Sunday 15 September 2019

Declan Lynch: 'When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Defining the spirit of the age as always, there was a man from the financial services sector on The Marian Finucane Show last Sunday, voicing his concern that we are in danger of losing some of the top talent in that area, because they can get more money in other countries.

Marian, to be fair, was not having this, pointing out that we had a stunning array of such talent at our disposal in 2008, and that didn't work out too well - no, in terms of overall performance it was sub-optimal.

Still, isn't it marvellous that there are still people in Ireland who are concerned about such things? I mean, they're not exactly frantically worried about it but they are… concerned… that a guy on, say, €500,000 a year, may be tempted to move to another jurisdiction because they'd be offering him something in the neighbourhood of €750,000. Which is the least he deserves.

Yes there are people, right now, in this country, for whom life is very good indeed, except for this little twinge of concern that comes over them, that we're just not giving enough to the top people, not enough remuneration, or compensation, or whatever they call the apparently inadequate rewards they receive for the wonderful work that they do.

It is particularly important that we remember such people in these days when for some crazy reason, a large proportion of the population of France has somehow got it into their heads that they are entitled to more remuneration, or compensation, or maybe just enough to live on, from one month to the next.

Of course, in this the "yellow vests", as they are called, are wrong - they are not entitled to anything more than they are getting, they are not entitled to make a living, in fact they are not entitled to anything at all.

Because it has been established for a long time now, in the advanced economies of the western world, that the only people who are entitled to things, are those who already have everything.

Which probably explains why it's all working so well, this idea that if you let about seven people have all the money, it will result in a feeling of happiness among the multitudes, that they are living in a just society.

But this problem has arisen now in France, and it has to be managed carefully - because these people who are labouring under the misapprehension that they are entitled to a living wage and other such extravagances, well, there are quite a lot of them. Far more, indeed, than there are people in the financial services sector who are actually entitled to good things.

So when they all get together in their yellow vests, and they start demanding a bit more money, which might even mean that the top people with all the talent receive less money, what happens is, they get it. Well, they get something anyway.

Isn't that ridiculous? They show up in Paris in large numbers demanding something, angry as hell, and they get it.

So it seems to be working for them. And while we in Ireland have been well trained not to feel any such sense of entitlement, we must hope that Macron continues to give them whatever they want, because otherwise someone who is not Macron may well be running France. And that might not be good for us, or for anyone else.

Indeed, I have seen Macron criticised as someone who lacks real support, whose main advantage in getting elected was that he wasn't Marine Le Pen.

But you know what? That's a very good thing not to be, all the same. Indeed I wouldn't really regard that as a negative, I'd see it as a pretty major positive, him not being Marine Le Pen - in Italy, back in the day, they could have done with someone who was not Mussolini.

So I would say to Macron, give them everything they want, and more. When you look out and see 100,000 yellow vests, just imagine they are 100,000 chief economists or pension fund managers, and that they won't all be taking their skill sets to another country.

You know how it works.

One man's slog is what makes Milkman so great

I was just about to tell you what a great book Milkman is, and to register my amazement that the Man Booker judges could have got it so right, when the internet informed me that a review in the New York Times by one Dwight Garner is telling you what a terrible book it is.

And while it is not essentially strange for a great book to get the odd bad review, the strange thing about this one is that the things which I know to be great about Milkman are exactly the things that Garner hates.

The headline says that "Milkman slogs through political and cultural tensions in Northern Ireland". So it "slogs", does it? I was just about to tell you that it was indeed taking me some time to get through Milkman because it so beautiful, I keep going back to re-read parts of it - to Garner it is "Interminable", whereas I was hoping that somehow it would never end.

While I was reading a book which left me in awe of the virtuosity of Anna Burns, this Dwight Garner was struggling with "a wilfully demanding and opaque stream-of-consciousness novel, one that circles and circles its subject matter, like a dog about to sit, while rarely seizing upon any sort of clarity or emotional resonance".

Now Garner has a right to be wrong, but we really do need to bury this "stream-of-consciousness" thing, because it's like some horrible little rumour that is somehow becoming a universally accepted fact. Oddly enough Milkman won the Booker 50 years after the making of another Belfast masterpiece, Astral Weeks - and they called that stream-of-consciousness, too.

Some stream, baby! Some consciousness!

But Milkman is no more stream-of-consciousness than any other work of art which flows powerfully from its source. Indeed, when we hear "stream-of-consciousness", we tend to think of James Joyce writing in a language of his own, one that is not English at all, whereas Milkman is written in a most meticulous style.

Only a stone-cold genius such as Joyce can get away with "stream-of-consciousness" in the true sense, whereas the genius of Burns is of quite a different nature. She is not lashing out some "wilfully demanding" screed, indeed she is going to enormous trouble to draw us into the work with sublime flourishes of wit and the gorgeous eloquence of the language. She is not doing an Eric Morecambe performing Grieg's Piano Concerto - "playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order" - she is playing all the right notes, all the time.

So having missed all these points, you can hardly expect Dwight Garner to be getting the deep politics of it, the way that Burns soars beyond all the hackery and the tribalism we have known on the Troubles, to tell of another secret war - one in which there was no "community" supporting you, to which you owed allegiance, indeed your "community" and its leaders could be your darkest foe.

The Mairia Cahill case officially introduced us to this predatory culture, and we are hearing echoes of it early doors in Milkman: "At 18 I had no proper understanding of the ways that constituted encroachment. I had a feeling for them, an intuition, a sense of repugnance for some situations and some people, but I did not know intuition and repugnance counted, did not know I had the right not to like, not to have to put up with, anybody and everybody coming near."

So while I will always have a certain sympathy for any man who takes a hatchet to the winner of the Booker Prize, on general principles, I have to say to Dwight Garner that Milkman is not just another long-form application for a professorship - indeed its tremendous sales are suggesting that people have been uplifted by the story of Anna Burns herself and the hardship she went through, to write her book.

Her great, great book.

Shane's shocker! Not everyone in my songs is an angel!

With his appearance on the cover of the Christmas edition of Ireland's Own, Shane MacGowan has been officially anointed a Poor Ould Fella, of the highest rank.

And sure enough his first task in that new position was not a happy one - essentially he had to explain one of the basic workings of the world to the modern lads who were raising a flag about Fairytale of New York, and its use of the word "faggot".

And so, somewhat in the spirit of Bertie Ahern talking about Brexit on Claire Byrne Live, it fell to Shane to point out quietly but firmly, and no doubt with a certain sadness for all humanity, a few of the realities of life on earth to those who are not familiar with them.

"The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character," he wrote. And later: "Not all characters in songs and stories are angels… sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively…"

Admirable in its restraint, it has the clarity of a Ladybird book in which a kindly old man is describing the wonders of the human mind, how at some mysterious point in time we begin to understand that if a bad person in a story says something bad, not only is that not necessarily a bad thing, it can actually be good!

Because the child is now associating this bad thing - such as the use of foul and abusive language - with the dark side of human nature. And thus the child may start to form the impression that it is better to avoid the use of that word, if he or she wishes to be a good person.

Now there is actually no Ladybird book which lays out these fundamental truths, perhaps because it was never imagined that a time would come when children of all ages would be confused about such things - and that a time would come when some poor ould fella, after all his days, would have to tell them that it's all right, that you can make things up in which people say the wrong things, but it's all right.

That time is now.

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