A People’s Poem for Limerick

From left Poet John W. Sexton, Mayor Michael Sheahan (Limerick) and Oran Ryan

A poem written by Limerick people and made up of words, phrases and lines submitted during the Limerick Writers’ Centre’s  recent poetry festival ‘April is Poetry Month in Limerick 2019’, was this week unveiled and presented to the mayor of Limerick Cllr. Michael Sheahan. 

The poem called ‘Limerick Is’ was unveiled at a ceremony in City Hall by John W. Sexton, an tOllamh (Poet Laureate) for Limerick during the festival, along with members of the Limerick Writers’ Centre. After the presentation of the framed poem Sexton recited it to those present. 

John W Sexton compiled the full length poem from over 10 A4 pages of submissions received during April this year. Sexton admitted that it was much harder to compile than he first imagined but was at pains to point out that every word in the poem was written by the people of Limerick.

As well as gracing the wall of the mayor’s office the poem has also been turned into a postcard, with the help of Limerick City and County Council’s tourism unit, and 5000 postcards will now be distributed to hotels and tourist spots in the region, where visitors can pick them up free of charge and use to send greetings from Limerick all over the world.  

The project is the brainchild of the Limerick Writers’ Centre, a voluntary not for profit organization, dedicated to promoting the literary and artistic heritage of Limerick.  Speaking at the unveiling Mr. Oran Ryan from the Centre, said that  there were over 1000 words, lines and phrases sent in covering every  aspect of Limerick from the  Treaty of Limerick to Ronan O’Gara and everything in between.  Some were funny, some vulgar others were just images or childhood memories. He congratulated poet John W. Sexton on his fantastic achievement of compiling the poem into a coordinated whole that is both poetic and makes sense. He went on to say that “there was something very moving about a poem written by so many people, as Limerick City is made up of so many voices with so many stories to tell, the poem reflects that diversity all within one memorable poem.”

In response Mayor Sheahan said it was “a brilliant and original idea and something he had not seen anywhere before.”  He praised the Limerick Writers’ Centre for their continuing contribution to the cultural life of the city, especially their literary activities and wished them success in securing funding for their nonstop good work in the future. 

Before reading the poem John W Sexton explained his rational and method he used to write the final poem: “Success in creating a crowd-sourced poem will always depend on the quality of the source material, but the problem for me was that there was so much material to choose from and only room for a fraction of it. Once I made my final choices, which still amounted to several pages more than I could use, I then went about finding connections between phrases so that I could order the lines into coherent verses. What resulted is, I think, a very good poem. Through the voices of Limerick’s people, the city found its own voice. The final poem, in my view, really is the city telling us who and what it is.”

Further Details: Dominic Taylor Mobile 087 2996409 limerickwriterscentre@gmail.com

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Let the Good Times Roll

 

But when people say,
Did you always want to be a writer?,
I have to say no!
I always was a writer

Ursula le Guin

When I ask people ‘So, what’s your image of a writer?’, usually they talk about a guy. Even the women I ask, they tend to talk about a man. I don’t comment as it ruins the experiment, but blogging about it here, I guess that’s the image that gets grandfathered into our brains in a male-centric culture when we are young and impressionable. But that’s not all. If you do an internet search for ‘writer images’, they are mostly male. Then, I ask ‘So what else comes to mind?’

They usually report their writer-image is a kind of intense tweedy type. They see him wearing a jacket with elbow patches, or with swept back greyflecked distinguished hair, writing at a desk. Oh, also our literary type is also usually an academic working on a university campus teaching literature, not working in a bar or stacking shelves in your local Tesco.

I don’t buy this description. Firstly, I know as many women as men who are writers. Also my image of a writer is not so high profile. Maybe she’s out of shape from poor diet and zero exercise. Maybe my imaginary writer drinks too much and is stressed out from all the hours hunched in front of a computer working with little return. Maybe some of my imaginary writers are loners, starving and depressed in a windy garret tapping out another tome, perhaps. Or, addicted, perhaps heavily so.

