A feather bed for Northern Ireland

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‘Unitarianism is but a feather bed to catch a falling Christian’, Charles Darwin’s father used to say when joshing his Wedgwood in-laws for what more orthodox Anglicans regarded as a drift towards secularism.

Rejecting the Trinitarian conception of God, Unitarianism is characterized by an emphasis on truth-seeking born of human experience, not by means of allegiance to creeds or doctrines.

Viewed by the orthodox, Unitarianism was so low-church as to hardly register as church-life at all.

I thought of this little fragment from my Darwin days over weekend as the Northern Irish election results filled out.

In the past few days most news outlets have led with some variation on the line that an Irish Nationalist party is now the largest party in Northern Ireland’s parliament for the first time since the statelet was carved out and established a century ago (which was carved out and established for the express purpose of creating a Unionist statelet) — which, in fairness, is noteworthy, no question — but that’s not the key development at all it seems to me.

Sinn Fein now has 27 seats in the (90-seat) Assembly, the same number as it had in the outgoing Assembly, which is to say, it’s not that Sinn Fein have gained in these elections — after all their share of first preference votes increased by just 1.1% — it’s more that their main rivals, the Democratic Unionist Party in particular, lost some of what they held: the DUP now occupy 25 seats, down 3, their share of first preference votes down 6.7% — most of which migrated over to the Monster Raving TUV who took 7.6% of first preferences, up 5.1%.

Also, if the first preference votes for Unionist parties and for Nationalist (or Nationalist-leaning parties) are totalled up, it’s more or less honours even, so it’s not like there’s been a Nationalist surge and we’re on the way to a United Ireland. (In any event, I don’t believe there’s a majority north or south of the border for the kind of United Ireland envisaged by Sinn Fein and their supporters. No one I know is keen to have that Six Counties mess incorporated into our polity down here; we’ve plenty we’re struggling to cope with as it is, thanks all the same.‡)

What’s happening is that what used to be the unified Unionist community is splintered, splitting between the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the even harder-line Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and then — moving towards the centre of the political spectrum — the more liberal-minded Unionists represented by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

Sinn Fein meanwhile marshalled its existing support most effectively, even siphoning support away from the softer-nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which lost 4 Assembly seats in this cycle, downgrading the party to 5th place in the party-rankings in terms of bums-on-seats (down from 3rd place in the outgoing Assembly), coming behind Sinn Fein with 27 seats, the DUP with 25 seats, the cross-community Alliance Party with 17 seats (up 9), the UUP with 9 seats (down 1) and, as I say, in 5th place, the SDLP with 8 seats.

(After which it’s just also-rans: 2 independents, one TUV guy and one representative of the leftist People Before Profit group.)

The thing to focus on, it seems to me, is the performance of the non-aligned Alliance Party, which is non-aligned in terms of being pro-Union (i.e., the United Kingdom) on one hand or pro-unification-of-Ireland (north & south) on the other.

Pictured with Alliance Party leader Naomi Long (centre) are newly elected Alliance MLAs Kate Nicholl (left) and Paula Bradshaw (right).

Identifying yourself primarily in terms of this divide is literally and figuratively divisive, so what they seek to do — as one might expect from an ‘Alliance’ party — is bring people together, getting them to focus on what they agree on, and wide-berth the siren call of wedge issues and the tanglers and vendors thereof. (Sinn Fein, the DUP and the Monster Raving TUV need animosity, they thrive on tension, suspicion and division, it’s the air they breathe, the milk they drink, the fruit and staples they sow, hoe, harvest and take to market.)

The Alliance Party draws support from both sides of the main cultural and political divide in Northern Ireland. The key thing is the way younger people along with other flourishing groups (the affluent, aspirational and trans-national, for example) no longer turn out for fife and drum assemblies.

In the returns for the Census conducted at the turn of the century (2001) 14% of Northern Irish people declined to identify as either ‘Protestant’ or ‘Roman Catholic’; in the returns a decade later this group increased to 17%; and in the next lot of returns this non-binary/anti-binary group is expected to be north of 20%, might even be as high as 25%, we’ll see when preliminary returns are made public later this year.

As I’m seeing it anyhow it’s the herds grazing on this more liberal central plain that are the real winners here, and in this centre I’m seeing not just the Alliance but also the SDLP and the UUP.

The Ulster Unionist Party is a Unionist party, obviously, but it’s a brand of Unionism that doesn’t seem belligerent in my view (not to say ‘hateful’), something well-communicated in the following UUP party political broadcast, which (as I see it anyhow) is all about diversity and inclusion (as opposed to the self-serving duplicity and divisiveness I associate with the DUP, for instance):

Together the Alliance Party, the SDLP and the UUP make up a block of 34 seats in the Assembly, it’s these middle ground people that need to be encouraged, enabled and supported.

The mandatory coalition of Unionists and Nationalists has got to be done away with — the mandatory coalition of the largest Unionist party and the largest Nationalist party to form the core of an Executive — all it seems to do is encourage extremist posturing: we’ve had an Executive in place for just two of the past six years, first because Sinn Fein wouldn’t participate because of the Irish language issue, and now the DUP has thrown it’s toys out of the pram because of the Irish Protocol provisions of the Brexit agreements, Brexit being something foisted upon us by the DUP in the first place, Dodds, Donaldson and Foster being critical players in that whole Brexit mess. The reasonable people — the non-nutters, the men and women of good will — ought to be given the opportunity to attempt to form an Executive.  

The Alliance Party may well be seen as a feather bed to cushion the fall of bits & pieces falling-away from Unionist and Nationalist monoliths, but, how bad? Wanna to know what the alternatives are?

‡ What might be interesting (something I could get behind) — although I’ve never heard anyone propose this, let alone advocate for it — is a union of Ireland and Scotland (USI). I’m talking about a loose federation here, made up of an independent Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, something which would grandfather Scotland’s reentry into the European Union if it votes to leave the United Kingdom (which I feel sure it will do) — after all West Germany brought East Germany into the European Union on the nod — it would offer the Republic an opportunity to carry out some much-needed refurbishments to it’s rambling and aging property, and, hopefully, it would mean Northern Irish Unionists wouldn’t feel like they’re being forced into something they don’t want to be part of (i.e., a Nationalist United Ireland which almost certainly would be intolerably triumphalist). Scotland and Ireland have much in common in terms of geography, economics, history, culture and so forth, and much they could cooperate on for mutual benefit.

It’s worth discussing anyhow, I feel, but never is it, at least not that I’ve seen or heard.

May Day

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May Day, something that, for so many reasons, has so much resonance. The calendar first of summer maybe but I don’t want to move into summer yet, I want to stay in springtime, to me everything still looks and feels so spring-like.

This week extraordinarily gorgeous. It rained all day Tuesday, for about 8 hours of it anyhow — sun up these days at about 6 am and sinking down again at about 9 pm. I think it started raining about lunchtime on Tuesday and it rained for the whole of the rest of the day, really heavy for stretches of it. I went down to check the front gates before going to bed and it had just stopped at that time. A Bangor slate coloured day you wouldn’t turn a fox out into.

Monday was sunny but it was one of those days that was winding itself up for a full day’s downpour. I remember marvelling at the shivering leaves on the Magnolia tree Monday afternoon; the day wasn’t windy but that sort of rain-coming non-windy shiver was in the atmosphere and all the leaves on all the trees had something of it going on, anticipating the downpour to come, presumably. They were looking forward to it, not dreading it (the feeling wasn’t fearful, it was excitement), because it’s been dry, so dry that for weeks now I’ve had to spend about an hour each day bucketing water to stuff, and not just potted things, every rooted thing parched, dried-out crusted lips pleading for a drop of something. Not that I mind doing so, I may add, it’s not chore-like, it’s lovely work, and it’s good for me to care for stuff, I get as much from the giving as the shrubs and plants do from the getting.

Then, after Tuesday’s rain, Wednesday morning was Garden of Eden like as it seemed to me. I was rendered almost breathless by the incredibly delicate perfection of it all, everything sparkling with rainwater and the most innocent dawn light illuminating it all. I cannot now recall what it was that took me out into the grounds at that early hour — certainly I didn’t go ‘I bet the everything will look lovely this morning…’ and then go out to see how it measured up to my expectation. No, that I went out at that early hour was an accident, or incidental perhaps I should say, because I remember being surprised by it, arrested by the magnificence of it, and I remember staying out there meditatively walking by the banks and beds and under fresh-leaved, still-dripping trees — every square foot of the place drenched, refreshed and exquisite looking, even the brambley bits which normally really annoy & offend me — and, at one point, thinking ‘Who in their right mind would walk away from all this to go indoors to a writing desk (or to anything else for that matter)?’ It was one of those timeless little stretches when the self just melts away altogether and for a little while you are the eyes of the godhead itself, or at least it feels something like this.

And then — who knows why (certainly not me anyhow) — one starts up thinking again, thinking ‘Isn’t this fabulous. Who in their right mind would walk away from all this to go to a writing desk?’ and with that the shy godhead type bit dissolves and you’re just yourself again admiring your garden, your dwelling, your handiwork, which is to say, you become self-conscious again. It’s as though for a brief little while the self takes a deep dive in the ‘This is Water’ water, so to say, and for that little while it’s just another creature swimming along in the first light of day, but then needing air it surfaces again — becoming a floater again — and so as a consequence you’re alone again, yourself a bit of an invading bramble in the grounds of someone else’s temple, carrying on from one day to the next for no good reason. However the afterglow of the experience remains with you for a while, happily, indeed I can feel a little of it still, two and a half days on.

Today, yesterday & Wednesday all gorgeous days weather-wise. It’s a bit cold for the time of year I suppose — about 12 to 14 in the afternoons and only 2 or 3 degrees at its coldest in the night — but in fact it doesn’t feel that cold, it’s nice for working in that’s for sure.

Extract from Even as We Grieved: Journal of a Plague Year (pp. 47-8), part of diary entry for 1 May 2020.

For more, visit the Even as We Grieved page on this blog. Even as We Grieved is about the Coronavirus Crisis — particularly from an Irish point of view — however it’s about other things too: 2020 and 2021 were Big History years: the pandemic, the planet suffering vast swathes of wildfire along with (simultaneously & near by) unprecedented flooding, Trump and the political & cultural crisis in the United States, Brexit and the fragmentation of the UK, and, in this country, FF, FG & the Greens getting together to form a coalition government… Interesting times:

(By the bye, I’ve published several extracts from Even as We Grieved on this blog so far, for a full display of which go to ‘Subject Categories’ on sidebar and click on ‘Even as We Grieved’ — this link not to be confused with the italicized hyperlink above, which takes you to a page on Even as We Grieved, whereas this, the unitalicized hyperlink, takes you to several posts, selected extracts from the book.)

