Day 57

When is a duck not a duck?

There are certain matters in the affairs of Man that are so illogical they defy comment. (Things are different on my home planet, Pluto, and it is still a planet, ScienceHeads! Have youse ever even been there?) Take this one, for example – take it for a walk, for all I care, or for all the sense that would make. Notwithstanding (I have been waiting for an opportunity to use that) the fact that each year my local department of education spends acres of time gurning about the inadequacy of its budget allocation from central funds, I read two stories recently that fairly took me to the cleaners, by way of the fair. (The stories were in The Irish News, admittedly, so caveat emptor, although I did have it half-read in the shop before I bought it because of Kerfuffle Queuing) Apparently, substitute teachers, who are basically on zero-hours contracts and are only called in to do crowd supervision in schools when there are no real teachers available, have been complaining about loss of income due to covidnovid. Bang the rocks together, lads! The schools are closed: that is why you have not been getting any phone calls to come in to substitute for a real teacher, and that is why you have not been getting paid. To be clear, you have not been getting paid because you have not been doing any work: that’s the way the system operates. Also getting in on the illogical act are those teachers who would normally spoil their own holidays by marking examinations during them, and being paid for so doing. They too are complaining about the potential loss of income from not doing a task that will not exist this Summer because pupils will not be sitting examinations. This from a group of people who have just received a hefty pay rise and substantial back pay to boot. So far, so illogical, I’m sure you will agree. What took me to the fair in County Clare, however, (on public transport, I should point out, and with only me and the driver on the bus – fair play to him, he let me take a turn at driving so that he could have a wee nap) was the reported response from the department of education to this kite-flying by these two groups. Apparently, the department of education is considering ways of financially compensating both groups. I honestly have nothing to say about that. Mainly because I am at a loss as to where to start.

Other matters in the affairs of Man (with Woman, presumably) are so deliciously illogical that they practically lie down on their backs with their paws in the air and actively demand comment. The Supreme Court of the UK has just overturned the convictions of Gerry Adams for the only two things he did wrong during The Troubles, ie attempting to escape from Long Kesh. This decision is so brilliant it should have its own entry in the Book of Improbability, and probably will have by the time someone reads this in the non-existent future (which, for him, will be the actually-existing present, of course). So, and I’ll take youse through this slowly (OK, Query Girl?), now not only was Gerry Adams not in the IRA, he was, according to the judges, not even in prison, particularly not in the prison from which he was attempting to escape and for which crime he was tried and convicted. The reasoning behind this arrant nonsense is that the wrong guy signed the form in the first place to send him to the prison he wasn’t in. Got that? Now, surely be to Jaysus and all that’s holy, even if you are in prison by mistake or by an administrative error (and apparently roughly 97.3% of inmates claim to be innocent, according to all soccer players’ favourite film The Shawshank Redemption), attempting to escape from prison is still an offence. Have those judges studied the law at all? But, apparently, if you are in prison unlawfully, a conviction for attempting to escape it is equally unlawful, and, so, you are not lawfully in prison even though you are very actually in prison, and can therefore not attempt to escape from it. I wonder, under those circumstances, where Mr Adams would have been had the attempted escapes from where he wasn’t been successful? Would he have been confined to a virtual sector of what is laughingly called the Real World until the improbability drive had sorted out where he actually, and legally, was?

As for the other great non-event in Gerry’s life, ie spending yards of time not being in the IRA, a similar logical illogicality should be applied by journalists who persist in asking him the question about IRA membership. It clearly states in the rules for IRA Finishing School that members should not tell anyone about their membership, not even their Ma (who knows anyway – Mas know everything). If you do not believe me, have a read yourself. See that stuff in ALL CAPS? So, following those rules, were you to ask a current IRA member if he was a member of the IRA, he would, of course, answer in the negative, and go off to play pool or bingo or something with his girlfriends. (I note, while motoring past it in the outside lane, that The Green Book does not specify exactly how many girlfriends an IRA member should have, but it is apparent from a close reading of the text that the recommended number is more than one. While I cannot give my full endorsement to everything in that publication, I heartily recommend the advice regarding girlfriends.)

So there you have it, journalists. Although you know he was, and have seen the photographs and everything, Gerry Adams was never in prison – even though the government of the UK flew him from prison to participate in talks with them. And, when he answers your boring question about his membership of the IRA in the negative, he is merely following the rules laid out clearly in the membership book. Take his negative answer, therefore, as proof positive of his membership, and move on, for God’s sake. There is no other logical way to take it.

As Matt Lucas explains so lucidly here, sometimes a duck both is and isn’t a duck, probably.

