The French Dispatch: review of a 4-in-1 film

Wes Anderson’s love letter to journalists looks good but needs an editor

I know fuck all about films.

(Or are you supposed to say ‘film?’)

We are already off to a shaky start.

I couldn’t say the same for Wes Anderson, a guy who knows so much about film he’s an auteur. His latest offering started promisingly with a charming bunch of expat journalists (now there’s an oxymoron) compiling a tribute to their adopted country, called ‘The French Dispatch’ magazine.

What a cast. I’ve never seen such an illustrious attendance at an editorial meeting. Editor Bill Murray is surrounded by Owen Wilson, Elizabeth Moss and Frances McDormand. In true whimsy Wes style we’re given a glimpse of these roving reporters out on their assignments in the community. Owen Wilson’s cycle through the village is nicely shot and narrated. Oh yeah, the village these journos live in is called Ennui-sur-blasé.

As Bill’s editor puts the magazine together, we get jolted from one beautifully rendered story to the next. There’s three sub-plots to the main one about the journalists, each focused on a story featured in the magazine. All are done in black-and-white. That is a very anal way of explaining it but it’s a pretty anal plot and it doesn’t make sense. Roman Coppola, himself the son of an auteur is responsible for the story, which is, to put it nicely a bit up its own arse.

The first sub-plot is about a criminally insane artist (Benicio Del Toro) who paints abstract nudes of his prison guard lover (Lea Seydoux) which he sells to a felon art dealer, played by Adrien Brody whose face is just marvellous. Brody was made for black-and-white film.

His supercilious eyebrow raising tuxedo’d art dealer and Del Toro’s puppy-dog eyed convict elevate the whole vignette beyond the standard tortured genius trope. It’s moving, but I can’t help wondering where the journalists have gone to. Also, Tilda Swinton narrates! Suddenly I’m faced with the internet’s boyfriend, one Timothee Chalamet. What?

Chalamet, who has the small, sharp face and long-necked insignificant physique of an otter plays a revolutionary fighting against a grand cause we never really discover much about. In a way, he’s perfectly cast as a revolutionary, as he naturally looks like a startled meerkat sticking his head above the parapet.

It’s implied, with all the stylish French cafe shots of adolescents playing chess and dreaming up “manifestos” that Timmy and friends are Communists of a type. By that point in the film, I’d learned that with Wes it’s more about the style than the substance, so I stopped trying to figure out Timothee’s leanings and just enjoy the ride.

Talking of riding, Timmy bore the brunt of the film’s sexual assignments. He was a very busy boy indeed. He had a liaison with Frances McDormand’s wry smoking spinster journalist as she bashed out his aforementioned manifesto on her typewriter. We never saw them going at it but, again, a scene in her bedroom featuring a nude Timothee and a fully-clothed McDormand implied that she had sought sexual compensation for her trouble with the manifesto. My friends said that bit was creepy. I just thought Frances’ talent was under-used – by the film makers not by Timothee’s revolting revolter.

He soon moved on and got a younger model at McDormand’s spinster’s explicit encouragement. Well, you know what they say about the French. Indiscriminate fuckers, the lot of them. My friend who knows a lot about film thought that the treatment of the love scene between Timmy and his young lady friend – a motorbiking rival revolutionary – was distasteful because she got her tits out. It was “gratuitous nudity” according to her. My other friend, who is gay, said nothing. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt as she doesn’t know a lot about film either.

By this stage, I’d seen around two-and-a-half mini-films in quick succession. I was glad I’d bought a Coca-Cola because otherwise I’d have been asleep. Unhappily, the third bit was the most boring and we all agreed that it could have been cut. I think it was about a food writer who witnessed the kidnapping of a powerful man’s precocious little son who was harboured by Saoirse Ronan dressed as a hooker. But I couldn’t be sure. I was still wondering where the journalists, the horny rebels, and the artist had gone – or why they had ever been there in the first place.

The French Dispatch is billed as a “love letter” to journalists. But it’s more of a vanity project, really. Justifiably so? I reckon Wes Anderson’s aesthetic is probably enough to excuse the film’s flimsy plot in the adoring eyes of his legions of fans, yeah. Full disclosure: I think I might just be one of them.

I follow an Instagram account called ‘Accidentally Wes Anderson’ which posts images of kitsch pastel buildings that is one of my main traveling inspiration sources. I want to visit every single place. Wes’s world sure is good looking, but for a world that’s more about style than substance perhaps on this occasion Wes has bitten off more than he can chew.

Bob Dylan at 80: It ain’t for me, babe.

Bob Dylan is 80 today.

By most, if not all, accounts, he is a deeply unpleasant little man who hates the world almost as much as he hates himself. (Like fellow aged “genius” Van Morrison).

People must find that sort of schtick very relatable or radical or something, because Dylan has a huge fanbase and some of that fanbase includes music journalists, who have been writing almost non-stop about the little blighter for the past fortnight in the lead-up to this, his eightieth birthday.

