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Now we don’t even have Paris

November 19th, 2015 Comments off

It was the movie line that earned its place in cliché history – Ingrid Berman to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “We’ll always have Paris.

Often paraphrased down the years as “At least we had Paris”, or “But we’ll always have Paris”, it summed up nostalgia for a perfect time, an interlude of love and beauty.

Perhaps it was sometimes used ironically or mocked, but used it was, with all the attendant mental pictures of the Eiffel Tower, bridges over the Seine, candlelit dinners and accordion music in the streets.

Now we – in the West, or wherever people felt love or awe for the French capital – don’t even have that.

The summary random murders of 130 people (and don’t forget the dozens left with that chilling description, “life-changing injuries”) has cast a grim shadow over Paris, at least for current generations.

The brillian Robert Fisk, jorunalist and historian, is right to point out that the Friday 13 attacks were not the worst atrocity in modern times: 200 French Algerians were slaughered by Maurice Papon’s police in 1961. And mass media should also make sure that other Islamist terror attacks, such as the one which killed 43 people in Beirut only days before November 13, should be recalled. To give balance and begin to answer “why?”, the continual loss of life in public places such as markets in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Western invasion of 2003 were also individual human tragedies – in their thousands.

But for now, the notion of Paris as a beautiful, romantic, sensual monument to modern achievement, especially French, is in dreadful abeyance. Perhaps it’s another step in mankind’s journey, or a contemporary society’s journey, from hope and innocence to grim realisation; life is beautiful, but it is more often terrible, and there will always be zealots and criminals who seek to bring illusions of peace and tranquility to a bitter end.

Personally, I am not a Parisophile – give me Madrid or Barcelona. My most abiding, unfortunate memory of Paris is what we shall delicately term a hygiene lapse in the bathrooms of a busy, not cheap, restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Michel. And my husband, an architect, spent much of a weekend visit some years back muttering that our chic boutique hotel was a firetrap. Paris is expensive, not always so clean, and it’s hard to appreciate Haussmann’s masterful radius plan when queuing in the rain for the Louvre.

But there is nowhere like Paris, for the dreams, aspirations and ambitions of countless people all over the world, for centuries. The beauty of the language, both spoken and written, the fabulous quality of the food at all levels, the style of the people, the exquisite fashions, the grandeur of Les Invalides – they all remain. But the City of Light as we look to 2016 has a dark shadow over it, with an assault weapon in his bloody hand.


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Universities might stop slipping if they did what they are supposed to

October 5th, 2015 Comments off


Oh dear Trinity, you have slipped. The august college in the centre of Dublin is now rated only 160 in the world, according to the latest league table compiled by the Times Higher Education organisation, publisher of the famous Supplement.

UCD is improving, but still lurks at no 176, while NUI Galway lies in the 251-300 group, and University College Cork, embarrassingly, is only in the 351-400 cohort.

These league rankings obsess the managers of Irish third-level institutions, but clearly to little effect. Even though the THE emphasises teaching and transfer knowledge, that doesn’t appear to have transferred to third-level management.

So what does this mean for the much-vaunted claim that Ireland has a young, energetic and well-educated population? The first two are true, largely. But the third …

What’s wrong with Irish universities? As someone’s who’s both taught and studied at third-level institutions here in the past few years, my answer is that nobody cares much about the students.

The “student experience”, as one long-time staffer said sadly to me this week, is the last thing on management’s mind. Read more…

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Corbyn’s in the frame – so watch out

October 1st, 2015 Comments off

PETER MANDELSON didn’t like the question.

It was 2010, and he’d come to Dublin to plug a book, and consented to a public interview at the concert hall.

“Lord Mandelson, do you think conviction politics have come to an end in Britain?”

A fair enough question from the audience, but touching a deeper and more serious place than the interview – a fluffy thing featuring probing posers such as “do you like wearing the ermine cloak of a Lord?” – which preceded question time.

