Saturday, July 19, 2014

Duffy's Carrickfergus in 2014

I've been back in Carrickfergus for the last few days. This time I took daughter#1 with me. I thought you might be interested in a few Sean Duffy vids and images. Above is Duffy's street Coronation Road as it looks today (a little bit overcast even in July). Below left we're at Carrickfergus Police Station's bullet proofed glass entrance gate. Below right is the really quite lovely sea front painted pink for the Giro d'Italia. Below are 2 murals from the UVF showing that they still seem to have a presence in the area? The one at the very bottom is new to me and was done in the last year or so in a fairly sophisticated Banksyesque style. I looked for it but couldn't find it so maybe it too was painted over for the Giro?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My 12 Favourite Film Noirs

"40's style with added robot"
The 70th anniversary of the release of the quintessential film noir, Double Indemnity (1944), is as good an excuse as any to watch a classic noir. But what exactly counts as film noir in the first place? It's a tricky definitional problem. Although the classic noir era is over it’s not easy to define what noir was or when the noir period definitively ended. If you're going to say that nothing after 1959 counts as a proper noir (which a lot of film historians do) then many of my favourites below aren't going to make it. But the following is my list and my rules so I'm going to say that the cut off date is August 1987 when John Huston died (director and actor in many of the greatest noirs) which allows me to cheat a little. Obviously these are idiosyncratic choices and apologies if your favourites (Night and the City, Pickup on South Street, DOA, Night of the Hunter, Out of the Past, Cutter’s Way etc.) didn’t quite fit into the top 12.

12. The Asphalt Jungle
Directed by John Huston (1950)
Sterling Hayden gets himself mixed up in a robbery, but the real fun is watching the gang unravel under the pressure of success. Crosses and double crosses, a cameo by a purring Marilyn Monroe, an impressive Sam Jaffe as Doc  Riedenschneider; this is one of the all time great heist-gone-wrong films.

11. The Killing
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1956)
Sterling Hayden gets himself mixed up in another robbery and again everything goes wrong after it all goes right. Hayden’s  Johnny Clay is a pacing, muscular, cerebral criminal, but while lady luck is on his side at the track it isn’t at the airport.

10. The Third Man
Directed by Carol Reed (1949)
Orson Welles is dead, or is he? Orson Welles is a bad guy, or is he? Joseph Cotten tries to find out or does he? Sewers, a Ferris wheel, duffle coats, the cuckoo clock speech, oh and the greatest existential ending of a film ever...

9. The Postman Always Rings Twice
Directed by Tay Garnett (1946)
Huge rip off. There is no postman or doorbell. Lana Turner smoulders and John Garfield is sucked willingly into the gravitational pull of her platinum sun. The plan is to kill her old man and take the insurance money. They know it’s not going to work but they do it anyway. Brilliant.

8. The Big Steal
Directed by Don Siegel (1949)
Don Siegel began his career directing the montages for Casablanca and finished it directing various Clint Eastwood vehicles in the 70’s, which isn’t a bad career at all. Along the way he made this slice of noir about an army lieutenant wrongly accused of robbery who pursues the real crook through Mexico. Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer stand out in a terrific cast.

7. Strangers On A Train
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1951)
Two strangers meet on a train and realise that they both need someone bumped off.  Based on a slyly brilliant book by Patricia Highsmith with a script by Raymond Chandler and an uncredited Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock entered his great 1950’s period with this perfect stomach churning noir. Robert Walker chews the scenery as Bruno, a charming psychopath who wants out from under the heel of his father. Farley Granger provides able support.

6. Rififi
Directed by Jules Dassin (1957)
Jules Dassin got his start directing Yiddish films in New York, then he moved into mainstream Hollywood movies (directing the great Night and the City), then he got blacklisted, moved to France and directed this noir classic, with a cynical, bitter Jean Servais as an excon with a plan for a robbery on a jewellery shop. The heist itself is the highpoint of the film with its famous 10 minute zero dialogue, zero music, coming-through-the-ceiling scene. Everything succeeds perfectly but this being a noir you know that somehow it isn’t all going to end with expensive plonk and cottages in the Dordogne.

5. The Maltese Falcon
Directed by John Huston (1941)
Humphrey Bogart is tough guy private eye Sam Spade who helps Mary Astor locate a missing relic from the Knights of Malta that might be knocking around the streets of San Francisco. Also after the “black bird” are a snivelling Peter Lorre and a lugubrious Sydney Greenstreet. The ending is a bit contrived (although faithful to the novel) and fits with the best traditions of downbeat, pessimistic noirdom.

4. The Big Sleep
Directed by Howard Hawks (1946)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall star, William Faulkner wrote the screenplay, Raymond Chandler wrote the novel. I’ve seen this half a dozen times and I still don’t really get the plot: something about a missing Irish rebel, a pornographer and dodgy films, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the chemistry between Bogie and Betty Bacall. Hawks runs a tight ship throughout but lets the future Mr and Mrs Bogart really rip in their scenes. Grainy, dirty, rainy and slick, this is probably the highpoint of Hawks’s impressive career.

3. Double Indemnity
Directed by Billy Wilder (1944)
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in Billy Wilder’s adaptation of the James Cain novel. It’s another knock-off-the-hubbie-and-get-the-insurance scheme. Babs rocks the sunglasses and angora sweater look and poor Fred doesn’t stand a chance (neither does the husband of course). Raymond Chandler argued with Billy Wilder, drank like a fish and somehow wrote the screenplay. He has a brief cameo at 16 minutes in (his only appearance in a movie.)

2. Blade Runner
Directed by Ridley Scott (1982)
Some people are under the mistaken belief that this is only a science fiction movie but in fact it’s a classic noir. Filmed on The Maltese Falcon set on the Warner’s back lot, it’s the story of half a dozen people trying to make sense of life before they themselves die. Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a Blade Runner, whose speciality is hunting androids who have returned to a dystopic, ruined Earth. Along the way he falls for the beautiful replicant, Rachael, who’s so convincingly human that she doesn’t even know that she’s a machine. Based on Philip K Dick’s short novel of ideas: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott has turned this material into a metaphysical detective story where the detective finds out not who done it, but how to be a good human being.

