There’s an elephant in the room. Isn’t there always?. Hiding quietly behind a narrow strip of curtain folds. It’s this morning and I answer the phone to my Aunt and a minute later we’re arguing. Somebody mentioned politics. I don’t think the ‘green wave’ of last week’s election exists really except as a talking point for the returned status quo of FF and FG. Two arms of the one corpus. Nothing radical has happened. Oh dear. I’ve opened the lid and suddenly we are all going down a dodgy theme park slide.*
“They don’t live in the real world.” That’s what the woman in the cafe said the day after the voting. In small towns these are public venues. The smaller the town, the more public its venues? There, a theorem. Strike it down. She’s talking about the Greens of course. I want to ask her what ‘real’ world she refers to; the one we are choking and burning and carving up, if you listen to the people who count things for a living, or the one where lazy young folk are determined to hush with force anyone who speaks out against their lazy lookatme agenda, and some hoody is breaking into your house while you are on the phone to Joe Duffy about the councillor that should never have given that guy planning permission? How the hell are we to afford electric cars?
Now I’m back on the phone and the slide is picking up speed. There’s a vegan elephant in the room driving up demand for useless shite. Why am I suddenly mad? Why can I not soak it up and not react, let it accumulate as pure signal to be meta-versed about later on?
Well, what do you do about it then? You have a car, right? you eat meat, don’t you? You have to look at your own life first before telling others how to live theirs.
Ireland is only tiny; what we do has basically no effect. The elephant in the east is the real beast. Every village factoried out and a coal plant firing up every five minutes.
How do we get to work then? How are we expected to live?
Now I have a mushmash in my brain, a merging of oilsmoke into a pumping chimera: my parents, my aunt, the woman in the cafe, Mid-West and Galway Bay fm morning radio callers, an army of replies to Journal articles, and then the fog of fatalism- a scrawny black tomcat that shows up every so often and then is suddenly a full time pet that you’re going to have to neuter before he stinks out the place.
Well, how will we get to work if they ban cars, or tax the crap out of them? You commute yourself! Do you cycle to work every day? Ban farming? Where will people work? Are they your only ideas? Ban this, ban that, tax and more tax? It’s one thing to regulate landlords but what responsibilities do tenants have? They can wreck the place and just move out. How can you raise children on a vegan diet? It’s easy for those ‘influencers’ to jump on a fad and pay someone to do up a diet and afford everything.
Is it even work? What you do- work? What time do you get up at?
Farming in Ireland was always low-impact. Farmers actually care about the land. They’re more carbon efficient than those big countries: we should be making more beef, not less. We have high standards. Grass fed. Easy for people in cities to just ignore it and buy buy buy from their Tescos or Lidls, imported chicken wrapped in plastic. Good with avodacos or piled into lunchboxes for post-gym snacks (need that summer tone #bodygoals) A generation ago, there were no mountains of nappies tied inside plastic bags. People kept their own hens. The younger generation are buying all of this junk. Now they’re blaming us?
Why shouldn’t we build houses to live in? Where else are we supposed to live? Who gets to live in houses then? Rich people? How are they rich? Selling us the junk that we don’t need in the first place?
If you’re not happy with how people vote go out and set up your own party. If you want change go out and make it happen, otherwise you’re the same as everyone else anyway. Don’t be just here complaining about it.
Tax, tax, tax. They’ll tax the air we breathe. The greens will only go after people in the country with tax after tax and rule after rule. Remember the last time they were in power? People have short memories.
You’re a smart person- go and write about it; if you feel strongly about it, write about it, don’t just sit there. Write it out and get people to read it and get them to listen that way.
Isn’t it easy for you, for you to criticise, living at home of your parents; you don’t have to pay for kids, couldn’t afford to build a house anyway so it’s just sour grapes, classic case of begrudgery.
Is it even a real job? Is it in the real world? Are you in it?
I watch the chimera and elephant hanging out, sniffing, getting to know each other. The chimera goes behind the other curtain. Together they almost touch, blocking out 99.999% of sunlight from the window. Or was it a streetlight? Hardly the moon.
I pitched a tent on Black Head again, on Sunday night at 10pm after eating in Monks. Before that I got half lost following Google Maps to the Burren National Park. The 3G went awol for a bit and it jumped from 2 km away to 17 km away though I didn’t change roads. Ah fuck. Fuck you technology. But I saw a sign for Cahercommaun stone fort and walked up there and sat in the middle inside the 3 thirteen-hundred year old stone circles on the grass over the cliff edge with bees in the flowers. Nobody else around. I record it on my smartphone. Then I stopped at Parknabinnia wedge tomb and saw a broken “Beware of the Bull” sign behind the wall. Then swinging down towards Corofin and back up I actually made the National Park and walked a fair way though it was already late.
I pitched a tent on Black Head with the lights of Connemara twinkling across the bay, and I planned to get up real early- real as the real world where real people do get up on Monday mornings. But I slept fitfully in the bag and was slow to wake out of it. It rained on and off, and the sea just across the road was loud and a wind buffeted the flysheet. I took the whole tent down in record time though. A big fat navy cloud was rolling in from above the Aran islands. I got to the car just as heavy drops began to pour. Plink plink plonk.