Ukrainians come unto Skibbereen

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The following is an audio file of this blog-post, me reading my own blog-post, my first time ever recording one of my own posts so perhaps you’ll be kind enough to allow a little latitude viz-a-vis the recording and audio-editing quality (particularly as compared to standard radio output & high class podcast productions), considering I’m a total novice at this.

I met the rector in the grounds just before the weekend and he told me that the Eldon Hotel has been filled with Ukrainian refugees, 30 or 40 of them I think he said.

They arrived Wednesday, I believe, a bus-load of them.

Indeed it’s noticeable too, which is to say, all over the weekend there’s been a clusters of Ukrainian looking ones knocking about the town. Mostly teenagers, it seems to me, a few adults also but to my eye anyhow it looks to be circa five to one teenagers to adults — exploring the town they find themselves landed in, as you can imagine.

On Thursday evening I went down to check the gates and saw what appeared to me to be a mother and father and teenage daughter go past the crescent-shaped church gateway, I feel fairly sure they were Ukrainians, the tell for me being that absolutely everything appeared interesting and comment-worthy to them, every person, every building, every gateway, every passing vehicle.

They seemed happy, the young girl in particular, excited in a positive sort of way. And to my way of seeing the father seemed to be at least ‘not unhappy looking’ too, finding everything in our town of interest including (in this instance) this bloke about the same age as himself walking towards him down this curved, stone-walled avenue. His interest in who I might be causing him to glance up at the Goodman arch to see if it offered anything that might furnish an indication as to who or what this fellow might be.

I could see him (or at least I thought I could see him) attempting to decode my clothing — dark-chocolate coloured wax jacket, tweed cap, trousers the colour of Boston Ivy in late September and brown suede Chelsea boots — just as I was doing with respect to him and what he was wearing — blue quilted Gillet, tan-coloured polo-neck pullover, black jogging bottoms (Dunnes Stores type stuff), all reasonably good quality in the sense of not being total charity shop gear but, on the other hand, just not right either, somehow not his, and simply not well-co-ordinated in terms of colours, fabrics or messaging.

He was not a holiday-maker (in my estimation) — at least not the kinds of holiday-makers we get in these parts at this time of year — and certainly he was not local, nor any sort of Irish, nor any class of Briton, nor was he French or Belgian or Dutch or German, he was an east European of some variety I felt sure, but not beat-down looking, dulled and depressed by several Irish winters and fag-end employment opportunities, as I say, they seemed new-come, excited, fizzing with hope & expectation. And relief too, I sensed.

I imagine that even though they’re in the Eldon Hotel — which by definition is temporary accommodation — nevertheless being in Skibbereen represents finally having landed somewhere, which is to say, no longer in transit, no longer being ‘processed’, Skibbereen is where they’ll be for the next few months at least.

Some of them will find work here — working in hotels and restaurants and on building sites and on farms and in fish-processing facilities, or sorting through our rubbish perhaps — several of those teenage girls will have Skibbereen & district boyfriends before the August Bank Holiday Weekend, and I guess that at least some of these guests of the nation — 5 or 10 percent of them maybe — will remain and settle down here, marrying perhaps, or at least getting pregnant and getting housed in the normal way that young mothers get housed in our match, patch & mend systems, and some of them will find steady jobs with employers they like and trust, calving and milking cows on farms somewhere between here, Bantry, Dunmanway and Rosscarbery, painting and decorating, block-laying, hairdressing, working in Fields’ or in Aldi’s… settling here like the Poles and Baltic States people who’ve come here over the past 20 years, enough of whom exist in this area to keep that Polish shop on Bridge Street in business (which must be of 10 or 12 years standing at this stage).

By the bye, I don’t mean to suggest that all such people will be doing ass-wipe stuff at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid because I know plenty Poles and Baltic States people doing either well or beginning to do well in what we classify as middle class areas of activity, entrepreneurs, artists, computer people, cogs performing supervisory roles in catering and retail and manufacturing and logistical systems. Most of the like are still in rented accommodation, to be sure, but so far as I can see they’ll make it in terms of the housing ziggurat too, eventually, many of them already driving better vehicles than anything I’ve ever been able to afford, that’s for sure. Which is to say, several of these Ukrainians will be skilled and credentialed, and in some cases even highly skilled, skills that’ll be in demand once they get themselves sorted such that they know the difference between Beamish and Murphy’s, hockey and hurling, Donovans and O’Donovans, Togher in Cork and Togher in West Cork and all the rest of it.

The Eldon Hotel, Bridge Street, Skibbereen

Apparently the situation in the sorting hub in Clonakilty has been a bit of a chaotic mess with people attempting to get PPS numbers and medical cards and their social welfare money coming through for them in the post office up in Portloaise while they’ve been shunted down to a community centre in Clonakilty and so on. In fairness, it must be an administrative nightmare, attempting to process people who don’t even use a recognisable alphabet so far as our systems are concerned — this is what ‘Ireland’ looks like in Ukrainian ‘Ірландії’ so where would you be going with your application forms and your telephone helplines, most of which aren’t even helpful when you speak Hiberno-English and you have a clear sense of what you want and what you’re entitled to, not even to think about what it would be like if you come at them with some bastardized Byzantine gobbledegook.

A friend of mine is in hospital at the minute with a malfunctioning liver and earlier this week he told me that the hospital authorities put someone into the ward before his Covid-test results were processed and, it turned out, the new guy had tested positive for the virus, chaos and meltdown and inter-departmental recrimination ensuing with the result that my friend and 8 or 9 other patients have been in full scale lockdown ever since. And about dozen hospital staff are now out of commission on account of this cornhole cock-up, self-isolating at home, leaving the liver and giblets ward out of bounds as far as the rest of the hospital is concerned. The point being that here in Ireland systems routinely malfunction even at the best of times — a nightmare mix of Kafkaesque bureaucratic blancmange mixed with rural Irish absurdity and yera-fuck-it slovenliness not at all unusual in most people’s experience of life on this island — so what’s it going to be like if (in the space of 6 weeks) you cascade 40,000 refugees into the mix as well and all while the national leadership is up at banks of microphones talking up what a First World country like the Republic of Ireland can do and is doing for our less fortunate and benighted European brethren. (I genuinely do have sympathy for the authorities and administrators, by the bye, the whole situation must be monstrously challenging; also everyone, from Micheál Martin on down, is attempting to do the right thing, I feel, and I sincerely applaud them for it. So I don’t mean to mock too much, nevertheless, I’m just saying, think Father Ted hybridized with Dostoevsky and Hunter S. Thompson with a LSD-marinated cherry on top for garnish and I bet you won’t be too far off what a fair number of these displaced Ukrainians must be experiencing right now.)

This, I imagine, is why there was a palpable air of relief about the people I saw down at the gates on Thursday evening: the Eldon Hotel might not be ideal but no question it’s a darn sight better than living out of your suitcase and sleeping in camp-beds in a community centre in Portlaoise or some place.

And Dear Old Skibbereen might well look outlandishly odd in lots of ways to someone out of a tower block apartment in Karkiv or Mariupol, but in fairness it’s not too bad a place to land either, is it, out on Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard, air which is probably the cleanest in all of Europe, no direct sight of the sea itself but a clear sense that that blue-green briny behemoth is within walking distance — a prince of an ocean that wouldn’t even be seen talking to a piss pool like the Black Sea.

Skibbereen is the kind of place you can get your head round reasonably quickly in terms of where the shops are, and the post office, and the churches, and the toilets, and the parks, and the sports grounds, and the schools, and the social welfare office, and the medical centre and the pharmacies; in places such as Skibbereen one can become unconfused fairly quickly, stabilized — cease feeling tossed hither & yon like a piece of garbage in a storm — get yourself oriented, upstanding again, to some extent anyhow.

We hope so.

And we welcome them. I hope they come to think well of us.

The Near Death of Boris Johnson

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Another extract from Even as We Grieved: Journal of a Plague Year, my diaries for 2020 and the first half of 2021 — four (briefish) entries from April 2020 when Boris Johnson tested positive for the virus and for a week or ten days was so seriously ill he was not only hospitalized but wheeled over into intensive care.

Sunday, 5 April [2020]

Lead news out of Britain is that Boris Johnson has been taken to hospital because of his coronavirus infection! He’s been ill with it for 10 days now and although they keep telling us his symptoms are mild and he’s still running the government, albeit isolated in his Downing Street flat, clearly things are more serious than the Downing Street spokespeople have been portraying. They say he’s gone into hospital for ‘tests’ but there are reports this evening that he’s gone in because he’s struggling to breathe. Probably a mix of the two. Despite what the Downing Street spokespeople have been spinning BJ really does look ill — he’s posted several self-recorded smartphone videos during his confinement and in each he’s looked worse than in the one before.

Nothing could underscore the extent to which this is a deadly pandemic more than if the PM were to cop it! Which is to say, this is something that is of concern not only to old people in old peoples’ homes but to people of all ages, and you can die of it even when you can afford the best medical treatment London has to offer.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, also diagnosed with Covid, appears to be fully recovered and is back at work.

By the way, Keir Starmer elected Labour Party leader in the UK; a good choice, he’s not charismatic but he looks the part and of course he’s capable (i.e., he could really do the job — be PM — Corbyn never looked the part). Hopefully he’ll bring Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn, Ed Miliband & Co back to the front bench and we’ll begin to have a credible looking alternative cabinet on the opposition benches again after the dispiriting clown-show of the past few years: Diane Abbott, Home Secretary, John Macdonald, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Emily Thornbury, Foreign Secretary and then, topping them all, Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, for fuck sake, it’s like a sitcom pitch!

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (right) with his media guy Seumas Milne looking prime ministerial (in a dystopian fucking nightmare)

And the Labour Party in Ireland has a new leader too, 44-year-old Alan Kelly, replacing Brendan Howlin, the greyest figure imaginable, over the past 4 years almost totally invisible. And it was even worse when he did make an appearance, made you think he’d do better remaining off-stage.

Monday, 6 April [2020]

Boris Johnson is to spend a second night in hospital in London (St Thomas’), however Downing Street still maintain there’s nothing to see here so move along, folks: the PM is still getting his red boxes, they say, he’s still fully briefed, and he’s still fully in command of the ship of state; however, unless they’re telling the truth they’re going to make themselves look silly and untrustworthy. Apparently BJ has been attempting to do a Churchill — working his way through his ministerial boxes while still in bed — but he’d be better off if he quit his playacting and took his situation seriously; indeed, had he taken the situation seriously he’d have had a much better chance of not getting infected in the first place — apparently he went shaking hands with Covid patients in some hospital back in March! Fucking langer.

