Jude Collins

Monday, 27 July 2009

Arrivederci (almost)



SUNDAY 26 JULY 2009
This morning I got Francesca to run me off a copy of our boarding passes for tomorrow. This involved getting her laptop up from the basement, and shortly afterwards getting Her Chap (tall, youthful, pleasant) to help get it going and then printed off. Following that, I asked for and got a pic of Francesca and Veronica (the help). Veronica also seemed very pleased and I heard her, as I arranged them, deliver a long Italian sentence which included the word 'Playboy'. I tell Francesca I'll email her a copy of the pic and which does she like best? She selects the one where she isn't smiling (keeping a distance between her and the help?) and says she'll put it on her website.

It's approaching 7.00 pm on the last day here at Casa del mar in Forte Dei Marmi. I'm up on the terrace in the evening sun and the temperature must be above 30 degrees C. We're sort of killing time until 7.30 - 8.00 pm when we'll go down to the ristorante /takeaway at the end of the street and get our last supper - one helping of chicken and chips plus one more chip, plus one wine in a jug, plus some water, and maybe a beer. (Dare I drink a beer?) We're not long back from there - hunger drove us down before 6.00 pm to get a pizza, and thirst drove me, as we waited, for a coke from the fruit n veg n everything shop at the other end of the road. As I quaffed it coming back, I met Francesca. 'Hello Jude!'. She was on her bicycle, and it somehow didn't seem like a meeting between landlady and client. Too sunny. Too young.

In fact we ended up not at the chicken-centre down the road but at another restaurant, much nearer downtown. The waiter was unflappable and, as it turned out, German. He greeted us in English before we'd spoken a word - I suppose you get a sense of people's nationality when you're doing his job for as long as he has probably been - and greeted other parties in Italian and German, all with ease and all jollying them along so they have a relationship with him inside two minutes. It was a pleasant little sidewalk ristorante, with in my case a good view of the bell-tower of the church drenched in the evening sun - and of the terrifying cleavage of a large English mum who was there with her hubby and three young girls. It seemed to be the night for children - they were at every table in sight. Half-way through the meal a chap on a bicycle, with little flashing blue lights and horns and a black top hat and little flags - 'Magician' it said on his sign - cycled past slowly and then back again, making playful eye-contact with the youngsters. I'm kicking myself I didn't get a photograph of him. If he'd stayed (maybe not enough kids, even though there seemed a lot) I'd certainly have done so. And yes, the food was deeeeelicious. Veal and stuff. And I had that beer. Small and cold and perfect. In fact, a pretty perfect way to end the holiday. Being alive is - or can be - a joy-crammed experience, if only briefly.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Milan Cathedral and Strangers on a Train 2


FRIDAY 24 JULY 2009

Before leaving this morning we did a very short visit to the Duomo - Milan Cathedral to you and me. We'd been there before but I'm afraid the memory has melted into a conglomerate of churches I've visited in Rome and Florence and God knows where. At the same time I don't know how I forgot it, because it's a glorious experience. There's a massive piazza out front - acres of space, as though this wasn't in the middle of a big international city. On it Africans and a few Asians ply their trade. The Africans appeared to be selling small bundles of cords. Instinctively I said 'No thanks' and instinctively I felt guilt for so doing, especially for failing to even establish eye-contact with them.