Another writerly image that crops up is that of the performing artist. If you attend open mics or literary evenings, (which can be really good if you get good writers onstage), your image is of a writer is one standing up in front of a audience of forty or fifty in some back room of a bar or club performing.

Then we come to images of the mature and accomplished artists, also and very importantly, they are being paid for what they do. They have published well. Good times. Every artist worth their salt deserves this. But does that happen? Does every accomplished artist who produces good work get paid what they deserve? Of course not, and for a reason. I mean we think of art in terms of every other item produced in society. It is generally held that the laws of supply and demand determine quality. In other words, if you are a crappy writer, people won’t read you or publish you and thus, in true Darwinian mode, you get cut from the herd and become an editor. If you are hot (in the sense of being modern and contemporary and zeitgeisty and talented), then talent will out. Right? Well, I don’t think so. A twenty or thirty minute perusal of the quality of writing in a typical bookstore or library anywhere, will quash any such ideals. The rules of market economics do not apply when it comes to art, as opposed to in life.

So I moved from bookstores to the internet in my search for an answer to the

le guin
URSULA LE GUIN

question of what happens to literary talent. I read forums and Wikipedia and blogposts and in the end just for giggles I did a random google search for ‘literary rejection letters’, and one of the first that popped out was a letter Ursula K le Guin got back in ’68. Here it is:

Ursula K Le guin rejection letter

Now I am a fan of this writer. This particular novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, which found a home elsewhere, is now regarded as a masterpiece, a trailblazer of feminist writing, a work which made a real contribution to the SF genre. It wound up winning the Nebula award, selling over a million copies and establishing Le Guin’s reputation. Reading this letter, and a few others, as well as considering the cloud of negativity surrounding writers beginning and trying to develop their careers, at this stage I confess I began to think a bit negatively about the struggles of newbie writers.

By this I mean – consider if Le Guin had given up with her novel after such a rejection. left hand darknessImagine if she decided instead to quit and run a pub in Lesser Chipping Buckworth (no such place), or took to the countryside in married dejection. Consider all the people she inspired, all the changes she wrought to peoples minds and hearts. I mean, we are talking here of a serious loss. But it didn’t happen, which is good news. On the contrary, millions of people are glad she went on and became the icon of SF writing she remained her entire life, and thereafter.

 

My point is, its easier, so far easier if we had a society that valued and nurtured new writers and artists instead of regarding them as dropouts or lazy or damaged dreamers, people who do not ‘pull their weight’. Having a really good writer in the family should be seen as like having a doctor or a politician or a business person in the family. How many aspiring writers have had to face the ire and disapproval of families and friends and the weight of societal judgement because they wanted to do something creative with their lives? The effects of such disapproval can be overwhelming.

Take disapproval. I mean, its such an innocuous sounding word, ‘disapproval’.  It whips up images of ones sainted great aunt clattering teacups and shaking her head as she tut tuts ones use of bad language or smoking weed out the back garden. This is different, though. Here I mean the kind of life altering cultural disapproval which though all pervasive, can be rather hard to pin down. Its the disapproval you get when turning up in church drunk or your mobile phone going off during a production of Hamlet, except much, much worse.  This is how one gets cut from the herd. You know they don’t want you yet you don’t know how you know that, or indeed what to do. For writers, type of disapproval can last a lifetime. It leads to deep self doubt. That in turn leads to a negative self image, which leads to depression which leads to self destructive behaviours. This is where the trouble starts. Self destructive behaviours borne of depression and self doubt are very painful indeed. Depression has certainly a marked chemical or genetic component, but it also has a societal aspect, a marked societal aspect. Our pain is framed by our world. If this pain goes on long enough, it naturally leads to one seeking relief. I’m talking here medicating such pain with drugs and alcohol. Too much medicating psychic pain with D. and A. often (not always though) leads to addiction. After that there’s nowhere to go but down. It can start a negative toxic spiral downwards into the kinds of dark places I have seen the finest talents dissolve.

So to go back to Le Guin for a moment. Ursula Le Guin getting those Novels published, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, was good for her and good for us all on levels we can begin to fathom anew. She had a brilliant career, and that brilliance shone long after she left us. In contrast I think here of other writers and artists who needed to get the good news of acceptance, not simply a publishing deal but the good word from society at large that what they were doing had value, yet didn’t. Their story did not end with good news. It was sad, bad news.