1. Chinatown
Directed by Roman Polanski (1973)
You know what happens to nosy fellows? They get their noses cut off. No, really, they do and it's not pretty. Robert Towne wrote this gloriously depressing tale of a 1930’s Private Eye (Jack Nicholson) who uncovers a plot to steal water from the city of Los Angeles and divert it to land in the San Fernando valley. The man who finds out the truth and his wife (Faye Dunaway), hires ex Chinatown cop, Nicholson, to find out who did him in. The villain of the piece is John Huston, playing Dunaway’s rapist father with gleeful malevolence. Roman Polanski’s direction is lush, romantic and old fashioned. His cameo as a knife wielding maniac is disturbing on all sorts of levels. But all the performances are pitch perfect (look out for James Hong who plays the butler in this and a genetic designer in Blade Runner). The ending of Chinatown is melodramatic and a little rushed, but it still works, and as in all the really best noirs the hero is thwarted and beaten. Noirs teach us that defeat lies ahead for us all; learning how to deal with this defeat and ultimately death itself is the only meaning of life we’re ever going to get in this world of tears.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mr Mercedes

My review of Stephen King's new crime novel Mr Mercedes from yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald. Don't want to bury the lede here, but safe to say Mr Mercedes isn't King's finest hour... 

Many bad crime novels begin with graphic violence, particularly violence towards children. Bad crime writers fear that unless the stakes are raised sufficiently at the start, their story-telling skills alone won’t be deft enough for potential readers to continue with the book. But if the villain is a depraved monster who does terrible things by, say, page six then the angry reader will be hooked. It’s instructive then that Stephen King begins his first foray into the private-eye genre, Mr Mercedes, with a car ploughing into a crowd of unemployed, desperate individuals queuing overnight at a jobs fair. This mass slaughter kills eight people, including a mother we have just got to know who is nursing her new-born baby. 

After this bloody prologue the action shifts to retired Mid-West homicide detective Bill Hodges, who spends his days watching Jerry Springer, drinking beer and contemplating suicide. King knows that this is a cliche, but mentioning what a cliche it is in the book is not the meta-textual inoculation from criticism the author thinks it is. The jobs-fair killer, nicknamed Mr Mercedes by the press, is a 20-something computer geek called Brady Hartsfield who has a very unhealthy relationship with his mother. We have seen this before too, in Psycho and in King’s own Sleepwalkers. To further underline his villainy, Brady is also an ice-cream van driver who hates children and, naturally, an invective-spewing racist. 

Brady gets in contact with Bill and invites him into an online chat forum where he hopes to taunt the cop into killing himself, but the scheme backfires as the wily old detective uses the chat forum to track Brady down. The police procedural part of the story is well told. King has a handle on the mechanics of an investigation and I particularly liked the way Hodges unpacked the killer’s poisoned pen letters. King is a writer equally at home in the world of screenplays and the frequent screenplay-like shifts in chronology and point of view worked well in the first third of the book.

King name checks James Patterson in Mr Mercedes and his storytelling is very much in this mould. King seems unconcerned that writers such as James Ellroy, James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane have raised the prose standards in contemporary crime fiction. For King, like Patterson, the words are there only to service the plot. The pages must turn and they must turn as fast as possible. With unblushing chutzpah at one point in Mr Mercedes King complains about the poor dialogue in the TV shows NCIS, Bones and Dexter which is a little bit rich for someone who has an African-American character talk in a comedic slave patois for much of the book to the inexplicable delight of the white people around him. 

“Massa Hodges goan have to find hisself a new lawnboy!” Jerome exclaims, and Janey laughs so hard she has to spit a bite of shrimp into her napkin. 

King’s other démodé attempts at humour are equally disastrous and will illicit few chuckles, I suspect, in anyone not of King’s generation.*

The cat and mouse plot of Mr Mercedes and the sparring between criminal and cop will be familiar to those who have read Charles Willeford’s crime classic, Miami Blues, but this, alas, is a contemporary rewrite that lacks much of Willeford’s wit and psychological acumen.

In a review of Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch last year King expressed bafflement and exasperation at Tartt’s writing pace. How could any novel take a decade to finish, he wondered, when he writes two books a year? The irony here is that with a little more time and effort and much tighter editing, King’s first attempt in this genre could actually have been pretty good.
* I wonder too if the unabashed use of the 'N' word and the embarrassed veil drawn over the sex scenes is also a generational quirk?

Friday, July 11, 2014

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009

Clearly not a regular customer of Daniel Antony: The Modern Barber of Northampton
a post from two years ago
Alan Moore's new comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III Century 2009 is the third and final part of the third outing of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the comic book shop where I bought it, it was in a display right next to the DC Comics' Watchmen prequels which came out last week: Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Minutemen & The Comedian. If Moore had seen that display it might have given him a stroke: his brand new creation donuted by DC's "hack work." Actually I've had mixed feelings about these prequels. Initially I was opposed, thinking them a creatively bankrupt way for DC to squeeze more money out of comic book nerds and Watchmen completists. But then as I saw the impressive cast of artists and writers involved I began to wonder if DC weren't just doing what Moore was doing by appropriating such iconic characters as Raffles, Malcolm Tucker, Jack Carter etc. (without compensating the copyright holders) for his comic; so I decided to give the Watchmen prequels the benefit of the doubt. But last week I finally read the first issues of the first four Watchmen prequels and I have to say that even in this disinterested neutral state of grace I found them pretty underwhelming. The artwork was better than the story, but really if this is the best that the mainstream comics industry can come up with in 2012 then probably the doomsayers are right and comic books are in for a very tough few years ahead. The Watchmen prequels are timid, clumsy and hamfistedly literal in their interpretations of these characters. They lack a cinematic vision and, so far, bring nothing new to the table in terms of mythology. My favourite was probably J Michael Straczynski's Nite Owl, but even that was just so darn...obvious. 
Back to Century 2009: ok so whats it all about then? Well Century 2009 follows up on what we learned in Century 1969 where Jack Carter, looking a lot like Michael Caine, tracked down the cultists who killed Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and brought East End gangland vengeance to an Aleister Crowley figure who was just about to jump into Mick Jagger's body at a free Stones festival in Hyde Park. The League of Gentlemen were also on the trail of the Crowley cultists because they feared the cult had a plan to bring forth a demonic child who would in turn somehow cause the apocalypse. In Century 2009 the demonic child has been born and he sounds an awful lot like Harry Potter something which I thought was pretty funny. Meanwhile Malcolm Tucker (from The Thick Of It), the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, is trying to defuse an out of control war in the country of Q'mar which got started under President Bartlett (from the West Wing)
The main delight in Century 2009 is spotting these borrowings because actually the story isn't that brilliant or exciting until the very end when the most powerful faery in the United Kingdom shows up to save the world from the Harry Potter Moonchild run amok. (Alan Moore and I am in complete agreement as to who this powerful faery might be.) As an intellectual game I think I enjoyed getting the insider refs more than I dug the actual narrative (an Andy Millman here, a James Bond there, a lovely Queequeg's chain of Coffee Shops) which, alas, is probably the weakest installment of League III. 
So is it worth buying? Aye, I reckon so. In these times of tightened belts I'd suggest that you skip the Watchmen prequels entirely until they come out in graphic novel form to your local library (I believe DC when they say that viewed all together the prequels will form an impressive multi-arcing story) but if you're into British pop culture or Alan Moore or League I and II, then League III is worth getting, just don't expect transcendence. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Game Of Thrones Investigation