The entrance to the Duomo is manned by a few soldiers and police - a bit like airport security or shops in Belfast in the bad old days. A chap with a metal detector, a list of things you can't bring in, a line-up of people waiting to be OKed. We couldn't bring our suitcase in so we had to take it in turns looking inside. I went first and searched out 10 .00 a.m. Mass. It was said at the back of the main altar and you had to approach an official chap who stood beside a ceremonial rope blocking entry. You then had to ask him where the Mass was on; he repeated this a number of times as though he'd never heard of anything remotely like it; when he got tired of doing this he moved to saying 'La messa' (I think) a number of times, then pulled back the rope and gestured you in and up some steps. The congregation wasn't more than thirty in number, nearly all old or older. Two priests concelebrated, one an older man (about my age, God help him) and another in his forties, thin and dark-haired and slightly stooped, with glasses that were too big and showed magnified eyes. He moved slowly and intently and made me want to tell him to cheer up for God's sake. While the Mass proceeded, a man with a mop moved around the altar, near enough requiring the priests to lift their feet so he could do under them. The Duomo itself is ...wonderful. Majestic. In fact it's like an ecclesiastical answer to the Milano Centrale station. There's the same huge scale, the same tremendous height to the ceilings, the same dwarfing of everyone who moves through it. But where Mussolini's piece of work squats on the ground with big shoulders and threatens to put a half-nelson on you, the Duomo reaches skyward at every point and threatens to pull you up to heaven. And it's also so much more colourful than the station - dull glints of gold peeping out from the greys on the altars, stained-glass windows lighting the darkness like gorgeous strawberries.

We just made the 12.05 pm train back to Forte. A nice Aussie-Italian in the queue offered to be interpreter and let us go ahead of him, but neither he nor anything else was going to stop the small and quarrelsome young woman issuing tickets from giving us change veeeeery slowly. When I asked her (admittedly a second time) what platform we'd get the train on - we were down to five mins to go at this stage - she squawked very loudly 'I DO NOT KNOW WHAT PLATFORM!' I do not know what stopped me reaching for her noise-making neck - maybe a lack of time. We ran along the various platforms, peering at the signs; the last one (of course) was ours and we hurled ourselves on board, making it with...two minutes to spare.

On the train I got talking to a young couple, the woman of whom was reading 'The Tipping Point'. I asked her if it explained everything and she replied without apparently seeing anything ironic about my question. No it didn't, she said. They were from NY and she was on a sales thing in Italy and he was tagging along. He said he was in real estate, then he said he wrote plays or at least comedy. He knew of Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson, and as he left he hurriedly explained that he'd have a play on Broadway in about a year's time, called 'Fat Camp' and if we were in NY we should come and see it. 'Did that invitation include an implicit come round backstage afterwards and then go on to Sardis with me and my crowd?" I asked Maureen. She said she thought it probably did.

Il Duomo and Strangers on a Train 2

Before leaving this morning we did a very short visit to the Duomo - Milan Cathedral to you and me. We'd been there before but I'm afraid it's melted into the mass of churches I've visited in Rome and Florence and God knows where. At the same time I don't know how I forgot it, because it's hugely impressive. There's a massive piazza in front of it - acres of space, as though this wasn't in the middle of a big international city. On it Africans and a few Asians flog little stuff - the Africans appeared to be selling small bundles of cords. Instinctively I said 'No, thanks' and instinctively I felt guilt for so doing, especially for failing to even establish eye-contact with them. The entrance to the Duomo is manned by a few soldiers and police - a bit like airport security or shops in Belfast in the bad old days. A chap with a metal detector, a list of things you can't bring in, a line-up of people waiting to be OKed. We couldn't bring our suitcase in so we had to take it in turns looking inside. I went first and searched out 10 .00 a.m. Mass. It was said at the back of the main altar and you had to approach an official chap who stood beside a ceremonial cord barrier. You then had to ask him where the Mass was on; he repeated this a number of times as though he'd never heard of anything remotely like it, then repeated 'La messa' (I think) a number of times, then pulled back the rope and gestured you in and up some steps. The congregation wasn't nine but it wasn't more than thirty. Nearly all old or older. Two priests concelebrated - one an older man (about my age, God help him) and another in his forties - thin and dark-haired and slightly stooped and glasses that were too big and showed magnified eyes. He moved slowly and intently and wasn't really too inspiring. While the Mass proceeded, a chap with a mop moved around the altar, near enough requiring the priests to lift their feet so he could do under them. We just made the 12.05 pm train. A nice Aussie-Italian in the queue offered to be interpreter and let us go ahead of him, but it didn't stop the small and quarrelsome young woman issuing tickets from giving us change very slowly and when I asked her (admittedly a second time) what platform we'd get the train on - we were down to five mins to go at this stage, she squawked 'I do not know what platform!' I do not know what stopped me reaching for her noise-making neck. We ran along the various platforms, gawking at the signs; the last one was ours and we hurled ourselves on board, making it by...two minutes maximum. On the train I got talking to a young couple, the woman of whom was reading 'The Tipping Point'. They were from NY and she was on a sales thing in Italy and he was tagging along. He said he was in real estate, then he said he wrote plays or at least comedy. He knew of Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson, and as he left he allowed that he'd have a play on Broadway in about a year's time, called 'Fat Camp' - so if we were in NY we should try to catch it. 'Was that an invitation to call backstage afterwards and then go on to Sardis with him and his crowd?" I asked Maureen. She said she thought it probably was.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Strangers on a train to Milan


