Saturday, 29 March 2014

When two myths collide

Even without my cultural academic hat on, I would roll around the floor laughing at this nonsense (see ) in which two delusions, almost equidistant from contemporary society, go all handbags at dawn.
So, as Harry Enfield would say, which myth is more important, religion or heritage? Only one way to find out......F-I-I-G-G-H-H-T!!!!
Just to put off-island readers in the picture... this is not really a church, and Cregneash is not really a village; together they are more of a film or theatre set. Until somebody in government paid a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum, then saw the potential of the “living museum” concept in the Thatcher era, Cregneash was just a farm next to a semi-abandoned chapel, known only to Gaelic language pilgrims because Ned Maddrell (a Manx speaker whose chance introduction to an Irish language academic in the 1940's kicked off attempts to save Manx Gaelic) used to live nearby.
And ever since the beginning of the village's commodification for Manx touristic purposes there have always been historically inaccurate “improvements” to the church to make it look more “authentic”. In reality, like any other working church, it is a mish-mash of odd little bodge-ups according to liturgical and national fashions of times when money, labour or materials were available.
In the late 1980's, and again in the late 1990's, my job took me to every tiny chapel and church on the island. Most, however threadbare, at least have an air of being loved and used. Someone regularly running a duster over the pews and brasses, flowers changed, scattered hymn books and bibles indicating that acts of worship actually take place.
Cregneash chapel, by comparison to most, is more like a storeroom for a few religious props. When I last had to know, it held an evensong every couple of weeks but no Sunday morning communion, because the potential congregation refused to attend when tourists were milling round the museum proper (i.e. when it might just have drawn in visiting Christians eager for a rural religious experience).
The only time in recent decades either looked well was when they became a fictitious Irish village for the film Waking Ned. For which the church had subtle changes made so it seemed more like a rural Catholic church (which it has never been) and the village telephone box was painted green to look like a proper Irish one, and was not repainted for years – even at a time when the Baillie Scott design of it was being played up in a row over whether to keep it.
Why was it never repainted? I'm told because a nationalistic element within Manx Heritage at the time preferred it green so that it wouldn't look English, even though telephone boxes on the island throughout history have always been red, like the postboxes.
That tells you all you need to know about the difference between “history” and “heritage”, just as the single figure congregation's rows with “church management” reveal how wide the gap is between Manx Christianity as an inclusive act of faith and an exclusive means of cultural practice.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

We are not serious

Thanks to clicking, out of idle curiosity, on a chance link to a vaguely familiar name that came up in a computer search this week I had a vision of what might have been.
As I've mentioned once or twice, in a former life – over 30 years ago – I was involved in the world's unlikeliest clown troupe. In Belfast, at the height of “the troubles”. But in 1983, due to several devastating incidents which happened within weeks of each other, I just had to escape. It was meant to be temporary, but on the very morning I was supposed to take a plane back there to discuss a new project I had a severe panic attack of a kind I have never experienced before or since, and could not board the plane.
I later recovered the confidence to fly to visit a friend in the UK, during the year of the Miners Strike and Battle of the Beanfield, and saw a country I no longer recognised and no longer wanted to be a citizen of. To cut the story short, it was 1988 before I ventured off-island again, and then only to travel to Israel at the start of the Intifada, a two month adventure which (for reasons totally unconnected to the political situation in Israel) finally gave me the impetus to break back into a satisfying profession and life.
From the odd thing I saw on TV, I knew the Belfast projects were doing marvellous things, but never managed to get back into contact with old colleagues, even when in Belfast for a weekend of atheist subversion in 2005 and my hosts tried to help. So all these years I have wondered what happened, especially to my co-founder of the world's unlikeliest clown troupe.
Then, this week, that chance click on a vaguely familiar name revealed an astonishing story. My co-founder (then a startlingly individualistic 18 year old who, like me, left school unqualified at 16 having been told by teachers she would never amount to anything) carried on clowning, and other remarkable things. This should have been no surprise because, as I may have also mentioned, the whole point behind the clown troupe was that if you are in a hell-hole where conventional wisdom says you cannot do anything, you may as well go all out doing what you love, because even if you fail you will have had far more fun than conforming.
Then, in the late 1990's, she decided to take a B.A. in Archaeology, graduated with a first, went on to gain her Ph.D. in 2005 and to contribute to academic journals on a topic on which she is now almost Ireland's only authority. Remember again – written off as a no-hoper at school, living in a city where most of her generation were condemned to unemployment anyway according to the conventional wisdom. She's now, as far as I can gather, living happily in Galway, surrounded by other interesting and unique people and in every way defying the false logic of those who run these septic isles and think we should shut up and accept our place in their scheme of things.
It's odd enough running away to join a circus. Being one of only two people so individual they ran away from a circus is even rarer. Knowing the other one then, and knowing now that she went on to defy the odds (the norms?) for over 30 years, is an absolutely unique pleasure.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Some Manx jokes

