Media

The Irish Post on “In Complete Circles”

IRISH POST SEPT 2013 ii 001The Irish Post newspaper has published an interview with me about my book “In Complete Circles” which it describes as “an entertaining and esoteric memoir“. I found the following two quotes particularly gratifying:

In Complete Circles does display a stream of consciousness which at times could be Joycean, combining the mundane with the exotic”

and

“With In Complete Circles Ciaran Ward has devised an excellent vehicle to carry his insight, not just into life in Tyrone, but in fact into the whole human condition.”

Thanks to Mal Rogers for the kind words.

In Complete Circles is available from Amazon at the very reasonable price of £5.47 (paperback) of £4.62 (Kindle).

“I drink, therefore I am” – Is alcohol a fundamental part of our society?

The so-called binge drinking culture and the problems of alcoholism have in recent years been the subject of much debate and government initiatives, but largely to no avail. A recent example is the Scottish government’s failed attempt to raise alcohol prices. Whether we like it or not alcohol is an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of these islands. In continental Western Europe where drunkenness is largely frowned upon the cafe culture is prevalent. The continental cafes are – much like our own pubs – social and communal meeting places, but where all sorts of food and drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are sold.

At the time of writing the Cartoon Museum in London has just opened a new exhibition on the relationship between alcohol and society. In a feature about the exhibition on BBC Radio 4’s morning news programme, a former newspaper editor, a recovering alcoholic himself pointed out that it would be pious to suggest that drunkenness isn’t funny – it is funny, but it’s also tragic.

We even have an entire culture based around various tribes and the type of beverages they imbibe. There is the 1980s phenomenon of the “lager lout” on the football terraces or the beaches of Ibiza, the stereotype of the bearded, jam-jar bespectacled “real ale twat” from Viz comic and in the upper strata of the society the Pimms brigade. The local pub is the social hub of a rural village or urban district, the source of gossip, where business deals are conducted, where friends and partners are made, but also where fights and arguments start and where lives are ruined.

When I was growing up in the 1980s alcohol advertising was all over the television, on giant billboard posters and on the shirts of famous footballers. This may still be the case today, but it seemed to be much more prominent back then. Although I grew up in a household where alcohol consumption was mostly confined to the odd glass of wine or sherry at Christmas or very occasionally to accompany the Sunday roast had you asked the 11-year old Ciaran Ward back in 1985 how many brands of alcoholic drinks he could name, he could have rhymed off about 10. Off the top of my head without resorting to Google the following slogans spring to mind which as an 11-year old I could have recited verbatim:

“Harp – Very much to a Viking’s liking” (as seen on billboard poster circa 1985)

“Get into the good taste of Guinness/Have a Guinness tonight”

“Smithwicks at the heart of the night/Smithwicks – it’s one great beer”

“Great stuff this Bass”

“Carlsberg – probably the best lager in the world” (spoken in a voice similar to that of Spock from Star Trek, but I’m not sure if it was definitely him)
“Fosters – the Australian for lager”
“Martini – anytime, anywhere”

Then there were the celebrities who made a tidy sum by advertising alcohol. Think of the comedian Griff Rhys-Jones as Marilyn Monroe’s plumber in the Holstein Pils ads, Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan as salt-of-the-earth Aussie stereotype in the Fosters commercials, comedian Peter Kay and John Smiths and more recently Top Gear’s James May extolling the pleasures of London Pride

Many of these ads were not surprisingly quite entertaining and innovative, given the fact that the drink manufacturers spent and continue to spend millions on promoting their wares. One particularly eye-catching commercial from the mid-80s was for a now long defunct variety of lager known as Lamot – see above. It featured an animated film of a knight in armour riding a tiger-like creature through a Tolkienesque fantasy sword and sorcery-type landscape on a quest to seek out this bog-standard beer. Such imagery would appeal to a 12-year old hobbit obsessive, who may never have tasted beer, but would certainly be imbued with the desire to try this particular brand.

It would be several years before I drank my first pint – as a naïve, awkward teenager my early experiences were with cider, then graduating to lager with a shot of lime to make it more agreeable to my inexperienced palate. But repeated exposure to the apparent pleasures and thrills of drinking alcohol during my schooldays through ruthless advertising had certainly whetted my appetite. And a few short years later those clever chaps in the drinks industry came up with a solution to the “problem” of awkward teenagers like my younger self being unfamiliar with alcohol by producing “alco-pops”, a cynical, almost criminal exploitation of the market for underage drinkers.