I’ve tried to understand what it is that Bob’s boys – for his fanbase is mostly made up of unremarkable men over 40 – love so much about his music, if one could even call it that. The man cannot sing. He sounds like an advanced-stage emphysema patient gargling gravel. In other words, he’s painful to listen to because he sounds pained himself. He whines. He growls. And, to make matters worse he insists on using that bloody harmonica, which makes every song sound mawkish and folksy – in the worst way possible.

If Bob’s focus has always been primarily on the lyrics – which is the defence his fans use to explain away his lack of vocal talent (and personal charm) – why does he obscure them with that blasted harmonica of his? Oh, if I had that harmonica I would shove it so far up your hole you’d be spitting it out of your gob, Bob. To be fair to him, for a second, as he is in his dotage, and I am in the rudest of health, the problem with Mr. Dylan is not the man himself, it’s all the fuss made of him by sycophantic, tone-deaf hero-worshippers. I get it, Dylan fans are passionate, but they need to stop calling him a genius, for Christ’s sake. If he was a genius, he’d know that he can’t sing, and more importantly, he’d know that a harmonica in the bin is better than a harmonica in the wrong hands.

Never a fan of folk music, I’d always wrongly presumed that harmonicas were, without exception, evil little bastards. Having seen the excellent documentary ‘Satan & Adam’ (on Netflix) about folk/blues duo Mister Satan and Adam Gussow, who played on the streets of Harlem in the 80s and 90s, I now know there is a right way to play the harmonica. It might be sacrilege to say, but Bob’s harmonica is in the ha’penney place compared to these blues musicians, who knew how to use its distinctive warble in a way Bob could never.

He might have written some 500 songs during his life, and there’s life in the old Bob yet, but I can’t help wondering what all the fuss is about. I get, to an extent, the love people have for artists like Bruce Springsteen, another great American singer-songwriter whose worshippers, a fraction of whom I am related to, can come off as a tad over-zealous. Springsteen is a nice man and a genial conversationalist, as well as a charismatic performer. Bob Dylan, god help him, is neither. Like his contemporary Van the Man, Bob is famously grumpy, and he remains as unwilling as ever to engage, with his fans or even the Nobel Prize Committee.

If you ask me, and nobody did, Leonard Cohen should have received the Nobel Prize for Literature instead of Bob Dylan. On paper, and that’s where these two famous lyricists shone, after all, Cohen’s style was similar to Dylan’s; indeed, the two are often mentioned together. But how anyone in their right mind can say Dylan is a greater artist and lyricist than Cohen was is beyond me. Before Leonard Cohen took up music and song-writing, he was a sometimes struggling poet in Montreal, an experience which no doubt humbled him. Much later in life, he became a Buddhist before dying – Nobel Prizeless! – at 82 in 2016.

I don’t know the first thing about Bob Dylan’s life, except that he spent a lot of time in cafes pretending to write things (this much we have in common, at least) and I don’t care to know either. His songs are second-rate and his delivery is whiny and pathetic. He has none of Cohen’s gravelly gravitas or Springsteen’s generous stage-presence. According to French singer Francoise Hardy, who Dylan tried and failed to seduce, “He wasn’t a very attractive man, and didn’t seem well in himself.”

He is an anaemic, miserable mystery of a man and if that’s how he likes it, perhaps his fans should leave him to it. He was the voice of a generation for a hot second back in the 60s, before he disappeared up his own hole. It’s hard to tell whether he is socially awkward, rude, or just playing the part of an ageing sixties withering flower-child, but Bob is no genius. As he said himself, “All I can do is be me, whoever that is.”

Well, Bob, it’s not enough.

Happy (?) World Goth Day

Bela Lugosi’s dead. The bats have left the bell tower. The victims have been bled.

Today (22 May) is World Goth Day – a very sombre occasion if observed correctly. And observe it we must! *Vampiric cackles*

Whether one is a full-blown bride of Frankenstein or merely a dabbler in the dark arts, like myself, you’ve got to agree that the gothic aesthetic is unique. Part of its uniqueness stems from its long evolution. It started out with pointy bits on churches, before morphing into scary scenes dreamed up by the minds of Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan LeFanu, Bram Stoker et. al. Nowadays, the word ‘goth’ has become an umbrella term for all sorts of micro-trends popular with teenagers, like ‘pastel goth’ and ‘cyber goth’.

Goth culture, as mired in the past as it is, even it goes through changes, so Goth when I was growing up is not what it is now. When I think of Goth culture as it is at the moment I think of mall culture.

Jhonen Vasquez, cartoonist

Somewhere in between things went a bit awry and goths became associated with satanism, especially during America’s ‘Satanic Panic’ years. That’s the reason lots of people don’t like it. They see black lipstick and they have a conniption. I think that’s an unfair generalisation as most aspects of goth culture (ie. not the devil-worshipping, people murdering, animal sacrificing, sex-cult-weirdness) are perfectly acceptable. Unless you think black fishnets are tacky – and you’d be wrong there; it’s all about context.

But mostly, goth is about mood and atmosphere. Dressing ‘gothily’ is not just a ‘look at me, I’m dressed as a reanimated corpse and I’m here to scare the bejaysus out of your granny;’ it’s a way of communicating one’s sensibilities to a world that fetishises happiness and wellness. Sometimes it is okay to be “silent and grey,” to paraphrase Morrissey. Plus, dark colours are universally flattering.

