After watching Simon Reeves’ Cuba on BBC2, the other night (11 December), I imagined his next programme to be Simon Reeves’ Northern Ireland. Readers please note that I have no clue how to write a professional TV script so pedantic corrections are fruitless. Thank you! 

Pre-title sequence: LONG SHOTS OF A ‘PEACE WALL’ IN BELFAST.  CUT TO MEDIUM SHOTS OF SMALL CHILDREN IN BALACLAVAS THROWING PETROL BOMBS AT THE POLICE. PAN OUT TO A GRIM-FACED, SHIVERING SIMON REEVES IN HAWAIIAN SHIRT, SHORTS AND SANDALS (JUST OFF THE PLANE FROM GUANTANAMO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT).

Reeves:  Belfast. 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement and the tragedy continues. Behind me, little children repeat the mistakes of their parents and enter the endless cycle of violence.

CUT TO SHOT OF SMALL BOY THROWING HIS WEE SISTER’S PINK AND BLUE TRIKE INTO A BONFIRE.

I’m here to ask what happened to the peace? And will Northern Ireland ever see the light and join the civilised world? This is Simon Reeve’s Northern Ireland.

SERIES TITLE AND MUSIC.

LONG SHOT OF REEVES WALKING ALONG PEACE WALL.

Reeves: [V/O] This is a peace wall and I’m looking for an opening, some glimmer of hope that I can somehow bring these divided communities together in some kind of dialogue. It won’t be easy but since I visited Cuba last week, the government there gave up the ghost, announced free elections, opened the country up to global capitalism and appointed me as honorary El Presidente.

[CLOSE-UP REEVES TO CAMERA] So you see, nothing is impossible. You just have to offer people free choice and the right to consume.

LONG SHOT, REEVES ARRIVING AT A VERY LOCKED GATE IN THE PEACE WALL.  SMALL BOYS ON BIKES ARRIVE AND SURROUND HIM.

Small boy on bike 1:  It’s lacked mister!  [BBC STANDARD ENGLISH SUBTITLES (SES): “The gate is locked, sir!]

Small boy in bike 2:  Hi mister, lend us yer odds! [BBC SES: “Sir, have you come to free us from economic deprivation and the lack of consumer choice like you did last week in Cuba?”]

Small boy on bike 3: [OVER HIS SHOULDER AS HE SPEEDS AWAY] “I’m callin the boys on you!”  [BBC SES: “I’m going to report you to the proper authorities!”]

Reeves: [SHRUGS SADLY TO CAMERA] What can one do for these children without hope? Well, very little until they understand the meaning of individual responsibility and that, I think, is down to good parenting. I’m going to go knock on a few doors and find out what the parents are doing while their children run riot on the mean streets of North Belfast.

SHAKY HAND-HELD CAMERA FOLLOWS SIMON TO FRONT DOOR OF APPARENTLY RANDOM HOUSE. MAN IN VEST AND SHORTS, PINT IN HAND, OPENS DOOR.

Man in vest: “Och Simon! What about ye? Come on in!” [BBC SES: “Hello Simon. How are you? Welcome to my humble abode!”]

MEDIUM SHOTS OF SIMON BEING WELCOMED INTO LIVING ROOM AND GIVEN A CAN OF BEER. CAMERA PANS IN FOR CLOSE-UP OF MANTELPIECE CLOCK. IT IS 10.30AM.

Simon Reeves: [V/O] This is Jimmy, who lives behind the peace wall. Jimmy is a heart surgeon by profession but must supplement his income as a part-time gambler and alcoholic. He too worries about the children without hope in post-peace process Belfast and agrees with me that, ultimately, it’s the parents who must accept responsibility if their children are to become good and responsible consumers.

Jimmy: “It’s shackin, Simon! Totally shackin! A good clip around the lug is what they need! [TAKES A SLUG FROM HIS PINT, SOME OF IT DRIBBLING DOWN HIS VEST. SITS FORWARD, LOOKS RIGHT AND LEFT AND BECKONS SIMON CONSPIRATORIALLY] As for their parents? One behind the knee, mate! That’ll tighten em!” [BBC SES: “I’m shocked that their parents have abandoned all responsibility. In my humble opinion, both children and parents must learn discipline!”]

Reeves: Do you see any hope for the future, Jimmy?

