Obama And The Long Goodbye

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Well Barack, we’re into the home stretch, what they’re already calling a lap of honour, though in a way, the whole thing has seemed weirdly choreographed from the start. You might even say a few interesting things before you drift off into that Great Horizon. But that’s all it will be at the end of the day, just a bunch of stuff you, or somebody else, said.

I hope I don’t offend you when I say that you were a fake. I mean ‘fake’ in its best possible sense, in the sense in which you and I and everyone else on the Net or with a public profile is a fake. To greatly varying degrees of success, we have left some vital part of ourselves behind to go cruising in the cyber ether for some sort of connection, some disembodied electronic voice to answer back and go “yeah man, you’re cool.”

You were and are a media phenomenon. The vast facilities and resources of OPRAH could only ever have been thrown open to someone who was entirely a creature of the cyber ether. That’s just life, or virtual life, or whatever.

What must that have felt like, I wonder? You seem like a smart guy most of the time. It would seem like a violation of nature if you didn’t possess some kind of self-awareness. But that could just be my depressingly human urge to project. We’ve all got to guard against that. Look at the devil’s ransoms Disney has made out of exploiting our urge to see savage beasts as cuddly toys.

Does it ever occur to you that apart from the breath oozing in and out, the oxygen doing its humdrum but miraculous work, the occasional boners, the mild irritations, those what must have been fervent gasps for a smoke, most of you was basically dreamed up by somebody else? And not just by one person.

You’re a walking, talking consensus dreamed up by some kind of all powerful focus group. If you didn’t exist, they’d have had to invent you, and thank God you did exist, sort of.

And you never really rocked the boat either, did you? But how unfair of all those people who expected you to. Even if you wanted to, even now, you’ve got all those books and lecture tours and endless security details for your daughters – no matter where they go or what they do – for the rest of their lives, and possibly even beyond their lives. Does the Secret Service remit extend to the grandchildren of former Presidents? I must look that up.

Fair dues, it’s all part of the deal, I guess. But it does seem like a big price to pay, doesn’t it, for them to pay, for never saying what you really think?

Who’ll be the next ghost in the office? Will it be Hillary (she’s half a ghost already)? Will it be Trump (imagine)?

Everyone who gives out about Trump misses the most important thing. If the deliberations inside the Most High Focus Group take a confounding turn, and Donald’s Phantasmagorical hair becomes the next occupant of the White House, then he actually won’t be all that different to you.

He will be a new piece of Virtual Meat thrown to the Virtual Mob. It even makes sense in a way. Vary the diet: a huge glob of high fat synthoburger to follow your lean, gangling slice of antelope. You were supposed to make people calm. Maybe it’s now time to make them angry.

Units can be more effectively shifted if there’s some kind of figure who excites some kind of passion, however negative. Passion makes you hungry, negative passion makes you very hungry.

Anyway, enjoy the lap of honour. Supermodels, after all, are venerated for the ability to do little more than walk up and down in a (mostly) straight line. You are entitled to no less.

And love that retirement baby. Though even to me, it seems dauntingly long, unsettlingly infinite. It is tempting to think that you might even surprise people during the long political dotage. Maybe you’ll do all kinds of nice, poor old Jimmy Carter things.

Maybe you’ll write a warts and all autobiography. Maybe you’ll horrify and delight the bottom politic with the literary equivalent of a sex tape, or even a real sex tape.

But I doubt it. It seems an awful price to pay, doesn’t it, for never saying what you really think?

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‘News From The Heart Of Atlantis’

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Some European ‘scientist’ recently published a book called ‘Atlantis From A Geographer’s Perspective,’ in which he apparently suggests that the actual location of the mythical lost Continent is right here in dear old Ireland!

Dr Dieter Krank (possibly not his real name) suggests that the dimensions of Atlantis, first described in the Dialogues of Plato, correspond almost exactly to Ireland’s. Plato describes a flat central plain which is surrounded by mountains (Ireland again), and outlines a list of measurements which, when translated into modern notation, bear an uncanny resemblance to Ireland’s vital statistics.

Better still, references in the Dialogues of Plato to an ancient city may in fact be Newgrange in Co. Meath, reputedly the oldest human settlement in Europe. Dr Krank (ok, it isn’t his real name) says he doesn’t intend to publish the book here, because local people don’t always react nicely to such claims, and anyway, they often have their own agendas.

And how! Dr Zoidburger’s book is probably the best news the bigwigs at Bord Failte have had since Brexit almost put them off their foie gras. Mythical kingdoms? Home of the lost continent? Finally, a tourism story which doesn’t involve greedy locals trying to charge fifteen quid for a pint of beer, or now semi-derelict walls of apartments which block out the view of the Atlantic.

