Goodbye To All That

There were moments last Monday when it almost felt like Ireland was a real country again, as if twenty plus years of recent history had been suddenly blown aside by Hurricane Ophelia. This is not meant to disrespect or detract in any way from the grief of those three families who lost loved ones to the storm. This is more about the rest of us.

For one storm tossed day we became as little children again, listening to the nursery rhyme of nationhood. We crowded around RTE radio and television, because suddenly its mission of speaking whatever the Government wants us to hear seemed important, like it actually meant something. Stay inside if you want to stay safe.

We huddled around our radio sets, made cups of tea and briefly became a people again. Even Varadkar took time off from gazing in the mirror to sound like a bluff Fine Gael Taoiseach of old, like the very recently departed Liam Cosgrave, ‘stay indoors or else.’ A good old traditional Fine Gael message delivered in traditional ‘we know what’s good for you’ style.

If there ever was such a thing as modern Ireland, its story is essentially one of television and radio, of the chief organ of the state – and biggest family business in the country – imparting its always heavily mediated message to the peasants. And for once the message was actually of some genuine use to actual, real people.

Yes, the prudent thing was to stay indoors, stay hanging on every gobbet to fall from the lips of Bryan Dobson or Sean O’ Rourke – not to mention the increasingly exhausted and incoherent sounding Met Eireann lady – while sandwiched in the middle was Joe Duffy, pretending to empathise with everything, offering state validated emotional colour to the nationwide tapestry of falling trees, ruined clothes lines, dodgily stitched together roofs and homicidal tides.

Oh stay inside yeh poor craythurs. You mind that wind now. I’ve heard what it can do to yah.

What matter that it’s all kind of been done before, and previous storm overkills from the national broadcaster led to some people quite logically figuring that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a big deal this time either.

Even Ray Darcy sounded engaged, concerned, instead of, well, somebody who’s being paid a fortune not to give a shite. Oh for a day we were fantastic again, not in the shrill, tongue in stranger hysteria of Italia ’90, but in a sober, more concerned old Irish way, a sort of ‘are you sure you’re ok there now?’ A kind of ‘how about a cup of tea’ sensibility, and don’t forget to check on all those old people and animals, but only, you know, once the wind has died down.

And it was all so terribly, terribly comforting, like a bedtime story or a jug of hot milk. In a way, I’ll almost miss it, and experiencing it reminded me of all the things I’d forgotten I missed about the place I used to think I lived in.

There hasn’t been any Irish state worth talking about since the early 1990’s – if indeed, such an entity can actually be said to have existed back then – when the senior Irish Civil Service realized that all the big action and money was in Europe and that their focus now was on being the best little boys and girls in the Euro class, the better to secure those lucrative sinecures in Brussels once their careers in Dublin had run their natural course.

Since then, any important Irish Government decision – such as the one to rape the citizenry in order to pay off the debts of bankers – has actually been taken in Brussels, or more precisely, Berlin. RTE, like all the rest of the Irish Government, is engaged in persuading its dwindling band of listeners that the stuff it talks about actually has some sort of meaning in the real world, wherever that may be.

But Fine Gael told us to stay indoors and not go to work. And as the denizens of Leo’s ‘Republic of Opportunity’ made their way back to work over the cracks and runnels left behind by the country sized scam that was Irish Water, it still felt kind of comforting, as if they in some way cared about us.

For those of us who had to go back, next day, to the reality of living inside a fiction, the memory – false as its precept was – still felt kind of nice.

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We’re Just Machines Inside A Machine: Stanley Kubrick

There is very little that can compare with two hours plus inside the imagination of Stanley Kubrick. His films are unlike any other. Their astonishing visual clarity make them feel like a peculiarly vivid hallucination, a dream viewed through the lens of a madman cursed with the inability to blink.

The best of them make you think in ways you perhaps wished you never would. They call strongly for a brisk walks and stiff drinks.

As in dreams, the normal emotional focus which holds a waking day together for most of us – which supplies what we think of as our context – is missing from Kubrick’s films, and this makes them all the more unsettling.