THURSDAY 23 JULY 2009

We headed for an overnight in Milan, after an early breakfast by our landlady and a drive in her cut-off Merc to the station at Viareggio. It was a beautiful morning and it was almost like being given an outing as a kid - a break from the dullish but OKish routine. We had to change at Genoa, which turned out to involve a one-hour wait. That was OK but then the ticket-man came round and he pointed out that we shouldn't be on this train that left Genoa at 12.10pm., we should have been on the one that left Genoa at 11.18 a.m. He let us off, having made it clear, without using English, that he was being very flexible in so doing. The chap in the carriage with us did a lot of smiling when the ticket-man left: Italy, he said, is full of rules but then when it comes to the crunch they're not taken too seriously. We got to talking to him and his Brazilian partner. He must be in his 50s and is a painter/decorator in a small town in Mexico. He's called Andrea ('A girl's name everywhere but Italy!') and his partner is Roxanna ('My father read a lot and came on this in his readings').Andrea had strong but amused views on the Italian government. Berlusconi is either the head of the mafia or is where he is because of them. Putin gave Berlusconi a present of a bed. All of Italy is corrupt and prime ministers since way back have been members of the Mafia. The Church is linked hip and thigh (or whatever) with the mafia - they don't make a squeak when Berlusconi is getting a divorce and doing stuff with a 17-year-old. The mafia may have killed Kennedy, because he didn't have a counter-revolution against Castro and let them back into Cuba...On and on. Andrea was terrifically entertaining - full of laughter as he cut the tripe out of the Italian government - and he's read George Orwell and Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad. I give him the names of Graham Greene and Ronan Bennett as writers to read, which he took with every sign of interest. Before we part I take a pic of him and Roxanna - several, actually, cos he's not impressed by his own looks. I get his email and promise to send him a copy of the pic. And did I mention he likes The Dubliners (the folk group)?

In Milan, we got off at the Station Centrale - built, Andrea told us, by Mussolini, and I believe him. It's massive the way a loyalist body-builder is massive: big and squat and in your face...No, squat isn't the word for something as vast as this - its height dwarfs everyone who moves through it. It's so impressive, it's a pity it's used as a train station, almost. And guess where it reminds me of? Yup. Stormont Parliament. The same idea at work: bow down before the power of this or by God, we'll make you bow down...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Travelling hopefully and arriving...


WEDNESDAY 22 JULY

We've been in Forte Dei Marmi since Sunday. It's an hour's bus-ride west of Lucca and on the coast - up the road from Viareggio, where that train carrying fuel crashed and set fire to houses a month or two back. The beginning of our stay here was perhaps the worst.