Johnson looking prime ministerial in an alternative (right wing) dystopia

Tuesday, 7 April [2020]

Boris Johnson moved into Intensive Care yesterday evening. Told you; you don’t go into hospital unless the situation is serious, and you sure don’t go to an ICU unless things are serious, really serious, life & death serious. Even so, it’s still a bit of a shocker. According to reports he’s stable, he’s been given supplemental oxygen but is not on a ventilator. However Downing Street have now got themselves into a situation where no one believes a word they say. What they say is just noise. Some reports saying a bed was first prepared for him last Thursday, therefore while the Downing Street press office were still telling us he had only mild symptoms and he was working fully up in the flat, steering the ship of state, clearly his doctors were saying ‘Prime Minister, we think you ought to go into hospital.’

Wednesday, 8 April [2020]

Over 1,800 Covid-related deaths in the US yesterday! 731 in New York alone, which has now surpassed Italy for the number of confirmed cases — NY 138,836 to Italy’s 135,586. NY now has 5,489 dead (and counting).

France passed the 10,000 dead mark yesterday.

Boris Johnson still in ICU, no change they tell us, but like I said yesterday no one puts much store by what the Downing Street press office say on this subject anymore, instead we’ll wait until the prime minister comes out of the hospital — which is to say, in what type of vehicle he leaves the hospital.

In Ireland police have been given extraordinary powers for the next 4 days (the new powers they’ve been given are time-limited), from now until Easter Sunday (but apparently they can be renewed again for other holiday weekends), designed to prevent people flooding out to holiday homes and holiday hotspots undermining the lockdown. Powers are so extensive that apparently it caused a split in Cabinet, not that the powers are too great especially but they’re so great that if wrongly used it may result in undermining the strong sense of social solidarity rather than bolstering it.

One of the tabloid newspapers has a great headline today: ‘Get Out Yer Backs And Tan.’ Irish editions of British tabloids often try to do what the originals do so very well — ‘Shoots You, Sir’ / ‘Lawn Order’ / ‘Elf and Safety’ and so on — however so far as I know they’ve never hit the heights of what the Brits do in this respect — to me always seeming like lame wannabes by comparison — but this one is right up there with the best in the genre. Fair play. I’m sorry not to be able to credit the newspaper concerned, I heard of it in the ‘It Says in the Papers’ section of Morning Ireland this morning.

938 deaths announced in the UK today! Highest daily death total yet in the UK.

UK now has over 7,000 dead, however, based on National Statistics Office numbers — as opposed to the Department for Health figures — a report on Channel 4 News yesterday evening said that official figure could be doubled because UK still not fully counting deaths in old people’s homes and in the community more widely: that 7,000 figure is mostly just hospital deaths.

The numbers are all over the place all over the place, apparently, every country counting up differently so that all these numbers we’re seeing are the product of self-reporting, hence some of the incredible numbers you see for different countries (India, China and Russia to name but three).

Over the weekend I heard a report from Ecuador on the BBC World Service and the reporter said that there were bodies on the streets in the capital (a report on Newsday early in the morning). The health system has completely collapsed there, the hospitals having closed their doors because they’re full to capacity, way more than capacity — every corridor and alcove filled with people on trollies and in wheelchairs &c. People turning up at the hospitals with sick relatives and leaving them there, where of course they perish in short order.

Grim scenes in Ecuador (in the paragraph above I say the report was a report from Ecuador’s capital, however since then I’ve learned that the report was out of Guayaquil, not Quito)

And downtown the reporter said people are putting their dead out with the rubbish on the sidewalk. The report had an interview with the city’s mayor who was both pleading for assistance and also keen to communicate that the corpses on the streets were not her responsibility — the binmen, of course, do not take the bodies. A fucking horror show. And yet if you look at the number of Covid-related deaths for Ecuador it’s only 220, they claim, and only 3,995 confirmed cases.

Extracts from Even as We Grieved: Journal of a Plague Year, my diaries for March 2020 to May 2021 — diary entries for Sunday, 5 April 2020, Monday, 6 April 2020, Tuesday, 7 April 2020, and Wednesday, 8 April 2020; the entries appear on pp. 37-40.

For more, visit the Even as We Grieved page on this blog. Even as We Grieved is about the Coronavirus Crisis (particularly from an Irish point of view), however it’s about other things too: 2020 and 2021 were Big History years: the pandemic, the planet suffering vast swathes of wildfire along with (simultaneously & near by) unprecedented flooding, Trump and the political and cultural crisis in the United States, Brexit and the fragmentation of the UK, and, in this country, FF, FG & the Greens getting together to form a coalition government . . . interesting times:

(By the bye — a final word — I’ve published several extracts from Even as We Grieved on this blog so far, for a full display of which go to ‘Subject Categories’ on sidebar and click on ‘Even as We Grieved’ — this link not to be confused with the italicized link above, which takes you to a page on Even as We Grieved, whereas this, the unitalicized form, takes you to several posts, selected extracts.)

Wit & Wisdom from Mike Tyson (in combination with literary others)

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In a recent episode of ‘Rich Hall’s American Breakdown’ (BBC Radio 4) Hall ended up talking about Mike Tyson, in particular his famous quip that everyone has ‘a plan’ until he gets punched in the face, something the brute said in response to a reporter’s question before one of his fights with Evander Holyfield.

Hall says this Tyson line has such feral insight it can be taken apart and its constituent elements repurposed by being added to other insights to produce further equally powerful insights and wisdoms, so, for example:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife until he gets punched in the face, which of course is to combine Tyson’s brutish wisdom with the Regency wit and flourish of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

I’ve since been amusing myself by coming up with other examples of this sort of hybridization, a few of which I’d like to share:

A man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others until he gets punched in the face (Jewish proverb).

He who laughs last laughs longest until he gets punched in the face.

However, literary ones work best, I feel, the following from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for instance: When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventyfirst birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton until he got punched in the face.

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much is the opening sentence in the Harry Potter book series, so this could be adapted to go Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, was proud to say that they were perfectly normal people, thank you very much, until she got punched in the face.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do, until she got punched in the face (Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland).

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were until they got punched in the face (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind).

And another from the treasure-trove that is Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey): No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine until she got punched in the face.

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind until I got punched in the face (Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds)

To Sherlock Holmes she was always ‘the woman’ until he got punched in the face (Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia, Arthur Conan Doyle).

For a long time, I went to bed early until I got punched in the face (Swann’s Way from In Search Of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust).

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love until he got punched in the face (Love in a time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez).

Coronavirus Resurge

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We’re now two months on since the government trumpeted it’s ‘Emergency Over’ message in the third week in January — see my blog-post of 22 January 2022.

At the time I felt they were jumping the gun (a rash, money-hungry rush to get a head-start on what they hoped would be a post-pandemic economic flush), indeed as my blog-post that day makes clear, I was quite shocked by the rashness of it — rashness from people who otherwise pride themselves on their conservativism, which they market as ‘reliability’.

At the time they proclaimed the ‘Emergency Over’ the cumulative (lab-confirmed) case count in the Republic of Ireland was 1,234,548, with just over 6,000 Covid-related deaths (6,087).

This (following) is the state of play today:

‘The Department of Health has been notified of 8,910 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 today — bringing the cumulative total of lab-confirmed cases in the Republic to 1,413,798 — as well as 14,215 positive antigen tests logged through the HSE portal.

‘1,425 Covid patients in hospital presently, 53 of whom being treated in ICUs.

‘These figures come as the health service is “really struggling” due to the latest surge in Covid-19 cases, HSE Chief Operations Officer Anne O’Connor has said.

‘”Whether it’s in our hospitals, our community services, our national ambulance service, we are really struggling in terms of the level of Covid across services and across our staff,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

‘Eight Covid-related deaths also notified today, bringing the cumulative death toll to 6,693.’

And that’s not even to count-in the situation over the border in Northern Ireland — which of course we must do because it’s certainly an invisible border as far as this virus is concerned (any virus, obviously) — so that, in total, on this small island (an island hosting circa 7 million people) the cumulative case count is now over 2 million (2,090,285) with a death toll of very nearly 10,000 (9,980).

And remember when reading ‘2,090,285’ cases of infection, that’s only lab-confirmed cases, positives from antigen tests are not counted in the official figures, and as I say there were over 14,000 of them in the Republic today alone, for example, along with another 14,000 yesterday.

And that’s 14,000 people testing positive with an antigen test and then registering that test result on the HSE’s online portal. I know people who’ve tested positive with antigen tests and have not registered their test results. One is under no obligation to do so. If I tested positive with an antigen test I doubt I would bother to do so — in the event of me testing positive for the virus I’d have more on my mind than helping the authorities with data collection you may be sure.

Also (almost certainly) there are a great number of people infected who are either asymptomatic or, perhaps, feeling a bit shit (but soldiering on because they also feel it’ll pass, I’ll be OK tomorrow) such that they don’t get tested at all, not even a 3-dollar antigen test.

In any event one cannot even get a PCR-test any more if you’re under 55 years of age, even if you’re clearly symptomatic.

So, even though I’ve no expertize in epidemiology or in any area of medicine, it seems to me to be undeniable that the country’s rife with coronavirus right now, way more than the official figures suggest, and, far more seriously, I believe it’s government policy that this is so: they want us all to get infected between now and the beginning of next winter so that we develop naturally occurring ‘herd immunity’.

And that’s fine, it’s a medico-political strategy, and given the circumstances it’s a perfectly defensible one (arguably), but if this is the policy I think they ought to have the cojones to come out and stand over it, otherwise, as it seems to me, we’re being made to participate in a mass experiment without our consent, and this I strongly object to.

Like I say, it’s fine for them to attempt to do what they’re attempting to do (if this is what they’re doing), I feel, but they ought to be explicit about it so that people — folks like me, for instance, someone with chronic lung disease — who do not want to participate can take steps to opt out as best they can manage.

However we now have the absurd situation whereby some in authority are clearly beginning to get concerned, if not a little jittery — the numbers of those hospitalized with Covid are increasing such that the hospital system is moving towards crisis again, and there are something like 5,000 hospital staff off work because they’re infected, or else they’re a close contact of someone who’s tested positive — and we’re being told to mask-up again. One lad on one of the news programmes this week said that although there’s no longer a mask mandate in force people ought to behave as though there was a mask mandate!