We should probably hate Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ after all, he’s a nasty nihilistic thug. Instead, we are mostly indifferent to him, seeing him perhaps as a singularly unappealing child. In this and other instances, Kubrick’s much vaunted lack of empathy actually contributes to the dizzying intensity of the work.

The movies are an often fantastical vision of a situation that is essentially hopeless. Kubrick’s view of his fellow humans and what they could reasonably look forward to could best be described as a kind of medieval mechanistic determinism. We can’t act outside our programming: it’s as simple as that. Our prospects are fixed, just like in a medieval cosmology, but without the all purpose balm of God.

The ultimate seed of Barry Lyndon’s undoing is his failure to even think of reaching some kind of understanding with his stepson, Lord Bullingdon. Already the target of Bullingdon’s resentment for being a parvenu who married his mother, Barry proceeds to mistreat Bullingdon while spoiling his own son, and even savagely beats the teenager in front of a large gathering at their home. Inevitably, when Bullingdon reaches majority and inherits his late father’s titles and wealth, that’s the end of Barry.

Had Barry been capable of thinking outside his programming and acting in his own longer term interests, he would have attempted some sort of approach along the lines of: ‘listen kid, I’m not too happy about this situation either, but can we just try to get along, huh? How about a lollipop?” Instead, he’s utterly a creature of the Universe that created him – you don’t make deals with children, you either beat or spoil them – and like the astronauts in 2001, he has to face an unprecedented situation within the excruciating limits of his own training. It is a vision of humanity which is bleak, to say the least.

The paradox of Kubrick lies in the fantastical clarity of his often staggeringly beautiful images – they are supra-real, better than real – coupled with a philosophical vision that even Beckett might have found a bit depressing. This isn’t entirely a throwaway remark, either. Bleak and all as he believed our condition to be, I suspect Beckett might have found Kubrick’s lack of compassion a bit repellent.

In a retrospective documentary about Kubrick released not long after his death, Jack Nicholson tells a revealing story from during the filming of ‘The Shining.’ During a rare break between those endless takes that gave poor old Shelly Duvall a breakdown, Kubrick tells his lead actor that ‘The Shining’ is actually a feelgood story.

Jack does a subdued version of his famous disbelieving leer and says ‘How’s that Stanley?’ Kubrick replies “the notion that there’s anything out there after death. That’s good. That’s optimistic.”

In spite of our technological accomplishments (and I suppose ‘we’ speak of ‘our’ technological accomplishments as if ‘we’ somehow made them. I can’t design a PC or build an aeroplane. Real change, as Kubrick would probably have pointed out, is actually generated by very small groups of humans), Kubrick’s view of our experience and capabilities is cruelly limited.

Jack Torrance can’t do anything other than go mad. It’s his training. It’s his trajectory. Like in a medieval tale of caution, Tom Cruise’s character in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is transported out of his rightful caste and level by sheer chance. Such an interruption to the fixed laws of the Universe leads to all sorts of Hell breaking loose, he teeters on the precipice of madness and death.

But he gets very lucky. He’s able to resume his former existence, sort of, albeit with all sorts of stuff he wishes he didn’t know about his wife (is Kubrick the real reason Tom and Nicole Kidman split up? You know, I have my suspicions.)

Medieval it is in many ways, but it actually chimes oddly with much of today’s intellectual orthodoxy in the West. This orthodoxy preaches, for example, that you should never look outside the alleged wisdom of received opinion. At its most self-loathing, it regards human consciousness itself as some sort of nasty STD.

The idea of the Universe as some sort of inanimate – and possibly fake – machine is something which has been gaining a lot of traction lately, and it’s pure Kubrick.

In Kubrick, no human being can act outside their programming in a way that is transformative. The humanitarianism of Colonel Dax in ‘Paths of Glory’ is as admirable as it is pointless, because the French High Command is going to execute its innocent soldiers anyway. The astronauts in 2001 are presumably among the best trained people on the planet, but Kubrick explicitly identifies them with the ape-man who’s just learned how to kill with a bone, and they are powerless to do anything once the machines stop working.

In such a world, the notion of any progress at all seems improbable. In 2001, Kubrick has to resort to the deus ex machina of invisible yet all powerful aliens to explain how apes leaned how to fly spaceships, but aren’t they just the medieval God by any other non-name?

