In Complete Circles: The Memoirs & Travels of an Ageing Schoolboy…
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My secondary education during the mid-1980s to the early 1990s from the age of 11 to 18 was formed at a Christian Brothers grammar school. The order has come in for much criticism of late in the wake of the major abuse scandals which rocked Irish society. But like any other sub-group in any society it was swings and roundabouts. There were good brothers and bad brothers. And mad brothers. By the time I had left the school there were very few of them left, but the “brotherly” principal was a despotic Kerryman called McC____ [Details suppressed for legal reasons] – known (not exactly affectionately) to the pupils as “Crokey” – and to most of the teachers as something unprintable. He resembled a taller leaner version of the former British Labour Party leader John Smith. In response to his supposedly dictatorial regime, a self-styled schoolboy “terrorist” group called the Pupils Liberation Organisation (PLO) was active at the time – but more on them later.
Retreat from Reality
Being a religious school, retreats were compulsory. They served little practical purpose though. Sending a bunch of unruly, frustrated adolescent boys oozing with hormones on a residential course of supposed spiritual renewal was a recipe for disaster. Although their purpose was supposedly to provide sacred reflection in the tradition of the school’s ethos, they were in reality, a complete waste of time – a view that I’m sure many of the teachers would even share. These retreats were usually chaired by an earnest young priest who liked to think he was in touch with the angst and frustrated minds of the modern youth. On one such event in the spring of 1991 was held at an old priory in the historic village of Benburb – a place famous for the 1646 Battle of Benburb.
The unfortunate youngish priest presiding over this supposed course of spiritual renewal happened to be German. For convenience purposes let’s just call him “Father Von Schumacher”. Unusually for priests of the day he had a moustache, and so as to appear more down-to-earth and informal he chose to dress in civilian clothes rather than the normal black garb and clerical collar. The cringe-worthy events which ensued were like that famous episode of Fawlty Towers about the German guests. Cue goose-stepping around the grounds, Nazi salutes, felt-tip pen Hitler moustaches drawn on upper lips, etc. Needless to say the war was mentioned once or twice.
The next day the entire class was hauled before the teacher in charge, a well-known county GAA official, who had a few stern words to say. Given the troubled political situation of the time he said he could understand why we were “angry young men”, but why did we have to take it out on this harmless man simply because of his nationality?
The following year – my last year at the school the retreat was residential. The high jinks on this excursion were even worse…
TO BE CONTINUED…
As a general rule The Dreaming Arm tends to avoid commenting on that storm (or should that be Stormont?)-in-a-teacup style primary school playground bunfight known as Northern Ireland politics. There are other blogs better equipped to do that, such as Snailer McCoole (or whatever his name is) or that Russian bloke who likes football and David Cameron. Nevertheless, I just couldn’t resist commenting on this particular incident!
“Here’s to you Mrs Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know”
So sang Simon & Garfunkel in the soundtrack to the film The Graduate.
In a fascinating case of life imitating art the film was about an affair between Mrs Robinso,n a married middle-aged woman (Anne Bancroft) and Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman), a young university graduate. Now it’s been reported that a real life Mrs Robinson, Iris Robinson MP and wife of Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson has had an extra-marital affair with a lad almost young enough to be her grandson. As a bible-thumping self-proclaimed Christian and noted homophobe Iris may feel that true to the song, Jesus (being a forgiving sort of chap) does indeed love her. Whether young Kirk feels the same remains to be seen, but unlike the former (to quote from The Life of Brian) he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.
And to further spice things up there’s also a tale of alleged financial impropriety tied to the whole affair. Tabloid journalists (and bloggers with too much time on their hands) are no doubt having a field day.
Peter not surprisingly denies the allegations of his wife’s financial wrongdoing. But then he would. A bearded politician from the opposite side of the sectarian fence is also prone to issuing denials – which are greeted with howls of laughter from the dogs in the street.
Robinson is known as “Peter the Punt” after leading a violent incursion across the border into Co. Monaghan with a baying mob in the 1980s and subsequently escaping jail by paying a court-imposed fine. But experts in rhyming slang have claimed that he always was a bit of a punt anyway – in much the same way as Bernie Madoff was a banker.
Iris has made her bed, she can lie in it –as I’m sure she did once or twice with Kirk!
To drown his sorrows the Punt may well down several cans of strong beer such as Stella (or “Wifebeater” as I believe it’s colloquially known for some reason) – or whatever his preferred tipple is. (Other alcoholic drinks are available).
And isn’t it doubly ironic that Robbo’s deputy in the NI Assembly bears an uncanny resemblance to Art Garfunkel who co-sang the above song?
We’ve come full circle…as the actress said to the bishop.
The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine has compiled a list of the top 100 public intellectuals. The criteria are defined simply as influential thinkers who feature prominently in public life beyond the borders of their native countries. Although such lists are generally to be taken with a pinch of salt and usually heavily biased, they do nevertheless make interesting reading. The usual suspects from a wide variety of fields are there – Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Joe Ratzinger (aka Pope Benny XVI), Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk and Steven Pinker among others. I’m not sure if Salman Rushdie deserves a place in the top 100 though. He’s highly overrated as a novelist, let alone a great intellectual.
The compilers have deliberately tried to be as balanced as possible – the list contians both the atheist and the beliver (Dawkins and the Pope), the Israeli and the Palestinian (Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh), the neo-con and the leftist (Francis Fukuyama and Chomksy) – and for the sake of political correctness the token black African is Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.
There is of course an emphasis on the word “public” here, suggesting that there is an infinite number of private intellectuals out there who are brilliant thinkers, but choose to stay out of the public eye. Or maybe they just blog. Top 100 private intellectuals anyone? Top 20 intellectuals within the Irish blogosphere? Any suggestions?
One major criticism I have about Foreign Policy’s list is that it leaves some of the world’s finest orators and people of letters – intellectual heavyweights like Wayne Rooney, Katie Price and George W. Bush all fail to make the top 100. Scandalous.
YOU COULDN’T MAKE IT UP
Gerry Moriarty in today’s Irish Times reports on Ian Paisley’s retirement from politics:
“Peter [the Punt/Hands (and feet) across the border] Robinson delivered the introduction, which was followed by a video of the Big Man’s life and time, climaxing with the fanfare of Dr Paisley walking slowly into the hall for a rapturous reception to the tune of the spring section of Four Seasons by Vivaldi (a Catholic priest).”
Sontaran Avram Grant
Is it just me, or does recently deposed former Chelsea boss Avram Grant bear an uncanny resemblance to one of Dr Who’s old adversaries the Sontarans, a cloned warrior caste race from the planet Sontara, perpetually engaged in a millenia-old war of attrition with their sworn enemies the Rutans?
OK, maybe it is just me then.