What a fucking absurd mess! A totally avoidable mess. What need was there for such foolish haste back in January? In January for god’s sakes, which in Ireland is the depths of sodding winter. They could have stepped us out of the pandemic between February and April in a series of 3 or 4 steps and no one would have objected to such caution. Now it looks like we’re in the midst of a genuine full-blown resurge of this virus, and to my mind anyhow the government must accept responsibility for it, some measure of responsibility anyhow.

Part 2

While I’m in this whole subject area let me also incorporate the following, another extract from Even as We Grieved, my diary account of the pandemic as experienced in small-town Ireland published at the end of last year. (I’ve published several extracts from Even as We Grieved on this blog so far, for a full display of which go to ‘Subject Categories’ on sidebar and click on ‘Even as We Grieved’.)

What follows here is three entries from March 2020, a week of entries charting the descent into the full flood of the pandemic two years ago and the headlong woosh towards the first full (command) lockdown.

Monday, 16 March 2020

This is the beginning of my second full week in isolation — not total isolation as the following makes clear but almost total. I saw or interacted with no one at all last week. Although of course I went into the Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning whereat I went to one stall and bought half a dozen things — food things from Alison. It feels like I interacted with no one last week is what I ought to say. I think an open air market is perfectly fine, by the bye. Going into supermarkets — enclosed spaces — I feel insecure about. I was in the Farmers’ Market about 10 minutes altogether. And washed my hands thoroughly as soon as I got back to the house.

I’m not exactly sure when I started this isolation — not least because I live a fairly isolated life anyhow so it’s difficult to tell — but I believe I started the first week of March, so that I may be in isolation for about 10 days now. And, like I say, it’s not total isolation, it’s about 97%.

I stopped going to Kalbo’s [for lunch] during the first week in March, indeed I’m not even sure I was in there at all that week. However, even though I didn’t go to Kalbo’s that week, I did go into Fields. I went in there at least twice. I was actually buying up stuff for a siege — at that time I hadn’t clocked that Fields’ home delivery system was so well-established. That last time I got caught in a couple of conversations, which irritated me a good deal, to be honest, particularly that Liverpool guy who just cannot shut the fuck up once he gets an opening. I spent about 10 minutes edging away from him and eventually had to say ‘Look, mate, I’m paranoid about this coronavirus thing, gotta go…’ and just walked away before he switched from whatever he was on about to doing ten minutes on the virus crisis.

He’s OK, to be fair, not too different from myself in many ways, an old, opinionated bloke who just can’t get a lid on it once he starts. The time before that when I met him — which was only 3 or 4 days before! — he started on about this song he’d written and was due to begin recording a version of (with Brian Hennessy) and fuck me didn’t he start reciting the lyrics of the song!, a long Dylanesque type thing with several verses and 7 or 8 lines to each verse. After about 3 verses again I had to say ‘Look, mate, sorry but I gotta go here I got stuff I gotta to get done…’ and walked off.

I will still need to go into supermarkets from time to time but I won’t do so again now until I have the masks I’ve ordered — I’ve ordered some from a dressmaker in Clon who’s switched to doing facemasks and she’s overwhelmed with orders apparently. And by that time, hopefully, others will be wearing them too. Anyway, even if they’re not, I’m going to do so, partly because they’ll offer some level of protection and partly because for me they’re a sign that says fuck off and don’t attempt to come near me reciting your half-assed song lyrics, or anything else for that matter.

Didn’t sleep too well last night, listening to the World Service for most of the night. In the end I got up at about 5am. After breakfast went out for a walk. It was a wonderful walk. I love that bit before sun-up, it’s bright but the sun’s not yet up above the horizon. Wonderful colours in the sky, greys and reds and purples and yellows and blues and oranges… birdsong everywhere, even when you’re in among the buildings.

I was home again by the time the sun peeped up over the horizon. Hardly any traffic, 3 or 4 vehicles but none anywhere near me. May well do that again (early morning walk) as it would drive you doolally to be stuck in the house all the time.

54 new cases in the Rep. of Ireland today, now 223 in total, plus 52 in N. Ireland, so 275 on the island altogether.

Speaking at a press briefing this evening Leo Varadkar said it could be there will be 15,000 cases in the Republic by the end of next month. They expect the numbers to increase by 30% every couple of days, which is to say, double every week, more or less.

Impossible to know to what extent this represents the spread of the virus or the fact that they’re now doing more testing. Despite the government’s fairly good PR effort the reality (apparently) is that the testing side of things is a bit of a chaotic mess, even so they’re clearly doing far more testing than they were a week ago or two weeks ago. There are probably tens of thousands already infected. And, if so, there’s probably no stopping it infecting 60% or 80% of the population. We will only know after the fact.

In the UK Boris Johnson, the chief medical officer one side of him and the chief scientist the other, are doing live TV and radio press briefings every day now and in today’s briefing — although they weren’t fully explicit about this — it seemed clear the policy in the UK has now moved away from having managed herd immunity, which appeared to be the policy hitherto, to combatting it altogether, i.e., see if they can do a Korea on it. The idea of having a policy which accepts that you’d have 250,000 to 500,000 corpses (in addition to the half a million or so who would have died anyway in 2020) is simply too horrendous. It would be a political stain that would never wash out. That number of people may die anyway but you cannot appear like you were accepting of it from the get-go, a Marshal Pétain like defeatist/collaborationist.

—0—

Friday, 20 March 2020

Order came today to not open the church anymore. Which suits me fine, to be honest. The hall is wholly closed for business. Services in the church also called off, until the end of the month at least (at which time the matter is to be reviewed), but the church remained open in case people wanted to go in and pray.

Couldn’t sleep last night so got up before 4 am this morning, so, obviously, been feeling exhausted all day. Tried to sleep this afternoon but managed only a few minutes, which is better than nothing but far from sufficient.

Walking around town a few times this week. Lots of shops have notices sellotaped to doors and windows, however I didn’t read all of them. Some said they’d be closed until further notice, some that they’d be closed until 29th of March, but all had some communication/notice. The banks are open it seems but they want people to observe physical distancing, i.e., only one or two people in the bank at a time and whether in the bank or waiting to go in one is to preserve at least 2 meters apart from one another. Some shops (Sean Murray’s, for example) have some or all of the foregoing but have changed their opening hours and are now open 10 am to 4 pm and some (Cathal Donovan’s bookshop) have asked customers not to bring children into the shop. Drinagh Hardware say only one member of a family to come in at any one time (how is this supposed to be policed?).

Gift shops and hairdressers certainly closed. And pubs. Coffee shops too however I didn’t see any notice on the windows at Kalbo’s; my guess is the café side is closed but maybe the takeaway side is still operating. I’m walking around at 5 and 6 o’clock in the morning so it’s difficult to be fully sure.

The government hasn’t said you must close up, it has just asked that you do so. However I think pubs and clubs are now closed by order.

As I say, I’m walking around at 5 and 6 in the am, which is actually a wonderful time to walk around — when I go out at that time I usually walk for about an hour and I’m just coming back towards Abbeystrewry when the sun ups over the horizon turning the stonework at the very top of the belfry pinky-orange with the most delicate of light.

The town is quiet these days and at most the Fairfield is 40% filled with vehicles at peak times, and as I say most of the shops are closed until further notice, yet there’s more early morning traffic than I’d have thought, builders still finishing jobs, perhaps, going to pick up labourers, postal workers going to work and maybe people who are on their way up to the city or Clonakilty or Bandon or wherever their place of work is.  You do get good stretches of silence but the closer you get to, say, 6:30 the busier it gets. However, even at that it’s only about one vehicle every 5 minutes or so. From 7 on it begins to be a little more normal like, except down by about 50%.

Sun-up is at around 7 am at present but of course it’s light for about 40 or 50 minutes before the sun’s direct rays come to be seen. It’s still dark when I head out and after about 5 or 10 minutes it begins to get to quarter light and then half-light.

I’ve been doing a few jobs around the grounds too, gardening, in the afternoons.

The following is from something published on the RTE News website this evening, giving an update on what’s been happening during the day.

‘There have been a further 126 cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Ireland, the Department of Health has said.

‘The latest increase brings the total number of cases here to 683 since the first case was reported here earlier this month.

‘Three people diagnosed with Covid-19 have died since the outbreak began here.

’12 people diagnosed with Covid-19 have been admitted to intensive care units and, all told, 140 people hospitalised.

‘Overall, 769 have been diagnosed with Covid-19 on the island.

‘Dublin has the highest number of cases at 51%, followed by Cork 15% and Limerick and Wicklow have 3% of cases each.’

—0—

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A little bit of good news out of Italy, potentially: the country has recorded a smaller day-to-day increase in new coronavirus cases for the second day straight, officials say, while warning it’s too soon to know if the worst is behind the country with the world’s second-biggest caseload. Need to have at least 5 or 6 days of figures showing a levelling off — or at least a decreased rate of increase — before they can feel they may have begun to turn the tide.

Data from the civil protection agency on Monday showed 4,789 new cases, nearly 700 fewer than the increase of 5,560 reported on Sunday.

Also the number of deaths did not rise by as many. There were just over 600 registered on Monday compared with 651 on Sunday.

But, by contrast, Spain continuing to descend into the depths of this thing; the following is from an item on the RTE News website:

‘Spanish soldiers deployed to help fight the coronavirus outbreak have been finding elderly patients abandoned, and sometimes dead, at care homes.

‘The army has been charged with helping to disinfect retirement homes in Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

‘Dozens of deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded at facilities across the country.

‘“We are going to be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way old people are treated in these residences,” Defence Minister Margarita Robles said in an interview with television channel Telecinco.

‘“The army, during certain visits, found some old people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds,” she added.

‘An investigation has been launched, the general prosecutor announced.’

The coronavirus death toll in Spain surged to 2,182 yesterday after 462 people died within 24 hours, according to health ministry figures.

But the big news from yesterday, however, (at least if you live in these islands) is that last night Boris Johnson addressed the nation in a formal leader-to-people address (sitting behind a desk) and announced a 3-week lockdown for the UK. Everything to shutter-up except for essential services. As in France and Spain and Italy people are to stay home other than to go food-shopping, get medicines or anything else health related (like getting yourself tested or to assist someone), and you are allowed to take one outing for exercise each day, a walk, a run, a cycle. Other than that, be house-bound unless you work in one of the essential services. 335 dead in the UK so far and, as the PM acknowledged in his address, worse figures expected in coming weeks.

