Saturday 22 October 2016

Notebook: A look at the week that was

Aingeala Flannery

Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30

Genius: Thanks for the memories - and life lessons, Gene Wilder Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne
Genius: Thanks for the memories - and life lessons, Gene Wilder Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne

We were never ready to go back to school when I was a child. Back then, it always seemed to fall on the morning after the All-Ireland hurling final, after a black and amber retinue of near and distant relations landed on our doorstep in Clondalkin, looking for a bed for the night, with only a scattering of tickets between them. The children were assigned sleeping bags on the floor in the big room. The first day back at school for culchie kids was a blur, especially if Kilkenny won, which they usually did.

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Fifteen years ago, my mother packed her bags and returned to the banks of the Suir that flows down by Mooncoin. She still scrounges for match tickets and can't understand why working in media doesn't give me a licence to print them. On Monday, she'd some business in Dublin and while she was on the train, I was queuing to buy school shoes for her grandson. My phone pinged with a message from The Anton Savage Show: Henry Shefflin was in studio with the Liam McCarthy Cup and was happy to pose for pictures. A photo of her grandson with King Henry would please my mother greatly, but if I abandoned the queue, the child would be going to back to school barefoot. So I stayed and shelled out €70 for a pair with tractor-tyre soles.

No matter what radio station I turned on in the car, parents were giving out about back-to-school costs. The price of shoes is no small thing. In 1982, Kilkenny won the All-Ireland and the Fine Gael-Labour government collapsed after John Bruton tried to impose VAT on children's shoes. I was discussing this with my mother as I drove her to back to Heuston on Tuesday. Blueshirts, she hissed. And they'd the nerve to say that women with small feet could abuse the system. She waved her travel pass at me - at least Charlie got me this. And off she went.

When I'm driving around with my son and the radio on, the only news blackout I impose is when something horrible happens to children. I hear it coming and turn off before he hears it. How do you explain what befell Clodagh Hawe and her children in Cavan this week? You don't. You can't. It doesn't bear thinking about.

It's easier to talk about shoes and the Apple tax. If a child's shoe can bring down a government, it should be a doddle for a €13bn tax rebate. On The Last Word, Matt Cooper was in pugilistic form and Junior Minister Eoghan Murphy was floundering on the ropes. Why don't you take the money and run? It's not that simple, came the reply. By Wednesday it had become a refrain. It's not our money to take, the ruling is a commercially sensitive document far too complex for ordinary people to understand, we would scare foreign investors and lose thousands of jobs. It had a familiar ring. Paddy's at the bar without an arse in his trousers, buying drink for all and sundry.

Still, hasn't it always been thus: one tax for the rich and plenty more for the rest of us. There's nothing that can't be and hasn't been taxed: hats, salt, windows, dogs, televisions, ink, tampons. The Tudors taxed beards, making them the accessory du jour in 16th-century England: the more extravagant the growth the wealthier the owner. Peter the Great did the same thing in Russia, dispatching beard police to check that hairy men had on their person a bronze coin to show their bristly smigs were tax compliant. To this day, the Hungarians tax soap, and in case you've ever wondered why there are more hipsters in Oregon than in Arkansas - the latter imposes a 6pc tax on all body piercings, tattoos and hair removal. There could be something in that, a levy on preening - the Vanity Tax. Michael Noonan could eradicate hipsters and the much-loathed USC in a single stroke.

His lepping to the defence of Apple's taxation position (not a "deal" - we don't do "deals") wasn't going down well at all, at all, with the Independents at the cabinet table. They'd have to be seen to do a lot of harrumphing before getting into line. That said, Shane Ross must have been relieved to have something other than Rio to think about. At the height of the Apple tax furore, Pat Hickey was released from Bangu jail with a considerably smaller kerfuffle than when he entered it. In Thursday's papers, he looked healthy and composed, with his head unshaved, which must have been disappointing for the newspaper snappers lying in wait.

The €70 shoes, meanwhile, are proving most unsatisfactory. By Thursday evening, my young lad is rightly crippled. All week I'd been promising a popcorn session on the sofa watching Willy Wonka. He tells me his granny will be dead in 12 years if she lives to be as old as Gene Wilder. I tell him Kilkenny women live to be 100, and he works out that she has 29 years to go. I'm glad he's learning something at school, and that he's not good enough at sums to become an accountant or a banker. I rub his feet and we talk about who's a good egg and who's a bad egg. He roars laughing when Veruca Salt is sucked down the rubbish chute. Fare thee well and thank you, Gene Wilder, for teaching my son all he needs to know about greed.

Aingeala Flannery, producer of Neil Delamere's 'Sunday Best' on Today FM

Sunday Independent

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