Arguably more important than dressing like a goth if you’re a goth, that is, is listening like a goth. It’s a universally acknowledged truth – on this blog anyway – that goths and their guitars go together like black goes with more black. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of my favourite ‘goth’ artists: The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Echo & the Bunnymen, Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Smiths, Evanescence, Rammstein, Kate Bush, Slipknot, Korn, Lou Reed, Lana Del Rey, Editors, Placebo, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, The Jesus and Mary Chain…

I believe that if you listen hard enough you can find a bit of a goth in Britney, even. Well, maybe not. But Madonna, perhaps. Like A Prayer is a bit moody in places. I think I lost the purists somewhere at Lana Del Rey and the really, really hardcore purists probably would object to even Echo & the Bunnymen being called goth but they can climb back in their tombs.

Interestingly, when I was looking for goth quotes I found this from reluctant Gothfather himself, Robert Smith, who is more of a New Waver/New Romantic than anything:

It’s only people that aren’t goths that think the Cure are a goth band.

So, what is goth then? Most people seem to know what it isn’t, but most seem reluctant to define what it is or indeed to identify as ‘it’ themselves. Even Robert Smith doesn’t want to be a goth it seems. Someone should tell his face, perhaps.

Most of us self-identified goths don’t look half as goth-y as Robert Smith and Marilyn Manson and all those ghastly looking fellows, but we call ourselves goths, often jokingly, because we’ve got a penchant for black, bats, old books and other portents of gloom.

As the bass player in the best goth-band-that-didn’t-look-goth of them all said:

Nobody is the same. If we were all the same it would be bloody boring.

Peter Hook

Let’s celebrate the sepulchral.

Undead. Undead. Undead.

No more sports ban; good for man, but not for Fran.

With a still stubbornly plague-ridden Ireland set to implement a phased re-opening, whatever that is, in the coming weeks, we’ve all been sitting in our homes speculating as to what that might look like.

And now we know.

Ireland’s April re-opening will feature a lot of balls in the air, only instead of metaphorical balls in the form of county-by-county case numbers and vaccination rollout statistics, NPHET has decided to introduce footballs into the mix of things it is juggling by allowing people to play sport outdoors.

This is great news for people who like sport, but for everyone else, it’s business as usual. Not even the promise of a haircut or a pair of new shoes for the childer.

Writer and broadcaster Barbara Scully raised the point that the new measures appeared to be a little sexist.

Now, I know that in this enlightened age women love sport just as much as men and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t, and neither does New York’s best sit-down comedian and essayist, Fran Lebowitz, who is delightfully abrasive about the male-centred world of sports:

The reason sports are so central is because men are in charge… if women were in charge of the world do you think there would be professional hopscotch?

Fran Lebowitz

I would prefer there be more women in congress and fewer playing football


Fran somehow blagged a ticket to one of the (alleged) greatest fights in history, Muhammed Ali versus Joe Frazier, (yawn). She said “It was a very wonderful fashion and cultural event; unfortunately there was a fight in the middle of it.” What a scream. Imagine her at a Junior B semi-final in the pouring rain in Roscommon…

I’ve hated sport with a passion ever since primary school when I had the misfortune to be in the same class as a gang of girls who played sport with the boys every single lunchtime while I wandered the perimeter of the football pitch with my hands in my pockets and my head in the clouds.

I was very good at social-distancing when I was a youngster, and my experience as a playground loner stand to me these days because I’m used to endless waiting — I was always picked last for P.E teams.

This is one of the reasons I’m glad I’m not a girl now because when I was in school girls didn’t have to play football because girls didn’t have to play sports and that was the upside of being a girl

Fran, again

Indeed. Fran sounds like someone I would have gladly shared my scented gel-pens with in primary school — not that I want to go back to the ’50s.

Like my fellow ladies of leisure, I’m waiting patiently for the hair salons to open in late Summer. Hopefully. In the meantime, I’m very happy for all of Ireland’s bald GAA fans who will have a great April if the weather holds up.

7 Days of lockdown as told through song

Day One:

Everyday is Like Sunday – Morrissey

This list could start and end with this tune, because it is just so perfect for the times we’re living in. It’s true – every day is like Sunday! Why bother continue? Am I talking about the list or everything in general? Morrissey’s brand of camp miserabilism is the ideal soundtrack to lockdown, so ideal, in fact, you’d wonder if the whole thing was engineered by the man himself so the rest of us would know how shite it is being music’s most miserable man. Thanks, Morrissey. Heaven knows we’re all miserable now.

This is the coastal town / That they forgot to close down / Armageddon, come Armageddon! / Come, Armageddon! Come! / Everyday is like Sunday / Everyday is silent and grey

Stephen Patrick Morrissey

Day Two

I Don’t Like Mondays – The Boomtown Rats

Most people know that this song was written after Bob Geldof heard a news report about a teenage school shooter who, when asked to provide a reason for what she had done, said she wasn’t a big fan of Mondays. At this point I feel obliged to issue a very obvious health warning: don’t murder people because you don’t like a day of the week. Murder is never a proportionate response. This will all be over soon. But you’ll be waiting a few Mondays.