Ireland will surely follow before the end of the week. Quite a lot of things are shut in Ireland already but that’s just in response to the government asking people to do so — although pubs and clubs have been ordered to close. What BJ did yesterday evening was to order everything non-essential to shutter-up — an order that’s backed by emergency police powers and other emergency regulatory instruments — and that is what will need to happen here now too. Several non-essential shops still open here in Skibb, for example, not that I’ve been out during business hours, of course, but judging by the notices in the windows — Sean Murray’s, Peter O’Sullivan, Cathal O’Donovan’s bookshop, Thornhill’s, however, in fairness, most places have closed, about 80% of places closed, maybe more; there are places — lawyers and accountants, for example — that have their doors closed but the notice on the door says ‘Business as usual’ but telephone or email us.

I hope so, it needs to happen and, in my opinion, ought to be in place already.

As expected, Tokyo Olympics (2020) postponed (to 2021). Every damn thing has been postponed or cancelled altogether. Never seen such a total wipe-out, which is all across the globe; sometimes you can have a whole season of stuff disrupted, or disruption in one area, or region — in the wake of 9/11, for example, or the disruption caused by the Icelandic ash cloud eruption in 2010 — but this is everything everywhere. 2020 is in the toilet.

Diary entries for Monday, 16 March 2020, Friday, 20 March 2020, and Tuesday, 24 March 2020, extract from Even as We Grieved: Journal of a Plague Year, my diaries for March 2020 to May 2021 just published; the entries appear on pp. 23-30.

For more, visit the Even as We Grieved page on this blog. Even as We Grieved is about the Coronavirus Crisis (particularly from an Irish point of view), however it’s about other things too: 2020 and 2021 were Big History years: the pandemic, the planet suffering vast swathes of wildfire along with (simultaneously & near by) unprecedented flooding, Trump and the political and cultural crisis in the United States, Brexit and the fragmentation of the UK, and, in this country, FF, FG & the Greens getting together to form a coalition government . . . interesting times:

(By the bye — a final word — I’ve published several extracts from Even as We Grieved on this blog so far, for a full display of which go to ‘Subject Categories’ on sidebar and click on ‘Even as We Grieved’ — this link not to be confused with the italicized link above, which takes you to a page on Even as We Grieved, whereas this, the unitalicized form, takes you to several posts, selected extracts.)

St Patrick’s Confession

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‘My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.

My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time.

At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. The Lord brought his strong anger upon us, and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth. It was among foreigners that it was seen how little I was.

It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son.

That is why I cannot be silent — nor would it be good to do so — about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven.

Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life.

This is why I have long thought to write, but up to now I have hesitated, because I feared what people would say. This is because I did not learn as others did, who drank in equally well both the law and the sacred writings, and never had to change their way of speaking since childhood, but always grew better and better at it. For me, however, my speech and words have been translated into a foreign language, as it can be easily seen from my writings the standard of the instruction and learning I have had.

However, even though there’s truth in my excuse, it gets me nowhere. Now, in my old age, I want to do what I was unable to do in my youth.

After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy — as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.

It was there one night in my sleep that I heard a voice saying to me: “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country.” Again after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: “Look, your ship is ready.” It was not nearby, but a good many miles away. I had never been to the place, nor did I know anyone there. So I ran away then, and left the man with whom I had been for six years. It was in the strength of God that I went — God who turned the direction of my life to good; I feared nothing while I was on the journey to that ship.

The day I arrived, the ship was about to leave the place. I said I needed to set sail with them, but the captain was not at all pleased. He replied unpleasantly and angrily: “Don’t you dare try to come with us.” When I heard that, I left them and went back to the hut where I had lodgings. I began to pray while I was going; and before I even finished the prayer, I heard one of them shout aloud at me: “Come quickly — those men are calling you!” I turned back right away, and they began to say to me: “Come — we’ll trust you. Prove you’re our friend in any way you wish.” That day, I refused to suck their breasts, because of my reverence for God. They were pagans, and I hoped they might come to faith in Jesus Christ. This is how I got to go with them, and we set sail right away.

A few years later I was again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again. It was while I was there that I saw, in a vision in the night, a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.

Another night — I do not know, God knows, whether it was within me or beside me — I heard authoritative words which I could hear but not understand, until at the end of the speech it became clear: “The one who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks in you” and I awoke full of joy.

Another time, I saw in me one who was praying. It was as if I were inside my body, and I heard above me, that is, above my inner self. He prayed strongly, with sighs. I was amazed and astonished, and pondered who it was who prayed in me; but at the end of the prayer, it was clear that it was the Spirit. At this I awoke, and I remembered the apostle saying: “The Spirit helps the weaknesses of our prayer; for we do know what it is we should pray, but the Spirit pleads for us with unspeakable sighs, which cannot be expressed in words.”

It’s a long story — to tell each and every deed of mine, or even parts of it. I’ll make it short, as I tell of how the good God often freed me from slavery, and from twelve dangers which threatened my life, as well as from hidden dangers and from things which I have no words to express. God knows all things even before they are done, and I have him as my authority that he often gave me warnings in heavenly answers — me, a wretched orphan!

From where did this wisdom come to me, a wisdom which was not in me? I didn’t even know how the number of days, much less did I know God. Where did such a great and life-giving gift come from then, to know and love God, even at the cost of leaving homeland and parents?

And many were the gifts offered to me, along with sorrow and tears. There were those whom I offended, even against the wishes of some of my superiors; but, with God guiding me, I did not consent nor acquiesce to them. It was not by my own grace, but God who overcame it in me, and resisted them all so that I could come to the peoples of Ireland to preach the gospel. I bore insults from unbelievers, so I would hear hatred directed at me for travelling here. I bore many persecutions, even chains, so that I could give up my freeborn state for the sake of others. If I be worthy, I am ready even to give up my life most willingly here and now for his name. It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die, if the Lord should grant it to me.

I am greatly in debt to God. He gave me such great grace, that through me, many people should be born again in God and brought to full life. Also that clerics should be ordained everywhere for this people who have lately come to believe, and who the Lord has taken from the ends of the earth. This is just what he promised in the past through his prophet: “The nations will come to you from the ends of the earth, and they will say: How false are the idols our fathers got for themselves, and they are of no use whatever.” And again: “I have put you as a light to the nations, that you may be their salvation to the end of the earth.”

How has this happened in Ireland? Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!

An example is this. There was a blessed Irish woman of noble birth, a most beautiful adult whom I baptised. She came to us a few days later for this reason. She told us that she had received word from a messenger of God, who advised her that she should become a virgin of Christ, and that she should come close to God. Thanks be to God, six days later, enthusiastically and well, she took on the life that all virgins of God do. Their fathers don’t like this, of course. These women suffer persecution and false accusations from their parents, and yet their number grows! We do not know the number of our people who were born there. In addition, there are the widows and the celibates. Of all these, those held in slavery work hardest — they bear even terror and threats, but the Lord gives grace to so many of the women who serve him. Even when it is forbidden, they bravely follow his example.

I could wish to leave them to go to Britain. I would willingly do this, and am prepared for this, as if to visit my home country and my parents. Not only that, but I would like to go to Gaul to visit the brothers and to see the faces of the saints of my Lord. God knows what I would dearly like to do. But I am bound in the Spirit, who assures me that if I were to do this, I would be held guilty. And I fear, also, to lose the work which I began — not so much I as Christ the Lord, who told me to come here to be with these people for the rest of my life. May the Lord will it, and protect me from every wrong path, so that I do not sin before him.

I hope to do what I should. I know I cannot trust myself as long as I am in this body subject to death. There is one who is strong, who tries every day to undermine my faith, and the chastity of genuine religion I have chosen to the end of my life for Christ my Lord. The flesh can be an enemy dragging towards death, that is, towards doing those enticing things which are against the law. I know to some extent how I have not led a perfect life like other believers. But I acknowledge this to my Lord, and I do not blush in his sight. I am not telling lies: from the time in my youth that I came to know him, the love and reverence for God grew in me, and so far, with the Lord’s help, I have kept faith.

Those who wish may laugh and insult. But I will not be silent, nor will I hide the signs and wonders which the Lord has shown me even many years before they came about. He knows all things even before the beginning of time.

So I give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence, and more than once did not become angry with me, one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life. There were many who forbade this mission. They even told stories among themselves behind my back, and the said: “Why does he put himself in danger among hostile people who do not know God?” It was not that they were malicious — they just did not understand, as I myself can testify, since I was just an unlearned country person. Indeed, I was not quick to recognise the grace that was in me; I know now what I should have done then.

Now, therefore, I have informed my brothers and my fellow-servants who believed me, because I gave them warning, and I warn them now, in order to strengthen and confirm your faith. Oh that you would imitate greater things, and do more powerful things! This will be my glory, since a wise son is the glory of his father!

You all know, and God knows, how I have lived among you since my youth, in true faith and in sincerity of heart. Towards the pagan people too among whom I live, I have lived in good faith, and will continue to do so. God knows that I have not been devious with even one of them, nor do I think of doing so, for the sake of God and his church. I would not want to arouse persecution of them and of all of us; nor would I want that the Lord’s name should be blasphemed on account of me; since it is written: “Woe to the one through whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed.”

I know that I am inexperienced in all things. But still, I have tried to keep a guard on myself and for the Christians and virgins of Christ and religious women who were giving me small gifts of their own accord. When they would throw some of their ornaments on the altar, I would give them back to them. They were hurt at me that I would do this. But it was because of the hope of the eternal gift, that I was careful in all things, in case unbelievers would trap me or my ministry of service for any reason. Nor did I want to give those who could not believe even the slightest reason for speaking against me or take my character away.

Perhaps, however, when I baptised so many thousands of people, did I hope to receive even the smallest payment? If so, tell me, and I will return it to you. Or when the Lord ordained clerics everywhere through my poor efforts, and I gave this service to them for free, if I asked them to pay even for the cost of my shoes — tell it against me, and I will return it to you and more.

I spend myself for you, so that you may have me for yours. I have travelled everywhere among you for your own sake, in many dangers, and even to the furthest parts where nobody lived beyond, and where nobody ever went to baptise and to ordain clerics or to bring people to fulfilment. It is only by God’s gift that I diligently and most willingly did all of this for your good.

I call on God as witness in my soul that I tell no lie. Nor would I write to you looking for your praise, nor out of greed — it is not that I hope for honour from any of you for myself. It is the honour which is not yet to be seen, but which is believed in the heart, which is what gives me satisfaction.

