Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dublin Bikes Are Great

The Dublin Bikes scheme is a triumph. There is no other word for it. Glitches aside, it’s hard to think of anything that’s been introduced in the city of Dublin that’s added so much to living in the city since Mary Harney did for the smog over twenty years ago.

An Spailpín Fánach spent his tenner on a year long ticket and seldom have ten notes been better invested.

Getting around between the canals has been a curse of the city. Walking is exhausting and worse, criminally boring. The buses would be grand if they turned up, but waiting in the rain at a bus stop for a bus that doesn’t show is not the best way to spend one’s day. If you take the car you either have nowhere to park or else pay shocking fees for the privilege.

Dublin Bikes knock all that on the head. Simply visit the bikestand, key in your details and you’re away. The extra charges only kick in after half an hour, and in half an hour you’ve cycled to where-ever you wanted to go in the first place. Any longer, take the bus.

It takes a while to get used to the bikes, of course. They’re quite heavy, and balanced towards the front. This makes the initial spin quite a wobbly one but, like so many things in life, you get used to it. And then a tremendous sense of liberation overwhelms you, as you realise that travelling the city has suddenly become simple and painless.

For instance, suppose you are standing outside the Mountjoy Hotel, feeling rather grateful that you are not incarcerated therein, when an urgent text is received that the choice and noblest spirits of the age are drinking that strong, sweet porter served by the white-shirted, bow-tied chaplains of Neary’s of Chatham Street. Crossing the street to the Mater gives you access to the bike, and ten downhill minutes later you are parking it in the rack shown in the photograph at the top of this post, lips being licked already in eager anticipation.

There are thorns on the rose, certainly. The relationship between the bus lane and the bike lane is rather like the relationship between Mrs Cheryl Cole and the rest of Girls Aloud. Of equal status in theory, but if La Cole ever throws a strop there’s only going to be one winner. This makes cycling up O’Connell Street somewhat fraught as the buses loom over the shoulder, but the traffic restrictions that more or less ban anything but buses and bikes from O’Connell Street do make it easier to deal with.

Tremendous caution is also advised when crossing the LUAS lines, a manoeuvre that should only be performed at right angles. Your correspondent had the misfortune to cycle parallel to a LUAS line in the IFSC last week, and ended up by jamming the front wheel in the sunken track, thus catapulting myself off the machine and coming to a hopping stop some yards distant, like an American football wide receiver trying to stay inbounds after a catch.

But these are minor matters compared to the incredible freedom of being able to traverse the city quickly and painlessly. The editorial in the Sunday Times called for the Dublin Bikes scheme to be expanded all over the city, and An Spailpín is happy to second that proposal. Like the iPhone, once you sign up its impossible to imagine how you ever managed without one. Roll on, Dublin Bikes, roll on.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Night Drinks in Liberty Hall - Exclusive Hidden Camera Footage

Leaders of INTO and Impact earn highest pay, survey finds - Irish Times.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lines by St John Gogarty, Appropriate to This Morning's Current Affairs Radio

Enough! Why should a man bemoan
A Fate that leads the natural way?
Or think himself a worthier one
Than those who braved it in their day?
If only gladiators died,
Or heroes, Death would be his pride;
But have not little maidens gone,
And Lesbia's sparrow - all alone?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NUJ in Futile and Pointless Gesture Shock!

Independent Network News has gone wallop and the National Union of Journalists don’t like it. An Spailpín Fánach happened to pass their protest on Mount Street earlier today, and decided to record the event, as per above. After all, ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann. And maybe that’s a good thing. Like the dodo, the NUJ could be just too dumb to live.

Fourteen years ago the NUJ made their single greatest contribution to Irish journalism, by closing down the Press Group of newspapers. Some say the Press bore the mark of Cain anyway, but the NUJ’s lockout delivered the coup de grace.

The world has changed utterly since the Union stood for Colm Rapple at the cost of every other member’s job. At the time you needed an NUJ card to get a job with a newspaper, and you could not get an NUJ card unless 75% of your earnings were derived from journalism. It was protectionist, insular, and doomed.

Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch broke the hold of the press unions in Britain and put an end to Fleet Street. Nobody seemed to realise it here, as the indigenous industry was slowly eroded by the strengthening of British dumps with Irish copy and the rise of the Irish press barons. I don’t remember many NUJ banners protesting then. Vision is seldom a big thing with any union.

And it’s all too late now, of course. The culture was on borrowed time, a decline hastened by the advent of new technologies; first, desktop publishing, and then the tsunami of the World Wide Web that has revolutionised utterly the dissemination of information in our time.

None of the old rules count any more. Those that adapt to the new technologies will survive. Those that don’t are doomed. But nobody seems to have told the NUJ. Nobody at all.

“INN staff have made huge sacrifices over the years and are paid well below the market rate for national journalists,” bleats Mr Séamus Dooley of the NUJ’s Irish branch (chapter? They’re such stonecutters in the NUJ). “They have tolerated a pay freeze and the non-replacement of staff and their efforts are rewarded by this cavalier treatment.”

Nobody cares Séamus. There is no “market rate.” Is George Hook a member of the NUJ? How many non-star names in Newstalk are on the “market rate”? This is just the Union trying to kid themselves that they’re still relevant, when they’re not.