Magheramorne Quarry became the Great Wall of Westeros through CGI
(A coyly written post from 4 years ago disguising the fact that my little brother and I broke into the Game of Thrones set before Game of Thrones was even a thing...)
I've done a little investigation into the filming locations for Game Of Thrones and it turns out that the Great Wall and Castle Black were outdoor sets filmed at a disused quarry in Magheramorne. My grandmother was from Magheramorne, a village of about 50 people, near Larne. In fact the scenes along the Great Wall were shot in the quarry about thirty yards from my grandmother's house. It's not very snowy in Magheramorne and making snow would cost a fortune so I assume the snow and ice were put in later by CGI. My father used to work in the quarry itself when it was the Blue Circle Cement Works and I've been in it dozens of times. It's a credit to the set designers that they could have have envisaged this dramatic (and rather dangerous) location as the Great Wall of Westeros. 
Before I came home I didn't think Game of Thrones had had much of an impact in Northern Ireland. It still hasn't been shown here but a lot of people know about it and have been affected by the production. My nephew Patrick went up for an extra and my brother's wife Dytania also was asked if she could appear as a background player. Ger Brennan's brother did make it into the show and I've read many enthusiastic pieces about GOT in the local papers. Filming GOT has been a very good thing for Northern Ireland which is still in recovery from three decades of low level civil war. 
My little brother and I went to investigate The Game of Thrones Great Wall set which has a fence around it. You can see much of Castle Black covered in tarp and even what looks like the hand pulley elevator up the wall face. The security fence is easily climbable but I wouldn't recommend it, especially at night where the quarry hole appears suddenly in front of you and is a ten story drop to a hard limestone floor. If you want to take pictures the best place is from Mill Bay across Larne Lough on Islandmagee. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

My Favourite Albums Of All Time

The album sleeve for House of the Holy collides Arthur C Clake's
best novel, Childhood's End, with the most interesting
place in Ireland, The Giants Causeway, with the greatest
band in the world at the time, Led Zeppelin
Rejigging the list for 2014... 
A list which is always changing, always evolving, sometimes devolving. At the moment the present stay of play is below and in a month or two it'll be different again. You'll notice no Beatles (not a big fan) or Springsteen (played him to death unfortunately although Nebraska might squeeze in there) or much rap. This isn't a PC list like Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums or a hipster collection like the NME list. Its merely my favourites. Old fashioned? Out of touch? Sure. I've limited myself to one album per artist and you'll notice that most of the records are in that sweet spot 1965 - 1979 when books, films and records were just better. 

1. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico
2. Blood On The Tracks - Bob Dylan
3. Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin
4. Let It Bleed - The Rolling Stones
5. OK Computer - Radiohead
6. Astral Weeks - Van Morrison
7. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
8. Pink Moon - Nick Drake
9. Liege and Lief - Fairport Convention
10. Franks Wild Years - Tom Waits
11. Parallel Lines - Blondie
12. PJ Harvey - PJ Harvey
13. I'm Your Man - Leonard Cohen
14. The Smiths - The Smiths
15. Dummy - Portishead
16. Horses - Patti Smith
17. Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
19. Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix
20. The Undertones - The Undertones
21. Automatic For The People - REM
22. The Black Album - Jay Z
23. Never Mind The Bollocks - The Sex Pistols
24. Dusty in Memphis - Dusty Springfield
25. The Ramones - The Ramones

Monday, June 30, 2014


A year ago when I blogged about Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways I said that it was almost as if the book was designed specifically to please me (in contrast to much of our current culture which seems to be designed specifically to annoy the hell out of me)...In The Old Ways Macfarlane followed some of the ancient walking routes of Europe and conjured up the literary ghosts of previous travellers on those routes, particularly the poet Edward Thomas. The Old Ways became an unlikely international best seller on the strength of its writing and by appealing to the inner yearning of urban based reviewers and readers for the beauty of the great outdoors. Edgelands (Vintage 2012) is a travel book written by two poets, Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, which is a kind of anti-Robert Macfarlane. Instead of looking for the wilderness at the top of Scotland or in some deep wadi in Palestine Roberts and Farley find the strange, wild and wonderful just down the road from us in that bit of wasteland behind the bus station or in old quarries or junkyards or abandoned factories or canals. In Edgelands the spirit is less Robert Macfarlane and John Muir and more JG Ballard and William Burroughs. The book sets out to be an exploration of "England's True Wilderness" and it reminded me of Ballard's Unlimited Dream Company and Concrete Island and Ian Sinclair's walk around the M25 recorded in London Orbital. Because the authors are poets who love poetry there is a full length poem or a lengthy extract in nearly every chapter from many great contemporary poets. Even more so than Macfarlane the authors realise that it is poets and artists who can see through the mundane to the sublime beyond.
Roberts and Farley celebrate the weirdness of all night golf driving range, container parks, scrubby woods, motorway service stations, airport car parks and they see loveliness - as, famously, Derek Mahon does - in burned out hotels, old alleys and dereliction. This, as I say, is a kind of anti Robert Macfarlane aesthetic but it's just as good as him (better actually in some ways because the authors have a sense of humour) and it even comes with a generous blurb from Macfarlane on the back cover. I don't know if it's been published in the US or Australia but you can get it on and you can read a bit of it there too. 
The British documentary maker Jonathan Meades has very similar ideas about beauty on the Isle of Lewis/Harris above/right

Saturday, June 28, 2014


my essay from Radio Silence, issue 02, published earlier this year...

