Day 59

Sports Saturday


Are you aware that England won the World Cup in Soccerball in 1966? If you were ignorant of this fact, all you need to do is to carefully read any English newspaper any day of the week. Because they have mentioned it every, single day since. And that is part of the reason why no one in the rest of the World would be happy if they ever won it again.

Actually, though, and even though I have heard from survivors that it was particularly painful at the time, themuns next door winning the Soccer World Cup has done the rest of us an immense favour for which we should be eternally (or even longer) grateful. The article from which the picture above is stolen explains why a bit, and is well worth the read, but I can provide an executive summary here for those sportingly-challenged readers who would rather run a nine-minute mile than read anything about sport: winning the thing once so frucked up everyone connected with English soccer that they will never, ever win it again. And that truth, as a thing of beauty, is obviously a joy forever.

But what a picture! Not just the tight shorts, ladies, although, stylistically I prefer those myself to the tents soccerball players now wear that cover them from the waist to somewhere below the knee. I’m not gay or anything; it’s just that I grew up with that style and hanker after it. But, as I am wont to say in my wittier moods, “Do you know what’s not as good as it used to be?” (Pause while my interlocutor ponders my question, and then – and timing, in comedy as in doing sex, is everything – I launch the punchline.) “Nostalgia.” To my mind, and that is the only mind I have to hand at the moment, that is as good a two-liner as this belter from Kevin McAleer, who, also, is a thing of beauty and, as such, a joy forever. (Please excuse the leprechaun at the start and the end of that clip; I couldn’t figure out how to erase it.) His guru show contained the following advice, which just gets funnier the more you think about it: “Don’t judge other people: they’re not worth it.”

But back to the pic. (Oh, it’s his day off; I opened this bracket to reply to his sarcastic comment which never came.) Apart from the delight of one Englishman lying down and another one on his knees before an Argentinian, apart altogether from the bursting physicality and balance of Maradingdong himself, what tickles me about the picture is the expression on some of the faces. Enjoy, for a moment, the anguish on poor, wee Stuart Pearce’s face as he finishes off a tackle on a player who is no longer in the place he thought he was going to be when he started the tackle. Marvel at Terry Butcher’s stoicism as he flings a despairing leg out knowing full well that it is a least half a beagle’s gowl away from the actual ball he is attempting to win back from Maradona. But study for a while longer the expression on the other English footballer, the number 18, the only one of the three still on his feet. To me, it conveys complete bewilderment at what is going on, expresses his utter lack of knowledge that soccer could actually be played this way, with maybe a hint of realisation that he should not actually be on the same pitch as gifted players like Diego.

The other aspect of the photo I like is the other Argentinian player in shot. He looks like he is out for an afternoon stroll down the paseo. And he may as well have been, because Diego did not require any assistance whatsoever from his ten teammates to score that goal. Like all the other spectators in the stadium, that Argentinian player is just enjoying what he has seen in the previous 14.3 seconds, and is looking forward to the punchline when his captain scores the goal that scuppers England’s chances for another four years. I suspect there is a hint of a smile on his face. (Please also note that only the two Argentinian players are actually looking at the ball. Bit of a hint there about the problems affecting English soccer, but I do not want to help them too much, so keep that nugget to yourselves. And encased in brackets.)

I’ll have to give up that penchant of mine of calling Association Football soccer. I used to do it because when I said “football” I meant Gaelic Football, and so I used “soccer” to distinguish the two. It was also a subtle attack on the British Empire and a linguistic expression of my repressed Republicanism.

“What did you do during the War, Daddy?”

“Well, apart from applying Down Southy speed limits at a time when it was neither profitable not popular (nor legal), whenever anyone in my earshot used the word ‘football’, I would interject and ask whether they actually meant ‘soccer’, dear.”

“My hero!”

But now that Gaelic Football has morphed into Gaelic Backwards Handball, I may as well let the Brits have their little victory, as the players of the foreign game at least do actually use their feet to play it the odd time. As for American Football … I will leave them to their own linguistic madness. Sure they call the intrinsically Irish sport of rounders baseball, for some unknown reason, and they don’t know their fanny from their pants.

Andytown shower (not full), dressing gown until après déjeuner, I feel, and then full evening wear (plus welly boots) for my evening stroll around the grounds and down to the lough, waving magnanimously to the rough menials (tenants) I pass on my ballade. What about youse? Still on lockdown? Or semi-released? Be careful out there. as another Phil used to warn.