So we here not talking about simply giving our writers an encouraging hug. This is more like a ideological endorsement of the profound value of our creative communities, a value that includes a monetary value (sometimes very substantial) but an educational, political, and entertainment value. Books and art itself start conversations that change things, sometimes forever. Wherever we see repression of art we see the beginnings of a repressive society that kills the spirit of humanity and produces only propaganda and junk thinking. I am thinking of Donald Trumps killing off major arts grants at the beginning of his benighted presidency.

But here in Ireland the government, the Arts Council, and the Irish Writers Centre have a new initiative for established writers, whereby they can access social welfare payments and don’t have to hide the fact they are writers, or any other types of subterfuge. The full text of the pilot initiative is here. Its been taken up and established now a year later.
Now there are a few problems with this initiative. For instance the text states one has to be ‘genuinely seeking work’ in order to avail of the scheme. Does this mean the work of being a writer is not genuine work? What if you need something like the dole to finish a work that is of the quality of The Left hand of Darkness? Are we seeing shades of the old prejudice against the struggling writer, seen as a kind of layabout who will eventually shape up and see that real work lies elsewhere? Its one of those subtle indicators that might be worth looking at down the line.

Another problem with this otherwise laudatory scheme which is far sighted and worthy of promotion is the very questionable criterion of having to demonstrate that you earned half of last years income from writing. I doubt if there are many writers who need the dole to finish their books will be able to show that. In fact in Ireland unless you work round the clock doing gigs and writers in residence contracts as well as whatever royalties you earn will be able to demonstrate that level of income.
But those caveats aside, its good news. Its a sign, as the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said:
“Ireland is world-famous as a haven for art and artists who are central to our culture. This reputation for artistic achievement is part of our global USP. Promoting Ireland as a home for art and artists is central to my plans to double our global footprint in the years ahead. I believe it is only right that we allow for some flexibility within the social welfare system to allow artists to access social welfare supports when they need them. Up to now, artists have found it difficult to access social welfare and of course many artists take on extra jobs to support their livelihoods.

“Following extensive work between both Departments, with input from the Arts Council, this new mechanism will allow artists to be classified as self-employed for the purposes of accessing social welfare supports. The normal checks and balances will apply to ensure the initiative is not open to abuse, but my hope is that this will make it much easier for professional artists to access social welfare supports when they need them.”

(See here for further context) There is information on the scheme here and further information here.