‘The Shining ‘ is the only one of Kubrick’s movies to make any reference to the possibility of the supernatural, contributing perhaps to the one clunky plot flaw in his entire oeuvre, i.e. when the ‘ghosts’ open the locked door for Jack. Even here, any influence from beyond is entirely malign and only hastens Jack Torrance towards his predetermined, mechanistic end.

Kubrick’s film are high definition visual trips unlike any other. They are unrivalled in terms of visual clarity and unforgettable moments, but don’t go looking to them for reasons to feel good about yourself and the future.

Why Luck Is So Much Better Than Talent

Of all things, perhaps, the very worst station in life is probably to be a person of talent – or, at least, the belief you have talent – who is forced to live without luck.

It’s like being poor old Alfred Russell Wallace instead of Charles Darwin. Wallace had famously worked out most of the principles of Evolution years before Darwin, but never got around to publishing them in the right journal, and so six whole generations of humanity have lived under the shadow of Darwinism, rather than Wallaceism.

Perhaps Alfred’s bad luck was the good fortune of his namesakes, since people named ‘Wallace’ in the Deep South of America might have had to move, or change their names.

It’s a sad fact that you can’t get very far in life without luck. Think of the luckiest people you know, JK Rowling for instance. Was Harry Potter really the most outstanding fantasy written anywhere in the world for young people in the last twenty years? Really? Come on.

And I’ve never really believed all that rags to riches stuff about being a young single mother breastfeeding and writing in coffee shops. I mean, it’s a good story, but really? Trying to write while being in sole charge of a young child is unbelievably difficult, I know; I’ve tried it.

Also, it’s pretty much impossible to get the ear of any publisher these days without some sort of an ‘in,’ without the space in your life to do some ‘schmoozing.’ Try as I might, I can’t imagine anyone balancing the demands of truly single parenting with ‘schmoozing.’ Maybe some people have managed it, but I can’t see how.

The enigmatic ineffability of luck is sort of reflected in the fiction too. While George RR Martin’s characters are products of an intricately imagined world who endure all manner of horror and humiliation on their way to ultimately bloody fates, Rowling’s characters just sort of, like, have stuff happen to them.

Harry wakes up one morning to discover that he’s the most famous person in the wizard world, that his life has been mapped out and made fantastic by incredible things which happened before he was born. Because that’s the way it is for everyone, right?

Winston Churchill was a depressive who drank his own weight in brandy daily and long bemoaned what he reckoned was his execrable luck, most notably when he was left outside the mainstream of British politics for 15 years before 1940.

In reality, he was one of the luckiest gits imaginable: membership of a high born British family allowed him to get away with a lifetime of outrageous behaviour (rather like a certain Mr Johnson today), and it meant his career survived disasters which would have instantly obliterated the legacy of many a lesser born man.

You’d never have heard of the brains behind the Gallipoli offensive in World War I if it hadn’t been Winston Churchill. Likewise, it is a little noted irony of British history that the same man who commanded British soldiers to fire on their own citizens during the general strike of the mid-1920s became its greatest wartime Prime Minister less than a generation later. Would Roosevelt have survived such a calamity?

The most successful politician in the ancient Roman Republic was a man called Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Indeed, so successful was Sulla that his career pretty much led to the death of the Republic, though this would not be officially pronounced until Caesar a generation later.

Though of great ability, Sulla seemed to be able to come back from disaster again and again. He openly boasted of the reason for this. It wasn’t that he was the smartest, bravest or the best looking (have you seen his picture?), it was simply that he was the luckiest. He proclaimed again and again that the Goddess Fortuna was in love with him, and so bestowed most special favours.

Sulla knew more than a thing or two about life. He is possibly the only dictatorial leader in recorded history to have voluntarily and successfully given up power, i.e. managing to survive and enjoy a healthy retirement.

One of his political descendants, Julius Caesar, used to boast of exactly the same kind of luck, and he seemed to be dead right until that unfortunate business on the Ides of March.

It’s become something of a clichĂ© to mourn the way ancient wisdom about the way life really works has been thrown away in the so called Age of Reason. Luck is important. Luck changes lives in ways Science can only dream about, but luck seems to have no logic, no discernible pattern; therefore we mistrust it, do our best to ignore it, in public at least.