Now wash your mind.


Social Distancing

Day 24

I called round to see Seamus Heaney this morning. He’s doing all right, since you ask, still in the same place I left him (have you got that pic, Mal?) but somewhat embarrassed now about his whole ‘there is no afterlife’ stance. But no doubt he’ll be forgiven for that, after an appropriately lengthy period in Purgatory (a place where there is no time by the way, as far as I understand eternity, which is pretty far, actually; to the Moon and back, maybe).

It being Easter and all (but not Easter Saturday, cf yesterday’s diatribe), for reasons best known to myself, I was also going to call in on two of our successful hunger strikers (ie they died) who are buried in the new annex to Bellaghy Cemetery. It needed an annex because it is a very popular cemetery: people are dying to get into it! (That ‘joke’ is copyright this guy, who has gone viral with his rendition of a song in Irish to celebrate his own birthday; I would accuse him of vanity, but look at his hair, for Christ’s sake! When I say he has gone viral, I do not mean he has boreohnovirus, by the way, but, again, look at his hair – maybe he does?) But there was a badly-written typed notice on both entrances to the cemetery informing me that, due to the Covid-19 regulations, it was closed to ‘visitors except for burials and funerals’. Are you with me? First, can you have a burial without a funeral attached? And, more egregiously, why would there be any visitors at either? Are people that stuck for something to do during lockdown? Badly-written, as I said, but beautifully typed all the same. Credit where it’s due.

So I cannot let you know how either Thomas McElwee or Francis Hughes are getting on in the afterlife as I am very strict about obeying rules that happen to suit my personal purposes (I was already late and could not really afford three trips to the afterlife when I had only gone out for milk). And so, as there was neither a burial nor a funeral going on at the time to which I could inveigle an invitation, I will have to arrange some other opportunity to fulfill my Easter republican Duties – the Easter religious Duties have already been thrown out the window by the very organisation which instituted them. Changed times, indeed. Before I get back to the Heaney topic … do you know, I was pausing there waiting for SquarebracketHead to stick in his usual sarky comment, but I forgot it is Saturday and so his day off. Personally, I get no days off, and neither do you, gentle readers. Please remember there will be a class test after the ‘holidays’, at a time of my own choosing and on a topic off the top of my head, which will carry 31.27% of the final credit for this on-line course. Approximately. But, yes, one more interesting fact concerning Bellaghy Cemetery (both wings); there is a dead person in there sporting the spectacular first name ‘Adolf’. The surname is not Hitler, by the way. Now obviously this is not a traditional moniker in the locale as he is the only one in the place. For extra credit, the swots in the class should upload a pic of his headstone in the comments section (worked it out now, Shirleen? there is not a limit of one comment per lifetime, by the way), and add a brief note pertaining to the date of his death and, by extension backwards, his baptism.

Yeah, famous Seamus. I called round to see him to get a few hints. Not about poetry, obviously: that was never the strongest card in his hand. I noted, in passing to be sure, that there was a freshly-ploughed field next door to him, and chuckled to myself on the way up to his grave that he would have dug that. (What I have done there is too complicated to explain, but those who appreciate the fusion of misdirection, literary reference and jazz jargon should go to the top of the class … and jump off – we don’t want your sort in here.) No, I was in fact looking for hints for how to deal with the Kerfuffle, because our Seamie is suddenly, and probably quite unexpectedly for him, one of the leading world experts on the matter. Leo, the Gayshock, quoted him twice(ly) in his latest address to the half-nation (‘Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors/it’s a flag we Republicans claim/it will never belong to Free Staters/for you brought on it nothing but shame.’), and there is barely a commentator worth his salt in this neck of the woods who has not dipped into the Heaney well. So, along with the phrases ‘loved ones’ and ‘existential crisis’, I am today proclaiming a total ban on quoting Heaney in relation to Covid-19. And the great man himself is in total agreement with this ban. He told me so himself this morning during our chat, and no one can prove that he didn’t. One other point, could whoever is doing it please stop leaving coins at the foot of the headstone? He is not some sort of a secular saint, the grave is very cheap to upkeep and needs no voluntary contributions from fans and, personally, I would find notes weighted down with a stone much easier to collect and carry off with me: coins make such an unsightly bulge in an Armani suit, don’t you find?