The impact of alcohol advertising on a pre-teen as described above is somewhat disturbing when one considers the culture of underage drinking and the binge sessions which occur throughout our towns, villages and cities on any Friday or Saturday night. And as if this wasn’t enough, during freshers’ week at universities up and down the country there are organised pub crawls and special offers of cheap drink.

After many years of compulsory government health warnings featuring prominently on tobacco products we now have similar warnings on bottles and cans, promoting the “Drinkaware” website. This is a move in the right direction, but in my humble opinion, not enough. The roots of the problem must be addressed.
It may be an unpopular proposal, especially among those who wish to stem the influence of the “nanny state”, but although I enjoy the odd drink or two myself, I personally believe that all forms of alcohol advertising should be banned. The manufacturers, distributors and the pub and off-licence trades would no doubt be up in arms at such a move, but in desperate times desperate measures need to be taken. The burden on an already struggling health service in dealing with alcohol-related injuries and illnesses is phenomenal. An all-out ban on alcohol advertising wouldn’t stop those who already drink from continuing to drink, but if young children and teenagers were less familiar with well-known brands the desire to start drinking in the first place may well to a certain extent be quelled. We can still enjoy our favourite tipple down a t the local without having to see it on TV, at football matches or billboard posters.

Lady Gaga and the media pseuds: easy meat

Anyone familiar with the magazine Private Eye may have see the regular column “Pseuds Corner” in which readers are invited to send in examples of pompous quotations from the media.

I came across an article in The Observer on Lady Gaga by Polly Vernon which would take pride of place in Pseuds Corner.
It has to be the most pretentious, self-indulgent, meaningless pile of pseudo-intellectual crap I’ve read in a long time (apart from my own blog posts that is), as this extract below demonstrates:

“Lady Gaga’s video version of sexuality is extraordinary from an aesthetic perspective. She makes fashion statements out of gimp masks and gaffer tape, and orgies of vast synchronised dance segments. She turns sex into camp theatre and the end result is challenging and alarming and powerful and exciting. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been revisited by so many other singers.

Gaga owns this version of sex and she’s not asking you to approve it. She’s a complete pop icon – but she’s no pin-up. She hasn’t bothered constructing a version of herself designed to please a straight male audience. Lady Gaga doesn’t do pretty, or available, or submissive, or obviously glamorous. Instead she does scary, she does theatrical, she does brave. Her costume choices – though often revealing, and sometimes not entirely complete; she famously chose to go on stage at Glastonbury in 2009 without any pants – are too fiercely directional to appeal to most men. There is something Bowie, something early Madonna-esque about the way Lady Gaga wields her sexuality. Something unapologetic, unflinching, and shameless in the very best sense.”

Incidentally when Lady Gaga chose to court controversy and be the centre of attention (something she seems to enjoy doing – following in the footsteps of Madonna who she has shamelessley ripped off – and also has a similarly gigantic ego) by wearing a dress made of meat at a recent award ceremony she wasn’t being particularly original. The cover of an album by the Undertones (arguably the greatest band ever to come of Derry – but then that wouldn’t be too difficult) from the early 1980s depicts a similar image.

So not content with copying Madonna she chooses to copy the Undertones as well. Talk about scraping the barrel. The pork barrel in this case.
Spot the difference:

Apologies to all vegetarians out there. No doubt to make amends she’ll wear a nut roast and tofu dress at her next outing.

Camille Paglia, writng in the Sunday Times by contrast is unlke Vernon, no grovellor. She hits the nail on the head with this observation:

Every public appearance, even absurdly at airports where most celebrities want to pass incognito, has been lavishly scripted in advance with a flamboyant outfit and bizarre hairdo assembled by an invisible company of elves.
Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation?
Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft?

Perfectly put.

Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter

Another inglorious end to England’s overinflated World Cup dreams and the post mortems go on.  Was it due to discord in the camp?  Did Capello get the tactics wrong?  Was it the disallowed goal that disrupted the flow of play?  Were the players just worn out after a hectic Premiere League and Champions League schedule?  Did manager and players just not connect?