On Being Who We Really Are

IMG_20170828_150700
Pictured in 2017 in Karpacz Poland

I hate sharing personal information. I feel deeply uncomfortable doing so. But it is important. So here goes. I happen to be a writer. This is not by choice. I tried everything not to be a writer. In my early youth I tried a career in religion, which gives one access to lots and lots of books, which is very cool. It also gives one a room of one’s own, also cool (ask Virginia Woolf), an  opportunity to meditate (which I like a lot), a very comfortable middle class existence (I’m from the middle classes), as well as a comprehensive training and educational background (I took full advantage of all available libraries). I was not good at attending college, but I did okay with exams. I was expected to be an academic. But I wanted to write, which is not the same thing. I found it difficult to fit into any one academic discipline. I would also like to lightly mention in passing that my brand of religiosity included my joining a monastery, running retreats and giving sermons and being generally incredibly busy with people, which was very difficult for me. I was an odd monk, I must confess. I didn’t like the costume (originally what is now a monks robe was originally the normal clothing of peasants – the hood being a sack for your stuff). I thought it rather elitist and divisive. Also on a general level both back then and now, one would never think it, but I wasn’t comfortable around people. I also found I could be too blunt for people. I offended folks by my excessive straightforwardness, which was taken the wrong way quite a lot. The other thing was I could not stop writing. Poems, articles, stories, essays – I couldn’t stop.  Then after a few years I stopped believing in God, which was a devastating and deeply depressing experience. Christianity, at a certain point made no sense. It had its origins in older religions, which in turn had its origins in older myths. It was all clearly made up. I found my true calling was to atheism and publishing poor quality youthful short stories and poems. I quit being a monk. I tried academia but disliked both it and academics. I married, and then, to support my new marriage, I tried being a respectable civil servant with a good job and a house and a pension and serious prospects in the field of computer programming. Though I had hardly seen a computer before becoming a civil servant, I found I had a talent for programming them. I loved taking them apart and reassembling them. I had fun with technology. I used trawl thru computer junk, build a PC, and give them as gifts to friends and people who needed them or didn’t have a personal computer of their own. I also took full advantage of the company library  and I learned a few programming languages and made a bit of money. The thing was I still longed to write. Actually at the time I was writing, particularly Sci-Fi, but it wasn’t enough. It was hunger inside me to do more and be more, and though I was naturally good with languages, though I could put ideas, even coded ideas, together easily and quickly, I simply could not take the soul crushing drudgery of working in a corporate setting. The dishonesty, the politics, the lack of challenge, and most of all having to deal with people on a day to day basis, which is by no means my strong suit, I began to drink heavily, and it was a miracle I wasn’t fired for being repeatedly drunk on the job. I remember coding multi-million pound systems while being drunk. I remember compiling reports for accountants, or even writing reports, again while being ‘compromised’, a euphemism one hears in US cop dramas for being under the influence. I was becoming addicted. I found a few brandies relaxed me sufficiently to focus on the task at hand without being unduly anxious while in the company of others, which I disliked. I was earing a lot of money, more than my boss at the time. A therapist I had at the time challenged me. She said if I continued drinking and coding, alcohol would destroy my mind. Those were her words. I realized my misery, my depression and hopelessness I was dulling with drink. I was also becoming very unhappy in my marriage. So I quit. I sold my house and made some money, bought another house, became a landlord, and, with no prospects I started writing novels. My wife at the time started publishing my own work and those of other writers. For the most part my books did modestly well. I had found who I was. I was a member of the tribe of writers. I think this is a crucial thing. Every person needs to find who they truly are, especially as an artist. And we are all artists, everyone. Its not a New Age  blanket terms like, for instance, us all being ‘beautiful and unique snowflakes’ or ‘find the genius inside you’. No. We are all creative beings, potentially. Again my trouble being around people reared its head. I was swamped with people. Readings, writings, publications, trips to other countries doing launches and so on, began to take their toll on me. My marriage began to really crater. My wife at the time had her own troubles, deep troubles, and I found no matter what I did I could neither help her or myself. I suffered a major depressive episode and after three years and several disastrous misdiagnoses and horrible medications on the part of therapists and psychologists, I left my wife. Then she took her life just under a year after I left. The horror. As I said in her obituary, this is the single greatest loss of talent and potential the Irish publishing scene has suffered in a generation. It came as a devastating shock to me and to those who loved her, a sorrow of immeasurable proportions. I did not understand her condition. In the aftermath it has been explained to me. Now I understand. I have moved on. But I have not forgotten. Now I continue to write, because I am a writer. This is my story. Tell someone yours today, or even write it down. I find it horribly difficult, but its liberating.

Bo Peep and the literary butler

bo peepBo Peep in micromanagement mode

The hardest lesson I ever learned about being a writer was when I spent time on Bo Peeps farm. It was a long time ago (20 years at least) in another country (I’d rather not say), and most of the people involved are long dead now (so I’m given to believe). I arrived at the farm in a state of disarray, my life in considerable turmoil after my leaving the Church and religious life. I was very slightly known then as a writer, and, the owner of the farm, Ms Peep, who had several buildings available for rent, gave me somewhere to stay, with more than a gleam in her eye. She seemed excessively pleased on learning I wrote (not that I told her) and mentioned loudly she was planning a book on the subject of her historically significant home. I said I was a novice in the literary game. “A few poems, the odd story, nothing special,”  I said. But she suggested I stay and at least consider the possibility. I said nothing beyond offering her free lessons. Yet despite such enthusiasms, Ms Peep had had previous experiences of members of the artistic community staying on her lush pastures and domicile of extensive cultural and historical significance, however they didn’t always come up with the rent and left suddenly, so  I was questioned about my ability to pay. Offended, but suppressing my anger, I offered three months rent in advance. This was declined and I was shown to my place and introduced to the other members of the community, who disturbingly all had had difficult times in their lives and were down at the farm trying to get over troubled lives. But I was told the good news. I was apparently already writer in residence. Yes indeedy. And I thought- me – a writer in residence? I was a kid (no pun intended).shaun                           I’m the startled looking lost sheep (2nd from left)