…the silicon chip inside her head / Gets switched to overload / And nobody’s gonna go to school today / She’s going to make them stay at home / And daddy doesn’t understand it / He always said she was as good as gold / And he can see no reason / ‘Cause there are no reasons / What reason do you need to be sure / Tell me why / I don’t like Mondays

Bob Geldof / The Boomtown Rats

Day Three

Tuesday Morning – The Pogues

Yearning for times past is probably something we’re all doing at the moment, with the absence of anything better to do. This tune is sweetly sad and wistful for a Tuesday morning when you’re lying in the bed checking your emails before you brave the day.

Too many sad days / Too many Tuesday mornings / I thought of you today / I wished it was yesterday morning / I thought of you today / I dreamt you were dressed in mourning

Songwriters: Joseph Castillo / Joshua Blum / Mark Hutner / Timothy Gruse

Day Four

Wednesday – Tori Amos

A woman is coasting along, living life, stopping for coffee, thinking about a man who may or may not be suitable for her. Typical mid-week fare. There comes a point in the week when we all hit a slump and revert to auto-pilot; all the better to have a lot of existential crises. Child genius and Cornflake Girl Tori Amos does it all before her breakfast. Sure, look, it’s multi-tasking.

Nothing here to fear / I’m just sitting around / Being foolish when / There is work to be done

Tori Amos

Day Five

Thursday’s Child – David Bowie

What’s a playlist without some Bowie? This is definitely not the first tune one thinks of when rifling through his back catalogue, but this song is very soothing even if it’s not quintessentially Bowie. It does showcase his pretty amazing voice. Unsurprisingly, it got him a Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal in 2001. He lost out to Lenny Kravitz, which happens to the best of us.

All of my life I’ve tried so hard / Doing my best with I had / Nothing much happened all the same / Something about me stood apart / A whisper of hope that seemed to fail / Maybe I’m born right out of my time / Breaking my life in two / Throw me tomorrow / Now that I really got a chance

David Bowie & Reeves Gabrels

Day Six

Friday I’m in Love – The Cure

It’s Friday and you’re on top of the world. The home office has been shut up for a brief reprieve and you’ve just remembered you have a bottle of wine in the fridge. Rosé, no less – which I could definitely picture soft goth sweetie-pie Robert Smith drinking. It’s Friday, you’re in love.

Monday you can hold your head / Tuesday, Wednesday, stay in bed / Or Thursday watch the walls instead / It’s Friday I’m in love

The Cure

Day Seven

Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) – Elton John

It’s only natural; we’re spending more time at home, so we’re going to get on each others’ nerves. And this is not a time when most have nerves to spare. Saturday is supposed to be a social day, so spending it stuck inside is a bit of a pain in the hole. Trust Elton John to understand our predicament with this delightfully OTT floor-stomper that’s made to shout along to. Do try and make up with your co-habiters before the clock strikes midnight though, otherwise you’ll be mopier than Morrissey forever more.

Don’t give us none of your aggravation / We had it with your discipline / Saturday night’s alright for fighting / Get a little action in

Elton John & Bernard Taupin

12 free content ideas for the lads n’ ladies moving into the Irish TikTok house

A bunch of semi-famous Irish teens and twenty-somethings are moving into a lovely, posh mansion in Dublin to make content on TikTok together. Their big move was featured in the national media today, which angered a lot of old fogeys, including myself. What exactly angers me about these TikTokkers moving in together to stream and vlog away to their hearts’ content is buried deep in my subconscious where it will stay.

I decided a more productive use of my outrage would be to imagine what it must be like to be a Gen-Z Irish TikTok content creator. I managed to come up with twelve content ideas that these housemates could potentially use if they were ever stuck, like. The ideas are tailored to what I imagine young TikTok users enjoy. (The only caveat is I have never used TikTok, so I haven’t a clue what I’m on about – which is why I’m allowing free access to my twelve ideas. They can think of it as a moving-in present.)

  1. How to be a radical feminist while maintaining a successful OnlyFans business

2. ‘Don’t sit down’ and other tips for home bleaching sensitive areas

3. This Disney-themed doorbell is a chick magnet. Now, if only I could find the clitoris.

4. I gave up my weekly fake tan application because it triggered my Sinn Féin voting friends

5. All my ex-girlfriends have anger management problems, in this 24-hour video I explain why that isn’t my fault

6. Pooing etiquette for mixed-gender households

7. My idiot housemate flushed the toilet but I wasn’t finished live-blogging the shit I took which looked like two crocodiles dancing and now I’m out of relatable Bristol Stool chart content

8. I (27 male) slept with an older woman, (30) and now I finally appreciate everything my mother did for me

9. 5 make-up looks inspired by antidepressants #poppinprozac #litlyrica #yasqweensertraline #efFLEXor #yumyumlithium

10. Why I do 100 squats a day. Hint: to hide the fact I have no personality or goals in life

11. Is it a strapless bra or a belt? We show you how to get the most out of your wardrobe, but you have to be a size 6 and have no tits.