Of course, tourism officials are among the very best when it comes to maintaining their sangfroid. Rather than burst into spontaneous raptures of gratitude for the very existence of Dr Gezundheit, they’ll simply sit in their offices pointing out that last year’s tourism figures were simply orgasmic, and this year’s are not yet available. No problem. Sure hasn’t Ireland’s Central Statistics Office just proved conclusively that the economy grew by 547% last year?

Dr Gallbladder is just another milestone in our nation’s unending cavalcade of good luck, good news stories. You can almost see the promos now:

“It was here, in the very heart of Atlantis, that Ruairi Mac Weirdo, Chief High Flasher of the Screaming Monkey Tribe, first planted the mighty Philosopher’s Stone he’d acquired from a Phoenician merchant who’d been unable to afford the nine shekels fifty charged for a pint of mead in the Mid-Atlantis tourist region in 5,000 BC. All of a sudden, the stone sprouted buildings, golf courses, shopping centres and a castle believed to be the oldest structure of any kind anywhere in the world.

“Today, Atlantis remains a semi-mythical kingdom where the locals engage in the most bizarre behaviour imaginable, usually after 9pm on a Friday or Saturday night

“The island of Atlantis sank beneath the sea several times during the economic recessions of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 10’s. Now it is back, taking advantage of the economic upturn to charge some truly otherworldly prices. Where else would anyone have the sheer Celtic bravura to charge you five euro for a cup of coffee? But – in spite of 6,000% economic growth last year (confirmed by the CSO and their many friends) – it could submerge again at any moment, so visit now (please please please visit now!!!).

“The Republic of Atlantis claims many wonderful sights. Marvel at the politicians who have eaten from the bark of the tree of forgetfulness and believe they will rule forever. Enjoy the deeply charming hospitality providers, who continue – in defiance of all economic logic – to charge mythical prices for magical, also known as ‘invisible,’ services.

“Boggle at the shopkeepers who will threaten you with a spear if you ask for change. Take a stroll through the laidback, traffic choked streets of Atlantis, where ethereal looking natives greet each other with strange, enigmatic incantations such as ‘wha’ are you lookin’ ah?’ and ‘I’ll break yer feckin’ fay-ace.’

“Oh yes, if someone asks you for a cigarette in Atlantis, it’s probably best to say no. Smoking is illegal in the mythical kingdom, a measure supported by 452% of the population, according to a recent CSO study.

“The lush valleys and sprawling apartment complexes of Atlantis have something to offer everyone. Marvel at how friendly the natives are, particularly if you’re not a greasy young backpacker who looks like he doesn’t have any money.

“If you want to spend your lovely, lovely, lovely money in another dimension, please visit atlantis.ie now.”

‘There’s No One Quite Like Onya’

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This is intended with love, seriously.

Scene: The living room of an old, well to do English family. There is a couch on which a grandfatherly figure sits, swilling port from a bottle. A middle aged man, the current power in the family, wearing a dark suit, stands to another side, staring at himself in a mirror, occasionally striking Churchillian poses, flexing his arms and mouth as though making a speech.

His wife kneels on the floor over an enormous jigsaw puzzle. Their son, a floppy haired, absurdly enthusiastic young man with a jumper folded across his chest, leans around the huge fireplace at the back of the room. All except Grandpa have wine glasses, filled with wine.

Son: Listen. I want everybody to be jolly nice to Onya when she comes down. Don’t forget, she’s French.

Mother: I don’t like her.

Grandfather: Oh she’s a good, good, good thing Horace my boy. I tell you, I wouldn’t mind giving her a good old [makes obscene gesture with arm]Rajahstan style.

Son: Contain your elderly lechery Grandpa.

Mother: I don’t like her.

Son: [To man staring in mirror] Father, Onya is … I mean, you’d have to admit, wouldn’t you, man to man I mean … She’s pretty hot, isn’t she? I mean, you wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating after dinner mints, would you?

Grandfather: She can eat a fried bloody walrus with onion rings for all I care.

Mother: I don’t like her.

Son: Father, what say you?

Father: [Finally looking away from mirror] Onya is – uh. Well, she’s um, she’s um … she’s bluh.

Mother: See? He doesn’t like her either.

Son: She’s bluh?

Father: Muh.

Son: Is that even a word?

Father: It’s um … It’s uh…

Grandfather: I bet she gives great bluh.

Son: Grandpa, really.

Grandfather: I’m sorry Horace. It’s just that I’m so bloody pleased is all. We were all so worried you’d gone gay at Eton, and here you come back with a sizzling piece of French crumpet. Well done my boy. Hooray for our side.

Son: You thought I’d gone gay? You never said.

Mother: Nobody ever says, darling. It’s the private pain of the upper classes, one of those things mucky poor people will never understand. Sigh!

Son: Father? You too?

Father: Well I – uh – it never…

Mother: Oh Horace, your father was head gay three years running, or was it deputy chief underling to the head gay? It took me eleven years to talk him round to heterosexuality.