“I hear you are writing a book about the place,” my fellow lost sheep bleated. My ego was tickled at the thought, or even the rumour I might be doing something as cool as penning a book. Me -a real writer? I might even make money. “Er, yes,” I said, while remembering some loose discussion initially about writing, but mainly assisting Bo Peep in her literary endeavors. I initially began making notes for the book, to the delight of my shepherd, and also began not only researches into the place, but began to get to know the people who lived there. And the more I got to know them the less I wanted to write about the place. “Everyone here has a story, you know,” Ms Peep piped up. No shit Sherlock, I thought. Do they really? “And they all come here for a reason. I watch over them, you know.” “What type of book do you want?” I asked. Our shepherd and glorious leader, put aside her shepherd’s crook for a moment and looked intently at me. Off in the distance one could see heavy dragon shaped clouds. As I looked up she spoke,. Bo Peep knew exactly what she wanted. “A light table top novel. Humorous. Good holiday reading.” Dear Lord, I thought. I was now a holiday novelist. I was rather more ambitious than that. Also, I was developing a problem with this. I mean, I thought of the people living around the Big House. I wondered if they would consent to being so trivialized, lives reduced to summer reading, their stories distorted into fiction. Was that fair? I wondered, no matter how much I employed the fashionable Kevlar of fiction to insulate myself from potential lawsuits, was it right to use these peoples personal stories, even if they were all to consent to it, as fodder for some type of lame upwardly mobile bourgeois tennis club boast over afternoon cocktails? (I was reading Karl Marx at the time, you have to forgive my naive revolutionary zeal)

'Forty beers please, oh, and if a woman called Beau Peep calls, tell her you never saw us.'
Forty beers please, oh, and if a woman called Beau Peep calls, tell her you never saw us.’

So I was a literary butler. I wrote on demand, And Ms. Peep though polite and superficially friendly, ruled her flock with a crook of iron. Well, maybe not iron, that’s heavy – something really rigid but light – you understand.  But then  I knew I might make some coin if I allowed myself to be pimped out like this. Bo Peep had influence. She had spent years climbing the society ladder, and already had close personal friends on all the top golf, tennis, and croquet clubs. I could be marginally less of a hopeless unknown. But then I said no to the whole project. I smoked some weed and grew a conscience, fool that I was all those years ago. I told Ms Peep that I couldn’t do it. And she was very angry indeed. She made life rather difficult for me among the very herd I was trying to protect (see fetching photo above.) Things got ugly. I was accused of not very nice things down on the farm. The other lost sheep seemed to draw away from me. They were disappointed their names were never going to be in print. Eventually the arguments, accusations of being rude, disrespectful and generally not being an obedient sheep and new member of the herd of lost sheep, became too much for this nervous woolly jumper. Even a sheep has a smidgin of dignity. I decided to go my own way, move out and find other pastures green. It was the best decision I made. Bo Peep went on minding sheep, and looking for other lost shepherdable sheep to mind – lost vulnerable ones needing pastures safe and fresh. I kept calm, started another book, and never looked back. A nasty experience.

Six Types Of Writers

6types of writersI came across this on the net a long time ago . There’s a full analysis of each of these six types of writers at http://alexeimaximrussell.blogspot.ca, and the Writer and Blogger Alexei Maxim Russel is the originator of the above meme. I really enjoyed this the first time I saw it. And I kept it and often found myself looking over it again and again. I thought it not inaccurate at all when it comes to a generalization (nothing more) of the various categories of scriveners one comes across in the world of writers. As with most of these categories they only work to an extent, but they might serve as a compass along the often uncertain routes of a writing life. If there is anything the meme teaches its this: don’t be bitter. Writing is incredibly difficult. Too many people think that a few years and a few novels a writer makes. Not at all. Don’t be fooled. Follow your own dreams. The one true measure of a successful writer is that s/he always remained true to their artistic vision, and the only way to do that is to love what you do. That, a solid dose of common sense and a willingness to stick to a book till its over and sell it, and one will be fine. Oh, and have fun. Its never boring.

