Monday 10 March 2008

Good evening. This is the news.


The diners are trooping into the hotel restaurant for dinner and there's a solitary batchelor sitting in the opposite corner of the lobby from me, waiting for the other people he's about to dine with, his family by the sounds of things, who are late. He wandered into the middle of the lobby, trying to reach someone on his phone. The first thing he said was "So we're meeting here, aren't we?" muffle muffle muffle on the other end. "Ok, I'm in the reception. I'll wait in the reception for ye so". You can give these people all the money in the tiger's belly, but evolution just doesn't change as quickly as it takes to throw up a few five star hotels. And then he fell into an oversized Danish designed bright yellow seat, looking forlornly around at the foreign modernness of his surroundings, and waited, slumped in his boredom.

As I typed that sentence, he upped and left. I've noticed that people don't like to sit around being typed about. I've noticed because I have a tendency to sit around typing about people who are sitting around. They're much more comfortable about being written about, especially by fountain pen, but they're much more likely to look at you then, and even talk to you, ask you what you're writing about. Maybe the computer puts them off because it reminds them of work.

I've had people tell me I should close my laptop and "just relax and get drunk like everybody else".. people just aren't used to recreational laptop use in public, in this country. So you know, I tell them (sometimes) that I'm having fun, actually. That I have fun with this computer, that I like it. That it's not some drudge idea of work. That I may or may not be working, but that even when I am working, that that's fun too. Some people really don't understand that. So I sit alone in the lobby, and type.

Some questions.. Is the Irish Times the only newspaper in existence that is accessible on the internet only for paying readers? The New York Times is free, for Christ's sake. The Guardian, The English Times, The Irish Indo.. You can even get your page three tits for free over at The Sun. But for access to the Irish Times, who have patented the domain name Ireland dot com, you've got to pay them 2 euro for 24 hour access. They seem to believe in striptease journalism, though. They give you a glimpse of paragraph for free, then snap at you to subscribe before they'll reveal more. To hell with it, who needs the Irish news when Playboy's monthly rates are cheaper..

And is Ireland the only country that gives a central position in its news and current affairs programming to every little grisly detail of the murder trial du jour? I don't know if it's that there are more murders here than anywhere else or just that there's a national fascination with the detail here, but every time there's a good meaty murder trial over in the Central Criminal Court, we huddle around our tellies, watching the dailies being relayed to us every evening, by a tall man with a spitty kind of voice. Every time I see him on the telly, I think he must have been that boy in the nightclub who was somebody's younger brother, the go-between from the older boys and girls across the dancefloor, delivering yes's and no's and he-wantsta-dance-witya's and every little detail of the gossip of the moment with an intensity of moment, and he just never got over it. He seems to be a proper grown up man now, and a proper grown up journalist I'm sure, but he's still got that he-said-she-said voice, that delight in not being at the centre of the drama, but still having a dynamic function as the messenger boy as he delivers his blow-by-blow accounts of the day's proceedings.

Like food, music and attitudes to sex, each country has its own distinctive styles of news programming. The news in Denmark was classic coldblondenorthern fare. Political debate and talk. Nothing salacious whatsoever. Then some seventy year old codger who had been the Danish ambassador in Haiti wrote a book about his escapades rutting some fourteen year old high arsed impoverished black streetgirls and the whole country was incensed by it. Middle aged men and women piled onto the telly to condemn him. There was a token one very idiotic middle aged woman who was so lightweight they had to weigh her down with a sandbag to stop her from floating away into vagueness, said that she thought the old codger was sexy. To be honest, the story was a welcome relief of filth in a country that follows the royal family's frumpy fashions as the national tabloid excitement. And it was the only book in Danish I've ever read most of the way through (though there was a fair whack of flicking through, I have to say. But finding the sexy bits in a Danish novel is an art and a talent in itself). Of course, the old codger lost his job, and was last seen eyeing up an eighteen year old waitress in an effort to date older women with serious minds.

No, the Danes were not tremendously keen on interesting news, or making news interesting. But then, when the news is in Danish you're kind of halfway to oblivion as it is. And then of course, they hit the front pages internationally, with the whole Mohammed comics story. And lately there's another story that's emerging violently and fitfully in Danish life, which is the streetburning youth rebellion story.

And then of course there's the other extreme: the news from America. The everything's under control, clean, tidy and yet with a Rambo undercurrent style of news broadcasting, where the attitude seems to be that you'll only really believe this ridiculous shite when it's spoken by human beings who have had all the human stuff vacuumed out of them, leaving only pure white teeth and smiling dead fish eyes behind. I think the idea is that viewers will defer to the natural air of authority that such humans are supposed to exude. I think that actually, they probably just want a good spanking, and fortuitously enough, they are paid enough money by the network to source a good, thorough and discreet spanking after every show.

This new Ireland (which actually is about ten years old so it's not bloody new at all anymore, and calling it new is really fucking boring, but I've been away from it so it is new to me every time I come back here) is so contractual. We've adopted a kind of social awkwardness in the form of legal contract consciousness, because, I think, money has made us all a little more suspicious of each other than before, when nobody had any and you could spot a chancer a mile off. He was the fella throwing himself into a 2cm deep pothole in the middle of the road and claiming whiplash and compensation off the government, and disability benefit and free television licenses for the rest of his life, to ease his pain and suffering.

But everybody else got on with things with a nod and an understanding that things would get done and, for the most part, paid for, and that was about the extent of people's worry regarding all the relationships between us that are now governed and monitored with contracts. People make contracts to have conversations with each other, and sign waivers that anything they discuss they will not be held legally in obligation to, unless of course, they make another contract. Contracts are legally enforceable, and are an essential part of a world that runs on expectation and demand. I'm not complaining about Ireland having some harder edges in it these days, it's certainly a more energised kind of place, but you know, at this point in its evolution at least, you can really tell that we haven't always been like this. Something about the selfconsciousness and the inchage of make up on the new breed of homegrown celebutante, these new anonymous-modern hotels in the provinces, the newly botoxed attitudes of women, the sheer real estatisation of the Irish spirit.

Ah sure, feck it. That's just another day's work.

Thank you, and goodnight.

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