I see that already in this present age the Lord has given me a greatness, more than could be expected. I was not worthy of this, not the kind of person the Lord would do this for, since I know for certain that poverty and calamity are more my way than riches and enjoyment. But Christ the Lord became poor for us; I too am wretched and unhappy. Even if I were to wish for riches, I do not have them. I am not trying to judge myself, since every day there is the chance that I will be killed, or surrounded, or be taken into slavery, or some other such happening. But I fear none of these things, because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of almighty God, who is the ruler of all places, as the prophet says: “Cast your concerns on God, and he will sustain you.”

Now I commend my soul to my most faithful God. For him I perform the work of an ambassador, despite my less than noble condition. However, God is not influenced by such personal situations, and he chose me for this task so that I would be one servant of his very least important servants.

So I shall make a return to him for all that he has given to me. But what can I say, or what can I promise to my Lord? There is nothing I have that is not his gift to me. But he knows the depths of my heart, my very gut feelings! He knows that it is enough that I desire very much, and am ready for this, that he would grant me to drink of his chalice, just as he was pleased to do for others who loved him.

For this reason, may God not let it come about that I would suffer the loss of his people who have become his in the furthermost parts of the earth. I pray that God give me perseverance, and that he grant me to bear faithful witness to him right up to my passing from this life.

If I have ever imitated anything good for the sake of my God whom I love, I ask that he grant me to be able to shed my blood with these converts and captives — even were I to lack a grave for burial, or my dead body were to be miserably torn apart limb from limb by dogs or wild beasts, or were the birds of heaven to devour it. I declare with certainty that if this were to happen, I would have gained both my soul and my body. There is no doubt whatever that we will rise on the appointed day in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our redeemer. We shall be like children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ and to be fashioned in his image, since it is from him and through him and in him that we are to reign.

The sun which we see rising for us each day at his command, that sun will never reign nor will its splendour continue forever; and all those who adore that sun will come to a bad, miserable end. We, however, believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever. He lives with God the Father almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the ages began, and now, and for all the ages of ages. Amen.

I briefly put before you the words of my confession. I testify in truth and in great joy of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which I had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises.

I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may happen to inspect or come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland. May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die.’

Pandemic Alert!

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The following is a diary entry for Sunday, 8 March 2020, the first diary entry wherein I mention the then oncoming coronavirus pandemic. In fact, given that the ‘Third update’ to this entry was written after Trump’s EU travel ban announcement, I ought to say I began the entry on Sunday, 8 March, so maybe it ought to be dated ‘[8-12 March 2020].’ (Presumably the ‘Second update’ was written at some point between Sunday, 8 March, and Thursday, 12 March 2020.)

With what’s happening in Ukraine at the minute, the coronavirus/Covid pandemic already seems like something from quite some time ago, nevertheless, fact is, the last of the pandemic restrictions in this country were discontinued just last month so that only now, these weeks, are we tentatively emerging out of it — which, after all, is something that completely dominated our lives for two whole years —  so I want to mark the anniversary.

Extract from Even as We Grieved: Journal of a Plague Year, my diaries for March 2020 to May 2021 (the entry appears on pp. 1-6), for more on which, visit the Even as We Grieved page on this blog.

Been busy with stuff: time seems to have scudded by as if in a time-lapse sequence. Which is why, for instance, when that second meeting with Deirdre Walsh came round I was a little astonished because it didn’t seem like 3 weeks had passed since the previous meeting. And then it’s been busy in the outer world too, lots happening at the minute. There’s been a general election for one thing, in February, of course, but campaigning still ongoing because there’s a game of musical chairs going on to do with government formation and at present everyone’s a player, so they’re all in continuing campaign mode as it’s not out of the question that there will be another general election before matters resolve, there’s been the ongoing funhouse-mirror farce with Clown-prince Trump — he was impeached before Christmas but acquitted in a farce trial in the Senate in January — and now the focus has moved on to who the Dems are going to select to go up against him in the election later this year, and, most of all, there’s been the Corona Virus scare which is causing serious chaos: Six Nations and Serie A fixtures postponed, for example, St Patrick’s Day parades cancelled, and there’s talk of postponing the Euro 2020 football tournament due to take place in 12 European cities in June and early July, and even this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

In the U.S. the Indian Wells tennis tournament has been cancelled, as has Austin’s SXSW, and there’s a cruise ship with 3,000 passengers, 40 or 50 of whom have tested positive for the virus, due to dock at Oakland but the Prince of Orange won’t let them because it’ll double the infection numbers in the U.S. and it’ll mean quarantining 3,000 people someplace for a couple of weeks, so they remain out at sea, panicking increasingly, no doubt.

The U.S. is in a total mess with respect to this coronavirus thing, firstly because the tangerine buffoon refused to take it seriously early on, hoping he could deny/minimize it out of frame — fearing the impact of it on his re-election campaign — but also because for millions their health system is a shantytown mess; this is where their shitty inequitable system comes and gets them in the ass because in an situation such as this if you’ve got millions of people without any kind of health care it doesn’t matter how gilt-edged your own individual policy is, the whole society is infected because you’ve got millions of people who aren’t going to go and get tested, fearing the cost of the tests, say, or maybe they’re in the country illegally or semi-legally, and because of the hopelessly fragmented nature of their healthcare system(s) there’s no command and control levers to push or pull, at least none that’ll work in an emerging emergency such as this.

And even if they do go for a test and they’re ‘positive’ many will continue going to work anyway because six times out of ten your mean-spirited welfare system(s) won’t pay sick-pay to the people who most need it. In a situation such as this your system is as strong as the strength of cover the weakest can command. And by this metric the bottom end of the American socio-economic ziggurat is a shambles, as they’re likely to find out in the coming weeks and months. More on coronavirus and American politics in a little while, first, matters closer to home.

As I write — end of the first week in March — there’s 20 cases in Ireland, including at least one in Cork, a patient in CUH which has caused alarm because this guy has not been abroad so it’s not clear how he’s come into contact with the virus — he’s a patient in the hospital — and now everyone who has been in contact with him — an estimated 60 members of staff — are self-isolating for 14 days as a precautionary measure. There’s about 200 cases in the UK (with 2 deaths so far), but, in Europe, Italy is worst hit: 200 dead at the minute and I don’t know how many thousands infected. Large parts of northern Italy on lockdown, flights to and from cancelled. And some experts say the true situation in Italy — and all across Europe indeed — is much worse than official figures suggest, with hundreds of thousands infected maybe, however because most people suffer only fairly mild symptoms they’re not presenting themselves for diagnosis. And of course if this is the case then millions will inevitably be infected and hundreds of thousands will die.

Since writing the above this morning I’ve come across some really dreadful figures: first of all, today (this evening), Sunday, 8 March, the authorities in Italy have announced that in the past 24 hours there have been 133 deaths — in just one day! Most of northern Italy now on lockdown with schools, universities, museums, swimming pools, sports centres, nightclubs — everything — closed until early April, 16 million people on lockdown apparently. Bars and cafés still open, I believe, but you’re supposed to keep at least one metre distance from others!

Second update: Italy’s figures continue to shock: in less than a week Italy has gone from 200 dead from coronavirus-related issues to over 800! Italy’s important because it’s part of Europe, obviously, but also in that it offers a picture of what’s to come. People saying France and the UK about two or three weeks behind where Italy is right now, albeit Italy has managed things rather poorly, as the Italians are wont to do, so, for example, when they went to extend the lockdown areas mentioned above, extending it to take in an estimated 16 million people, news of this leaked before the authorities were ready to make the announcement with the result that thousands packed up a few essentials and took flight, planes, trains and automobiles in all directions — to holiday homes, presumably, or to their parents’ place, or to far-flung cousins or wheresoever — not wanting to be confined in the quarantine. Which is precisely what you don’t want in such a situation! That’s thousands and maybe tens of thousands taking the virus out to all parts of the country, potentially, so that two or three days afterwards they had to extend the quarantine area again to take in the whole of the country.

Also, by the bye, I’ve seen several reports say that these Italian quarantines aren’t worth a spit, they’re just for PR purposes, B-roll for the evening news broadcasts.

Third update: and now they’ve had to take things a step further again — Italy — ordering everything, other than foodstores and pharmacies, to shut, effective immediately.

And — leading all the news broadcasts this morning — last night Trump addressed the nation in a White House address — sitting behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office — in which he announced a 30-day ban on all traffic out of Europe; passengers anyhow it seems, in his address he said people and cargo but in a rushed supplementary briefing White House officials hastened to make clear the ban did not apply to cargo. This is a piece of clown politics as much as anything: now he wants to appear decisive, commanding, the great leader in a solemn crisis, however just a little while ago he was saying this whole ‘coronavirus thing’ was a hoax, Fake News, something designed to make him look bad, and that, even if you got it [the virus], most people would still be well enough to go to work as it’s not much worse than regular flu. He said this even as his newly appointed chief-of-staff announced he was self-isolating for the recommended 14 days having been in contact with a confirmed case. It’s a mess over there, a mess with a narcissistic clown in the wheelhouse.

Figures for Spain, France and Germany shooting up alarmingly too, especially France and Spain.

Tim & Laurence still down in Trabuco, panicking a little now, understandably. Rocked by the fact that everything sold out of pharmacies here in Skibbereen, I sent them an email towards the end of February advising them to secure whatever protective gear they could get hold of for their journey home (then due to be at the end of March) and at that time — judging by their response — they were fairly blasé about the situation, saying more or less ‘Thanks very much for that, Perry; we’ll certainly look into it.’

Since then things have escalated in a compound way, one day hard upon the heels of its predecessor. By 4 March they’d brought forward their return-home plans by 9 days. I would have come home sooner to be honest but I didn’t say anything other than that I thought this wise. Yesterday evening Tim sent me a WhatsApp message saying that Laurence was packing for the return trip (now next week — the day after St Patrick’s Day is when they get the [France-to-Ireland] ferry, so presumably they will start their journey this coming weekend: fully packed Sunday evening, leave Trabuco first thing Monday morning, stay somewhere near the Pyrenees that night — maybe sleeping in the van — then travel north through France on Patrick’s Day, maybe sleeping in the van again that night, and catch the ferry the following day) and that her stress level was ‘7 out of 10’. I can imagine. If it’s 7/10 now what the fuck will it be next week?