The Queen And I

    The Queen (2006)

Directed by Stephen Frears. With Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings.

The notion of any kind of hereditary monarchy simply incomprehensible to me. It is a system of government so riven with problems as to be potentially catastrophic for a country. This is why the UK have reduced the monarchy to figurehead status. That being the case, the UK remains with a Queen, and Helen Mirren (who won an Oscar for her role in this movie) plays Elizabeth II just after the death of Diana Spenser in 1997, formerly Princess Diana. Diana Spenser is named by Blair as the peoples princess (Tony Blair is played by the creepily brilliant Michael Sheen who also should have gotten an Oscar for his role as the obsequious power hungry worshipful Machiavellian Tony Blair )


Blair, though ostensibly promising to modernise the UK, in many ways sees his path to power along the road of maintaining the status quo. Blair wants power and is intelligent enough and a gifted enough politician to be no socialist revolutionary anti monarchist. He is not long in office and Elizabeth II is wary of him. Diana is dead and she refuses to treat the death as a royal affair despite a very public outpouring of grief and the fact that Blair refers to her as the ‘people’s princess’ – a divisive term to say the least and something that causes a deep division in the Royal household. Elizabeth couldn’t compete with Diana in terms of popularity, or even her capacity to communicate with people. Diana was a girl chosen to be the wife of Charles, who was already deeply in love and in a long term passionate relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. Not a recipe for a sound long term arrangement.

Diana Spenser 1961-1997
A portrait of the princess as a young girl

Diana surprised the royals. She was beautiful warm and charismatic and was unafraid to display her many flaws in public. Elizabeth was the polar opposite. She was precise and cerebral, cold and driven by duty. There was a sense that she loathed this person, this Diana, who had invaded their carefully controlled royal cosmos and refused to conform to its mores. In some ways the movie is more about the ghost of Diana Spenser and her effect of Elizabeth II than anything else.

Blair pressurizes the Queen to come down out of the hermetically sealed forty thousand acre estate in Balmoral in Scotland and meet the people in London. The sheer distance between the Royal Family and the lives of the ordinary people becomes apparent as the Queen reads the news day by day, watches the interviews Diana gave after her divorce, unprecedented interviews which broke the code of silence, and sees her own ratings plummet as the tabloids turn on her. She concedes to Blair’s entreaties and returns to Buckingham Palace and meets the people and looks and the swathes of flowers and expressions of regret and she is horrified. It is obvious that many hold her and the machinations of the Royal family household personally responsible for Diana’s death. Which is both interesting, tragic, and at the same time not unusual. A much loved public figure with royal connections dies in a Parisian tunnel with her boyfriend while being chased by rapacious paparazzi. The driver of the vehicle was drunk. Had he not been drunk the crash may not have happened. Anyway when a terrible unforeseen tragedy occurs, such as this one, there is an outpouring of grief and of anger and people look for someone to blame (something I can understand only too well from my own life experience). They blamed the Royal Family and particularly Elizabeth II.

We are tearful....
We are tearful….

The pain of this very public condemnation struck her to the core, but like all leaders and political figures, she summoned the resources necessary to survive, to maintain her distance and her dignity and to keep the Royal Family as a central facet of English life and culture at a time when a Labour Government was in power, a time when there was real talk of abolishing the Royal Family as a historical anachronism. Mirren shows the intelligence and the depth and the coldness of Elizabeth II. Michael Sheen shows Blair as the untrustworthy nasty piece of work he seems by all accounts to be.

All in all this is a great film, an ensemble performance about a truly surreal world, the world of the Royal Family and how deeply dysfunctional they are. I was glad I saw it. I switched on the TV and there it was. How Fortuitous.

