngest two kiddies just makes me wonder WTF happened to my jawline – I look like Earthworm Jim.

Also, fans of terrible writing – and if you’re reading this I assume you are – will note that the post title was taken from Whitley Strieber’s tale of how he was abducted by aliens, which is 30 years old this year. I love this from Wikipedia:

Following the popularity of the book, the author’s account was subject to intense scrutiny and even derision. Some disparagement came from within the publishing world itself: Although published as non-fiction, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times pronounced the follow-up title, Transformation (1988),[12] to be fiction and removed it from the non-fiction best-seller list (it nonetheless made the top 10 on the fiction side of the chart).

“It’s a reprehensible thing,” Strieber responded.

“My book is a true story … Placing this book on the fiction list is an ugly example of exactly the kind of blind prejudice that has hurt human progress for many generations.”

Personally, I believe that challenging non-scientific nonsense is the only hope we have of saving ourselves – and that includes made-up aliens and nonexistent gods.  Anyway, I wrote some nonsense about religion – it’s worth noting that there were many takes on religion here the week, a notable coming one from maverick distiller Peter Mulryan in the paper of record. But here’s my lukewarm/not-that-funny take on it all:

 

First Holy Communion season is here again, or ‘Loan Shark Week’ as it is also known. It is a special day in a young Catholic’s life, when boys get to wear their school uniform on a Saturday and be given enough money for a PS4 Pro before they have left the church, while the girls get to wear a miniature wedding dress, as though they were about to enter an arranged marriage with a 2,000-year old carpenter from the Middle East. If they’re very lucky they might also get a silk umbrella, which would come in very handy if there was a chance of sun, which, as with any special occasion in Ireland, there will not be.

At our son’s ceremony we were informed that we should respect the sacred rites and not take photographs during the Mass. However, the good news was that the guy with the massive video camera and lighting rig in front of the altar would be selling DVDs of the day later in the week. Obviously my son’s teacher hadn’t been schooling him in the ancient traditions of Ireland, as he turned to me and whispered ‘what’s a DVD?’ Naturally, I cleared my schedule for the afternoon to teach him the audiovisual catechisms of my youth, from the old testament’s primal sin of not rewinding VHS tapes before returning them to the store, to the one commandment of DVDs, ‘thou wouldst not steal a car, so why wouldst thou pirate a DVD?’. It was a day of revelations for my son, who concluded that the olden ways are weird. Just wait until he learns that the Irish State was considering taking a blasphemy charge against the Cheshire cat from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

While it seems odd that Stephen Fry’s comments were broadcast at all, given that they aire on a station that still considers the Angelus a valid part of its daily programming, it is curiouser and curiouser that they were on a show titled The Meaning Of Life – surely a fair warning that there would be a discussion of all aspects of human existence. Fry’s comments on what he might say to a god, were he to meet one, weren’t even directed at Catholic Jesus, but rather all Jesuses everywhere, including the tax-efficient sci-fi laser Jesus of Scientology.

Perhaps Fry’s comments would have been less hurtful if they were made by an Irish person, who had served their time here in the dour days of the Eighties and Nineties, being dragged from holy well to moving statue, and from Novenas to Knock, in pursuit of enlightenment. But anyone who did go through that period would tell you that it is almost impossible to discuss religion without offending someone. It is much like the sporting world – get fans of two opposing teams to discuss whose team is superior and watch as it descends into a screeching match of such escalating frequency that only Roy Keane’s beloved dog Trigger can hear them – and Triggs has been in doggy heaven for five years now. Or he might be in doggy hell, it really depends on how he felt about Saipan, in which Keano was either a fearless messiah or a blaspheming heretic, depending on your own personal beliefs, or whether you are from Cork or not.

The whole Fry blasphemy debacle has been slightly embarrassing, not least because the laws themselves are so incredibly vague that Jesus Himself would probably have to show up to get a prosecution. And I’m fairly sure he is busy giving sending DMs to televangelists.

The Irish blasphemy laws also garnered a large amount of pointed throat-clearing and eyebrow-raising from atheists, as the statutes do not categorise as a religion ‘any organisation that employs excessive psychological manipulation of its followers’, which is really a description of all religions, as well as the GAA, various weight loss groups, sci-fi conventions, and those National Lottery ads that suggest you might want to buy an island.

For anyone who does wish to go back to the good/bad old days in Ireland, when were weren’t allowed to question faith at all and Fr Ted was considered highly sacrilegious, there is good news from religion’s arch nemesis – science. Mathematicians from the University of British Columbia and the University of Maryland have published a study this week which proposes that, mathematically at least, time travel is possible. Great news for anyone wishing to head back to the more innocent days of the early Nineties, when the abortion debate was raging in Ireland, America was at war in the Middle East, and Johnny Logan was writing Eurovision winners for us. Just remember to bring your XtraVision card.