Son: What?

Father: Bluh.

Grandfather: Anyway, the point is that it’s all worked out for the best. Here we are, gathered around your grandfather’s fireside, ready to welcome your smouldering frenchy, your formerly gay father on the verge of becoming Foreign Secretary, your mother pouting inanely on the floor. What could possibly go wrong?

Mother: She’s coming.

Son: How do you know?

Mother: I can sense it, like a werewolf about to weewee on my grave.

Son: Mother!

Mother: Have I mentioned that I don’t like her?

[Onya enters. She is wearing a black suit, black trousers and carrying a small stick, possibly a riding crop. Her black hair is slicked tightly back. Her face is deathly pale.]

Son: Darling. You look ravishing.

Mother: [Getting to her feet and speaking very rapidly, as if calling out the specials at a restaurant. There is no time for Onya to reply to anything.]

Sigh! Onya darling, you’re so welcome. How lovely you look. Would you like a grapefruit? Some paracetamol? You look pale. What about some rare beef? Would you like some tea? Have some wine. What about a hot water bottle? It gets so cold here in Winter, and in Summer. Sigh! Do you like the English weather? What’s Horace like in bed? Let’s have a girly chat. I can show you embarrassing pictures of when he was little and then we can get drunk and I’ll tell you all about his tiny little penis and then I’ll have to be carried to bed. Sigh!

[Mother returns immediately to her former position of kneeling on the floor.]

Grandfather: Never mind that mad cow. Come here and sit by me. Warm yourself next to my ageing libido.

Son: Just a moment, Grandpa. Onya, I don’t think you’ve been properly introduced to my father. Onya, may I present Sir Julian Rhys-Malcolmson, the almost Foreign Secretary.

Father: Onya. [He takes her hand and lifts it to his mouth, sniffing it with entirely inappropriate passion.]

Onya: ‘Ave we met before, Monsieur?

Father: I – uh – well – uh – um – bluh.

Onya: I could be confused. You ‘ave your clothes on zis time.

Son: Perhaps you met him in the correspondents’ lobby of the House of Commons. Onya’s a crack French reporter you know.

Grandfather: Is she really?

Mother: Sigh!

Grandfather: Never mind closet boy and all this crappy chatter. Come on over to the couch. I can listen to your French accent and force you to listen to my war stories while I fondle you lecherously.

Onya: I require noo-rish-ment.

Mother: Oh dear, does that mean it’s hungry?

Father: Sarah, really.

Son: Yes, it – she – she means she’s hungry.

Mother: [Not getting up] Oh dear, would you like me to get you something?

Onya: Yes please, it ‘as been seven days since my last meal.

Grandfather: Yes [aiming a kick at Mother] Get up you lazy cow. Get her a rack of lamb and half a kebab. Move it!

Onya: No no please. I am on a strict ultra-vegan diet. A glass of chilled Himalayan water please.

Mother: [Not moving] I’ll get right on that.

Grandfather: So dear, tell me all about yourself. What’s it like being a sizzling piece of French totty?

Son: Oh, Onya’s terribly accomplished, aren’t you darling? She has a Phd or something, haven’t you dear? What’s it in again?

Onya: Bringing back ze dead.

Grandfather: Can all that. Let’s get straight to the dirt. An old chap like me can’t wait around forever, you know. Tell us darling, I’ll bet you’ve been, you know, round the block a bit and all that, eh? Eh?

Son: Grandfather.

Mother: I don’t like her.

Onya: [Robotically] I ‘ave been in-tam-it mit four ‘undred and sixty seven men.

Grandfather: [Admiringly] Have you really?

Onya: ‘Orace ees mein 27th official boyfriend. Ze previous 26 all killed zemselves because zey could no longer be mit me.

Grandfather: Did they really? Bad luck on them, eh?

Onya: I am looking forvard to settling down mit Horace in Normandy, vere vee vill raise vegetarian eels und participate in partner svapping und stamp collecting. ‘Owever, I am worried zat my meddling muzzer vill spoil it all by telling you about mein dark past as ein aerobics instructor.

Grandfather: Bloody mothers, eh? Damn the lot of them. Off with their bloody heads.

Mother: Wasn’t your mother with you when you arrived?

Onya: Yes. I ‘ave forced sleeping pills down her throat and locked her in ze bedroom so she cannot verk her evil until I ‘ave forced ‘Orace to marry tonight.

Grandfather: Damned pro-active, that’s what I say. Start as you mean to continue.

Onya: [Rising] I grow veary of zis idle chitter chatter. I have ein headache. I need to meditate before I go outside mit ze chain saw. I find ze carnage relaxes me.

Grandfather: Me too.

Onya: ‘Orace, you vill meet me in 37 minutes vearing nuzzing but ein pink carnation.

