Friday 18 January 2019

Bono's bright blue flag has the right enemies

U2 frontman Bono. Photo: Bloomberg
U2 frontman Bono. Photo: Bloomberg
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

'Nobody knows anything" has become such a familiar line, you might even expect to hear it some day soon on The Week In Politics, resulting in the kind of knowing laughter it must have caused when first written by William Goldman 35 years ago.

Yes, you can hear the junior minister saying it now, as if 'twere newly minted. Just in time, indeed, to be out of date. Because if Goldman was writing today, I have a feeling he might be favouring the other extreme, which is to say, "everybody knows everything".

Yes, everybody knows everything or, if not, they know somebody who does, maybe somebody they follow on Twitter whose knowledge can instantly become theirs.

So as soon as anyone puts something out there, an idea, a suggestion, just a fleeting notion, somebody else knows a way to put it down, or knows a better way, and they are pleased to put that out there too. And life goes on.

Thus everybody knows everything… without really doing much.

Bono did something last week though, making that statement in the Frankfurter Allgemeine about this thing we call Europe, and announcing his intention to make many more statements about it, on this U2 tour - he would literally be flying the flag of Europe against "extremist politics", at this time when nationalism is devouring large parts of the continent, driven by a collection of extraordinarily bad men who think that their time has come. Bono's line is that Europe is "a thought, that needs to become a feeling".

And we know he's right about that.

Except we also know that about five seconds after he comes out with it, someone else would come out with the line that the EU, which he is celebrating, is run by a bunch of oleaginous sleazeballs riding high on the hog, doing the bidding of the money-men - most notably when they actually helped to start this plague of nationalism due to their shafting of Greece and indeed of ourselves, after said money-men had crashed the world economy.

We know that, because, well, everybody knows everything.

We know that many of these Eurocrats are not good men, to say the very least of it.

What we don't know, it seems, is that that's not important any more. Or at least that it's so relatively unimportant, we may stop wasting our time getting worked up about it.

It used to matter, and it might matter again, if we have nothing else to bother us. But this is an emergency, people.

"Extremist politics", far- right nationalism - fascism, if you like - is spreading across the old continent like the ash cloud that was ejected from that volcano in Iceland, and yes, I know that someone will already have pointed out that they haven't started marching around in actual jackboots yet, but that doesn't matter any more either.

We seem to know everything now, except the difference between the things that matter, and the things that don't matter. For example, I used to think that it mattered that Van Morrison, greatest of all artists from this island, wasn't very nice to some of the people who came to interview him. Then I realised it didn't matter at all.

So we think it matters that too many big dinners are being consumed, by the swinish Eurocrats, when all that matters is that we count the number of movements in various countries whose leaders are openly engaged in some form of far-right enterprise, which for some strange reason always involves a tremendous antipathy to the EU.

Trump hates that "bright blue flag", Putin hates it, the "populists" of France and Italy and Germany and the Netherlands hate it, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg hate it. And they're doing something about it too.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn thinks it matters that the EU is not committed to a truly socialist vision. He thought that for many years when he also had the luxury of thinking that none of his ideas would ever be tested in real life, that someone like him could never possibly be in the position he is now. And he was happy then, knowing how right he was.

He's not happy now, and indeed he has become the chief enabler of the nationalist far-right Brexiteers, because he doesn't realise that his critical analysis, his "nuanced position" on the EU, doesn't matter. That if he were to wave Bono's "big bright blue EU flag", in that moment, he would do more for the working people of the UK, and indeed for his beloved Ireland, than he has ever done. Not that this is the first flag Bono has waved, to be fair - but the way things are going, it could be bigger than all the rest of them put together.

Tragedy is just underdeveloped comedy

Sometimes as I would contemplate the genius of Neil Simon, who died last week, it would occur to me that he had no Irish equivalent. That for much of the 20th Century our National Theatre, if it had any attitude to comedy at all, regarded it as something to be avoided at all costs.

Perhaps there was a sense that our island story was so important, so sacred, its grandeur could only be diminished by the sounds of laughter in the theatre. And if there had to be levity, it could not be allowed out unaccompanied by tragedy of some kind.

Neil Simon, eulogised by Mel Brooks as "a clutch hitter… one of the sweetest and least jealous writers you could ever work with," wrote The Odd Couple about 20 years after the Holocaust - in the Jewish tradition it seems there is nothing remotely trivial about comedy, indeed few things are more profoundly serious and few artistic pursuits more noble than the creation of comedy.

2 Declan Lynch 30.08.18.jpg

And if the comedy in question turns out to be something as incomparably great as The Odd Couple, then so much the better - the movie version with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon is the ultimate one for me. For my daughter, who is 20, it's the TV version with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall which she discovered on DVD and was able to get past the fact that it had been made a million years ago in TV time, to declare it wonderful.

And it is too. But the film has Walter Matthau, as did the original Broadway smash, and Matthau doesn't play Oscar, he is Oscar - which is not my opinion, it was Matthau himself who argued with Neil Simon that playing Oscar involved no acting for him, that he wanted to play Felix for the challenge.

They talked him out of that, but went with his other demand that he be allowed to invest $10,000 in the show, because he was so sure it was going to run forever.

He may have done better out of it than Simon himself, who in his memoir Rewrites, described a terrible deal he signed at the time which yielded him $125,000, but lost him among other things the TV rights of The Odd Couple: "I never received one cent for the series. I had my name on every episode but I never saw a dime, a nickel, or a penny. It ran for years and will run in syndication for years and years to come. Not just in America but all over the world. The value of what I had given up was in the millions. My children will never see that money, nor will my grandchildren…"

So there might have been a touch of tragedy there, if you insisted. But then Neil Simon would doubtless eventually agree with the poet Kavanagh that tragedy is just underdeveloped comedy.

In memory of our beloved Milly

I noticed a few mentions recently of Pet Bereavement Leave, this idea whereby you take a few days off work in order to deal with the grief of losing a beloved pet.

And then we lost a beloved pet.

Milly, a grand old greyhound/collie or something, had been in decline for a while, but since she'd been with us for about 10 years, it seemed clear to my wife and daughter and I that she would be around for all time.

How could she not be, when there was food to be eaten? Milly was a rescue dog who, at some point in what was clearly a traumatic childhood, had become totally obsessed with food - with gobbling her own food ravenously, and then waiting to pounce on anything that our other two dogs might leave behind.

Many times I would make the mistake of bringing a few biscuits to my desk, and leaving them there if I was called away to answer the door or perhaps to watch the cat eating her food - yes, there is a cat too, who enjoys approaching me when I am concentrating most deeply, and whining until I abandon what I am doing and accompany her to her bowl to watch her eating.

On returning to my work, it might take me some time to regain all that hard-won concentration, and also to realise that the biscuits had disappeared - at which point, I would have this vague recollection of Milly trotting in that direction while I was watching the cat.

Therefore, a few weeks ago, when I offered Milly a mouthful of the finest chicken, with a tablet cunningly concealed inside it, and she showed no interest in it whatsoever. I knew then for certain that she would soon be checking out.

Pet Bereavement Leave is a bit of a stretch, but we're probably not going to get any more dogs because it's too upsetting when they're gone.

Still, there's two to go... and a very old cat.

Sunday Independent

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