Look, I believe they’ll be fine but they certainly wouldn’t want to have left it any later than next week. France and Spain will go to total shut-downs earlier than Italy has done, and when they do so they will execute the thing more vigorously and comprehensively than the Italians have done. (In fairness, we’re all learning from the situation in Italy, good things and bad.) By the end of next week I think we may well see borders close and maybe schools and workplaces too. Might even happen this weekend, it’s certainly being discussed in the capitals of Europe right now, of that you may be sure. As I write (the most up-to-date information I can find — EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control website — says) 48 dead in France (with 2,281 confirmed cases) and 47 in Spain (with 2,140 confirmed cases), my guess is that once France goes to 3 digits dead (100+ dead and, say, circa 5,000 confirmed cases) they’ll push the emergency procedures button, that is to say, serious steps towards containment before things get out of hand altogether, because no health system could possibly cope with a situation in which you have 100,000 cases, which would mean circa 15,000 people seriously ill and thousands needing ventilators, not to mind a million or more, which is what they’ll have to deal with if they don’t go to emergency measures early and effectively.

China, where the outbreak began, did so swiftly, decisively and ruthlessly and — if you believe their figures — they appear to have the situation under control now: altogether 80,932 confirmed cases in China, so far, 3,172 deaths, however only 2,773 confirmed new cases in the past 14 days, a figure which is falling rapidly (i.e., the 14-day figure coming down rapidly), so they appear to have the thing corralled.

Meanwhile here in Ireland there’s been another case in another hospital in Cork, in the Bons this time, apparently. Again this appears to be community transmission, which is to say, rather than the person having been to an infected area or having been in contact with someone who had been in an infected area (so far as we know). And according to an article on the RTE website posted this evening now 175 hospital staff in Cork and Limerick hospitals self-isolating for precautionary reasons.

For more, visit the Even as We Grieved page on this blog. Even as We Grieved is about the Coronavirus Crisis (particularly from an Irish point of view), however it’s about other things too: 2020 and 2021 were Big History years: the pandemic, the planet suffering vast swathes of wildfire along with (simultaneously & near by) unprecedented flooding, Trump and the political and cultural crisis in the United States, Brexit and the fragmentation of the UK, and, in this country, FF, FG & the Greens getting together to form a coalition government . . . interesting times:

(By the bye — a final word — I’ve published several extracts from Even as We Grieved on this blog so far, for a full display of which go to ‘Subject Categories’ on sidebar and click on ‘Even as We Grieved’ — this link not to be confused with the italicized link above, which takes you to a page on Even as We Grieved, whereas this, the unitalicized form, takes you to several posts, selected extracts.)

Inventing Anna

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It started with money, as it so often does in New York…

So begins Jessica Pressler’s article on Anna Delvey published in New York in May 2018, a piece of narrative journalism that went viral making its subject and author infamous and famous, respectively.

And justly so, it’s a wonderful piece of writing: just shy of 8,000 words but so clear and snag-free and well-composed it feels like half that.

Inventing Anna on Netflix is based on Pressler’s research and the 9-episode series is partly about the investigative work undergirding that celebrated magazine piece and partly about the story of Anna Sorokin (aka ‘Anna Delvey’).

I’ll get to Anna Sorokin/Anna Delvey in a moment, first some words about the author of the article, and the character based on her.

Anna Chlumsky as Vivian Kent, the character based on Jessica Pressler

In the Netflix series Jessica Pressler is rendered as Vivian Kent (played by Anna Chlumsky), New York magazine is translated to Manhattan, and, for instance, the boutique Soho hotel 11 Howard (where rooms start at $400 a night) is rendered as ‘12 George’ and so on, so a sprinkling of fictionalized modifications. (During the opening sequence each episode begins with variations of the statement ‘This story is completely true. Except for the bits that are totally made up.’)

The finished Manhattan product (i.e., the magazine piece written by Vivian Kent) looks almost identical to what was published in New York, except instead of photos of Anna Delvey the photos are of Julia Garner who plays Anna Delvey/Sorokin, and in place of Jessica Pressler’s by-line and author thumbnail image we have Vivian Kent’s.

And some of Pressler’s career back-story is copy & pasted over for Vivian’s character too, in particular that stuff about coming into the Anna Delvey/Sorokin investigation on foot of the misstep of having written about a student who claimed to have made tens of millions of dollars online trading on Wall Street markets while still in high school, only for it to come out that it wasn’t true, the kid was a fantasist and he’d made it all up. Which would be fine if you were writing about the kid as a fantasist but not so much if you’re an investigative journalist — someone whose area of specialism is the culture of wealth and money in the United States — and you’ve been duped into taking this kid’s crock of gold story at face value. Then it’s a worrisome career-tumour.

So in the series Vivian is attempting to rehabilitate her reputation when she starts in on this Anna Delvey/Anna Sorokin story, something she starts in on in defiance of her editor’s direction who wants her to do a #MeToo piece on Wall Street, which Vivian has no interest in doing because she feels #MeToo has been done all too often, and in any event her boss has no genuine interest in the #MeToo issue, he’s only interested in the click-bate potential of such a piece, so that, in effect, he’s actually further exploiting these women, using Vivian as a means to access them, and she objects to being used in this way.

Anna Sorokin (aka Anna Delvey), right, and (left) Julia Garner as Anna Sorokin/Delvey in the Netflix series

Anna Sorokin was born in a satellite town south of Moscow in the early 1990s. In the first decade of the following century the family relocated to North Rhineland-Westphalia in Germany — a Länd bordering Belgium and the Netherlands — where her father worked for a transport company. The firm went out of business in 2013 after which he started up his own enterprise to do with energy efficiency, solar-panel installation and the like, so think local area SME, something akin to your local plumber or electrician. Anna’s mother is an upper working class/lower middle class home-maker/housewife.

Anna finished her secondary school education in Eschweiler where apparently she struggled with German and so struggled to assimilate and integrate in Western Europe, consequently from the age of 15/16 she lived a fairly isolated, friendless life. She dwelled in the world of glossy fashion magazines — obsessively following fashion blogs and Flickr accounts and the like — however, according to her parents, always something of an outsider, she’d withdrawn into her own bedroom-world even before the move to Germany, the child was semi-detached, aloof, cold, almost a stranger in the Sorokin household.

After school Anna moved to London (briefly) where she’d secured a place at Central Saint Martins art school, however she appears to have dropped out after not very long because by late-2011/early 2012 she’s back in Germany, in Berlin, working for a PR firm.

Next she nets an internship at Purple in Paris, a scenester fashion, arts and culture publication, so she relocates to the French capital. (Apparently the ‘Anna Delvey’ character comes into being with this move.)

It was from this base — at Purple in Paris and as ‘Anna Delvey’ — she begins showing on the Euro-trash scene, the arts and fashion the departments of same anyhow — Venice Biennale, Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks, Ibiza…

“She was at all the best parties,” said marketing director Tommy Saleh, [quoting from Pressler’s article here] who met her in 2013 at Le Baron in Paris during Fashion Week. Delvey had been an intern at European scenester magazine Purple and appeared to be tight with the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Olivier Zahm, and its man-about-town, André Saraiva, an owner of Le Baron — two of “the 200 or so people you see everywhere,” as Saleh put it: Chilterns and Loulou’s in London; the Crow’s Nest in Montauk; Paul’s Baby Grand and the Bowery Hotel; Frieze, Coachella, Art Basel […]

[…] “She managed to be in all the sort of right places,” recalled one acquaintance who met Anna in 2015 at a party thrown by a start-up mogul in Berlin. “She was wearing really fancy clothing” — Balenciaga, or maybe Alaïa — “and someone mentioned that she flew in on a private jet.” It was unclear where exactly Anna came from — she told people she was from Cologne, but her German wasn’t very good — or what the source of her wealth was. But that wasn’t unusual. “There are so many trust-fund kids running around,” said Saleh. “Everyone is your best friend, and you don’t know a thing about anyone.”

During her time at Purple Anna Delvey made a number of trips to events in the United States, and at the backend of one of these — New York Fashion Week in 2013 — stayed on there, transferring to Purple’s New York office.

Nevertheless not long afterwards she quit Purple altogether and began simply crowd-surfing the east and west coast arts and fashion party scenes, presenting herself as a wealthy German heiress; people remember her gauchely bragging about her trust fund income and how much money she spent, and the brands she was wearing, yet at the same time asking partygoers for a place to sleep. One weekend out at fashionable Montauk (a holiday town at the end of Long Island) she was found sleeping in a car. She would organize events, inviting people she barely knew, but then ask them to pay for the drinks being served, hence the title of Pressler’s article: ‘Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It’.

she was [like] some kind of old-fashioned princess who’d been plucked from an ancient European castle and deposited in the modern world […] — “a sort of Sound of Music Fräulein,” one acquaintance later put it

At some point she linked-up with and dated an up-and-coming tech entrepreneur building an app to ‘cloud source’ our dreams. It’s not clear who this character is based on but in the Netflix series the character is called Chase Sikorski (played by Saamer Usmani). In episode 2 Chase is first introduced giving a TED Talk about the potential of tapping into the riches of our dreamlives. He’s developing an app called “Wake,” that never gets off the ground. (Chase spends more time promoting the proposed app — and raising funds off the back of these promotions — than he does actually building it.) As he explains in his TED Talk, dreams are filled with “meaning and magic” but when we wake in the morning, “All that knowledge just dissolves …Imagine, if instead of losing that time, you could tap into it?” 

In her article Pressler skates past this element of the Anna Delvey story by way of the following piece of suspiciously sharp-cornering:

The CEO met Anna through the boyfriend she was running around with for a while, a futurist on the TED-Talks circuit who’d been profiled in The New Yorker. For about two years, they’d been kind of like a team, showing up in places frequented by the itinerant wealthy, living out of fancy hotels and hosting sceney dinners where the Futurist talked up his app and Delvey spoke of the private club she wanted to open once she turned 25 and came into her trust fund.

Then it was 2016. The Futurist, whose app never materialized, moved to the Emirates, and Anna came to New York on her own, determined to make her arts club a reality, although she worried to Marc Kremers, the London creative director helping her with branding, that the name she’d come up with — the Anna Delvey Foundation, or ADF — was “too narcissistic.”

Several candidates have been touted as the basis for this Chase Sikorski character, the most likely of which (as it seems to me) is Hunter Lee Soik, a Korean-American futurist profiled in the New Yorker in 2013 who actually did create an app to do with harnessing dream-data and who now lives in Dubai.

It doesn’t matter too much who the character is based on (not for present purposes anyhow) but in the series the character is pivotal because Anna learns much from this Chase Sikorski character, all about the business of start-ups, pitching ambitious visions to investors and bankers, and thinking big, really big, Elizabeth Holmes big.

