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Being insolvent doesn't mean you're broke

Six One News (RTE1)

Spin (TG4)

The Story of The Jews (BBC2)

You see, we haven't a chance, really. There are too many things that we do not understand.

We were watching that excellent fellow Jim Stafford, the Personal Insolvency Practitioner, on Six One. And when he had finished speaking, many of us felt ... well ... a bit foolish.

It is a feeling we have experienced many times in recent years, as we realise that we know so very little about this world.

On this occasion, it was brought on by Mr Stafford's line that it might cost between €4,000 and €7,000 to use the Insolvency Service. And there we were, thinking that being insolvent means that you have no money.

Yes, there we were, thinking that this is a perfect illustration of Catch-22, whereby you need a substantial amount of money to tackle a problem caused by the fact that you are broke. In Joseph Heller's novel, such propositions made men mad.

But in Ireland today, when a man presents us with an apparent Catch-22 situation on the main evening news, it is not his reading of the situation that we call into question. It is our own.

We figure we must have missed something there, on our hapless journey through life.

We sit there vaguely embarrassed, hundreds of thousands of us, with this little cartoon question mark over our heads, wondering how we ever formed the impression that being insolvent means that you have no money.

So we start to realise, in that awfully slow way of ours, that this is not about us. That it is about other people, who have a higher understanding of these matters, who took the trouble to learn the true meaning of insolvency and who are now reaping the benefits.

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In that true meaning of insolvency, apparently you can have no money, but you can also have four grand or even seven grand. Possibly a lot more than that. You can hold these apparently contradictory positions with ease.

For you, there is no Catch-22. And if you're very good, there's no catch at all.

Back in 1972, when everyone really was insolvent, Horslips decided that their first album – Happy To Meet, Sorry To Part – should be recorded in the stately Longfield House in Tipperary, using the Rolling Stones' mobile studio that had just been used for Exile On Main Street.

They then designed their own album sleeve, which even today looks impossibly extravagant, a concertina-shaped production which opened like an illuminated manuscript containing several pages of pictures and words, a wondrous object and now a sacred one.

At that time in Ireland, albums were usually recorded in public lavatories when they were closed at night, to reduce costs.

And many of the sleeves featured men leaning against a farm gate for no reason at all. As far as most of us were concerned, that was fine.

So as John Waters explained to Philip King in Spin, King's series about landmark Irish albums, the contribution of Horslips to the Irish experience is beyond all measure. He has written: "It was as though the underground stream of Irish music culture – how it might have been – had suddenly erupted through the ground into the living rooms of early 70s Ireland. Horslips changed the history of Irish popular music, and possibly much more besides."

I saw them again recently at the Philip Chevron Testimonial in the Olympia. The show was structured so that these founding fathers of Irish rock played last, and yet it was such a powerful performance that it seemed that here was a bunch of lads about to have their first Fanning Session, after which they'd be telling Dave where they think they'll be in six months time.

On this night in particular, I went away with the view that the music that comes from the Gibson guitar of Johnny Fean is the most beautiful sound that I have ever heard.

The Jewish people, too, over the years, have managed to put out the odd half-decent album.

And they've made a modest contribution to television as well, the latest of which is indeed The Story of the Jews, written and presented by Simon Schama.

"The Jewish imagination is paranoia confirmed by history," says a guest at Schama's Passover meal.

I think this is another one to which we will be returning in 30 years' time, realising the full sweep of its greatness.

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