One last hint for the speech writers tripping over themselves for pertinent and insightful quotations to stuff into the mouths of illiterate public figures: there are other writers in the world. Just by way of example and not in any way as an exercise in practising a wind instrument that I own, I will leave you today with one of the freshly-minted triads I published some years ago, as it happens in a book in Irish with a title in Latin in order to put off all but the most esoteric of readers. By the way, the school of Irish triad writing I thus founded is closed for the foreseeable future due to restrictions on funerals (it never really opened, but I live in hope), as are my network of illegal hedge schools around the country. Here is the triad; good luck with google translate!

Trí rud a imeoidh:

an ghealach is an ghrian;

a dtáinig ariamh;

an chiotaí seo eadrainn.

Slán go Phil!

Social Distancing

Day 8

Today, I did my second non-essential trip out to the shop for essentials. The trip was non-essential as part-time wife currently has no room left in the cupboards or fridge or freezer (please note, not fridge-freezer, and I will have a bone to pick with that about her – or with her about that – in a future post) for any essentials; any time she gets to a shop, she acts like she is in supermarket sweep and buys rings round herself with my money, just in case. Just in case I spend it all on cigarettes, I should add. Interestingly, even though the house is now creaking with food, this has had no effect whatsoever on the phrase most used by the resident teenagers when they cannot avoid social interaction with their parents – the part-time wife is a full-time mother by the way; I am not totally sure how these things work. The phrase in question is only used as a last resort after they have emerged from their respective caves, come downstairs and started angrily prowling around the kitchen wing of the house, opening and shutting various cupboards, sighing and displaying admirably poor foraging skills for primates. They will then stand – empty-handed – in the middle of the stone floor of the galley area of the kitchen complex, look vaguely in the direction of one or other of us, and plead, ‘Is there anything to eat?’

For a while, I was at a complete loss as to how to answer this question. Particularly when, as it often did, it made its appearance about 22.3 minutes after their three-course lunch, or within a beagle’s gowl (an imprecise measure of distance or, at a stretch, time used in Ireland) of the nightly, sumptuous, 14 plate tasting menu provided by yer woman. It was only after years of observing which substances actually satisfied their plea, booty which was then stored under their arms and carried back to their lairs for private consumption, that I was able to translate it fully from teenage-speak to human-talk. What the phrase actually means is, ‘Is there any sugar?’ Not your standard bag of Tate & Lyle or McKinney’s, though; what they are after on their raids on adult territory is sugar that has been processed and packaged and coated and dipped and encased and rolled and submerged in chocolate (best-case scenario) or (worst-case scenario) in some vaguely healthy-looking cereal or grain. As for actual food, they will (mostly) eat that when forced to, but their basic fuel is the white gold of Western Society. Hence the pimples, which sort of serves them right, I feel. They will also eat fruit, but that is just sugar in a different packaging basically. While marketed as healthy to the rest of the world, it is anything but for us diabetics, and has wrecked my blood-sugar records on many an occasion. I should point out that this foraging for white powder is standard behaviour for the teenagers previously known as my children; it is not as a result of the lockdown.

How are you getting on with the lockdown in whatever country you are in? I presume, unless the country is Antarctica [not actually a country, Phil; it’s a continent – Ed.], that you are in lockdown, and restricted, like me, to one non-essential trip per day for essentials. I no more needed to go out to the shop this morning than the man in the moon, but out I went anyway because I wanted to get more fegs and cash to pay the wee boy down the lane for the plumbing work (see previous post) so that he can’t spend it on his non-essential trip to the shop for essentials – some shops do not want cash now in case we hand over Covid-19 to them on our notes, in case that had you confused. Yer woman caught me going out the door, though, and interrogated me as to what I thought I was up to, me being an at-risk group of one and all. She is an Irish Mammy, after all, and worse than RTÉ sometimes with its dire warnings about not going out because it’s going to be a bit windy. I didn’t mention the fegs – have I mentioned yet that one can never, ever, have enough emergency packets of cigarettes stashed about the house in unusual places in preparation for that three o’clock in the morning emergency nicotine hit when the all-night garage in Antrim is just too much of a drive away? She bought the line about the cash for the wee lad, and then burdened me with a list of three further essential items that, apparently, are not already breaking the shelves in my cupboards. To wit, potatoes (check), mature cheese (pushing it) and white wine (ah, come off it!).

Tomorrow I shall expound on the flexible and ever-expanding nature of the meaning of the word ‘essential’. For now, it appears to be lunchtime: I wonder is there anything to eat?