There is one fascinating reference to the power of luck in a 1970’s science fiction novel called ‘The Ringworld Engineers,’ by Larry Niven. In one important sub-plot, an alien race known as Pierson’s Puppeteers turn out to have selectively bred human beings for luck. They end up with an individual who is the descendant of seven generations of lottery winners.

But you would probably need to be an alien to think so outlandishly, so far outside the box. For all our supposedly incredible achievements these days, people rarely move outside tightly prescribed circles of thought.

Or am I wrong? Is there some covert University study under way as I speak? I bet Google are working on it right now, or possibly the Illuminati (assuming, of course, that they’re not the same thing).

A Message From Our Sponsors

Hello! We’re just taking the chance here to touch base with you about a few things. Here in the corporate world, we like to use phrases like ‘touch base.’ It sort of connects us with the sporting world, which we also make a lot of money from, and some of us also really like to hang out with, or at least near to, sporting types, so long as they’re really rich and successful of course.

‘Touching base’ also marks us out as go-getter types. It means we’re kinetic, we’re goal driven, we like to be pro-active about our targets in an ever changing world.

I have no idea what any of these phrases mean, but I do know that ‘touching base’ is better than ‘checking.’

‘Checking’ implies that we’re worried about something, that we might be the sort of people who inspect the contents of the loo just before we flush, and we’re really not interested in being the type of person who looks back.

And no. Here in the advertising world, we’re definitely not worried about anything. We’re in great form, fine fettle. Why wouldn’t we be? Our profits just went up another 300%. Of course, the huge rise in profits and the challenges of a world that manages to be both wired up and wireless going forward meant that we just had to let a lot of people go (again). That was tough on us, but at least I still have a job, not to mention a salary increase.

I want to touch base with you about a couple of really exciting products we’re rolling down the pipeline at you in the next few months, or once our legal people have touched base that we absolutely can’t be sued, whichever comes first.

As you know, there’s pretty much no area of your life that, thanks to our insatiable desire to touch base and keep you in the loop about all kinds fabulous suites of products, we don’t touch – be it with a base or something else.

We think of all your time and space – every minute you spend from cradle to grave as a semi-conscious component of our sacred marketplace – as being essentially made up of cells of marketing opportunity. We are constantly at work to find exactly the right marketing opportunity to fit each cell of your space, time and consciousness.

We literally think of existence as one enormous Excel spreadsheet. Now, some cells are obviously more fertile than others. The more time you spend lying on our couch, staring at the TV, emitting those lovely alpha waves, the more time you spend downloading pornography on your computer, the more time you spend reading the vacuous non-thoughts of your friends on Facebook, the better it is for us, and for you obviously, because how else are you going to hear about all those lovely products we want to delight you with?

Making sure that your work space is enhanced with all kinds of lovely marketing can be tricky. Obviously, it’s important to us that you go to work in order to keep imagining you can afford the lovely things we want to sell. It’s important that this work is as hard, or at least as time consuming, as possible. Research (we love to do loads and loads of research) has shown that being exhausted and basically unable to think for yourself, but filled with a sense of being vaguely pissed off about something, renders you, our wonderful potential new customer, in the ideal state to hear our very good news about stuff.

Unfortunately, some of the companies who buy your time for ever decreasing amounts of money apparently think that said purchase of time entitles them to control what you see and hear as well. They can be a little hostile to our attempts to augment your cells of work time with exciting product news.

We are still working on this, but it has occurred to us that there are other cells, inside and outside the work experience, that offer ideal opportunities to share the wonderful gift of targeted marketing.

For example, the average person (we just love research about ‘average people’) spends between 20 and 40 minutes of every single day in the bathroom. These times, be they about Number 1s, Number 2s or some other form of ablution, represent cells of absolutely golden marketing opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to hear about some fantastic new toilet brush at the very moment you have committed some new atrocity in there?

We will shortly be rolling out a suite of new waterproof screens for installation in toilet cubicles all over the world. But we’re not stopping there, oh no! What if your bath bubbles could actually talk to you about new all in broadband bundles or hair removers? Wouldn’t that be the nearest thing to Paradise?