Even White Boys Get The Blues: Radiohead’s “Creep” 

One of the late comedian Patrice O’Neal’s most watched videos on YouTube is a short radio interview he did on KITS San Francisco where he dissects the Radiohead song "Creep". He wonders about the strange power “Creep” seems to have over white men of a certain age, speculating that it digs deep into the confusion and angst of Caucasian males in America, perhaps mining some rich seam of inadequacy, helplessness, and loserdom. For O’Neal, “Creep” and the movie Fight Club are the holy grails of contemporary American Whiteness. Black men, O’Neal says, don’t react to “Creep” or Fight Club in this strange obsessive way, but for young white males these two cultural touchstones describe perfectly what it means to be a man in an increasingly complicated, gender-neutral, multi-ethnic world.
           I first saw Radiohead play“Creep” in September 1992 at The Venue Club in Oxford on the same night that parts of the music video were shot. I wasn’t that impressed with the group, who I hadn’t heard of before and who seemed to be rather posh boarding school boys completely out of step with the times. As many of us saw it back it then, real music, authentic music, was the blue-collar stuff we were hearing from Seattle bands such as Nirvana, who had triumphantly closed the Reading Festival a couple of weeks prior. Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke came from different planets. Cobain had been a homeless junkie who lived under a bridge in Aberdeen, Washington, whereas it seemed that the worst thing that had ever happened to Yorke was a bad experience with the bleach bottle in the hairdressing salon.
           It wasn’t until I heard “Creep” again a couple of months later on the BBC that I knew it was going to be a very meaningful song in my life. The DJ said something about it being the “radio edit,” so I went out and bought the single, closed the curtains of my university digs, and listened to it on my Grundig hi-fi. The song begins with Yorke’s whispered vocals:

When you were here before
Couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You’re so fucking special

And it’s at this point that Johnny Greenwood hits us with a wall of noise from two open fret chords on his distorted electric guitar. The effect is jarring and disconcerting, no matter how many times you hear it. As you’re still recovering, Yorke’s scaldingly existential chorus cuts to the quick of all your teenage/twenty-something/middle-aged angst:

But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

Is this a universal feeling? Almost certainly. One of Mark Twain’s best jokes was to send a telegram to a dozen of his friends that said: “Flee at once. All is discovered.” And of course, as Twain says, they did. When Steve Jobs passed away, the headline in The Onion was the apt: “Last Man in America to Know What the Fuck He Was Doing, Dies.” In 1978 Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter phenomenon” in a paper in Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice to describe women in graduate school or white-collar professions who felt as though they were frauds. Healthy majorities of women in every field felt this way, and subsequent studies found virtually the same feeling among American men.
            When “Creep” was released as a single in the U.S., it peaked at number two on the Alternative Modern Rock chart, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV. The subsequent Radiohead album Pablo Honey was something of a commercial flop in both the U.S. and U.K., and Radiohead’s reputation was not cemented until their two ground-breaking mid-nineties albums The Bends and OK Computer, both of which went multi-platinum. Radiohead became famous for their intellectual, introspective sound and Yorke’s plaintive, wailing vocals.
            When I went to see Radiohead at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre in the summer of 2001, Rolling Stone was calling them “the biggest band in the world” and the NME declared they were “the world’s most important band.” Radiohead’s music was being discussed in serious newspapers and by critics in highbrow venues such as The New Yorker. One thing missing from all this was “Creep.” Somewhere around 1996, Thom Yorke grew sick of the song and so it vanished from Radiohead’s set lists. Despite the pleas from crowds, Radiohead stopped playing “Creep” completely, although occasionally Yorke would tease the audience by humming a bar or two before launching into something else. At the 2001 Red Rocks concert, Radiohead gave what was subsequently called one of their greatest gigs, but of course “Creep” was absent, and I wasn’t the only one who nudged through the traffic jam back to Denver feeling a little disappointed.  
            Yorke wrote “Creep” about a girl he used to follow around at Exeter University. He was a funny-looking kid with a skinny, asymmetric face, and the girl was unimpressed by his moody introspection. He channelled his depression into the song, which was first composed as an acoustic solo piece. The melody is not entirely original, and when it was released as a single, credit was shared with Mike Hazelwood and Al Hammond who wrote the Hollies’ song “The Air That I Breathe.” “Creep” was by no means the first song to deal with social panic, but it was perhaps the first hit since Peggy Lee’s 1969 “Is That All There Is?” to wear its existential colors on its sleeve.
            The second verse is even more wrenching than the first:

I don’t care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

The song ends with the girl, who Yorke had been staring at and stalking throughout, running away from him in fear and disgust:

She’s running out the door
She’s running out
She runs, runs, runs…

Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I’m a creep
I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong here

The genius of “Creep” is identifying this common anomie. We’ve all been to that place (the Pitts and Clooneys aside), that moment when our object of desire rejects us, often in a public and humiliating manner. We’ve all felt that the game is rigged against us and the world belongs to a club of the rich and powerful, a club we will never be permitted to join. “Creep” is a song for the kid in the corner with his hoodie up, not sporty enough to hang out with the jocks, not geeky enough to fit in with the nerds. That kid grew up and became us.
            Perhaps as Yorke won more accolades and got more praise from hangers on, he grew uncomfortable singing “Creep.” He didn’t feel like a creep anymore, and he felt like a phoney when he sang it. That changed in the late summer of 2001. My wife and I were in London when we heard that Radiohead were performing a special show for their hometown crowd at South Park in Oxford. Like thousands of ticketless others we took the train there, climbed over the inadequate temporary security fencing and watched the concert in the light English drizzle.
            It was perhaps because of this rain that during a second encore there was an equipment failure and Radiohead were unable to play the song from the album Kid A which they had rehearsed. Yorke turned to Johnnie Greenwood and asked, “Es ist kaput, yah?” Without waiting for a response, he launched into “Creep,” to the amazement and delight of the crowd.
            Steven Dalton of the NME described what happened next: “Everybody within thirty miles of Oxford sings along, soaked to the bone, bonding in the Biblical downpour that even Thom Yorke was powerless to prevent because Radiohead are not gods; but for these two hours, at least, they were godlike.” Since then the song has rotated in and out of Radiohead set lists but it is always a crowd favourite and it always will be. Solace for an alienated teenager picked on at school, solace for a middle-aged man passed over for promotion, solace for someone stood up on a date.
           African-American musical heritage is so rich that a band like Radiohead seems unnecessary for black American males. It was with wry amusement that Patrice O’Neal would watch his white friends freeze and get very quiet when “Creep” came on the radio. For comedic purposes, he pretended not to know why, but like all good observers of the human condition, he knew that there was no real mystery about it: Everyone gets quiet when they’re playing your song.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