I saw this today (see )and cracked up laughing.
It's not just the idea of Peter Karran (nice guy, but not the most articulate man on the island – and probably even the least articulate in the House of Keys) saying anyone needs to learn English. It's not even the usual mongoloid mutters of support from semi-literates married to their cousins.
Story 1 – a lady, not from here, works as a voluntary literacy tutor on arriving on the island while waiting for job offers to come in. She applies for a government position teaching English as a Foreign Language and gets a written reply saying they want a native English speaker. It's so full of spelling and grammatical errors that for the next year she uses it to teach her Manx born pupils. This gets back to some local teachers, who mention that at least two Manx Education Ministers, even in their careers, have been blacklisted from presenting Speech Day prizes because they had such limited vocabulary that young kids would snigger.
Story 2 – me and same lady in Ramsey Co-op a few years back, chatting in Manx to the late Freddie Cowle – last of the original Manx language teachers and then very close to death. A local bigot behind starts grumbling to his wife on the lines of 'If you can't speak the language...' With a straight face, this lady asks Freddie (in fluent Manx) 'Do you think he knows there's a boat in the morning?'
Freddie doubles up with laughter. From his wife (a personal friend) I happen to know this was the last good laugh he had before he died soon after, because he was still laughing about it when he got home and she asked him what the big joke was.
Story 3 – Me and a carload of Hungarians passing through Randolph Quirk's birthplace, Cronk-y-Voddy. As we go along the straight, the whole carload, in true 'Wayne's World' style, are screaming 'We're not worthy, we're not worthy' at the tops of our voices while trying to bow in homage towards Lambsfell. Luckily there were no other cars around.
Actually, Story 3 is only for English language academics and my European readers in particular. Nobody under the age of 50 on the Isle of Man would understand the joke.
Which is what makes it twice as funny.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Licence to mug?

Following in the same spirit as the last post, Paul Stott, a Hackney libertarian I briefly corresponded with a few years back, suggests that where laws are being routinely broken then this is evidence of bad law, not bad behaviour.
He made this observation recently on his excellent blog (see and by example notes that: “If you fail to pay your subscription to Virgin or Sky, Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch will cut you off. Fail to pay your subscription to the BBC, and you can be fined up to £1,000, and ultimately go to prison.”
And it gets worse, because 107 people have been jailed for non-payment in the last two years. In fact, this nonsense takes up an astonishing ONE IN TEN UK court cases, and is responsible for 12% of all court prosecutions.
As a recently closed petition to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport argues, the TV Licence Fee hits poorer people disproportionately, and makes all of us pay for 'free' services already funded by advertising. The petition (see ) suggests replacing TV licences with a voluntary subscription. The commercial element of the BBC could then be scrambled for non-subscribers, leaving public service content free to air.
As of yet, this has not spread to the island, but mostly because threats by the local agents were enough to make us pay up, and certainly not because any of our spineless politicos have pointed out that the whole mugging exercise is a disgrace or even that the money could be better spent locally instead of being meekly handed over to the Brits. A few half-hearted mutterings have been heard to the effect that Manx residents pay for UK services which anyone in the Irish Republic can also receive for free, also that when less and less people watch TV directly via traditional means the whole thing is a bit of a joke.
From my time in Northern Ireland, I remember that during the 'troubles' absolutely nobody in nationalist areas paid what they regarded as a tax imposed by an occupying government. I also remember that while the armoured cars were everywhere available for the job, not one TV was seized and not one person went to court. In the face of refusal to pay by some 40-50% of the population, a quasi-governmental broadcasting organisation simply stopped making an unreasonable demand.
So, will we sign up for an all-island boycott of the 'TV tax'? Will we lobby our political unrepresentatives to tell Westminster the deal is off? Or will we continue to put up with bad law from another country?
Hmm, thought so.

Smoking dumb

Well, as this idiot-fest demonstrates (see ), the island's politicians and public health wonks (or perhaps they now prefer 'wellness facilitators') are intent on following the UK in some bizarre dance of the headless chickens.
I'm not sure what amuses me more, that public 'consultants' get paid good salaries not to do elementary fact-checking, or that the great Manx public (or at least that underemployed cross-section of it which hangs out on ' local news' sites) can waste all day griping cluelessly but not once think to look up the 'study' in question. For example here (see ).
But then, democracy and informed choice are alien concepts to the island, and an off-island owned press which is only here to serve their government and private sector advertisers - and which is also fast losing the hard copy circulation which props that up (see ) - needs as many chuckleheads as possible clicking aimlessly as often as possible in order to justify their advertising rates, I suppose. It matters not that they read pure garbage, spout pure garbage and in every other way behave like the kind of no-hopers who have few future employment prospectives unless they can round up enough other losers to get elected.
Other than giving updates to off-island libertarians who - until a week or two ago - saw the island as a small oasis of sanity within the British Isles I doubt I will get animated enough to worry either.
In fact, it would probably be hypocritical for me to intervene anyway. I long ago accepted that the Manx democratic process is a lie, that Manx civil servants in reality only ever 'work' for those who make it worth their while and therefore that Manx laws or regulation which cannot be enforced never are.
Ho hum. Business as usual then.