Some really clever sciencey type person somewhere is also investigating the possibility of a new intelligent toilet gel which informs you about exciting new products at the very moment you’re sitting above it. Even the action of vigorous defecation will not affect the ability of the gel to keep you fully up to date on everything from plasma screen TVs to boned and rolled ham.

But we’re not stopping there. Indeed, in many ways, we’ve only just begun. Some of our research people recently found that most people spend up to one third of their entire lives asleep. Imagine!

It’s like looking at an Excel sheet where fully one third of the cells can’t have anything added into them. That is one entire third of your life when you are out of contact with the rest of the economy, when you can’t hear about exciting new products or make purchasing decisions for the future.

But never fear: we’re hard at work on this as well. Like a lot of our best ideas, it comes from Hollywood, and we then make Hollywood make other movies about our best ideas. Ever seen Inception?

Imagine you’re having a dream about a field that you (or someone you saw on TV) used to play in as a child. You see the distant hills, the footballs, your newly reanimated childhood dog, who all of a sudden gets up on his hind legs and says ‘try Zagfart cola, for that authentic taste of your (or someone else’s) childhood.’

Excited? We know we are. We’re working on making this service wireless, so you won’t even have to stick a couple of electrodes on your head before entering the sleep cells of your economic activity. We’re on the point of offering our corporate customers a whole suite of product placement opportunities, delivered right there and then to your dream. We will enable our clients to achieve ideal marketing synergy with your sleeping selves.

Our clinical trials of this fantastic new product have been very encouraging: one guy woke right up and bought forty quarter pounders, and only a few people went insane.

We believe there’s no reason why every cell of your time, working or sleeping, can’t be opened up to the fabulous and fabulously profitable benefits of direct marketing. The ability to be connected with the economy at all times, waking or sleeping, is a fundamental human right. We want to keep working with you to keep identifying products to keep making your life even better.

We’ll see you when you close your eyes…

What Is Going On With Toilets?

Further to our recent effulgence on the perfidy of engineers, an even more sinister development has come to my notice: what the hell is going on with toilets?

Again, some satanic little cadre of engineers someplace has decreed that, no matter what, you’re going to come face to face with all that stuff going on inside that you used to be perfectly happy never thinking about.

Time was when you could just sit, pull the relevant things down, let her rip and forget all about it. You didn’t even need to look at it if you didn’t want to. In fact, I seem to remember some line from ‘Basic Instinct’ to the effect that looking down at your own poo was a sure sign of some serious psychotic disturbance.

Not so any more. Every new toilet now seems to feature a sort of little platform where your poo rests, as if presenting itself for inspection before going off to swim with the little fishies. On occasion, it can even be a bit reluctant to leave said platform, leading to all manner of quiet grunting and brushing and cursing.

It may not be entirely coincidental that I first encountered the ‘inspect your own poo’ phenomenon in Germany. Ah yes, I reasoned, here it seems is design that accords with some Teutonic notion of functionality.

‘Ja, time to check mein faeces vur today. Ja, zis all looks in order. Ja, das ist der Bratwurst from yesterday. Ach, ich muss start eating some more fibre, Ja.

But I don’t come from Germany. I grew up, pretty much, in a disgruntled offshoot of the Anglo-Saxon world which, healthily or not, held that there were things about yourself and your funny little processes that you just did not need to know in order to get through the day.

No doubt it’s all a vestige of some Victorian miasma: cover up those chair legs in case Weird Uncle Magnus starts getting ideas about them, flush away that nasty poo, but I’m comfortable with it. It’s just too late to change. I can’t start developing some sort of emotional relationship with my own waste. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Maybe it’s the flipside of EU standardisation, aka Germanisation, but I’ve noticed a most disturbing increase in the number of toilets with poo inspection platforms.

Is this the true movement that lies underneath things like Brexit? Is this what gives it propulsion? The ability to ignore your own poo until it’s too late should be a fundamental human right. You can’t force us to talk to it, make friends with it, find out how it’s feeling: you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.

One African Night

It must have started on a night like this, under an African sky some time after the very first dawn.

A man went out walking by a lake still as a dream. He saw the moon breaking into a million pieces on the surface of the water.