Jimmy: “Hope? Hope? Nah. We’re down the Lagan on a bubble, mate!” [BBC SES: “I see little hope, sir. But we may settle further down river and create a community where little Protestant boys can hold hands with little Catholic girls and there will be peace and harmony for all time.”]

ENDLESS GUFF FOR THE NEXT 40 MINUTES BUT HERE’S A SUMMARY:

SCENE 3: SIMON VISITS A MOTHER AND TODDLER GROUP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PEACE WALL AND IS SHOCKED TO FIND THAT NOT ONE MOTHER HAS A NECTAR CARD; THOUGH ONE OF THEM TELLS HIM SHE KNOWS A LOT ABOUT CHIP AND PIN TECHNOLOGY, WHICH GOES RIGHT OVER HIS HEAD.

SCENE 4: VISITS A DEPRESSED SANTA AT VICTORIA SQUARE SHOPPING CENTRE AND LECTURES HIM THAT HE SHOULD FEEL LUCKY. IN CUBA, SANTA IS ILLEGAL.

SCENE 5: VISITS CULTURLANN MCADAM O FIAICH ON FALLS ROAD. AMAZED TO FIND THIS ISLAND OF CULTURE AMID SO MUCH DEPRIVATION BUT HAS TO LEAVE EARLY WHEN SUBTITLE MACHINE CRASHES.

SCENE 6: PROVO TAXI LEAVES HIM OFF AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FALLS ROAD.

SCENE 7: TENSE ENCOUNTER WITH GROUP OF UFF VOLUNTEERS IN A SHANKILL PUB. FADE OUT.

FADE IN CLOSING SCENE 8. SIMON IS WHEELED OUT OF CITY HOSPITAL WITH ARMS AND LEGS IN PLASTER AND WITH A BANDAGE ON HIS HEAD. STOPS JUST SHORT OF CAMERA FOR VERY LARGE CLOSE-UP.

Reeves: I arrived to find a city in despair only to discover little islands of hope. Just like in Cuba, I met a people who are slowly waking up to a new dawn of civilisation, consumerism and free choice.  I visited communities stretching hands across the peace wall, not to throw bricks and petrol bombs, but to help each other fill out that credit card application or buy that high definition television online.

SLOWLY AND PAINFULLY RAISES HIS PLASTERED ARMS TO CAMERA

Of course, some people are blind to the opportunities before their very eyes and seek only to destroy. But as those UFF men gave me a thorough beating in a beer cellar on the Shankill Road, they didn’t understand that they were only hurting themselves in the long run. What they didn’t seem to get was that you can’t have a baseball bat in one hand and a shopping basket in the other. In a civilised society there is just one choice: consumerism or death.

LONG SHOT OF SIMON BEING WHEELED INTO AN AMBULANCE AND DRIVEN AWAY.

SERIES TITLES

Perky TV announcer: [V/O] And next week, Simon travels to China and asks, whatever happened the Cultural Revolution? Don’t miss it! It’s a cracker!

END AND FADE.

Academics, students and anyone who  cares about what is happening to Higher Education these days will be interested in this very interesting article at New Left Project by student activist, Feyzi Ismail.  [Click here].

Anyone who has been following the raft of public scandals in Britain in recent years will not only be feeling numbed by it all at by now but will also be struck by the recurrence of a particular buzz phrase: “learning the lessons” or sometimes the variant, “a lessons learned process”.  This seems to have replaced that woeful phrase used to manage the current financial crisis: “We are where we are” and, by implication, “lets move on now rather than looking to see how we got here and whose fault it is.”  Yet both gambits have a virtue in common: in a few words, they fend off questions of responsibility and possibly even punishment. “We are where we are. Let’s learn the lessons, move on and forget all about it”. It’s so easy!

The British Army talked about learning lessons and its lessons learned process in the wake of the Aitken Report into cases of abuse and unlawful killing of civilians in Iraq (2008) and, again, in response to the findings of the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday (2010). South Yorkshire police talked about learning the lessons of the Hillsborough disaster after the publication of the Independent Panel Report in September this year. During the Leveson Inquiry into the press, editors, journalists and politicians talk about learning the lessons of the phone hacking scandal and the corrupt relationships between journalism and politics or journalism and the police. Social services in Wales have today (8 November) reassured the public that they have in place an “over-arching lessons learned process” to “learn the lessons” of the current child abuse scandal that has dominated public debate in the past few weeks. I haven’t yet heard the BBC talk about learning lessons in the wake of the revelations about Jimmy Saville but I am sure readers can think of many other examples of this apparent craze among public figures, bodies and institutions for learning lessons of past wrongs. As it stands, we’ve seen lots of lessons learned in these cases but so far no prosecutions or disciplinary actions.