We got the bus from Lucca, but could we get the bus driver to tell us when we'd arrived at Forte Dei Marmi (there were stops all along the coast and he was going on past Forte Dei Marmi)? Nope. We knew we'd passed Viareggio because we could see from the bus the blackened remains of buildings burnt in the tanker explosion. When I made my way to the front of the bus to ask the driver yet again, his chatting bus-man chum cried "Attenti!' or some such - i.e., sit down, is forbidden to stand on bus, you dopey English-speaking slobber. We we did finally pull in, it was pointless for me to ask regarding the whereabouts of Casa del Mar - which was all the info I had cleverly brought with me when I printed the sheet from the internet. In fact I even harboured a secret doubt if this was the place I HAD booked - I kept peering at the little b and w picture of the place attached, trying to make out if it resembled what I recalled from viewing it at the time. Anyway, after considerable trucking with our two on-wheels suitcases along the sea-front, we got directions (that is, Maureen got directions) that took us to either an estate agent's or a tourist information centre. My money's on the former. There a young black woman slim and lovely in a muted green dress, looked up Casa del Mar on the internet (phew - it exists!) and then a taxi firm to come and take us there. While waiting, Maureen used the toilet and hadn't the nerve (maybe she had but I, ever a coward, advised her not to) to tell the young woman that she couldn't get it to flush. Eventually the taxi-man came and charged us €15 for a drive of about one mile that lasted all of seven minutes. He dropped us at the gate, we rang the bell. Then we rang it again. And again. And again. Nothing. The sun beat down - it's 4.00 pm - and we hear the bell bzzzz inside, but nothing. Through the grating we can see the porch, and a lovely comfy couch on it, and an open mag, and a cardigan - but no people. Eventually,rather than go on standing and swearing, I head up the hot road to find a shop or ristorante. I find both but both are shut. By the time I make my way back, Maureen has been let in by some German fellow - B and Bers. They let us sit on the porch and try ringing the landlady, but she's left her mobile at home, they can hear it ringing inside the house. One of them brings us a nice cold bottle of water and two glasses and apologises he can't let us inside. Eventually landlady's two sons arrive on their bikes and when we confess that we are indeed bed and breakfasters, they ring her and tell us she will be with us in five minutes. It takes her about ten but hey, who's counting? When she arrives she's in her forties, petite, smiling, slightly coarse skin. I've been trying to contact you on the phone she says. I'm not in Ireland, I tell her. You should have tried the internet when you got no reply. Once again, no reply.

But the house is quite lovely in a show-house kind of way. Air-con in the room, wi-fi which I have installed for me by the nice Dutch guy who is caught in the jacuzzi on the terrace with his fiancee - or maybe that's his wife. Either way, he's very nice and very helpful ( did I mention the terrace and the jacuzzi?) We walk down the road to the ristorante, but since everyone there virtually is getting a take-away rather than settling to dine, we do likewise and start eating it, alone, on a table to the side of the house. I'm just oohing and aahing about how lovely it all is in the late evening sun when a couple of mosquitoes sink teeth into my flesh and I'm forced to make a run for it to the house.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Bagni but no Browning


SATURDAY 18 JULY 2009

• Last night, shortly before going to bed, I discovered that the vague ache I’d had in my shoulder area for most of the day was not some sort of kind of wrenched muscle but two bloody big mosquito bites. A quick check established I had another on my bum, another on my arm and another on the jugular vein down the side of my neck. (At least that stabbing pain below the jawline wasn’t a stroke. Think positive). AND when I turned out the light, with the window shut, the room became insufferably hot, or at least in my fevered itching state, I thought it did. Eventually with the help of two paracetemol I got off to sleep and – amazingly – got around six hours.

• I rose in time for a 15-minute run, then off on the bus to Bagni di Lucca…Only not so fast. As we descended from the wall and crossed to the bus station, we negotiated a grassy dusty patch, except my negotiations broke down when my left foot lodged itself tightly in a pot-hole. It was like two cars coming in opposite directions: I was proceeding hurriedly in Direction A and the ground was proceeding equally smartly in Direction B, and next I know we’re both at Collision Point C. Soooooorrrre. The heels of my hands bit into the ground and I stopped with my gob about one inch from the earth. I knew that I could get up but I also knew that to move would cause pain.Besides, there was a heavy oldness to my body and the pebbles stuck in my hands felt as if they'd taken out a long-term lease, so I lay there gasping and swearing between gasps. Maureen and a passing Good Italian Samaritan helped me up, both enquiring if I was ‘all right’ (or at least that’s what I assume the Italian chap was saying). What they really meant was, had I broken any bones or would I need to be taken to hospital? I hadn’t and I didn’t, but when I cleaned my wounds by pouring frizzante water onto my palms, the sting was pretty oh-ah-oh-bloody-AAAAHH.