Son: Yes dear.

[Onya moves to go, but is blocked by Father.]

Father: Enough of this, I can stand it no longer. Onya, Onya darling, I have been in love with you since the moment we met. Take me. I’ll go alligator fishing in Normandy. I’ll partner svap and stamp collect till the cows come home. I don’t mind about your dark past, because … you see, underneath my brooding exterior lurks a deeply complex character anxious to explore the darkness of his own pouting soul.

Son: Father!

Mother: I told you I didn’t like her.

Onya: Buz, buz Yoo-lian, zis is so zudden. Vas about ‘Orace?

Father: I’m telling you he’s a weeny. You know he still sleeps with his teddy?

Son: Father!

Father: Forget about him. Embrace a real man. Well, sort of a real man, more of a real man than that weeny anyway.

Mother: What about being Foreign Secretary?

Father: Oh, hang being Foreign Secretary. I want to swim with vegetarian eels, write bottom clenching poetry on the beach, drink wine with heavily bearded fishermen until my head explodes, or they beat me up.

Onya: I require time to zink zis over. I find ze chain saw ‘elps clear my mind. I vill return in ein quarter of ein hour.

[She goes. The four are left in awkward silence. After a few moments comes the distant sound of a chain saw.]

Mother: I’ll go make tea.

Grandfather: I wonder is Parky on tonight?

[Horace looks lost for a moment, then joins Grandfather on the couch.]

Grandfather: I said it before and I’ll say it again, well done my boy. Hell of a girl.

Horace: Yes, there’s no one quite like Onya.

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The End.

The Truth About Crap Writing

“I had three weeks left to write the world’s greatest novel. If I didn’t do it, my agent had warned that I’d have to give back the Porsche and the Range Rover and the apartments overlooking Central Park and the Cote d’Azur.

I didn’t know what to do, so I got into the Range Rover and drove the hundred or thousand or so miles to rural Vermont or New Jersey or somewhere, off to the little seaside cottage where, I’d just heard, my friend and mentor and author of the Great American Novel (until my first one came out) had just been arrested for eating a coven of teenagers.

I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to support my friend even though, obviously, although he was my friend I wasn’t exactly wild about him eating all those teenagers and stuff. I wanted to find out what had happened. What had made him eat all those teenagers?

Also, was there any way he could be of help since I had three weeks left to write the great novel and I’d spent two years partying in Florida and Mars and paced around loads of rooms and hadn’t written anything at all and all I had was a laptop with a load of empty squares on it (for some reason). I’d tried buying another laptop but that didn’t work.

He was facing the death penalty and stuff but I felt sure he’d be able to help because he was a great writer in spite of all the teenagers and he’d never tried to eat me so far as I could remember. I got to the cottage, which was eleven hundred rooms long and next to the beach – a real writer’s place – and met his lawyer.

“It doesn’t look good,” said the lawyer.

“Yeah,” I said, because this is a dialogue bit and I had to say something.

“I mean, it’d be ok if they hadn’t found all those bones and recipes buried not very deeply in his back garden,” said the lawyer.

“Yeah,” I said, because this is a dialogue bit and I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

I wondered if the police had sealed off the whole house or just the back garden. The lawyer said it was just the back garden because that’s where the bones and recipes had been found. There wasn’t any evidence in the house.

I had a key so I let myself in and made a sandwich. I went rooting around for his secret author’s stash of three hundred year old Mongolian Scotch and found some evidence wrapped up inside it. It was absolutely shocking and I knew that at last I had an idea for the Great Novel …”

Any resemblance the above bears to crap bestsellers living or dead is of course coincidental. If you think you recognise something, then those are your issues, not mine. Having said that, though, when you come across billion selling muck like the above it’s hard not to expel a kind of generalised sigh for all the good work out there that won’t get within an asses’ roar of being read by a traditional publisher.

It is, I suppose, a sort of groan for the way the publishing industry resembles every other neocapitalist industry by being utterly warped, schizoid and divorced from the slightest idea of why it exists in the first place.

I think the thought formed when I read a Harry Potter book for the first time. ‘Is it really possible,’ I asked myself, ‘that this is the very best child and youth oriented fantasy universe living in anybody’s head on the planet right now?’ It didn’t matter. Harry had by then become what is known as a ‘publishing phenomenon.’

’50 Shades of Gray’ is another example. The phrase means that the book has attained a sufficient volume of commercial critical mass to render it immune to any form of criticism, and I’m talking about the very entry level of basic critical questioning, like whether the author is actually capable of writing a basic sentence without assistance or of passing a standard literacy test.

The book / story / pastiche / call it what you will has attained a form of godliness. It is a phenomenon. You don’t stand there and ask a tsunami whether it makes sense or how much thought has actually gone into it, not if you know what’s good for you.