I walked a section of cliffy shore then went on to Doolin for breakfast. Drove down and up and down and up. Where to park? Where to eat? The architecture is odd. It feels like it should be a quaint village around a cluster of squat old buildings but it has been such a roaring success it’s mostly a fragmented sprawl of bulky boomtime guesthouses and rent-me rent-me living with signposts everywhere. Where is its centre? Car parks with ‘customers only’ signs? A strip near a junction that has a hotel/bar/cafe in a strip? Some of the fat guesthouses are abandos, boombust victims, fenced off, unfinished. Here be raw spoils of progress and purity. We sacrifice one myth for another. We can stay and make a living but only by distorting things. Build up a tourist town around a mythical old village. And what pure history is buried in the ground anyways? Who wants to go back to Ireland in the fifties? Go away out of that.
I eat breakfast in the Doolin Cafe. I manage to avoid the full Irish but I know I need plenty of calories. Protein. Proteeeen. I go for salmon and eggs even though I don’t like the whole fish farm market.
The curtains shuffle: the chimera is recording me on a smartphone, livestreaming my salmon-eating hypocrisy, giggling. The elephant can’t be seen now for coal smoke but he seems to be growing bigger- swelling.
Take me back to Doolin then off up towards the Moher cliffs. I drive to the top first. A parking warden walks down to tell me I can’t leave the car there. I know I know. I saw the signs. I’m just leaving a bike locked to this post for a few hours. Grand grand grand. I give an Englishman who was over to surf in Lahinch a lift back down the hill. He’s glad to escape the shower- perfect timing. Finally I park again and start walking up towards the main event; three hundred and twenty vertical metres of cliff. There, there, for a while, I find a giddy rambling tune to follow, a path worn into but not dictatoring the shore, the sea roaring and breathing just below, right there, epic and rolling an infinite weave, texture and flow and scale. It ignores you; mucks with your mental map legend. I stop to take photographs and try to be less of me and more of open sensation.
I pass and then get passed by a couple of girls every so often as we stop at different spots. Stop go stop go. It rains and stops and rains and stops. Jacket on, jacket off. Jacket on, jacket off. Sweat, rain. At some stage we chat for a few minutes. The path eventually pitches up towards the high epicentre where the buses are all pulled up. Everyone is taking pictures of the edge or off the edge. I see me seeing other guys with tripods and them seeing me back and all of our gazes running into each other like the waves at the base of the cliffs. A couple is doing a full-on shoot. Looks like an American-style engagement thingy. I wonder what Lightroom colour grading they’ll use? What white balance and effects? Celebrate or denigrate? Every so often, on a year-to-year scale, someone plunges off these heights. Self inflicted or selfie inflicted. That a man may be free to choose. Why are we drawn to lofty heights? There are plaques in these places.
A harpist and a fiddler are playing by the main path from the bus park to the cliff edges. The tower is being repaired, cloaked with rattling scaffolding. I can’t hear the music or waves or rattle though; I’m in the warm busy visitor centre under the sloping glass, trying to let sweat and rain dry and get some calories in from expensive tea and muffin and crisps. The usual. Muffled piped music. “Here she comes again…”, Muffled conversation. The smell of acidic surface cleaner. Kills 99.999999% of all known germs dead. That and the muffin and crisp smell. “Please review us on TripAdvisor.” Unless you’re a crank. Oh fuck, I’m a crank. One said she would look me up on Instagram. I cycle down. Some wheeeeeeee, but there’s too much weight on my back- big heavy tripod and big heavy lock and big heavy camera all stuffed into or strapped to the backpack.
Later I look up the names of birds that you can see on Moher. There were thousands of them. It’s nesting season. I heard a woman at the edge ask “what kind of birds are they?” and after a pause her man answers with “They’re seagulls”. I have to look them up; I can never seem to get the names to stick. Guillemots with their white spectacles. Razorbills. Kittiwake gulls. Stomach acid-spitting flying milkbottle fulmars. Choughs though I think I only saw ravens. Maybe a peregrine falcon but I think I would have noticed those. Puffins! Rock Pipits. I could hear skylarks. I wonder how many eggs are down on those cliffs each year. Some of them are self cleaning. Cliff eggs are designed to not roll. Are all eggs like that? Maybe I’ve seen too many chicken eggs.
Now I’m back, to the swish of curtains and badly hid beasts and my hypocrisy and all those questions lined up, to defend and justify and establish boundaries and borders while my discomfortable tomcat of fatalism curls up round my head. More arguments wherever you look. Debate. Debait. About how being kind to refugees is an open invitation to millions more. About the little man being punished while the rich man soaks up sun. About insurance fraud and the degeneracy and moral poverty of today’s generations. About a politician herself falling off a swing, and having the sheer nerve to sue and later the further gall to go on morning radio and defend herself even after the internet was all up in a heap hounding out the details: the picture from the 10km a few days after, the music festival. Trial by mass media. Like and share. The joy of getting a kick in during a melee. Don’t tell me you don’t feel it sometimes? I suppose you’re a saint then? And what have you ever done to actually save the planet? And what difference did it actually make? You didn’t buy a plastic bottle or a tin of tuna? That’s it?
There’s plenty of space on the slide. It flows like sandpaper and broken glass. Got any interesting questions?
*My Aunt and parents are amazing people; this piece isn't fair to them; it is an attempt though to be honest to my own internals. Sometimes I feel like I have a committee of parodies running sessions in my brain.