He looked up and lost his mind a time inside the jewelled tapestry of the sky.

And someone by his side, a child or young woman perhaps, said

“What are the stars? Tell me about the stars?”

He looked down at her face: the wide eyes lit by the moon, all that trust and fear, and he knew he had to tell her something.

So he pointed to a triangle just risen in the west, said it was all that remained of a mighty hunter who stole fire from the high mountains and was punished by the Gods for freeing his people.

He said how some of the lights were home to the good Gods, watching over their children.

Some were heroes so mighty and devout that they were chosen to live forever in the sky.

He told how that big star in the south was the soul of a beautiful princess who had been killed by a wicked giant; how the Gods had taken pity and lifted her to the forever place.

He said how the stars were placed there to guide the way of lonely travellers by night.

He said a great hero had died in battle, and the Queen of the Gods had wept so much that her tears made a milky belt to fasten the sky in place.

Long hours the man spoke up at the dark. And his words made a sweet blanket. And the child or young woman fell at last asleep.

The man looked back up at the sky, knowing that everything he had said was a lie, but that he had needed to say something, and he marvelled at how his words had seemed to grow wings of truth on their journey from his mouth to her eyes.

He began that night the work of tying thread to bind darkness to light, to join one day to another. And what was important, perhaps, was not that he made mistakes, but that he tried.

Our world of lies began that night, spawned from the loveliest intention, to calm the heart of a fearful child, and it began under an African sky.

The Restless Perfidy Of Engineers

 

The weekend hotel break has become a drug of necessity for stressed out people everywhere. Thanks to our glorious new economic dispensation, everybody – unless they’re Bill Gates – is working ever longer hours for far less money. Long gone are the days when many of us could pack off for two weeks and completely switch off.

While work expands to fill all the time you don’t actually spend asleep, many have found it necessary to compress ‘downtime’ into just a couple of days.

I suppose it won’t be too long before it gets compressed further into just a couple of hours, or even minutes, and indeed the Japanese – ahead of the curve as ever – apparently have these tiny rooms in Tokyo (basically cabinets whose entire floor is a bed) where you can lock yourself away and experience sensory deprivation and all manner of earthly pleasure until your two hours run out.

In the meantime, the rest of us hold fast to things like city breaks, where you pack a bag, get a cheap flight with one of those airlines currently investigating the possibility of charging its passengers for all that oxygen, decamp and undergo a series of rapid fire experiences designed to suck the marrow out of Prague or Budapest or Barcelona or wherever, then flop, utterly exhausted and drained of life’s vital fluid, back to work just a couple of days later.

The more sedentary, or less insane among us opt for one of the bizarre profusion of hotels still left behind from the last economic crash. These are curious edifices, their ownership – following multiple bankruptcies – often the source of bemused conjecture.

Their size and location – giant mausoleums often standing literally in the middle of nowhere – put one unnervingly in mind of the hotel in The Shining, but the less said about that the better.

Focus instead on the fact that they usually boast all the facilities – steam room, other steam room, gourmet restaurant, wifi etc. – and just try and ignore the fact that by night it seems to dwell in an ocean of darkness more profound than the inside of a Russian oligarch’s soul.

Don’t pay any attention to the fact that construction seems to have come to an abrupt halt somewhere between the swimming pool and that whole west wing thing they mentioned in the brochure. Some sort of new property boom is bound to happen any day now, and they’ll be able to get everything finished.

But the compression of time involved in these mini-breaks often means that something which used not to be that big a deal now eats up loads of precious, de-stressing minutes. A goodly percentage of my two day break ends up being frittered away on trying to figure out how the shower works, or wondering if the kettle the mysterious owners have helpfully supplied is actually some sort of kitschy, post – industrial ornament.

Showers are a particular headwreck. It says something about human ingenuity that we’ve apparently never managed to design two that work exactly the same way. ‘Oh wait, I think this nozzle is … Oh sweet Jesus. The pain. No. Maybe it’s this one here.’

Not Gerry’s Duck

Each individual hotel room should come with a manual explaining how all the fittings work, how you need to tweak the light switch just so in order to make the floor lamp glow that sensuous shade of purple. Hotels could even save you some time by allowing you to download these manuals direct to your computer, so you’re all briefed up and fully ready to chill.