Watching the protest in the autumnal drizzle, An Spalpín thought of Dylan Thomas:

I see the boys of summer in their ruin.
Man in his maggot's barren.
And boys are full and foreign in the pouch.
I am the man your father was.
We are the sons of flint and pitch.
O see the poles are kissing as they cross.

And then I walked on, back into the 21st Century.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Has Anybody Seen the Irish Anti-War Movement?

Is it just me, or does anyone else find the Irish Anti-War Movement’s silence over Sharon Commins’ kidnapping a bit odd?

Today is the one hundredth day of Ms Commins’ disappearance. Sharon Commins, for anyone who hasn’t been following the story, is an aid worker for GOAL in the Sudan. She was kidnapped by some local warlord and the Sudanese Government are pussyfooting around while the warlord looks for ransom. Or else are in kahoots with the warlord themselves, or else are too busy avoiding international prosecution themselves to worry about an Irish aid worker who was only trying to do them a favour in the first place.

Whatever. Chances are Ms Commins’ current living conditions are not very nice, and the fact that Ireland has a Movement that is anti-war who are not bothered by an Irish citizen suffering at the hands of war does not quite add up.

If the Irish Anti-War Movement is really anti-war, then surely Sudanese warlords are exactly the sort of hombres they are particularly against? If anyone wants a snap-shot of the pity of war, a visit to the Sudan will give them all they want of it. The place is Hell on Earth. The Sudanese Civil War has been running, on and off, since 1955. It predates the Beatles. It’s not like the Irish Anti-War movement haven’t spotted it.

Where, then, are the protest marches? The Irish Anti-War movement were out in numbers on O’Connell Street a few years ago, protesting against the Iraq war. How is the Sudanese civil war better than the Iraq war? There was no Irish involvement in the Iraq war, but we have a citizen in confinement in the Sudan. Why don’t the Irish Anti-War movement care?

Maybe I’m doing them an injustice. Maybe, having done his bit by democracy while wearing his People Before Profit Alliance hat, Richard Boyd Barrett has pulled on his Irish Anti-War movement hat and has flown out to the Sudan to personally intervene.

Maybe, while his people are spending Sunday morning listening to Marian and getting the Sunday roasts ready, RBB is sitting with the locals in some souk in downtown Khartoum, using his fluent Arabic to pick up the local knowledge that will allow him make a daring midnight raid on the warlord’s camp. Perhaps the kidnappers will awake tomorrow to find to find Ms Commins gone, with only a CND symbol entwined with shamrock to show them that the Irish Anti-War movement has struck in the desert?

Or else maybe bitching about Yanks is about the measure of Richard Boyd Barrett’s contribution. It looks like one or the other, doesn’t it?

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Friday, October 09, 2009

So. Farewell Then, O'Brien's Sandwich Bars

O’Brien's Sandwich Bars have gone to the wall. An Spailpín Fánach will not shed one tear after them. They were a con and a joke and a symbol of all that was wrong in Ireland for the past fifteen years, when we lost all respect for money.

The single most distinguishing fact about an O’Brien's sandwich was how extraordinarily expense it was. It was a sandwich. Parts and labour are by no means expensive. So how in damnation one of them cost as much as it did remains something of a mystery.

The hubris of the organisation was extra-ordinary. Acolytes would tell you that “it’s just like a New York deli sandwich.” Well, your correspondent has been in a New York deli and O’Brien's sandwiches were nothing like the things they shoot across the counters in those establishments, telling you to move it, move it, and addressing you as “buddy.”

Being a greenhorn Irishman on the loose on the Great White Way some years ago, your faithful correspondent strolled in to this particular deli. I ordered the ham and eggs option and, having been schooled here, I then went on to ask the guy behind the counter what that entailed, because here that is not always clear.

The guy looked at me like I was a roach blessed with the gift of tongues. “What did you ask me for?” he said.

“Um, ham and eggs,” I said.

“Well, that’s what I’m going to give you,” he said, and got to work.

The guy gave me a sandwich made of ham and fried eggs. I enjoyed it fully, and the heart attack hasn’t come yet, thanks be to God. He did not butter the bread without me asking him. He did not go into his garden to bring in greenery to stuff into my sandwich, greenery that I did not order and the presence of which was meant to fox me into thinking I was getting a bargain. Like getting a cup of stout and a glass of water when you order a pint.

Neither did the guy in the New York deli slice the ham with a razor blade, nor carefully weigh the eggs for fear I should put one over on him. I ordered ham and eggs, he gave me ham and eggs. A childlike simplicity in the arrangement such as An Spailpín Fánach never enjoyed in an O’Brien's Sandwich Shop.

Possibly the most galling thing about the O’Brien's Sandwich was the way people talked about it. If they sliced up the Lamb of God, stuck him between two slices of Manna from Heaven and then served him with a side of the Asphodel the Greeks rated so highly, it couldn’t have been a bigger hit that a slice of ham you could see through sitting on the contents of the lawnmower bag, themselves then sitting on slices of thick bread with the whole mess dripping with some foul mayonnaise.

The worst thing was the warning sign was there for all to see. Take a look at the O’Brien's logo across the way. No apostrophe – only cads don’t apostrophise correctly. O’Brien’s doom was sealed by their disregard for basic literacy. Small loss after them.

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