• So that’s an assault by at least five kamikaze mosquitoes and both my innocent palms sliced by a stigmatic experience. Charming.

• And then to top it all, Bagna di Lucca turned out to have little beyond a sort of all-right village charm. We located the English Cemetery, which in fact was wildly overgrown and contained mainly dead Lieutenant-Colonels who had fought at Waterloo. No Robert Browning or his wife and forever love Elzabeth Barrett Browning (she sounds like a sub-machine gun). There was a wall plaque saying something about the pair of them having had an estate in the town, down by the river. After we’d seen that and taken a few pics and got some over-priced insect repellant and insect-bite ointment in The British Consulate Pharmacy, we’d had enough.

Green thoughts in a green shade...


16 JULY 2009

• I’m sitting in the garden of the ostello per la giovent├╣ (youth hostel to you). It’s 1.05 pm and the temperature is serious – well over 30 degrees, I’d say. Yesterday in Firenze it got up to 38). However I’m in the shade with a small warm breeze making things manageable. I can hear the laughter and bell-tinkling coming from the adjoining city wall, to a background of constant cricket leg-rubbing (I think that’s what crickets do with their legs). People here seem to ignore siesta time and the danger of sunburn. The ostello garden isn’t too spectacular flowers-wise but it’s hot shit in terms of closeness to the wall and the constant stream of walkers, cyclists and joggers. It’s like taking in a village street life scene, only better.

• I’ve just come from the area of the bike-rentals, which was teeming with young men and women – especially women – jumping on bikes, pushing down hard on the pedals and giving yips of delight at being alive and mobile. Further down the sun-hot street I located a yoghurteria (sic), where the cheerful man sold me a beauty in a tub topped with uno piccolo of fruit cocktail for €2.20 . Pricey but delicious. I hurried back and we devoured it between us. Culinary orgasm.

• And having used a sexual metaphor, why not a religious simile? It strikes me sitting here in the garden, taking notes and thinking, that this is a bit like a secular version of a religioius retreat. No wonder monks and nuns were able to turn their thoughts to things spiritual, when they were able to adjourn to gardens like this.

Walls and Flowers


15 JULY 2009

• Up early in Lucca to get an along-the –walls run in before we headed for Firenze (why do outsiders call places like Florence by a different name than the people who live there?). The circuit of the walls is 2.3 miles, which I completed yesterday and the day before and today. In addition we rented bikes yesterday and went round the walls. Maureen was nervous at first but soon was progressing smoothly if slowly on her small pink machine. I got a red-lipped blowsy-looking woman on a bench to take a picture of both of us (which I’ll upload when we get back to camera-upload country). By way of balance I took a pic of her and her friend, an old(er) woman sitting with her. When I thanked them – ‘Grazie, mille grazie!’ – the blowsy one cried ‘Grazie lei, lei!’ - which I think means ‘Thanks to you!’ but could be ‘Thanks to her!’ – the old(er) friend - who, when we looked at their picture, verged on beautiful. I tried to get an email address so I could send them a copy but they didn't know what I was on about. 'Telefono?' the red-lipped woman suggested, but that seemed a bit of a dead end for sending pictures.

• I went to Mass in the adjoining church of San Frediano at eight this morning. It was said at a little side altar – the total congregation was nine, including me – and the priest faced the altar throughout, turning round only for the Consecration and for the ‘Agnelli Dei’ parts. His alb/chasuble/whatever was rucked up at the back (I thought at first it was an Italian fashion) then fell into place as we finished the Our Father. The altar had three large candles at the right hand side and on the left a big bunch of white flowers, overset with a snowstorm spray of small white flowers. Simple and elegant and wonderful.