12. I do the latest TikTok dance challenge dressed in my neon clothes I got from depop and you eejits are loving it because you’re sad and wish you were me

Normal People? I’m sick of them

Paul Mescal needs taking down a peg or two, and I’m the one to do it. He’s far too happy with himself. As somebody said recently, he is possibly the only person in Ireland having a great 2020. Well, feck him. Why can’t I have a great 2020; why can’t we all have a great 2020?
That young Mescal has only gone and hogged all the 2020 joy out from underneath all of us. We should be rippin’, but instead, we’re simpin’. And we can’t even go to Costa del Wherever to get wine-drunk on a beach and think of tomorrow because of the bleedin’ lockdown.
But Paul Mescal is having a great time.

It all started when he was cast as mumbling beefcake, Connell, in Normal People – that ubiquitous small screen drama which all but colonised the public discourse from the very first episode. And what was it about? Horny teenagers. Two doe-eyed, tongue-tied, star-crossed lovers driving around the countryside, pausing every so often to hump in his hatchback. (I wonder did it pass the NCT with that carry-on…). I didn’t watch it. I tried to escape it, really, I did, but everywhere I turned people were talking about Normal People. They were all over the papers, the radio, the TV, the internet. Normal People invaded my family WhatsApp group. Still, I didn’t watch it.

Some very normal people indeed called into Joe Duffy complaining about the amount of sex on the show. I think Joe might have told them not to watch it if they didn’t like it. (Maybe they were watching it through their fingers and they thought their finger was something else… there was male full-frontal nudity and all). For a couple of months at least it felt as though the whole nation – and their holes – were living vicariously through these two fictional teenagers, Connell and Marianne. I cringed viscerally every time I saw an ad for the series – they were played every half-hour by RTE, as if it needed promoting with every poor unfucked fucker in Ireland watching it.

The horny teenagers, Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones)

As far as I could gather, Connell was a nice poor lad, sometimes bad at expressing his feelings – hence the mumbling. He had game, too; both on the GAA pitch and off it in a variety of love-making locations, such as the car, the bed, etc. To my eyes, he looked like a slimmed-down Mr. Tayto – harmless, doughy, and a bit wet around the ears. A teenage boy, in other words. He was certainly no match for Marianne, who looked much more sophisticated in the ads and even spoke in full sentences. Marianne was probably based on every pretentious female arts student. You know the type, or, maybe you are the type – she read one Susan Sontag essay, and suddenly she thinks she’s the Sunday in every week. I was an arts student like Marianne, too, except in real life, arts students are messier, ruder, drunker, uglier, greasier, and less well-off. Maybe that’s just me though…

The actress who played Marianne is English, and she’s over in England having a great 2020 also. How dare she be younger and more successful than me. The pair of them – herself and Paul – were interviewed remotely by Graham Norton. They were talking about a chain that Connell wore on the show, which had gained its own cult status. It has its own Instagram account too, which just shows you how desperate people will get over a sex symbol. That’s apparently what Paul Mescal is considered to be nowadays, although nobody told me. People across the globe fancying him. Well, they shouldn’t because he’s too normal. He plays GAA for Christ’s sake; you can’t be sexy and play GAA. Imagine taking someone like that home to your father, he’d be thrilled. So thrilled you’d be a bit worried. Personally, I wouldn’t want someone talking to my Dad about Ballygo-wherever’s chances in the All-Ireland Intermediate Club Final.

Speaking of aul lads, the Rolling Stones went and cast Mescal in their music video for a single called ‘Scarlet.’ You can admire Mick Jagger’s desperate attempt to remain relevant with this savvy bit of casting, or you can lament the death of rock n roll. There’s no more Paul Simenon; it’s all Paul Mescal now. It is nothing short of an aesthetic crime to have an Irish lad in a white shirt like he’s making his Communion starring in the music video for one of the world’s most famous rock bands. Rock should not be about normal people. They should have put somebody with cheekbones and a leather jacket or a tux in that video. Leave Mescal to the Hogan stand. The All-Ireland and a roll in the back of a Ford Focus with a lovely girl is rock n roll enough for that fella.

Paul Simenon. You can guarantee he’s not thinking about Kerry’s chances in Croker this year…

But it’s too late now because there’s no stopping Paul Mescal’s star ascending. At least that’s what the celeb watchers are saying. He was spotted out and about in Kinsale with a sickly looking famous singer-songwriter whose hair is the same colour as the rest of her. She flew over from the US – in the middle of lockdown – to meet Mescal and gad around Cork for herself. That’s what you’d call notions. Apparently, the two of them are big fans of each other’s work – or something. You might think otherwise, but I’ve nothing against the lad having a bit of fun and enjoying his professional success. I just wish everyone would leave him to it because I am sick to the back teeth of hearing about every little move he makes morning, noon, and night. I don’t ever want to hear a peep about Normal People again. I’m all for Abnormal People. I think 2021 is going to be their year. Oh, who am I kidding, our year. Please God.

And, Paul, if you’re reading this, don’t mind me, I’m only an aul biddy. Fuck the begrudgers; we’re not normal people.

Won’t somebody please think of the statues.