The key point I want to make here, though, is what all this talk about learning lessons is nothing more than a public relations response to getting caught. I would be rather more impressed if some public individual or institution came clean about some crime or misdemeanour without having to be investigated or exposed. Maybe the government should set up a permanent Public Truth Commission by which guilty public figures and institutions could fess up without fear of disciplinary action or legal prosecution? Alternatively, maybe as a private individual I should adopt the lessons learned strategy? If on some day I’m stopped by the police for speeding or hauled up before the University disciplinary committee for fiddling my expenses, I will bow my head humbly and assure my accusers that there is no need to take punitive measures against me because I have in place an overarching lessons learned process to deal not just with my present wrongdoing but with all those I’m likely to commit in the future. Surely that will make everything okay?  No?

No. That wouldn’t work at all because as a private individual I am subject to the laws of the land and the regulations of my employer. If I am found guilty of a breach of those laws or regulations, I am obliged to accept responsibility and do my time. That’s as it should be. So why is the standard so different in public life?

I can’t believe the news I heard today…David McNarry MLA in the NI Assembly has joined UKIP, the UK Independence Party. While this must be the greatest crisis in Ulster Unionism since Tom Elliott was leader, it’s great news for UKIP because, get this, it makes it “a truly national party” according to its leader,  Nigel Farage.  Truly national, that is, in the sense that the BNP are truly national.  But it’s still good news for democracy in the NI Assembly – I mean, somebody has to be loyal opposition to Jim Allister.

So how has the UUP reacted to this development?  Well I just had a look at the “latest news” section on its website here. There’s  lots of worrying on there – about computerized testing in schools, the proposed resurfacing of Rugby Road in Belfast and angry Ulster farmers but not  a peep about David’s departure. They’ve also airbrushed him out of the photo of their MLAs but you really have to look hard to notice the gap.  I think the UUP need to come to terms with this situation and express it openly; denying bereavement can cause all sorts of psychological problems that could spill over at a later date. In fact, party MLA Michael McGimpsey is worrying that wild salmon stocks in the North are “near extinct”. See that?  A bit of projecting going on there I think.

Yes, the UUP needs some group therapy. It can’t go forward fearing extinction every time a member of the party leaves.

Okay, it’s late at night and I should be really in bed but I’m just recovering from the trauma of watching the opening ceremony for the London Olympics. Am I alone in thinking it was, in the immortal word of one Mr Dizzee Rascal, who himself made an appearance, bonkers? What was it all about? The tree uprooted by a chimney stack from the industrial revolution? The very scary woman with the glasses, on drums?  And the James Bond-Queen Elizabeth routine?? That parachute jump they did was either really funny or a very bad idea. (The Queen could have died! The whole event could have fallen flat on its face along with Her Majesty!) And then that NHS work-out! Feckin’ hell! That was either an inspired piece of political subversion not seen since the days of the Trojan Horse or a truly creepy piece of child exploitation. Again, I’m undecided. Danny Boyle, I think you got a bit carried away, lad. Don’t give up the day job – if you’ve still got one.

But hey! It’s over now. Three or four weeks of “fun” to go. I can’t wait for winter!

 

This was how ITV’s commentator summed up 20, 000 singing Irish fans as the game against Spain drew to a close on Thursday evening (14 June). Though you will note that he didn’t even qualify his observation by saying “Irish fans” or “Ireland’s fans”; just “the Irish”.  I suspect that a lot of Irish people might dismiss this as harmless and not worth getting hot and bothered about. Sure we’re used to all these stereotypes in the British media by now, aren’t we? And aren’t we a very modern, forward-looking people who are generally viewed in very positive terms the world over? Why would we care about a minor wee slip by an ITV commentator running out of cliches?

“They’re happy drunks, the Irish!” – ITV match commentator on Irish fans as Ireland v Spain draws to a sorry end.