Snarling ever so slightly, the Prince of Darkness dismissed the idea as tedious and irrelevant.

And now, there’s Jeremy Corbyn!

I strive to be heard above all the sniggering and horrified intakes of breath. A man of priniciple, someone who has stuck to the hard road of old-fashioned socialism, who has kept the red flag flying in his heart: not really one of the political class of the 21st century, is he?

Since Corbyn crushed the other identikit centrist candidates for leadership of the British Labour Party on September 12, there have been all sorts of agitated ripples from that mighty stone being chucked in the pool.

The heirs to the shameful legacy of Tony Blair – just so you know where I’m coming from – in Labour are only now coming out of goldfish mode and recovering the powers of speech.

The Tories, somehow not perceiving that this is probably actually a good thing for them, are having multiple orgasms of horror/delight. The Spectator magazine has been particularly entertaining in this regard, as columnists and contributors from both right and left line up to choke on their porridge and explain that this is The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened in British politics.

Okay, so Corbyn is a humourless old trout, but it is as refreshing, as bracing, as a shower in a mountain waterfall, to see one of his ilk centre-stage in mainstream politics. Read more…

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Want a lolly? Hop on an Aussie bus.

September 21st, 2015 Comments off


I’ve been back in the Australia homeland for a month or so, and impressed with the old place – especially the ditching of the loathsome Tony Abbott as prime minister, although his “self-made all-round genius” successor Malcolm Turnbull may not be a massive improvement.

People are generally nice – polite and considerate – more than in the dirty old Anglo-Celtic capitals of the northern hemisphere, Donald Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe”. The locals, of course, do an exercise in mouth-wrinkling and sotto voce scoffing when I offer this opinion.

On a Melbourne suburban train, when another middle-aged lady and I were the first passengers into a well-populated carriage, two teenage school students in uniform rose immediately from their seats and moved aside for us. Could have knocked me down with a feather. The only young person who ever gave up a seat for me in Dublin was a young Travelller boy, some years ago. The privileged sprogs of the south county Dublin bourgeoisie lounge around comfortably, with their schoolbags providing an insurmountable obstacle course.

In Sydney, on a crowded late-afternoon bus, an elderly gentleman asked the father of a toddler, as they settled in their seats, if it would be okay to offer the little boy lollies [sweets]. “Thank you, but no, too much sugar and he gets hyper,” the father declined with a smile. You don’t see such exchanges on the 46A in Dublin or the no 29 in London.

Getting lost in Melbourne, a couple of girls walking their dogs fished out their mobile phones and Googled my destination – not a bother.

And most remarkably of all, when I was wandering lonely as a cloud along a central Melbourne railway station, looking for the airport bus, a rail employee actually approached me and asked if I needed help!! He nearly had to pick me up off the floor. Read more…

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The Notorious and the Voice of an Angel: ultimate odd couple

July 24th, 2015 Comments off

Weird, wonderful but weird – and maybe wrong?

Conor McGregor tattoo

The championship fight of Conor “The Notorious” McGregor in Las Vegas on July 12, spiked as it was with a heart-rending performance by Sinead O’Connor, studded as it was with Irish flags and chants of “Ole, ole ole ole”, was one of those pinch-me experiences for the witness.

Surely many Irish citizens watching, either payTV, online or subsequently on landline TV, winced at the unabashed depiction of the fighting Irish. Plucky, dangerous lot who lead with their fists, if not their knucklehead. Violence solves everything and is supreme. Don’t mess with us, boyo, ye British jackbooted … etc etc.

It’s disgusting – but also tempting, cleansing, as with any atavistic ritual that does play to feellings deep inside the person, or the collective consciousness.
So maybe that’s why tickets to the event cost €350 and yet there was an overwhelming, obvious take-up by Irish fans. An estimated 11,000 Irish fans made their presence dominant in the vast arena.

Read more…

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