It was only a matter of time before the ‘tear ’em down’ cohort turned their attention to Ireland and her statues.

Of course, nobody had really noticed how offensive many of the world’s statues were until the weeks after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The murder of black people – men especially – by US police is too common. It has happened a lot more than once, which tells us that the police have a problem with race, or that they are racist.

When the Black Lives Matter movement was set up after Trayvon Martin’s murder, it helped draw attention to the fact that the police were failing to “serve and protect” adequately. This was news to a lot of white people, myself included.

George Floyd’s murder was similar to Trayvon Martin’s in that it shook the world out of its comfortably complacent attitude towards institutional racism. There were protests; there were riot police. There was a lot of anger. People began to look at things with new eyes – and something they began to focus on, for whatever reason, was statues.

There were conversations about slavery and removing the evidence of it in our society; in the UK, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was filmed being torn down by protesters. They rolled the statue to a nearby harbour and pushed it into the water. This display of anarchism made some people feel uncomfortable.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and we appear to have reached the ‘tear ’em down’ phase in this country too. I’m pretty sure the Shelbourne case was a first for Ireland. As with other incidences of people pulling down statues without consulting health and safety, legality, etc, there has been some mixed reaction.

The Shelbourne’s American owners were initially alerted to the possibility of the statues depicting female slaves when an Irish-American blogger brought it to their attention. (Them bloody bloggers are never not stirring shit.) In the days following their removal, an art historian has said that, actually, the statues do not depict slaves.

The Irish Georgian Society lodged a complaint with Dublin City Council and some politicians like Senator Michael McDowell and Green MEP (and architect) Ciarán Cuffe said the owners should have followed correct procedure in removing the statues. Cuffe, McDowell, and others are understandably concerned about erasing Dublin’s past. The statues were sculpted by a Frenchman, Mathurin Moreau. (I have no idea who that is.)

Dr. Ebun Joseph has spoken in favour of removing the statues; debating Micheal McDowell on Prime Time, she said that whether the statues represent slavery or not is beside the point. “They represent white opulence. They represent white privilege, black servitude.” Ebun Joseph is an expert in race relations, racial stratification, and the labour market. She teaches on a Black studies module at UCD and, as she said on TV to McDowell, she believes in removing statues like those so the next generation doesn’t have to see them.

She failed to turn Michael McDowell’s head from the past and she angered a lot of similar-minded people who also love Georgian architecture, Dublin, and the Shelbourne Hotel.

To be quite honest I do not see the point in removing statues. I agree with McDowell and Cuffe and some of the others who have written about them. They are a part of history and should not be taken down, and certainly not without careful consideration. People of all backgrounds should know the history of slaves, and they should know why and how white people have profited from black people’s suffering for centuries.

Having said that, I have honestly never ever, not even once, walked past the Shelbourne and thought to myself, “Jaysus, them are some lovely historical looking statues there.” I have never noticed them before in my life; I’m usually too busy gawping at the real-life people walking in and out the hotel’s doors to be bothered looking at statues. I may be wrong but I’d guess that, apart from a few art historians and their corduroy-trouser wearing friends, nobody has ever really noticed the statues. Would they be missed terribly if they were gone? Would it be as though the city lost a limb, or something else valuable, like, I don’t know, Sam Maguire?

Ironically, now that I know they’re there I’m ever so slightly worried about the statues. I hate throwing things away – especially beautiful, valuable things. While I’m not sure I agree with Dr. Joseph on the statues debate, I do know that Ireland, like most countries, is racist. All you have to do – if you are white – is listen to what black Irish people say about the things they experience every day to know that we are a racist country. Nobody likes to hear that about their country. Imagine not feeling wanted in your own country? An ESRI report said that 49% of Irish people would not like to see more black people here – which must be damn hard to hear if you’re Irish and black, as Ebun is.

For want of any better solutions, perhaps we should go and ask the statues what it is they want. If none of us flesh and blood people can decide, maybe they can. I think if I were a statue, I would want to be taken inside the Shelbourne and put somewhere more comfortable. Maybe at the bar with a big bottle of Möet Chandon or Middleton… I wouldn’t ask for much, like. Those four statues have been out in all weathers for more than a hundred years now and I’m sure they’ve worked up a fierce thirst. So, I’m appealing to the good people at the Shelbourne, boot some of your rich patrons out, and let the statues in to rest awhile. There won’t be a peep out of them; let them fade into the background once more and let Ireland concentrate on making her actual people feel safe and loved. Ending direct provision would be an idea, for starters.

Lingua franca

I love language and accents. If you have a different accent to me and I know you quite well – or well enough to know you won’t be offended or freaked out, I’ll probably ‘do’ your accent – especially if there’s a gin and tonic or seven involved. It’s my party trick and arguably less offensive than my singing.

Here’s a list of how native European language speakers sound when they speak.

Connemara, Ireland/Irish: You are explaining to your daughter-in-law how you peel a spud using as many vowels as possible. You are doing your best morose chicken impersonation.

France/French: You have something lodged in your throat but you’re continuing with the philosophy lecture if it kills you. You’ve just kissed someone and their moustache has gotten in your mouth.