George McFly Day

What is George McFly Day? It's the bit in Back To The Future where George McFly's box of books arrives from his publisher and his career as a science fiction writer becomes a reality. If you remember the film, in one version of the present George doesn't follow his dreams to become a writer because he's afraid of failure, but in the altered version of the present a more courageous George McFly does pursue his ambition and when his box of books comes it's a kind of vindication. This particular George McFly day is for my book The Sun Is God which is a murder mystery novel set in the South Pacific of 1906 among a group of aristocratic German nudists who believed that eating only coconuts would make them immortal. Amazingly this is a true story which I have only slightly fictionalised.
You can read the first newspaper review of The Sun Is God, here. It's from the knowledgeable Declan Burke in The Irish Times. Money quote: 

Based on an improbable but true story, the novel offers a fascinating twist on the traditional “locked room” mystery, as only the island’s miserable few inhabitants can be considered suspects in the alleged murder. Prior, as reluctant a sleuth as has ever shuffled into the genre, makes for a blackly humorous guide to a palm-fringed, sun-drenched idyll that is both heaven and hell. McKinty’s novel is an ambitious offering that incorporates a terrific subplot exploring pre-first World War colonial tensions between Britain and Germany. But it’s the investigation of the central mystery, with its undertones of Paradise Lost, that proves most entertaining.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Two Minds About The Titanic

Harland and Wolff 1911 (The Titanic is the ship in the background)
a post from 2 years ago
For many years my father worked in Harland and Wolff, the shipyard that built the Titanic. He worked as a welder and boiler maker and in those days you learned on the job from master welders and riveters, who in turn had learned their trade from the men who had gone before. This was a tradition of craft engineering and apprenticeships that went all the way back to the Titanic and indeed all the way back to the first ships H&W built in the nineteenth century. Later my sister Lorna too worked at Harland and Wolff. Many people I knew worked there until the great and terrible shipyard closures of the 70's and 80's when Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast lost tens of thousands of skilled workers. It was a hell of a thing to build a ship and watch it get launched by a VIP and then do its sea trials out in Belfast Lough. All that, like I say, is gone now. H&W still exists as a company but its few hundred workers are employed building turbines for offshore wind farms and repairing oil rigs.
Like the Troubles, for many years the Titanic was something Belfast was very good about not talking about. Not talking about things is something Ulstermen do better than anyone else in the world and the Titanic disaster stirred uneasy feelings in the blood. There was I suspect a feeling of collective guilt about building the ship that cost so many lives in - still - one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Guilt and shame will close many a mouth. But although not talking about the Titanic was probably a bad thing, in recent years the city fathers in Belfast have gone too far the other way. In the aftermath of James Cameron's successful movie and the hundredth anniversary of the disaster, a whole district of East Belfast has been renamed The Titanic Quarter, Titanic tours are being run, an interactive museum caters to the kiddies, interior parts of the ship have been reconstructed etc. etc. Now we're very much in celebration mode about the vessel and an old Belfast joke "well, she was ok, when she left us" has been recycled of late. 
I know the Titanic museum has been a success but still I think I prefer the former diffident approach rather than this slightly vulgar celebratory stance. The RMS Titanic was a cock up of enormous proportions and there is plenty of blame to go round. The ship was going too fast in iceberg infested seas, the bulkheads and pumps were insufficient to deal with a gash in the hull that size, there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew. Sinking in calm seas, at night, with a ship nearby, its a scandal that so many people drowned or died of hypothermia. All those engineering failures, all that pointless death...
If you want to learn about a Harland and Wolff ship with an honourable past I would suggest skipping the Titanic stuff and instead visit HMS Belfast anchored in the Thames as a permanent museum to the great warships of WW2. Belfast fought in many important engagements during the Battle of the Atlantic, she helped sink the German battleships the Tirpitz and the Scharnhorst, she supported the Canadian forces on Juno Beach during D Day and was in service all the way through to the Korean War. That's a ship worth getting excited about. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

David Mitchell's Influences

This is not a review of David Mitchell's new novel, The Bone Clocks, which I finished yesterday. I'm reviewing The Bone Clocks for the newspaper in September and I'll reread it & write a comprehensive review then. No, this is a blog post about what I think are main influences on the book. I will say in parenthesis that I thought the novel was very good and quite the change of pace from his last work, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, which was a historical romance set in eighteenth century Japan. 
Like Thousand Autumns, The Bone Clocks takes place in a world the reader initially thinks is our own but which isn't quite our Earth because of the existence of magic. In brief The Bones Clocks is about a cult of immortals with magical powers who provide the link between a series of long sections told from the perspective of different characters. Temporally the novel runs from the mid 1980's to the middle of the twenty first century. In Latin America these types of novels are known as magical realism but David Mitchell's writing is very dry, sceptical and English and not really anything like the works of the magical realist bigwigs such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende (but it does owe a debt to the intellectual and speculative ideas of Jorge Luis Borges). 
Mitchell was born in 1969 so he's a little bit younger than me, but he grew up in 70's Britain and now lives in rural Ireland so we've got something of the same cultural background. Where Mitchell leaves me behind however is the 15 years he spent living in Japan which has had a profound influence on his style. Much of Mitchell's recent writing reminds me of the work of the Japanese master Haruki Murakami with the strong visual influence of manga and the cinema of Hayao Miyazaki.
Other influences that I can sniff out in The Bone Clocks are Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Thomas Pynchon, Kinglsey and Martin Amis (The Alteration & Time's Arrow) Michael Moorcock, Iain Banks, Philip K Dick and of course JG Ballard.
Like I say I'm not allowed to review The Bone Clocks here but if all this sounds like an interesting and heady mix to you you can pre-order The Bone Clocks now at all good bookshops or at the usual online outlets.  
One more thing, if you don't mind a slight spoiler and you really enjoyed 1000 Autumns of Jacob De Zoet highlight the following hidden text: Dr Marinus from Jacob is a character in Bone Clocks...dont ask me how - that wd be telling.