Only an engineer could possibly imagine that any human being enjoys spending half his holiday trying to figure out how to flush the toilet. The only people who get a kick out of this kind of thing are other engineers. But it seems that, just like bankers, lawyers and other card carrying criminals, engineers enjoy far too much sway over this wonderful world of ours.

And it isn’t just hotels and plumbing. When tetra-pak was invented back in the 1950’s, there was one type of milk carton, pyramidal in shape, and you snipped off the top to get at the goodies within. But now? The other day, I discovered that my favourite supermarket had once again changed the packaging on their tomato sauce, rendering all my previous hard won knowledge about how to open it entirely useless.

It took me half an hour to disassemble the new carton, by which time the kitchen resembled the aftermath of one of those parties in The Sopranos where Tony invites his buddies around for a heart to heart.

We’re supposed to live in an age of standardisation, where everybody gives out because everything is exactly like anything else. But why hasn’t anyone told engineers about this? Don’t even get me started on the designers of Windows 10, whose hyperactive avarice almost ensured this blog didn’t get written.

Stop adding stupid pointless fiddly features to everything or I’ll sue you for all those precious minutes you’ve taken off my life.

A Seed Of Heavenly Doubt

You passed my darkest night a comet

Writing cold fire above my wasted Earth

In the dead of my most evil hour

I looked up and saw you

And marvelled at your bright ghost plumage

Your raiment of mud and ice.

My Hale-Bopp, my Shoemaker-Levy,

My glad and distant tiding

My month of giddy news from worlds undreamt.

You made me rethink distance

And the things that stitch up time

Why the faraway seems so near

And the neartime crowds itself

With things impossible to touch.

Your course by time takes you far

From my numbed sky

Which dances still a little.

Where once you raptured my naked eye

Now you live in a telescope of memory

Which like flesh will fade

Leaving aught but a shadow

On a retina of doubt.

But memory has a skin

And fathoms underneath.

Somewhere in those measureless reaches

Lies a shadow on a rock

A fossil stressed under layers of time,

The memory of all you were to me

While your corona danced hymns to your glory

‘Gainst the dark of my adoring sky.

Listen To It Now On Newstalk

Global intrigue, 21st Century warfare and a haunting love story: they’re all part of the mix in the thrilling ‘A Pilot’s Honour’ now available on podcast from newstalk.com/documentaryonnewstalk

The drama is the latest offering from the team of writer / director Jason Gill and Producer / Editor Alan Meaney. It’s the intriguing and controversial tale of a US airman, shot down in Iraq, whose broken body and soul find love in the unlikely setting of windswept Galway on Ireland’s western coast.

Powerful and heartrending, ‘A Pilot’s Honour’ charts the star-crossed love of Captain Bob Conway, a pilot washed up in Ireland’s western capital, and Mary Brady, a young student from Donegal.

Their relationship is beautiful and captivating, but each of them is harbouring secrets, and their love is threatened from the very beginning by forces no one can control. Bob in particular must make a choice, one which will have implications not just for those closest to him, but for people all over the globe.

Part political thriller, part taboo busting love story, ‘A Pilot’s Honour’ is a pulsating drama which will haunt and enthral the listener. It features fantastic performances from Joe Steiner as Bob, Martina Dolan as Mary, Martin Kelleher as Seamus Brady and Ronan Flynn as an unnamed interrogator.

The drama features excellent performances, a tight and tense script, and a richly diverse soundscape beautifully realized by Producer Alan Meaney.

It can be heard on podcast, anywhere in the world, anytime, on any device – all you need is some kind of Internet connection – on newstalk.com/documentaryonnewstalk. Whether it’s a wild Montana night, a long cross country drive, or a chilled evening by a beach, this is like a warm bath for the mind, comfort food for the soul.

The plot is basically Top Gun meets Line of Duty. There are very few places in the world where you can get to hear radio like this. This is a unique opportunity to be, in the words of an ancient Irish TV host, both excited and delighted.

Alan Meaney and Jason Gill have previously worked together on acclaimed and award nominated dramas such as ‘Fairies Only Wear Wings,’ ‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ and ‘The Killing of Sheila Price,’ many of which can be heard online by going to mixcloud.com

Prepare to be entranced!