Piece of Pizza in Pisa


I've been out of touch with the internet since coming to Italy, or at least with that part of it which allows me to post blogs. Happily all that is now resolved, so I'm going to put up stuff I wrote and stored, starting with a week ago. Don't worry, we'll soon be up-to-date.

12 July 2009 :
My birthday, far far far away from Orangefest. I’m sitting in a railway station in Pisa waiting for a train to Lucca. So far, in a series of announcements every five minutes, the train is declared fifty-five minutes late (retardo). On the plus side, the sun is California/|Vancouver hot, with a nice little breeze drifting up the platform.

Last night we arrived near midnight at the hotel in Pisa. The bus dropped us just outside it and after asking Luigi at the desk, we were directed down the street to a very humble pizzeria. The family were finished for the day and settling to eat their own meal; but the woman of the house hustled around and heated up two chunks of left-over pizza in what looked like but may not have been an ancient oven. On the wall behind her, a mirror advertising Campari or was it Cinzano showed a naked woman with bottles as a short skirt, her head hidden, and the lower half of her breast revealed. The mirror bore the adage ‘Welcome to Paradise’. On the adjoining wall there was a picture of Jesus, very gentle and meek and mild.Sex and religion, in happy conjunction. We took the pizza bits in tinfoil and wolfed it down before falling asleep. The hotel was nice. The pizza was delicious.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Viva Italia!


We're about to start heading for Italy. This'll involve taking the train to Belfast, the bus from Belfast to Dublin airport, and a Ryanair flight from there to Pisa. We are due to arrive after midnight so it'll be after 1 a.m., I imagine, before we lay our weary heads down. I know there's a future ahead when such round-the-houses movement from A to B will seem absurd but for the next century or so we're stuck with it.

I don't know why I like the Italians as much as I do. I've met a number of Italian creeps in my time - like every nationality they have their share - but in general as a people they have...style isn't the word, and 'la bella figura' isn't the term either. But there's something alive about them, more vulnerable, more human. There's a deliciously self-conscious quality to the men in particular - vanity, a sort of mild preening - that's fun to watch. And of course they have scenery and history like other countries have lamp-posts. We'll be spending a week in Lucca and a week in Fiore dei Something.

As always happens when I'm about to head off somewhere, I've developed a huge distaste for the hassle of it all and wonder why in God's name I agreed to it and make a mental note that this won't happen again. But then when I get there I normally find I'm glad I did and I have a sense of being in touch with a wider world, which is not just enjoyable but necessary.

Bon voyage a nous...

Monday, 6 July 2009

A hotel room with a pay-per-view (or two)


Strewth! What next - the Pope gets caught coming out of a Roman night-club looking tired and emotional? Jeffrey Donaldson says those bills for hundreds of pounds in movies viewed - alone, presumably - in his London hotel room were for 'blockbuster movies'. Like? Oooh, like the Star Wars trilogy and, what was it - Mary Poppins? Something like that. Jeffrey has two problems with this one. No, three. No, actually, four. (OK, OK, I'm a writer, not a mathematician. Give over.)

One, how did he manage to cram in all those movies and still get some sleep? Two, should a man with that kind of taste in films be representing the adult population of Lisburn and environs? Three, for a variety of reasons, when the words 'movies' and 'hotel room' and 'pay-per-view' are put together these days, the public mind suffers a kind of tremor and starts thinking things that, well, you wouldn't see in the average family movie. And four, was he entitled to charge up movies, whether adult or family, on his hotel bill? If he was, why pay the money back - or is he just doing it because he's afraid of what people will think? Lacking the courage of his convictions? Either way nice little Jeffrey doesn't emerge looking too good. And if he WASN'T entitled to charge up those movies, however childish or adult they were, isn't that the equivalent of putting your hand in the public till and helping yourself - i.e., stealing? If you or I took what didn't belong to us, we'd be up in court. If you don't believe me, try not paying about £600-worth of income tax next year. Now, in case Jeffrey's lawyers are licking their little pencils, I'm not for a moment suggesting Jeffrey HAS acted illegally. I'm just saying IF he had acted illegally. Pure conjecture, hypothetical, dream-world possibility. I mean, you only have to look at Jeffrey to conclude that he's not the kind of guy who'd go around putting his fist in the public purse without permission. That said, he also doesn't look like the kind of guy who'd be sitting alone in a hotel room watching hour after hour of Star Wars. Or even the kind of guy who'd agree to share a flat with Sammy Wilson. Stand by for TVs being thrown out the window of London flats as Jeffrey tries to run Swiss Family Robinson a third time...