Monday, June 16, 2014

1000 Words A Day Is Not A Rule For Everyone

On this Bloomsday I thought I would talk a little bit about writing... 
I think a big myth about writing is the idea that to become a good writer you need to write a 1000 words a day, every day. Preferably before breakfast. This of course was and is the habit of a lot of great writers. Trollope and Somerset Maugham were the masters of getting their work done early in the morning and then taking the rest of the day off.  JG Ballard (my favourite British novelist of the twentieth century) would get the kids off to school, pour himself a stiff glass of whisky, line up the typewriter and force himself to write a 1000 words, rain or shine. It's good discipline if you can do it but it's not me. Not me at all. First of all my brain doesn't function that well before breakfast or indeed for a good while after breakfast and then there's the 1000 words themselves. 1000 words a day is 7000 a week and before you know what's happening in 3 months you've got a new novel. But if I was to do this it wouldn't be writing it would (to borrow a line from Truman Capote) merely be typing. I go slow. I spent a month working on the first page of The Cold Cold Ground: on a good day I think I managed a couple of sentences. Many many combinations of lines and sentences went into the wastepaper basket. Indeed the great Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the "wastepaper basket is the writer's best friend." At the end of the month I had a couple of pages that I felt worked and a few weeks later I had a chapter that I thought worked. If I'd been under an artificial pressure of 1000 words a day I would have stressed out and I wouldnt have come up with anything. In my opinion the first page of a novel is very important. It deserves to tinkered and fussed over like a poem. You should spend however long it takes to get page 1 right. And even more important than the first page is the first line. That deserves to be tinkered with even more. I read so many books with a shit opening line and my heart just sinks because I know the author didn't put any thought into it at all. Whereas: "A screaming comes across the sky." or  "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen." or "Mother died today." or "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K."
I'm not really working on a book at the moment so I'm not doing any writing at all. And this too I think is a good thing. If you're writing 1000 words a day when do you take time off to reflect and to read? Reading and reflection is what keeps a writer fresh not more bloody writing. Even the prolific Philip K Dick would take time off to read and play with his favourite kitty. So what am I saying here? Nothing very radical. I'm saying that if the 1000 words a day thing works for you that's great, but if it doesn't don't sweat it. Taking your time and making your book good is far far more important than the arbitrary word count on your computer. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

A First World War Reading List

In Belfast World War 1 has never been "the forgotten war" because of the slaughter that took place
in the first week of the Battle of the Somme...
I sometimes wish I still worked in a bookshop. Back in the day I was part of the first crew that opened the Barnes and Noble flagship store on 82nd & Broadway. (This was the store that supposedly put the Upper West Side landmark Shakespeare & Company out of business - the story of which became a bit of an anti-corporate cause celebre and later the Nora Ephron movie You've Got Mail.) I rose up the hierarchy and although I never became a manager at B&N I was trusted enough to set up the book displays on the 2nd floor. In these displays I had free reign to promote neglected authors, foreign language writers and just generally have fun influencing the buying habits of an influential segment of the New York population. It was solely down to me, I think, that Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell became big names and I know for a fact that we were the first bookshop in America to sell Samuel Beckett's Dream of Fair To Middling Women (I ordered 20 of them and sold them all in a day). 
I can't do that anymore but I do have a blog and today I'd like to get you interested in 10 world war one books that I like and which you might not have read. In a couple of weeks it'll be 100th anniversary of Franz Ferdinand's driver turning left instead of right and stalling the car in front of Gavrilo Princip who had just come of a bakery with a roll in one hand and a pistol in the other...
1. The Great War And Modern Memory - Paul Fussell. A classic dissection of the Great's War's influence on the history and culture of the entire twentieth century. 
2. Goodbye To All That - Robert Graves. What life was like before and after the trenches for one British soldier. 
3. Regeneration - Pat Barker. My favourite World War 1 novel. It justly won the Booker Prize. 
4. The Guns of August - Barbara Tuchmann. How the whole thing kicked off. 
5. The Strange Death Of Liberal England - George Dangerfield. A history classic that no one reads anymore but everyone should. 
6. All Quiet On The Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque. A brilliant look at the lives of ordinary German infantrymen on the line. 
7. A Farewell To Arms - Ernest Hemingway. An American volunteer medic on the Italian front. 
8. The First World War - John Keegan. A comprehensive history of the major battles and theatres of the war. 
9. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War - Christopher Clark. Another view about how it all kicked off. 
10. The Penguin Book Of First World War Poetry. An excellent cheap collection of the best WW1 war poems. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Who Is The Youngest Player To Have Played In The World Cup Finals?

This is a post from four years ago, with an update at the end, which shows you that FIFA cannot
be trusted even with simple things like facts...
Northern Ireland don't hold too many World Cup records. We've qualified 3 times, lost more than we've won, never even made the semis and unfortunately we didn't qualify at all during the years when George Best was in his prime. One record we do hold is the youngest player ever to have played in the World Cup Finals. That young player was Norman Whiteside who at 17 years and 41 days played in Espana '82. I remember at the time the commentators stating that Whiteside had just broken Pele's record for the youngest player and that record still stands today. Or does it? Or was it even a record at all? I was glancing through Ben Schott's New York Times World Cup Miscellany, and under Youngest Player To Have Played in World Cup Finals he's got "Mario Mendez, Uruguay, 16 y 36d, 1954". Like any self respecting person with way too much time on his hands I immediately went to the FIFA website to confirm this information and lo it was confirmed. I then went to the Ask The Gaffer Website to ask the Gaffer about this astounding so called fact. Three people had been there ahead of me as the Gaffer explains:

Oddly three people have emailed me today with the same question. This is very intriguing. Like you, I've always known for a fact that Norman Whiteside is the youngest ever World Cup player, breaking Pele's record in the 1982 finals. Checking out this Mario Mendez impostor, however, throws up a mystery. On the official Fifa squad lists for the 1954 finals, there's no mention of Mendez (although curiously squad number 20 is missed out), but look at the match stats for the third place play-off match against Austria and there he is, bold as brass, wearing squad No.20. His player profile has him born on 11th May 1938, which sure enough would have made him 16 years, one month and 23 days old when Austria beat Uruguay 3-1 in Zurich (younger than Whiteside, who was 17 years and 41 days). However, the Fifa website is the only place I can find any reference to this. Every reference book I own and all other reputable websites have no mention of Mendez at all, and all list Whiteside as the record holder. I can only assume Fifa have committed a massive blunder or (less likely) that we've all been terribly misled. As for Edu of Brazil, he was in the Brazil squad in 1966, but didn't play a game until the 1974 finals, so Fifa are definitely wrong with that one!

