Tuesday, 17 July 2018

OAK AND STONE remnant 3


The siting of a city on a river is a contingent thing. Many confluences, promontories, bends and sheltered lagoons have not seen urban growth. Have not seen human settlement even. Or if they have, then, within a flicker of historical time, such settlements have vanished to leave post-hole markings in mud and stone, scattered shards of dun pottery and obscure coins that flummox scholars. Such sites become the playgrounds of earnest archeologists, while being continuously preyed upon by the ceaseless silting and unsilting of the river itself.
Not far from the walled city there is one such site that holds its name in the modern road that runs behind it, Dunnalong Road. The site, in Irish, is Dún na Long, translated to English as the fort of the ships. There are no ships there now. Once a major trading post, it is now a marshy bank where herons stilt-walk among the reeds. Bristly fish come and go in their circumspect lives. It is a place of quiet and calm, separated by no more than three fields from the major road where traffic grumbles up a hill, awkward gear changes and tyre squealing marking the presence of a climbing and over-taking lane. A pantechnicon coughs its asthmatic engine, then harrumphs over the final rise. Boy racers, two by two, descend full-pelt, screeching to slow at the traffic lights beside the petrol station, just where Dunnalong Road begins, before squirming their souped-up two-door sleekers into parkings in front of the Open 24 shop, behind the pumps, to replenish their stores of pop, fags, gum, phone credit, pastilles and dolly mixtures.
But by the river there are only the sounds of the gentle suck-suck of the water at the banks and the secrets whispered lightly among the reeds. There is little evidence now of the castle built by the O'Neill clan in the 17thcentury. There is little evidence of the renewed fortifications put in place by Sir Henry Dowcra, who's soldiers drove out the O'Neills and their families. No amount of red brick fragments, clay pipes, lead shot and shards of pottery will bring these people back, though they had docks, a brew house, horse-stalls, a market-place, houses and emplacements for cannon.
The river takes as it gives. The pushing and shoving that goes on between men and women in acts of business, love and war amount to no more than the debris found in a ditch or the burnings in an ash-pit. 

Sunday, 1 July 2018


‘What is really killing us now is blindness.’

BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago is an extraordinary and disconcerting novel. The conceit that people go mysteriously blind may be lifted from the 1951 John Wyndham sci-fi classic, The Day of the Triffids, but forty years later, in 1995, the Portuguese Nobel Prize Laureate, Jose Saramago used a mysterious blindness, and the collapse of order that flowed from it, as a socio-political allegory for the rise of solidarity and hope amidst the collapse of civilisation. 

And for the telling of a right good yarn.

BLINDNESS takes place in a mesh of power, appetites and fears. Many people hope. Some plan. Others panic. No one prays. An earnest acceptance comes through, more stoic than religious.

There are no names for characters and places. The era is contemporary. Computers and sophisticated organisations - civil, military, commercial and governmental - are involved. All fail, when the blindness, a loss of sight to ‘a sea of whiteness’, strikes randomly and then, as a contagion, affects all the city and country.

Being set in an Anywhere that could be Everywhere, BLINDNESS could be situated in the small and labyrinthine streets that rise and fall from the main square around the cathedral of St Cecilein Albi. Saramago was a Portuguese writer, who lived in the Azores for many years, working in light similar to that found in Albi, a small city in south-west France, during the Feast of St. John in late June.

The story line follows a small group held together by The Doctor and The Doctor’s Wife. She is the most important character in the story and unique in the world of the book. She can see.

After the initial afflictions, the blind are quarantined in an old asylum. The novel recounts the collapse of order among the inmates in terrifying and gruesome conditions. The trading of women for food is the nadir that prompts stirring discussions of revolt against the men who have corralled the food. Violent action leads to the overthrow of the rapists and the destruction of the asylum by fire. The inmates break out and return to the city now devastated by the chaos wrought by blindness. They join the rest of the population in the search for food, shelter, home and lost loved ones in the midst of an apocalypse.