Day 30

Social Distancing

I bunked the queue in Tesco this morning. By mistake. One of the queues, I should say, as getting in the door of the place is only the beginning of the restrictions on one’s freedom to wander in a semi-lost fashion among the shelves, admiring the freshly-polished array of non-essential goods and picking up purchases you had no intention of buying when you left the house that morning, ie to use a supermarket in the precise manner in which they were carefully designed to part us with our moolah. Apart from the crazy one-way system (are there any sane one-way systems?), when you get to the end of the maze – the south-west corner of the shop, let’s say, to confuse the geographically-challenged among us – and attempt to access one of the tills available there, the resident Hitler holding the Big Pole with the arrow on it to indicate which of the checkout engineers is available for service informs you that you must make your way back through the maze to the north-east corner of the shop as that is where the queue for the tills begins. So off I went back through the one-way system to outside the closed phone shop to find no customers waiting there. I looked down the aisle, spied another employee directing traffic at the end of it, checked that the arrows on the floor were in my favour and walked straight up to him. He addressed me in some near relative of the English language. On the third go, due to my linguistic skills rather than to any improvement in his diction, I managed to pick up the information that he wanted me to spiral my way through the three aisles to our left before coming back to him to seek permission to help secure his job and improve the profitability of his employer by actually buying something. In the second of the three aisles, I eventually came upon the fabled checkout queue, shuffling its way through the birthday cards and CD section, round the corner into the stationery aisle and eventually presenting itself for inspection to language-impaired boy in the now forlorn hope that he would spot Hitler I with her Big Pole [that’s too complicated a WWW II reference; consider a re-write – Ed.] and release us, one by one, for the walk back to the south-west corner to pay for the contents of our shopping baskets.

It is illogical planning like this that brought down an Empire. There was only a total of about eight potential customers in the supermarket at the time, and we could have all easily found a till when we wanted to leave without the whole round-the-world-for-a-shortcut rigmarole. Then, when bored checkout girl had finished her riveting conversation with the victim in front of me (I was standing patiently in the box marked X during this time), she actually interrogated me before she deigned to call me forward. At least she spoke a comprehensible dialect of English.

‘Did you come from the checkout queue or just walk up from the bottom of the aisle?’ she probed, an evil glint in her one good eye.

‘Had you been paying proper attention to your general duties instead of gabbling nonsense to that woman you have just released from commercial captivity, you would know the answer to that yourself,’ I nearly replied.

As I was already behind in my morning schedule because of the go-back-to-the-start-do-not-pass-Go-do-not-collect-£200 regulations, and as life is indubitably already too long, I decided against my preferred answer and merely gave her a dirty look and said, ‘Yes.’ As if bunking a queue would be the last thing I would do. In reality, it is generally the first thing I do.

Speaking of a re-united Ireland [non sequitur of the year award coming up there – Ed.], one of the first actions to be taken to dismantle the Partitionist mindset must obviously be to consign the English disease of queuing into the dustbin of history where it belongs. (The French, God love them, have another habit in mind when they use the phrase ‘the English disease’, but that’s the French for you, a nation that really hates the English with something approaching passion.) It is a completely useless social habit, serves no purpose whatsoever and, more importantly, flouting its conventions really annoys English people, and local Brits as well. Having lived in Spain for a month one memorable Summer, I observed the natives’ behaviour in this regard and have adopted it as my own. At first I found it hard to even identify bus-stops in that country, as there would be no group of homo sapiens lined up strictly parallel to the road behind what might have been a bus-stop sign. There would be a few Spaniards, singly or in pairs, scattered about the general area of the bus-stop, looking to all intents and purposes like they had not the slightest inclination to get on a bus. Then, when the bus arrived, whoever felt like it would approach the open door after – and the after is very important – those already on the bus who wanted to get off at that stop had got off. Then some other Spaniard would decide that maybe he would get on the bus after all and similarly make his way to the foot of the steps of the bus. But there was no strictly defined order for this to happen in: people moved to get on the bus when they felt like it, not according to their time of arrival at the bus-stop. And do you know what? Everyone always got on the bus, so there was no rush and no need to create a stupid system for defining who had first dibs on the bus. And, because Spaniards have some manners and cop-on, they realise the importance of letting people off the bus before attempting to get on it themselves. Compare and contrast with the British system the next time you are at a bus-stop.

‘What did you do during the War, Daddy, to bring down the last vestiges of the British Empire and to re-unite the country?’

‘Well, son, with little thought for my own personal safety, whenever it was possible, I refused to queue. And I implemented down South speed limits in my personal driving at a time when it was neither popular nor profitable. Nor legal.’

‘My hero!’

I bunked that first queue up there by mistake rather than by design, though. Because, while I did notice a few people hanging around near the cash machine outside Tesco, they were so spaced-out [at that hour of the morning? drugs are a terrible blight on society – Ed.] and so far away from the front door that I was walking directly towards that I did not recognise them as a queue until after I had taken the next spot behind the wee man who was waiting on the hotspot to be beckoned forward by yet another of the Hitlers Tesco is currently employing for crowd control. And it was too late then. But I would have tried to bunk it had I known it was a queue. Up the Republic!