The Gaffer, like Obi Wan Kenobi, is a wise old man of the desert and I trust his instincts but instincts are not facts. At Footbalistic their ref for Mario Mendez. has him playing for Uruguay in the 1962 finals when he would have been 24 years old. Meanwhile The Times newspaper recounts a story about Whiteside and Pele being on a plane together and Whiteside teasing Pele for only "being only the second youngest" now (when of course he should have teased him about letting Sylvester Stallone play nets in Escape to Victory.)

Despite what the Gaffer says there are many other websites out there that follow the FIFA party line. Who is right?
June 10 2014 update.
FIFA's website has now been changed to show that Norman Whiteside is the youngest player to play in the world cup finals. Mario Mendez, if he ever existed in the first place, has been wiped from history.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

20 Books I've Read So You Don't Have To

An expansion of a post from last year...

Life is short, you've got a lot to do and you still havent watched The Wire or read War and Peace yet. Well I haven't watched The Wire either but fortunately I have read everything so here's a quick primer on 20 'great' big books that I've read so that you don't have to.

1. Clarissa: This will take you hundreds of miserable hours to finish and at the end of it you will have no feeling of achievement, merely the aching knowledge that you wont get those hours back. Even Richardson's much shorter Pamela drags and Fielding's pisstake on Pamela, Shamela isn't the barrel of laughs you'd like it to be either.
2. The Mill On The Floss: The soppy ending is telegraphed miles ahead and its a dreary trudge to get there. If you're only going to read one George Eliot in this lifetime make it Middlemarch. 
3. Finnegan's Wake: A literary experiment or a longform poem, not a novel: read Ulysses or Dubliners or Portrait instead. 
4. Jude The Obscure: Thomas Hardy's books and prose style have not aged well. His poetry is terrific but I think you can easily skip the gloomy Jude The Obscure, The Return of the Native & Tess and maybe just read Far From The Madding Crowd which, spoiler alert, has a rare-for-Hardy happy-ish ending.  
5. The Brothers Karamazov: Controversial one this. I loved the Brothers K but if you're only ever going to read one Dostoyevsky read Crime And Punishment instead because its shorter, more focused and more contemporary. But hear me well: the five 5 big Dostoyevsky novels are all worth getting stuck into if you've got the time...
6. Little Dorrit: Read the first chapter that begins in a prison in Marseilles. Skip to the end. But definitely read this before Dombey and Son or The Old Curiosity Shop or Hard Times or the steadfastly unfunny Pickwick Papers. My preferred Dickens is the late 3 act masterpiece: Bleak House. 
7. Armadale: Wilkie Collins has been undergoing a revival of late but this isn't the one to start with. The Woman in White, No Name, The Moonstone - stick to those. 
8. From Here To Eternity: Interesting gay subtext, strange nihilistic ending, but James Jones's masterpiece is The Thin Red Line - go get that. Now. 
9. Infinite Jest: DFW's real genius was for writing essays. Read those and you won't regret a minute spent in the great man's company. 
10. War and Peace: The war bits will irritate those of you who like romance. The romance bits will irritate those of you in it for the war. The weird lengthy coda will annoy everyone. Look, I'll be honest I did like this book but if you're pressed for time read Anna Karenina or The Death of Ivan Ilyich or Hadji Murad. 
11. To The Lighthouse - Not really a fan of Woolf but I think Mrs Dalloway is better and sharper than Lighthouse. If, however, you're curious about what posh people were thinking about on their holidays in the pre WW1 salad days then this is the book for you. 
12. A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu: the first 30 pages will give you gist. Trust me.
13. The Harry Potter Series: I think we can all agree now that some kind of collective madness overcame the word in the late 90's when fully grown adults started wearing wizard hats and reading these novels. I'm reading these to my seven year old at the moment. Holy Christ do books 4 & 5 drag. 
14 Dune. I read all 6 Frank Herbert Dune books and a couple of knock offs written by his kid. What the hell was I thinking? Don't get sucked in. 
15. Against The Day. This is not the Thomas Pynchon to begin with. Start thusly: a) Inherent Vice b) Lot 49 c) Gravity's Rainbow d) Vineland e) Bleeding Edge f) Mason & Dixon g) V h) Against the Day.
16. The Finkler Question. Steadfastly unfunny, but not in a Stewart Lee deliberately unfunny meta-textual kind of way, just in a regular unfunny kind of way.
17. The Heart of Midlothian - Sir Walter Scott hasn't aged that well either although Ivanhoe is still a rollicking good read, isn't it? 
18. The Screenplay of The Counselor: Reads like it was written by that pervy old guy who's always hanging around the frozen yoghurt place the Catholic schoolgirls go to after soccer practice, but in fact it was written by Cormac McCarthy! Huh? 
19. The middle 300 pages of anything written by someone who is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. You know what I'm talking about. The book starts well but then the IWW training kicks in and we get 300 pages of noodling around the same portentous issues with no jokes and plenty of hack philosophy and psychology. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule - Daniel Woodrell went to the IWW for example and you'll never hear me say a word against DW! 
20. A Suitable Boy. I kid. A Suitable Boy is terrific and I won't hear a word against it. I carried it around India with me for two months and it makes a useful stool, a source of emergency toilet or roll up paper and it could be a handy defensive weapon. Its perfect really except for the fact that . . . MAJOR SPOILER ALERT after 1300 pages she HIDDEN TEXT: doesn't actually marry the suitable boy

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Coming Irish Civil War?

