Observe, Grasshopper, and Learn.

Archbishop Martin spoke recently about the changed nature of violence among young men. He looked back to a more innocent time, when young lads fought, as they always will and one, or perhaps both of them, emerged with a bloody nose. There were boundaries to what was allowed. To cross those boundaries brought shame and contempt. To kick an opponent was the hallmark of a coward. ‘When did this change?’ he asked plaintively, appalled as he is, like any reasonable person, by the prevalence of extreme violence  on our streets.

The late Sam McAutrey remarked wryly, that the recruitment of young men into the army in World War Two, kept them off the streets and out of trouble. No doubt they learned transferable skills in the war, which they could apply in later life. We all learned from post war comics, how to deal with sentries like the Commandos did, silently and efficiently. The Germans seemed to recruit blind and deaf soldiers, specifically as sentries. The enemies went down in flames or up in explosions, in the graphic art of The Wizard, The Hotspur and The Adventure. That was o.k. though. They had asked for it. ‘Our chaps’ fought fair and square, by the rules of war. In the final analysis, a punch to the jaw was usually enough to sort out any foreigner. Or was that all in fairy tales?

Enter the Dragon!. We were in Drogheda one Saturday afternoon, minding our own business, when the cinema disgorged a crowd of young lads into the street, from the matinee show, the first ever Bruce Lee, Kung Fu epic. It was as if buckets of yelling spiders had been emptied out all around us. Satisfied customers. They kicked and jabbed with the appropriate blood-chilling yells. A good time was had by all. There was something different here. Bruce Lee was undoubtedly a foreigner. That made his kicking and hitting below the belt, understandable. He could levitate, unlike the kids in the street. He represented the forces of good, just like the knights of chivalric legend. He always won, just like the good guys in the Wild West films. Since then we have been overwhelmed by  practitioners of the martial arts, judo, ju-jitsu, kendo, karate, tae-kwando, origami, sushi. You are nobody if you can’t kick your opponent on the head or levitate onto roof tops. No holds are barred.

Gus Mulligan a Commandant in the army and a good neighbour, occasionally gave us boxing gloves to work off some steam. We strictly observed the Queensberry rules. Ollie Coulter, a bit of a wag, put his snake belt around the top of his head. Every boy had a snake belt, the coolest fashion accessory at the time. ‘No hitting below the belt,’  he insisted, as he weaved and jabbed, feinting with his left and following up with a devastating right…At least that was what he said in his running commentary. We fell about, laughing. Yet there was some moral force in the belt. I found out later what the belt was. A medical student, twice  my size, was throwing his weight around at the bathing place. ‘Did you ever hear of the solar plexus belt?’ ‘No.’  ‘Come here and I’ll show you.’ Knowledge is power. He showed me all right. I wish that I was a black belt fukushima expert at the time, but Bruce had not yet burst upon the scene. I wish I could have levitated and landed a few devastating blows on top of Ollie Coulter’s head, come to think of it. No, I’m glad I couldn’t do that. Ollie made us laugh. It was all in sport.

Do you remember when the notion of a professional foul came into the language of sport? Is that an oxymoron or what? Is it a defence in law?  I remember. I saw J.P.R. Williams, a god of Welsh rugby,  fell Mike Gibson with a punch, thereby averting a certain try. He justified it as a professional foul. A what? A case has been made that athletes should be allowed to use whatever drugs they want… and the Devil take the hindmost. Fortius, citius, altius.  Stronger, Faster and as High as a kite. The hindmost is most likely the clean competitor. The damned fool. What about a professional lie, as distinct from perjury? Lord Denning cast doubt on the capacity of black people and immigrants to serve on juries or practice law. In the case of The Birmingham Six, he ruled that their action against the police, would, if it succeeded, ‘open an appalling vista…’  No ‘reasonable person’ would want to open that can of worms. Even a Law Lord can stoop to a professional foul. We call it ‘Post truth’ nowadays.

Lord Queensberry curbed the excesses of The London Prize-Ring rules (anything goes except biting and gouging) with his generally accepted rules of boxing. These could not be applied to dog fighting, cock fighting, bull and bear baiting, so these sports remain illegal.  Significantly, the champions win enormous belts, big enough to cover the solar plexus. They do not, of course, wear these belts during the contests, especially not on the head, despite Ollie Coulter’s best efforts. Even amateur Olympic boxers are not allowed to wear protective headgear, despite the current concern about concussion in sport.

I admire some things about Conor McGregor. He dresses impeccably. He is clever and highly articulate. He turned the disadvantage of unemployment into an opportunity. He is a shrewd businessman. He is dedicated to his calling. He has a charismatic influence, especially over young men. He makes a lot of money. He tells the truth. ‘I’m involved in a violent and dirty business…’ He said this on being presented with his award for R.T.E. Sports Personality of the Year, as decided by a public vote. Personality, yes, but Mixed Martial Arts/ Ultimate Fighting/ Cage Fighting is not sport. People die.

Is it any wonder, Grasshopper and Your Grace, that young men bring what they observe and learn, onto the streets, particularly late at night and after a few drinks? They are all Bruce Lee in their own minds. The man who made the most money out of this phenomenon was a Hong Kong film maker, Run Run Shaw. Possibly the best advice when confronted by ninjas, dragons or tattooed Viking berserkers in a late night food outlet. Run! Run like hell!