Uneasyjet and the joys of Ryanair

OR

NOTES ON A TRULY GODAWFUL AIRLINE:

EASYJET

A cathedral to capitalism: Gatwick duty free at four in the morning. Waiting for our connecting flight.

You don’t need to be fascistic to control your passengers. In fact things get easier the more courteous you are.

Unfortunately I find myself ranting. It’s actually worse than ranting. My feelings of outrage cloud my mind. Giving a biased view of a bad experience of flying with an airline is like complaining about the Irish weather. It’s happens all the time. Worse, when you do complain about it, you are being a bore. ( i.e – Of course it rains! Its Ireland, you fool! It rains all the time!)

Here, where I write this, in Greece, it rarely rains. Moreover as you read this, be aware I am an unreliable witness who remembers the slim aggressively perky hostess as she patrolled through the aisles of passengers, and stopped and leaned over to my partner, and said:

“Can I see that you have buckled your seat belt? Please lift up your clothing? I need to see. Thank you so much.”

I looked up in shock. Did I just hear that? I thought I was dreaming. My partner turned to me and said:

“Why are they being so awful? What the fuck?”

I shrugged with exhaustion.

“You have to remember, Iz, she is just one of that ‘fantastic team’ we were introduced to two hours ago.”

I mean I might have misheard. My ears were paining me with cabin pressure of thirty thousand feet and I had toothache, along with a knot in my stomach that would not go away.

“They are just, just awful,” I said.

Then we chorused:

“Well we won’t be going with Easyjet again,” and smiled ruefully.

You see, we were both unwell, under slept, and one does say such things in such circumstances. And when you say it, it has that strength and feeling of finality. But then I also remember that American girl queuing for Ryanair flight to Gatwick, the one where the cabin crew and the airhostess laughed and smiled all the time to the passengers. She was queuing just ahead of me the day before. You see, there was a delay before boarding in Dublin airport, and people get bored and start to chat and talk about things. She was telling her parents how awful Easyjet were. “They were just so awful.” Easyjet, or whoever, just don’t care. Not a bit. After all, you are one of thousands who fly with them day after day. Secondly you have to ask yourself: Do I mean it? Well, yes, of course. The proviso is this: that if there is simply no other way to get to a destination, one has to choose the available mode of transportation, unfortunately.

I write this on a beautiful evening on the island of Zakinthos, one of the smaller islands off the Greek coast. Downstairs a radio is playing mournful Greek ballads. I and my partner are here for about two weeks to recharge our lives, soak in some sun, and feel better. Here, the economy is in terminal decline. Though this apartment is okay. We are surrounded by ruined buildings and unfinished structures. Most of the local businesses are closed. We find a restaurant and go there regularly. The local supermarket is so overpriced as to be extortionary. But as with Easyjet so it is with the shopping. We are both sick, exhausted, depressed, and have headaches. There is no other way to get shopping, unfortunately.

This is a beautiful place. The sea is awesome. The local wine is rich and fruity and cheap. You can live on olives, bread, wine, and cheese here (you have to – foods not too good). There are olive groves everywhere. And oranges. And lemon trees you can reach out and pick. Buildings and gates and trees flake away in the sun. Dogs bark incessantly. There are goats and chickens in the surrounding fields. There is a pregnant cat sleeping on the doorstep who purrs and whines for cuddles as she approaches delivery. People drive past in cars with no windows, cars so old as to be at the point of disintegration. And then there are the locals, who try and fail so obviously to be nice to tourists that they are so obviously conflicted about. They stand and watch you pass with a dispassionate reserve. We got off the misnamed Easyjet at about midday today, tired and emotional. We flew to Gatwick yesterday evening, took a taxi to a hotel and slept for an hour or two, to rise at three am and pay twenty euros to be ferried one and a half miles to Gatwick to queue to get on board. “Sorry about that, mate. It’s the rules you see.” And of course he wouldn’t take a credit or a debit card. I felt such hatred for being so obviously fleeced. We went on in through security and bag searches and queued to get on board. My turn came and the Easy Jet person with the tightly controlled pleasant modulation took my passport and boarding pass. Its four thirty in the morning. I am rarely if ever awake at this hour. Normally I sleep eight to ten hours a night.