But wait! If we think what he said is harmless, then just replace the word Irish with, say, “blacks” or “Asians” or “Aborigines” or “English”.  Would we think that to be harmless or trivial?  Somehow I don’t think so.

Racism isn’t just about defining a whole race or ethnic group in hateful or violent terms. It is also about defining a race/ethnic group as being genetically or culturally inferior in relation to one’s own race/ethnic group.  Indeed, the fact that the stereotype of over 4 million Irish people as drunks should pass without remark is in itself an object lesson of how and why racism works on an unconscious, ideological level and why so many of us give our consent to it by default, by not challenging it when it is explicitly expressed.

I am going to make a complaint to the UK’s broadcast regulator, OfCom, about this and though I am not terribly confident of getting any satisfaction, I’m always open to a pleasant surprise. Watch this space for an update!

SURE IF YOU DIDN’T LAUGH YOU’D CRY. GOOD LUCK TONIGHT, IRELAND! 

UPDATE:  3-1 to Croatia. Spain next, on Thursday and,  barring a major miracle not seen since the airport up at Knock, it’s not looking too good for the boys. But then it’s unfair to load on their shoulders the weight of our hopes and expectations amid the economic turmoil we’re in. Let’s just hope that they make a better account of themselves against Spain and Croatia so that at least we can say they gave it a lash!

England didn’t too bad against France, though. I was especially impressed with Oxlade-Chamberlain – he played some good football and came across very well in his post-match interview: modest, articulate and intelligent.

Best quote so far:  “I don’t fancy James Milner (pause) as a footballer” (John Giles on RTE2).

Best performances so far: Russia and Ukraine.

Star turn so far: Andriy Sevchenko….there’s life in the old dog yet. First goal against Sweden was superb.

And here’s the Apres Match lads on the implications of our defeat to Croatia (RTE2, 10 June).  Their take on Eamon Dunphy is brilliant!

Ireland v Spain,  7.45pm, Thursday 14 June

As the moment of truth approaches, I find myself torn between hard-headed realism ( “It’s Spain for feck’s sake! We’re going to be played off the park!” ) and irrational optimism, a refusal to accept that, at 9.30 tonight, it will be all over for the Boys in Green. As Eamon Dunphy would say, it’s metaphysics baby!

As I write, Croatia has just scored the equaliser against Italy with just 15 minutes to go, which if it stays that way might not be a result that will favour Ireland even if, by miracle, they either draw with Spain or shock the whole of Europe by taking all three points. If we take something from Spain, we don’t want to meet Italy on Monday night with them needing all three points from that game.

So how will it be tonight? Will it be something like this…

Or will it be more like this…

I suspect the first option and fear the second. But I’m going to watch anyway and if there is a miracle, I’ll get very pissed. What else can you do? I’ll leave you with this Spanish panel’s analysis of the last time the teams met a competitive match – at the World Cup 2002…

Ireland v Spain: The Aftermath

Well, it’s all over barring the shouting at the Italy game on Monday.  As I feared, the game against Spain turned out to be more the Pamploma bull run than a classic bull fight; like when Ireland took Spain all the way to penalties in the second round of the World Cup 2002. Ah! Those were the days!

But Spain and Ireland are very different propositions now than they were ten years ago. Spain now have some of the greatest players in the world, play wonderful football and have little to fear from any  of the other national teams in Euro 2012; while Ireland, alas,  are seriously lacking in talent and creativity. On leading the team to qualification for the finals, Trappatoni talked a lot about loyalty towards the squad that got us thus far – that it would be unfair to drop some of those players for more exciting, creative young talent. Admirable in principle perhaps but is it honest? I think it’s more about sticking to his system of ultra-defensive football, a system that does not require or need creative playmakers. In fact, I don’t think Trapp particularly trusts or likes such players – not on the evidence so far anyway.  Quite how he’s going to lead this current, surely demoralised squad through a very tough World Cup 2014 qualifying group is beyond me.

So it’s a only matter of pride on Monday and the opportunity to at least  have a say on the final outcome of the group. That would be ironic – Ireland and its Italian manager checking out of the championship  and heading to the airport together with Italy. (Is there room on the bus for Michael D., lads?)  But to go home with no points on the board at all would cap a truly miserable experience for squad and fans alike.

I’ll be back after the game against Italy but in the meantime, a message to Ireland from Angela…