Italy/Italian: You are loudly trying to make a decision and to delay time you are adding an extra vowel to the end of every word. You are having a breakdown because your espresso machine has broken.

Spain/Spanish: You are trying to blow a bubble with some bubblegum but you are failing so the letters b and p just keeps coming out of your mouth frantically. You are competing against your fellow Spaniards to see who can say the most at once.

Germany/German: You are describing the mass murder you have just committed in forensic detail using as many consonants as possible. You didn’t like the play you just saw and you are forcefully trying to get your money back.

Portugal/Portuguese: You’ve spent your whole life being compared to the bubblegum chewing fast talking people and you are sad. Really you are a mixture of romantic sweetness and philosophical lecture with as many z sounds as possible.

Sweden/Swedish: You’ve been caught in bed with someone else by your partner and you find you don’t care even though you are trying to drunkenly explain yourself.

Poland/Polish: You greet your friends nasally and with vodka. Everything you say seems to be prefixed with a sh.

Holland/Dutch: You manage to sound both surprised and stoned all the time. The secret is in your excessive use of vowels.

Scotland/English: You sound like you are spitting but you are really just remarking on the weather. It’s shite. Everything you say sounds like an absurd, beautiful limerick.

North England/English: Your mouth is so full of chewing gum Alex Ferguson has nothing on you. You might be drunk it’s hard to tell.

South England, Wales/ English: You thought you’d get more done if you shoved a generator up your rectum but you sound insane. Otherwise you’re pretty chill.

Posh English: You have an ice pick up your back passage and you like it.

Yorkshire English: The foreman has caught you asleep on the job and you are trying to pretend you are very very awake. You are trying to hold a conversation on a rollercoaster and succeeding.

Cork English: You speak in the manner of a fly buzzing because you don’t know what real people sound like.

Kerry English: There’s a h in everything. You are drunk and your mouth is full of soil and song.

Dublin ‘D4’ English: You tried to get an ice pick up your back passage but it melted so you are a bit sore and your vowels are all elongated, roooight. You’ve been making us culchies feel inadequate since The Celtic Tiger was a kitten.

Dublin inner city English: You want to have a friendly fight. You are ideologically opposed to the letter t. Speaking of t it’s Lyon’s, thanks.

Ulster, Ireland/Irish: You have just been given an electric shock and it is the most fun you’ve had in years. Go dté mar atá tú?

Donegal/English: You fell asleep happy and woke up sad. You are a human ukulele.

Come what May

“April is the cruellest month, breeding 

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing   

Memory and desire, stirring  

Dull roots with spring rain.”                                  

That’s the first few lines of T.S Eliot’s famous poem, ‘The Waste Land’, which was published in 1922.  

If you are an uncultured swine like me you are probably thinking “wow, this Eliot fellow doesn’t sound like much fun.”  

If you aren’t an uncultured swine, what are you doing still reading? 

Maybe it’s lockdown induced madness, or maybe I’m getting sentimental, but I think Thomas Stearns Eliot is actually a tad more relatable than I’d previously given him credit for being. 

Relatable: T.S Eliot

‘The Waste Land’ was written for times like these; it’s an epic poem about loss, frustration, despair, and self-denial.  

These first few lines are more than likely a slightly more poetic version of the thoughts most of us have been having recently while in lockdown. It’s unnatural to be cooped up inside during April – especially an April as fine as the one we’ve had.  

April is the second month of Spring; it is a time of re-birth and renewal for flora, fauna, and folks like you and I. It is supposed to be a happy time during which we emerge from our Winter hibernation to enjoy the long evenings and fine mornings. The word April comes from the Latin verb ‘aperire’, which translates as ‘open’.  

T.S Eliot was a really smart guy so he probably knew about the etymology of the word April and thought to himself, ‘Hey, I should write a poem about misery and despair and set some of it in April just as the lilacs are blooming – yeah, that’ll show them!’  

The actual story of ‘The Waste Land’ and how T.S Eliot came to write it is more complicated.  

He wrote it while he was on a few months’ leave from his bank job following a nervous breakdown. Luckily, I have never had a nervous breakdown – but I have been nervous and I have had breakdowns. Most people have at some point in their lives.  

I can only imagine that April’s blooming flowers and blue skies taunted Eliot, and in his depressed state, he resented nature and its ability to carry on as normal, when his mind was in turmoil.  

The beautiful April weather we have been experiencing during lockdown has sometimes felt like nature is taunting us. The beaches are out there untouched because we can’t leave our homes. The mercury is climbing sometimes to nearly 20 degrees and we can’t meet our friends in our local beer garden. Children – big and small – can’t lick 99s and go haring around the park with their pals. Holidays are on hold. And yet the sun still shines on oblivious. 

T.S Eliot’s problems were more severe than mere boredom; he spent time receiving treatment at a Swiss sanatorium and it is well documented by his numerous biographers that he was a disturbed individual. His first marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood was troubled and much of ‘The Waste Land’ is informed by repression and troubled relationships.  