“Ah Mr Ryan, I see your passport expires in September.”

My eyes widened in incredulity. What had that to do with anything? It’s the second of April and we are away for two weeks. My boarding pass is scanned. I walk on a bit. I wait for Iza.

“Madam, you have too many bags. You must pack all these bags into one.”

“What difference does that make? The weight is exactly the same,” Iza says.

I too have two bags. I have a shoulder bag and a wheeled bag. But I have been let through without comment.

“Madam, I must ask you to pack all your bags into one.”

“I don’t understand why.”

“Madam please pack your bags into one, or you will have to pay a fine.”

Iza’s boarding pass was taken from her. We were stuck there till we complied.

“This is crazy. It’s makes no sense.”

“Madam you will have to pay a fine.”

“Yes, you would love to charge me more, wouldn’t you?”

Just then someone walks past me, a passenger. The queue is moving again. He is stopped by the second Easy Jet person.

“Sir, sir!”

“Hm?” The man says sleepily.

“Your boarding pass. Let me see your boarding pass!”

Again the nasty imperious tone and the same frozen polite smile. Who are these people, I wonder? What dysfunctional fascist school of people management did they graduate from? What’s this obsession with the letter of all these rules and regulations? Its four forty five in the morning and they are treating us like unmanageable schoolchildren, making us pack our bags properly or we can’t get on the bus to go on our trip. Why are we acquiescing to this? Iza is the only one of us who stood up to this particular deeply stupid arbitrary rule. What’s wrong with me to put up with this? This is no way for any of the hundred and fifty plus passengers to start our holiday. And these two checkers are the gatekeepers to our weeks of holiday.

I squeeze my stuff into one bag. Two computers, six books, notebooks, bottles of ink, clothes, the whole job lot squashed into one small travel bag so heavy it felt like dark matter. Iza went back to get her boarding pass. Naturally she was made to wait. And wait. Eventually she just butted in and asked for it.

“Who is your partner?” Iza was asked after her boarding pass was returned.

“I am,” I said. The Easy jet person and I looked at each other. I took in everything. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Thank you for your co-operation,” Easy Jet Functionary said, not to me but to Iza. As if she had a choice! Its heading for five in the morning and this was the only way she was going to get on the plane.

“Do not re pack your bags into two bags after you leave here,” she was warned.

Suddenly there were other Easy Jet functionaries and airport assistants hovering. We were not compliant passengers. We were trouble, or some such other interpretation.

We walked onto the jet, discussing how awful that particular experience was. Rarely, we muse it’s the event itself, but more how one is treated.

On board Easy Jet functionaries are patrolling. Baggage is checked and rechecked and moved from one place to another. Passengers are smiled at and checked and rechecked and after a time we are all sitting. When we are seated the main Air Host speaks to the passengers after safety announcements and routine greetings. Apparently as I mentioned before, we had a ‘fantastic team’ looking after us.

“Ladies and gentlemen I wanted to once more take this opportunity to welcome you all on board this Easy Jet flight and to as you if there are any or many of you who are flying alone to Zakinthos this morning. We have a mother here up front who is not seated with her child and we cannot take off until this situation is rectified.” Easy Jet Main Host stares down the aisles of this Easy Jet Flight with a near apocalyptic seriousness. There is silence. The silence carries on. Then it clicks into my dim brain that seemingly it is now our fault we cannot take off. This is something the flight staff should easily resolve without big announcements. I look at Iza and roll my eyes in disbelief.

“Is there something I can do?” I ask, suddenly taking responsibility for this issue.

“No,” Iza said.

By then someone else had possibly volunteered. Why? Well, we were getting ready to taxi. At least we said to each other, it will all be over in a few hours. We tried to get some sleep. Thankfully it was.

I see there is a flight from Athens to Zakinthos. I am pretty sure Ryanair do a direct flight from Dublin to Athens. I will have to check that. It seems to be the only way to get here in future, and yes – we will be back.