Last week's election results in Europe were extraordinary for a number of reasons but lost
in the big news about the rise of the right in Western Europe was the news that after 80 years of trying Sinn Fein had essentially become the third party in the Republic of Ireland and chances are it will become a major coalition partner after the next Irish general election. In the North of Ireland Sinn Fein consolidated its gains, topping the poll in the Euro elections and attracting 2/3 of the Nationalist (mostly Catholic) vote in the local council elections.
Sinn Fein of course want a united Ireland and have been intelligently playing the "long game" to get it. Unlike their impatient comrades in the Real IRA/Continuity IRA/New IRA who continue to murder and bomb with impunity, Sinn Fein have understood that demography is destiny and demography is going to bring about a united Ireland sometime in the next few decades or so.
These are the facts (via Frank Jacobs' Strange Maps blog):
In 1967, 60% of marriages in Northern Ireland took place in protestant churches, by 2005 this was down to 35%. In school year 2006-7, ‘declared Catholics’ made up slightly more than 50% of school children in Northern Ireland, while ‘declared Protestants’ numbered just 39,5% (down from 42,7% in 2000-1). Research conducted in 2007 shows that youths leaving Ulster to study are twice as likely to be protestant than catholic, with those who go to Britain more likely to stay there than returning after graduation. In contrast, the student populations at both of Northern Ireland's main universities are now majority-catholic (55% at Queens University, 60% at the University of Ulster).
• The brain drain of Ulster's protestant youth reinforces the existing dichotomy between the older segment of Northern Ireland's population, which is solidly protestant, and the younger segment, which is mainly catholic. Overall, the 2001 census showed that while 67% over-90-year-olds are protestant, only 39% of 10-to-20-year-olds are. Another way to enumerate the divergence of the age cohorts in either community: while there were an equal number of births and deaths for protestants, for catholics, births outnumber deaths by about 6,000 per annum.

Basically the concept is this: more Catholics are born, more Protestants leave. In 1961 Catholics represented about 1/3 of Northern Ireland's population, now, in 2014, there is a rough parity and if demographic trends continue the way they've been doing for the last 60 years in the next decade there will be a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland. As we have seen nearly 2/3 of Catholics in the North vote for Sinn Fein who are committed to a United Ireland, while the SDLP (also committed to a United Ireland) still pulls in a healthy 20% of the Catholic vote. This is significant because enshrined in the 1972 Government of Northern Ireland Act and in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is the notion that Northern Ireland will only stay part of the UK "as long as a majority of its population wishes". Britain has been trying to get rid of the Ulster problem since at least the Ted Heath government (1970-1974) and a united Ireland "by consent" became Labour Party official policy in the early 1980s. Unlike the exit of Scotland from the UK, the amputation of Northern Ireland would be tremendously popular among the English electorate and would remove both a long standing irritation for Britain and a huge drain on the Treasury.
So what's the problem? The problem is that the vast majority of Protestants in Northern Ireland do not want to be part of a United Ireland and there are nearly a million of them. When I've blogged about this before unsympathetic - largely American - commenters have said, in effect, "too bad they can piss off back to Scotland then" which is a very silly thing to say indeed. Ulster Protestants have been in Ireland for four centuries (a little longer than white people have been in North America) and it is their home. They aren't going anywhere.
Mainstream Unionist (union with the UK that is) opinion seems to be burying its head in the sand about all this, pretending that the "demographic nightmare" isn't happening. Cleverer Unionists, however, are beginning the process of wooing middle class Catholics to the idea of Catholic Unionism for economic reasons (the UK for all its problems is still much richer than Ireland and a United Ireland would drain the Irish exchequer for decades). Although few Catholics seem to vote for Unionist parties the number of Catholic Unionists is definitely under reported. If a border poll were held today it would not pass. But still it's hard to argue with the demography. The Catholic population will represent a sizeable majority of the population in a Northern Ireland 15 years hence and it will be they who decide the result of the border poll. What happens after that? Most people have not thought this far ahead. Sinn Fein claim that all will be peace and light in a future united socialist paradise island that sounds eerily like a slightly wetter, slightly colder Cuba. Some geographically imaginative Unionists have begun talking about the repartition of Northern Ireland into ethnic enclaves a la Switzerland or Bosnia; seeing the demographic writing on the wall the UDA began an investigation into repartition as early as the mid 1990s; but repartition, as Frank Jacobs explains, is a complete non starter because the populations are too intermingled.
A United Ireland is probably coming, but will reunification necessarily be violent? I think it probably will be. Very violent. I used to believe that sectarian differences were fading in Ulster but that was only wishful thinking. For 40 years under Tito everyone was a good Yugoslav and then after his death suddenly everyone again was either a Serb or a Croat or a Bosnian (etc.)  and either Catholic, Muslim or Protestant. That's what will happen too in Northern Ireland following a border poll. You only have to look at the annual 'marching season' riots or the two years of riots that followed a decision by Belfast City Council to stop flying the Union Jack to see that there is a huge unhappy working class Protestant population in the Greater Belfast area who already feel alienated and angry. An almost overlooked result in last week's elections was the growth of the Traditional Unionist Voice party that rejects the Good Friday Agreement completely. Working class Protestants have seen few benefits of the Peace Process: unemployment is high, community development is low and without work to confer dignity and provide an income working class Protestant disaffection has grown since 1998. The UVF and UDA (Protestant paramilitary groups) remain strong and have successfully diversified into drugs, money laundering and protection rackets. Their membership is young and militant with no memory of the nightmare years of the Troubles. The UVF and UDA young Turks clearly will not go willingly into a United Ireland.
It took the British Army 30 years and nearly 20,000 troops to subdue the IRA in Northern Ireland. It will probably take the Irish Army similar numbers over a similar time period to subdue a UVF/UDA post border poll revolt. I wonder if the Irish Army is even capable of such a thing at all. At the moment its strength is a mere two infantry battalions. During the first Irish Civil War 1920-1924 (when it was battling the anti-Treaty IRA) the Irish Army expanded to around 50,000 troops and it would need to do that again - actually it would need to double that number so that soldiers could rotate in and out of the combat zone. Conscription would have to be introduced and we can safely assume that the Irish Army will not be getting help from the British or the Americans following their 13 year long Afghan campaign. It's going to be very very bad for a while and unless the international community steps in we could be looking at Bosnian style massacres and ethnic cleansing. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people will die. Most of them will be civilians.
Can any of this be avoided? A few years ago I thought so but now I doubt it. I used to believe that the poisonous meme of nationalism was dying out in Ireland and/or Europe but in fact it is as virulent as ever. As I say, little has been done to provide jobs and opportunities for working class Protestants and Catholics. Protestant and Catholic kids still go to separate schools and play different sports. The peacewalls are still up all over Belfast and the paramilitary groups have not gone away, indeed are as strong as ever.
At some point in human history, of course, nationalism itself will die out. I won't be around to see that happy day but when it comes it will be a triumph for the human race. Good riddance to a vulgar eighteenth century concept which has caused as much death and destruction as the invention of religion or the bogus pseudo sciences of race and ethnicity. And until then Ireland will weep and bleed.