Hyacinth girl: Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1920. She was Eliot’s first wife

In a New Yorker article about T.S Eliot’s love life – or lack thereof – Louis Menand begins by asking: “T.S Eliot’s sex life. Do we really want to go there? It is a sad and desolate place.”  

I don’t mean to be rude but Eliot doesn’t sound like he was an easy guy to get on with, unless you were Ezra Pound, the person to whom ‘The Waste Land is dedicated’ – and great friend and mentor to Eliot.  

Menand’s piece tells us that Eliot and his wife Vivienne were both insomniacs. They slept in separate rooms and she was having affairs when she wasn’t suffering from debilitating health issues. By all accounts, they were a mismatched couple and probably didn’t even like each other.  

I know that being locked inside your mind because you are mentally ill and being locked inside your house in order to curb the spread of a pandemic are two different realities, but Eliot’s poetry – in particular, ‘The Waste Land’ – is somehow relatable for people in both situations. (I also know that these realities are not mutually exclusive).

The language is evocative and the imagery is depressing one minute, and almost mystical the next. Eliot conveys very well how it feels to be utterly miserable while surrounded by beauty.  

The first stanza is called ‘The Burial of the Dead’. Yikes. Right before that, there’s the Latin epigraph which acts as a little taster of bleaker things to come. This fed-up myth lady, Sybil of Cumae, is longing for death she’s so bored.

"With my own eyes I saw the Sibyl of Cumae hanging

in a bottle; and when the boys said to her: 'Sybil,

what do you want?' she replied 'I want to die.'"

I’m sure that longing has occurred to at least some of us during lockdown, no matter how superficially.

‘The Burial of the Dead’ features speakers lamenting lost love amid imagery of nature decaying. (That’s where the “April is the cruellest month” business come in…)

Stanza Two, ‘A Game of Chess,’ continues with more vignettes of despairing people, most of whom seem to be lamenting a lack of communication between themselves and their paramours.

 "'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me. 

'Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak. 

'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'"                  

Chess playing is an allegory for an emotionally insecure relationship or something. I don’t know, I’m not a Yale scholar. The above quote is how I talk to a dog, not a boyfriend. Perhaps that’s why I’m still single.

"And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door."

Oh, wait, no. That’s why. Also, I’m shit at chess.

With ‘The Fire Sermon’ Eliot starts to lose the run of himself a bit. Stanza number three takes its title from a sermon given by the Buddha on achieving enlightenment through self-denial. Here, I put my biscuit down and say fuck this I’m out. I suggest any fellow uncultured swine still reading do the same – we all know the cultured folk stopped reading some time ago. They’re probably off listening to opera, or something.

Stanza Four, ‘Death By Water’ reveals the death of one of the characters referred to earlier in the poem. Phlebas the Phoenician dies by drowning and his body is devoured by the sea. It’s unclear whether or not T.S Eliot is jealous of this Phlebas fella’s fate.

Judgement comes finally in ‘What the Thunder Said’ thanks to more imagery of nature decaying and people being miserable. Eliot’s star quickly ascended after the publication of ‘The Waste Land’ and he left his bank job in 1925 to work in literature full time.

Some types think the poem was inspired – in part – by his work at the bank, as well as his neurotic, nervous tendencies.

Back in Eliot’s day, the public was a bit ‘on edge’ after World War 1, so maybe, to paraphrase Father Ted’s friend Mrs. Doyle, they liked the misery of ‘The Waste Land’?

Reading ‘The Waste Land’ is a bit like tripping balls. For a fella suffering nervous exhaustion, Eliot didn’t have any qualms about putting the reader through the wringer; the poem’s 434 lines are divided into five stanzas – each featuring multiple characters and landscapes.  

It’s a heady, modernist mess, but it’s easily read, understood, and appreciated in about thirty minutes, unlike that other modernist masterpiece some of us have yet to tackle. I refer, of course, to Ulysses, which I’ve seen multiple people declare that this lockdown is as good a time as any for them to eventually get through it.  

But lockdown is hard enough without forcing yourself through a book you feel you should read because some boffin said it was genius. Save Ulysses for a flight or the train and read something shorter.  

Then go for a walk – if you want to. Because it is May after all, and, fingers crossed, we will slowly be able to get back to normal – whatever that is.

Come May 18th I will think about arranging to meet a small group of my very best friends in sub-groups of one or two.

There might be cans by the canal in the fine weather with friends spaced two metres apart. And then there will be days of wishing this could just stop already.

I will hug my asthmatic friends sometime before Christmas and I’ll remind them that I love them more than the pub. (T.S Eliot was never able to show such affection for his wife Vivienne.)

The serious conversations about the far-reaching impact this will have on society will continue for many months. April 2020 saw a surge in death rates like Ireland has not seen in years, according to a study done by Maynooth University.

That all these deaths happened just after Easter, a time of rebirth, resurrection, and Spring renewal in the Catholic tradition, shows that life imitates art. Or is it the other way around?

Either way, the purgatory of April is passing and so we must dust off the cobwebs and keep going, trawling through the wasteland of whatever the future might bring with this virus hanging over us. A sad, beautiful, weird poem might help.

"Frisch weht der Wind

Der Heimat zu

Mein Irisch Kind,

Wo weilest du?"