Friday, 3 July 2009

Icarus the Scot


I've just come from watching Andy Roddick, the Yank, beat Andy Murray, the, um, Brit. Actually Murray is a Scot and he even had the chutzpah to tell a BBC interviewer that he'd be hoping England got beaten in some football tournament at the time. Despite that, the British have drowned his Scottishness in their Britishness, so the Centre Court today was awash with fat women wearing union jack hats. And the big question was, would Andy be the first Brit (Scot schmot) to get to the Wimbledon finals in ...I dunno - two centuries? As usual, the British media went mad and had him in the final handing out a hiding to Roger Federer, the other finalist, even before Murray had got through the first round. I've been here before. I remember a big guy called Roger Taylor (who looked, oddly enough, a bit like the Ulster Unionist John Taylor, who now goes by another name which escapes me at the moment although I do remember the first name is Lord) who was hailed as the saviour of British tennis. (Roger Taylor, that is, not John. John Taylor was hailed as the saviour of the Ulster Unionists once, ach sin sceal eile). And then there was Christine Truman, a big shy gawky young woman with seriously limited talents. Virginia Wade won the tournament, of course, although I always think she's got a suspiciously Aussie or South African-sounding accent for a Brit. Anyroad, poor old Andy M has just slunk off to lick his wounds and wait for next year. And while I know that those of us who aren't Adonises ourselves shouldn't be too critical, isn't there something about Andy Murray, be he Scot or Brit, which is kind of...unattractive? Wolf-like, even? Maybe it's the teeth - there's a hint of pointiness about them. And he never smiles. Let's not put too fine a point on it: Andy is one mean-looking bastard with an expression if not a face that only a mother could love. Come to think of it, his mother ...No, enough already. The poor guy was over-hyped wildly - I read an article a week ago saying they were going to market him until he was the same global level as David Beckham - and now he' s sure to be feeling the searing heat of a return to Earth. Good try, Andy. And look on the bright side: at least you're not Tim Henman.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Here It Comes Again (Thud, Thud)


With our toes in the shallow end of July, maybe it's time to get a few things straight about the Orange Order and its marching men.

1. The Orange Order uses its flimsy links with religion as a veil for its embarrassing core parts, which are anti-nationalist and anti-Catholic. The organisation's origins at the end of 18th century and its history since then make this clear – it's a catalogue of Orange mobs attacking Catholic areas. Its rules - no Catholics, no spouses of Catholics, no attending Catholic religious ceremonies, Catholicism = Popish idolatry, heathen practice of the Mass - show little sign of Christianity. Its 2,000+ marches every year, celebrating the defeat of Catholicism/nationalism at the hands of Protestantism/unionism, add not a lot to reconciliation and healing.

2. The slump in its membership can't, as Drew Nelson has suggested, be explained away by the advance of secularism. It can be explained in two words: 'Harryville' and 'Drumcree'. These two conflict-points showed the world the ugly face of the Order and a lot of decent unionists withdrew in disgust. The subsequent defeat of bigotry at both places alienated the opposite end of Orangeism - the hard-core that had hoped the Order would be the traditional vehicle for its prejudices. When feet didn't walk on Garvaghy Road and when Catholics continued to attend Mass at Harryville, the out-and-outers walked away.

3. To sound an effective rallying call, the Order needs an 'anti-Protestant' opposition to justify its continued existence. The fact is that it's not getting it - nationalists, even when provoked by some marches, continue to show remarkable restraint. Which leaves the bigotry that's at the heart of the Orange Order punching the air. That's an exhausting and ultimately futile activity.