Counting Down to A Pilot’s Honour

Things move to a new phase this weekend with the premiere of my new radio drama, ‘A Pilot’s Honour’ on Ireland’s Newstalk Station at 8am this Sunday, August 20th. The drama will be rebroadcast on Newstalk on Saturday, August 26th at 10pm and will of course be available via podcast, the Newstalk website and the TuneIn radio app.

To say that we’re excited would be too obvious. But more, I and I think the whole team are deeply proud of what is a memorable and unique piece of work. It’s part ‘Top Gun’ meets ‘Line of Duty,’ part love story, where cutting edge use of sound and music intersects perfectly with beautiful and natural, utterly haunting performances.

Producer Alan Meaney and I have been making radio dramas together for a few years now. I think we’re proud of everything we’ve made, but I suppose this script called for pushing the boat out a bit. You’ve got to go all over the world in less than an hour, you don’t have visuals or huge budgets, plus you’re limited to engagement with one human sense.

‘A Pilot’s Honour’ whisks you from war torn Iraq to windswept Galway on Ireland’s western coast. You move from student locker rooms and bars to a claustrophobic interrogation room, you sit inside a control room in an antiseptic complex located somewhere in the Nevada desert, where pings on keyboards command drones thousands of miles away to start killing people. All of this is accomplished through the medium of sound; there really is nothing else like it.

I have been deeply fortunate to have hooked up with a true artist of sound. And I want to say thanks again to Alan: an absolute master of his craft and a fantastic collaborator. Four years on from our first, madcap adventure, the ideas are still teeming and I hope we get to make many more.

We were blessed to have a brilliant, perceptive and generous cast, who make my words come alive in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Our star crossed lovers – Joe Steiner as our downed American Pilot and Martina Dolan as the young student he meets – are simply heartrending. If you’re not moved, then that’s it, you’re actually dead.

Martin Kelleher as the embittered older brother is simply outstanding, and Ronan Flynn’s slyly insinuating, slightly sympathetic agent is cynically delicious. I can’t thank these guys enough, but I will continue to try.

Works of art can have curiously gnarled and torturous passages towards finally being seen or heard. I remember reading an introduction to Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ which described the great man’s process on the way to completing the work. Basically, over the course of almost a decade, Dostoyevsky would feverishly write a hundred pages, tear them all up, have a breakdown, gamble a bit, have another breakdown, rewrite about fifty pages, burn them, contemplate suicide or just switching to writing porn, write another 70 pages, have a breakdown etc.

To a me aged twenty or so, it sounded like an absolutely brain melting waste of time. But I didn’t know then that it is the work that dictates the schedule, not you. It offers frustrating glimpses and circles the airport until it is ready, and all you can do is try to be open.

‘A Pilot’s Honour’ is loosely based on a subplot in a novel I published online a few years ago. ‘Ghost In The Sky’ is the story of a super secret spy plane, a sort of ultra hi-tech airship, so fast and silent it could hover above your house at night without you ever knowing. I still think it’s a pretty cool idea. Those who want to find out more can visit Amazon and type the phrase ‘Ghost in The Sky’ into the search engine.

But in the way that reality has of ‘trumping’ (geddit?) fiction, our world has seen the growth of a far weirder and more sinister entity than the ghost. It’s a little known fact that drone strikes mushroomed under the Obama Administration. Maybe I’m behind the times, but the notion that you can sit in a computer room much like any large office or call centre we know today, sip your cup of Java, gossip with your neighbour and command some machine thousands of miles away to bring death to people you’ve never met is both unsettling and deeply chilling.

Drones feature in the new story, indeed they are in a sense at its moral heart, but you’ll have to listen to know what I mean.

Many of us already know how powerful radio drama can be. Indeed, the global success of some podcasts offers a clue to just how powerful a medium it can be. Writing for radio is fascinating and liberating. It’s a playground for someone like me: I can let my imagination run wild in the knowledge that my consummate producer and brilliant actors will make it all somehow come true. It’s great fun.

Have a listen Sunday, Saturday, or via the timeless Internet, you might just end up loving it.