Nothing personal; just business.


There is some nice ‘artisan’ furniture there at a cursory glance. We could strip it down or repaint it to our taste. It would would add an authentic touch to the refitted cottage. That would make a nice holiday home, with ‘stunning views’ of the wild Irish scenery. We’ll keep the thatch of course, if the bailiffs don’t tear it all off to discourage the former occupants from sneaking back in. Delightful, colourful peasants indeed, but it will be better if they beetle off to America. They could possibly get a job with Henry Ford in Detroit. What was it Henry said about history? Ah, yes. “History is bunk.” Now there’s a thought–bunk beds for the boys when we come down for the weekend. We feel sorry for the people of course, but they shouldn’t have got themselves into this situation. Thank God there was no wailing mother with a baby in her shawl. That can be terribly distressing. It can almost put you off snapping up a bargain. All strictly legal as you can see from the constabulary in attendance. I love those old whitewashed walls. I hope there’s no woodworm in that chest or whatever it is, on the right. You can find some unexpected treasures in these old cottages.

Fig -2

There is an insatiable appetite nowadays for ‘Nordic noir’ fiction and films. I imagine that the tourist bodies (unhappy choice of words there) tear their hair out when yet another film or novel emerges telling us that the neighbours in some bleak and windswept part of the country are in fact, incorrigible serial killers. Poor Inspector Wallender  bought a small house in the country to get away from it all. The gardener unearthed a decomposed body in his back garden. The beetles always give the game away. As we all know from forensic pathology books and films, the beetles are the first responders to a corpse. Actually, that one is colymbetes, the swimmer, oarsman and aviator all in one. Nothing sinister there; not one of the ghoulish ones to delight the forensic sleuth. I shared a dinner table once with a forensic pathologist. I admired how he dissected his meat into neat little squares, (all of them numbered. No that’s a lie.) They tell me that he has a great slab-side manner. Perhaps I’m totally wrong about the tourists. Perhaps we all want to see where Wallender found the corpse. The garden consisted of dark, wet clay, adjacent to a field of dark, wet clay with a dark, sinister tractor ploughing back and forth in the gloom. Like the shuttle in some doom-laden loom. Hey, some assonance there. I should write this noir stuff.

We learned a lot of bunk in school but there were some bright episodes. During the Land War people did not, by common consent, take over the property of an evicted tenant. Captain Boycott gave the language a new word. There was a sense of solidarity, reinforced by anathema, public disdain and the explicit threat of violence. “If he’s a good man I’ll shoot him for five shillin’s. If he’s a bad man, I’ll shoot him for nothin’.” The “Grabber” and the “Gombeen Man” (the profiteer)were the lowest forms of life. The campaign changed the agrarian landscape. The Absentee Landlord and his Agent were the villains of the piece. The estates of the Ascendancy, generally seen as dastardly foreign oppressors, were gradually broken up by acts of parliament. The ownership of the land passed to those who worked it.

So that was that and they all lived happily ever afterwards. Except that the papers tell a different story.


 This man’s prize herd was sold to meet a debt. ‘Shouldn’t have got himself  etc’. Purchasers, home-grown, not dastardly foreign oppressors, came from far and wide, smelling a bargain. There is an Amazonian vulture with nostrils as wide a jet engine air intakes, that can smell a corpse from twenty miles away. He cruises over the canopy, always on the alert. His sight is poor but boy! does he smell! They came in darkness and fog. They made a killing and beetled off with their loot. Some neighbours appealed  for decency and patience. To no avail. He looks like a boxer on the ropes or even, at a stretch, a man crucified. It’s all strictly legal. The Sheriff said that she must execute (sic) any orders that come to her office. A distant relative of mine lost a farm  that had been in his family for centuries..’Shouldn’t have got …etc.’  He was driven to despair and violence by the experience. What happened to all that solidarity? Was that all bunk too? I heard an Irish artist explaining that although he lived and worked in Budapest, he would not snap up a few bargain apartments to rent out to Hungarians. He had no desire to become an Absentee Landlord. ‘We have a long enough tradition of those lads in Ireland.’ He missed a trick there. No doubt the vulture fund managers are on the case.

Human nature is a complex business. We learned that the last public hanging in Ireland took place in 1829, at Stephen’s Green. A good day was had by almost all. The practice was discontinued to spare public sensibilities. It was described as barbaric. It was moved indoors. There would be no point in having public hangings nowadays as nobody would go to watch. Our innate sense of decency would be outraged. Anyway, we could watch it on Youtube and we have other entertainments (strictly legal) to provide thrills and enjoyment, even for the kiddies, like bus tours of sites made famous by terrorist bombs. I read that in the run-down areas of American cities, evictees are offered a choice,’Truck or kerb?’ If you can pay for storage the bailiffs will arrange to move you effects.  If not, your property stays on the kerb. They would say ‘curb’. I hope that history does not repeat itself for the descendants of those poor Irish emigrants. With luck it will only happen to somebody else. They shouldn’t have….etc. etc.

I really shouldn’t read the paper.