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in her pomp in the Netflix series ‘Inventing Anna’

Before this Anna Delvey is just a short-con artist running up debts and unhonoured obligations in all directions (like a Russian racoon run wild in the city as one character in the series puts it) nevertheless up to then the damage was just in the thousands, and, occasionally, when opportunities presented themselves, tens of thousands, but learning the ropes in the company of this tech dude she goes after some serious game, a 22 million dollar loan from City National Bank and a 40 million dollar infusion from Fortress, an investment group, we’re talking Trumpian type cojones here (by the bye, we get a little of the Prince of Bronze on muted televisions in backgrounds in one or two scenes, just a nod to the fact that all of this is happening in the age of Trump, the age of Fake News, ‘alternative facts’ and “just say you’ve recalculated, Brad”).

Needless to say, going after this kind of big game involves deliberate, systematic, malice aforethought fraud; I mean a person might run up a few thousand on someone else’s credit card, or throw a posh party at some high-end restaurant and fly off without seeing to the bill, and still plausibly maintain that what happened happened as a consequence of miscommunication or misunderstanding, but when you’re forging documents and the like there’s no misunderstanding or miscommunication, it’s systematic and deliberate and, unless you’re a well-connected Wall Street frat-boy, you’re on a tightrope over some heavy-duty down-time should you suffer the collywobbles and lose your footing, especially if you’re a nobody out of Eastern Europe who has precisely nothing to her name, not even toxic Russian gangster rubles.

Inventing Anna is a cluster of stories: it’s a story about Anna Sorokin (and her creation ‘Anna Delvey’), it’s also a story about the investigator and storyteller, Jessica Pressler/Vivian Kent, it’s a story about money and about fashion and Kardashian type fame and our social media-fuelled culture, but it’s also a story about us — all of us, not just New York A-listers. Inventing Anna is something that dovetails snugly with Don’t Look Up, for example, (another Netflix production) these are the stories of our time: a hundred years from now when people think of life in the first quarter of the 21st century, Inventing Anna, Don’t Look Up, The Big Short and Mad Men (also a show about someone faking it with a view to making it on Madison and 5th and the like) are the touchstone stories they’ll think of, just as when we think of America in the 1920s we think of The Great Gatsby, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, Firecrackers and Sinclair Lewis novels.

Watching Inventing Anna I thought often of Gatsby; in many ways Anna Delvey is a modern day Jay Gatsby, whose original name was Gatz, of course, who fetched up out of one of the Dakotas, which to tree-top New Yorkers in the Jazz Age is just about as somewhere as are Eschweiler or Domodedovo to the flappers of today.

As I say, Pressler begins her article ‘It started with money, as it so often does in New York’ and here (below) is how she closes out:

In this city, where enormous amounts of invisible money trade hands every day, where glass towers are built on paperwork promises, why not? If Aby Rosen, the son of Holocaust survivors, could come to New York and fill skyscrapers full of art, if the Kardashians could build a billion-dollar empire out of literally nothing, if a movie star like Dakota Johnson could sculpt her ass so that it becomes the anchor of a major franchise, why couldn’t Anna Delvey? During the course of my reporting, people kept asking: Why this girl? She wasn’t superhot, they pointed out, or super-charming; she wasn’t even very nice. How did she manage to convince an enormous amount of cool, successful people that she was something she clearly was not? Watching the Rikers guard shove Fast Company into a manila envelope, I realized what Anna had in common with the people she’d been studying in the pages of that magazine: She saw something others didn’t. Anna looked at the soul of New York and recognized that if you distract people with shiny objects, with large wads of cash, with the indicia of wealth, if you show them the money, they will be virtually unable to see anything else. And the thing was: It was so easy.

Standing on the Edge of Some Crazy Cliff

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On Prime the other night I watched Rebel in the Rye (2017), a J.D. Salinger biopic. It was on my ‘watch later’ list for a while, however several times I was put off because of the title: I mean if you’re going to go with a knob-end title like that how good can the film really be? (especially given that Salinger himself was so standout and particular about titles: ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ ‘Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter,’ ‘Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,’ ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish,’ ‘A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All’ and so on, I mean there’s a Salinger-type title, isn’t there — and it’s not like the Salinger oeuvre doesn’t offer wonderful options to select from). ‘Rebel in the Rye’ is just so low-grade, it seemed to me, presumably a spliced combo of Rebel Without a Cause and Catcher in the Rye. Yuk!

But in fact the movie’s good, I was completely taken in with it anyhow, although maybe having low expectations going into it boosted my appreciation. Nicholas Hoult plays Salinger (and good he is in the role too) and Kevin Spacey plays Whit Burnett, a lecturer at Colombia University (who teaches a module on the short story) and editor of Story magazine, a mentor to the young, wayward Salinger. (Whit Burnett has been described as a ‘bird-dog’ for new and emerging talent in the 1930s and 40s. In 1940, Story published ‘The Young Folks,’ Salinger’s first published story.)

O how we forget ourselves: watching the movie I was reminded of that period in young adulthood when I was so taken with Salinger’s work. Beginning with Catcher in the Rye and, subsequently, everything else I could get my hands on (intriguingly, not a lot) — Catcher in the Rye (1951), Nine Stories (1953), Franny and Zooey (1961), and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter (1963) — I loved the work. (This was back in the early 1980s, before Amazon and the internet and so on, a time when you were restricted to what you could get by way of your local library, if there was a local library, your local bookstore, if there was one, and the bookstores in the nearest city.)

Catcher was the first book that made me conscious of the power of the narratorial voice. That Holden Caulfield voice was a whole new literary dimension: there was plot, there was characterization, there was language, there was theme, there was milieu, there was genre, and I suppose I would have had some sense of narratorial voice then too, but this was on a level I’d never encountered before.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as impacted by a book as I was by Catcher at that first reading, or indeed by any other cultural production before or since, the way it interacted directly with the core of who I understood myself to be at that time.

I’ve been attempting to recall what or who put me onto Catcher in the first place — the pitcher of Catcher, so to say — however I cannot. I have no recollection of anyone going ‘Oh you must read this, Perry’ or any other of the ways one is gatewayed to stuff.

I wonder whether it was to do with Mark David Chapman? — the bloke who shot John Lennon in December 1980 — who was a Holden Caulfield nut. He shot Lennon because (in Chapman’s view) Lennon had become ‘a phony.’ He had a copy of Catcher in his jacket-pocket when he assassinated the singer-songwriter at the entryway to the Dakota Apartments building on 72nd and Central Park West, afterwards sitting down at the murder scene where he read a section of the book until the cops wailed up.

This (the Catcher detail) was one of those ‘only-in-America’ elements news reports invariably focused in on at the time, so it may be I autodidacted my way to the novel therefrom (I was 16 years old in December 1980). ‘What sort of freak-beast composition would cause someone to behave in a like manner?’ I may have wondered, thereby becoming Catcher-curious.

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Speaking of episodes of cultural advancement/enlightenment (and remaining in that temporal neighbourhood), In the Heat of the Night (1967) was the first movie I saw in which a black person had a leading (positively-charged) role.

I grew up in one-television-station Ireland in the 1960s and 70s — the southwest of Ireland where, unlike the border counties up north, or the counties down along the island’s east coast, we did not get British broadcast signals, so for us it was RTE, read a book, or pull your wire.

Sammy Davis Jr, Ray Charles and Muhammad Ali aside, we saw hardly any black people, and in terms of movies none at all, aside from Gone with the Wind type roles, of course, and as Gatling-gun-fodder in colonial soft power type productions (I remember seeing one movie — a glorifying biopic of Gordon of Khartoum I think it was — showing an enormous army of infuriated black Africans war-dancing in a mass of dryland dust, like a swarm of insects, and the onscreen storyboard caption informed viewers that what we were seeing was an army of ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzies amassing on the Nile,’ or some such expression, which even at the time — somewhere in the mid-1970s — I remember thinking ‘Whoa there Nelly, that’s a bit much!’ — which is to say, unnecessarily disrespectful/imperially contemptuous — and, lord knows, at the time by no stretch would I have been considered ‘woke’ or anything of that nature).

They call me Mister Tibbs

But, watching the handsome and debonair Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night, ‘this is the first time I’ve seen a black person perform a leading (positively-charged) role’ is not what I thought — at least this is not what I remember thinking — rather this is something that occurs to me now looking back half a lifetime later; I’m fairly sure I wasn’t especially conscious of the cultural and political significance of Poitier’s blackness at the time, and this despite the fact that the character’s skin-colour was at the heart of the drama, which I say as a tribute to Poitier’s persona and performance because what I particularly remember being struck by was the power of the story, the drama, the conflict inherent in the setup, the characterizations, which is to say, I was struck by the content of the characters — Rod Steiger’s Sheriff Gillespie and Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs, a college-educated detective (with the rank of inspector) down out of Philadelphia — more than by their skin-colour.

Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in a still from In the Heat of the Night (1967), directed by Norman Jewison (screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, an adaptation of John Ball’s 1965 novel)

Indeed if anything I would have focused more on Steiger’s small-town sheriff, I’m sure, because the movie is Gillespie’s story, isn’t it, he’s the one who journeys over the course of the narrative — journeying from being a racist Southern cracker in charge of a crew of Southern cracker-cops to being a slightly less racist hickburg cracker, someone who, by the end of the movie, is more likely to concede that maybe some of ‘em’ aren’t so bad, after all, and some of ‘em’ may even exhibit talent given opportunity, which in the context of the Jim Crow South is a significant shift (a ‘Gestalt shift’), also, concomitantly, birthing an awareness of himself as a prejudiced hickburg cracker in charge of a gang of dumbass hickburg crackers while beyond the county bounds the world had progressed away from the like, leaving him and his deputies stuck in the dead-end, hate-fuelled, repressive culture of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

However, mostly what I remember is the gripping seriousness of the film: the movie was about something but not ‘about something’ such that it was lessened in terms of story, drama, characterization, performance and all the rest of what makes for a compelling narrative. It was strong in all these respects first and foremost, and because these things were strong the politics was effectively Trojan-horsed into the citadel.

Speaking of leading with story, note that Barack Obama introduced himself to the nation-at-large at the Democratic nominating convention in Boston in 2004 by way of story, an only-in-America origin-story — mom’s folks from the farmlands of Kansas and the oil-rigs of east Texas and dad’s people from a village in Kenya, their improbable love producing this skinny kid with a funny name who grew up in Hawaii.

This is the pivot paragraph in that speech, the hinge at the end of the opening section:

‘I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.’

And of course Obama’s (disciplined) character (and his good looks too, I would argue) essential to the stellar success he went on to achieve — just 54 months afterwards he was inaugurated as 44th POTUS (from a seat in the state legislature in Illinois to president of the United States in just over 50 months).