At the end of the day it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for a bunch of overpaid, overrated, overindulged bunch of tattooed philandering underachievers who earn more in a week than most of their supporters earn in five years.  The fans who travelled several thousand miles and spent several thousand miles deserve better.  If Never has there been a stronger argument for the introduction of performance-related pay in football.

But whether England win or lose, the tabloid press always have a field day.  The punning headlines never fail to impress,  The front page of the Mirror screamed “ROUT OF AFRICA” (rather than the less politically correct KRAUT ROUT) on its front page and TORN TO FRITZ on its second page, while its back page responded with the line FABIGO.  Even the more subtle Times got in on the act with EIN ZWEI DREI…YOUR TEARS.

 But the possibilities are endless.  We could also have had:

 ENGLAND’S WÜRST EVER PERFORMANCE

 THE END OF THE FRAULEIN FOR ENGLAND

 ENGLAND HERR TODAY GONE TOMORROW

LAST OF THE SUMMER SCHWEIN

 Or if an England fan had put money at the bookies on England to win the World Cup the headline could have read:

 AUF WIEDERSEHEN BET!

 If German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been at the match and a bad decision had gone against Germany she might have invaded the pitch to angrily remonstrate with the referee:

 MAJOR FRAU ERUPTS.

 And finally anyone who says the Germans have no sense of humour should check out this marvellously satirical and self-deprecatory song from the mid-‘80s by Udo Lindenberg, Lindenberg,a well known and respected rock musician in his own country plays on the stereotypical images of his compatriots – ie a highly efficient and hardworking, but ultimately dull and humourless people.  But Lindenberg can hardly be described as dull or humourless.

The blond german Fräuleins are pretty, but vain
You say ‘Guten Tag’ and they say ‘Auf wiedersehen’
They’re very hard workers, from Monday to Friday
Make love on the weekends, and yodel like Heidi
  [This line followed by some very impressive yodelling]

Classic stuff.

The Scarlet Beehive – A Return to the 1980s?

Plus ça change plus c'est la meme chose

Another election over.  It was the result I had predicted (see previous blog post “Never a frown with Gordon Brown), although not the one I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, as the Ant and Dec of politics begin their historic coalition government we can rest assured that interesting times lie ahead.

As regular readers of this blog (both of them in fact) will know I tend to find myself stuck in a time warp from the 1980s recalling the heady days of my youth.  Back then the Conservative Party led by a certain M. Thatcher (but albeit without the help of the Lib Dems) was in power.  Thatcher’s iron-fisted rule led to a certain discontentment among a section of society resulting in a flurry of creative activity within the fields of art, literature, comedy, cinema and music.  With retro-nostalgia back in vogue one wonders if we’re in for something of an artistic renaissance.

Thanks to modern technology (Youtube take a bow) I’m able to recreate the memories of my youth.

Thanks to the said site I was able to find two songs from late 1980s which I hadn’t heard for over 20 years.

One is I walk the earth – the official anthem of the Rambler Association (not really, but it would be a good idea) by the “Anglo-American college rock/alternative band” (Wikipedia’s description, not mine) Voice of the Beehive, who had a string of hits at this time, but son faded back into obscurity.  Which is a shame as they did make some decent tunes.

The other song is a one hit wonder (and a rather good one at that), Scarlet Fantastic’s No Memory – the official anthem of the Amnesiacs Association (very bad taste I know).  No doubt complaints will flood in – that is if anyone actually reads this blog!  Big hair and cleavage were the order of the day in this video.

It’s funny how listening to a certain pierce of music can trigger off memories in the subconscious. 

 Think inner city riots, anti-apartheid demonstrations, boycotting South African fruit in the supermarkets, skeletal bearded men wrapped in blankets in filthy shit-smeared prison cells, running battles between police and striking miners, Russian tanks rolling over Afghanistan, Americans in Grenada, warfare amidst the penguins and sheep on wind-swept South Atlantic islands, loud-mouthed Dubliners ranting about famine in Ethiopia, the Chernobyl disaster, statues of communist dictators being toppled, BMX bikes, footballers in tight shorts with bubble perms and moustaches, Joan Collins in shoulder pads, Rubiks cubes, grotesque rubber puppets imitating the politicians and celebrities of the day…I could go on all day.