The First Blind Man and The Wife of the First Blind Man, members of the small group the reader follows,find their old flat up a narrow street, which could be in Albi, yes. Here Saramago unleashes one of the book’s great twists, whenthe fabulous meets the mundane to create something extraordinary – literature – in the sort of cameo-appearance Hitchcock made in his films.

In the final sections of the book, as people roam the streets searching for food and shelter, the small group led by The Doctor’s Wife, is joined by one of the dogs who roam the streets. It is a moment of mutual domestication and a rare instance of the appearance of ‘crusties’ in international literature.

The sequence where three women – Saramago relates them to the Three Graces – wash themselves and all the groups dirty clothes and footwear in a raging downpour of rain, is a relief and a benediction, full of pagan sensibility, ironic metaphysics and jocular folk phrases that deepen the joy of the women’s experience.

Later, The Old Man with the Eye-patch bathes alone. He experiences someone cleaning his back. His reason tells him it must be The Doctor’s Wife, but Saramago says that The Old Man with the Eye-patch does not believe in reason and thus joins the fabulous with the mundane once more, in lives no longer ordinary.

There are many such twists and turns of ardent beauty as the book courses to its end. It gallops through a scene in a church – the cathedral in Albi? - where acts of exultant blaspheming transform the tragedy of the world into a human ecstasy of the spirit, as Saramago writes ‘ultimately God does not deserve to see’.

All across Europe mid-summer fires have been lit for centuries. The fires at the feast of St. John are an example. The bonfires on 12thJuly in Northern Ireland are another example, slightly later than mid-summer due to the vagaries of papal calendars and the colonial depredations of Dutch and English kings. 

In Albi, the fire isLe Feu deSt Jean, litin front of the great brick cathedral of St Cecile. She is the patron saint of music in the Christian tradition and there are musicians and dancers in the square, organised by devotees of the language and culture of Occitan. Albi is very much in modern France, but on this night an ancient pagan ritual of earth, fire, dark and water, with people eating and drinking in family and friendship groups, small groups as in BLINDNESS, is enacted to celebrate and to stimulate the sun.

Food stalls are arranged around the Cathedral square. We enjoy savoury pancakes and aligot, with local sausage. We drink wine and beer. A band plays and sings in Occitan, surprisingly vital for a dead language. The brick edifice of the Cathedral, both citadel and church, acclaimed by UNESCO as a beacon of world heritage, looms over us all, reddening further, then darkening as daylight leaves the scene to stars and an ill-formed milky-white moon.

The Cathedral towers above the square as power-over, but the Le Feu de Saint Jean event spreads out as power-with among the descendants of the men and women who fired the terra cotta bricks from Tarn river clay and gave us the built heritage we admire and preserve.

When darkness falls, a parade of children, each carrying a lighted brand, accompanied by parents and guardians, enters the square and make its way directly to the pile of pine branches and timber arranged in the classic teepee form. No more than three or four metres high, this is not the dangerously gigantic pyre seen in parts of Northern Ireland, built rigidly and squarely of stacked wooden pallets that create a furnace, often filled with tyres and old mattresses and topped with political images.

In Albi, the brazier is modest and sylvan, set in its own square sand-box and railed off by tape. A single fire-appliance is parked discretely under the entrance steps to the cathedral.

Did The Boy With The Squint from BLINDNESS step forward with the others to create the light?

Light is central to BLINDNESS; the absence of it in darkness and the vehemence of it in the contagion that has everyone unsighted in a sea of milky whiteness. Except The Doctor’s Wife, who sees through all. She is the one we follow in the book (and in the film). Why is she not blind? Why her, above everyone else? Perhaps it is as The Doctor says, that we were never blind, we just did not see. Is she some latter-day chosen one, like Mary and Cecile, virgins mysteriously elevated to motherhood and sainthood? The Doctor’s Wife is more of a secular angel, more nurse than nun, more earth-rooted than heaven-bent.

There is a portrait of a doctor by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec in the museum that houses his work in Albi. He has the sedate countenance a reader might assign to The Doctor in BLINDNESS. The museum is housed in the brick palace built and rebuilt by Bishops to accompany the Cathedral. Both buildings are manifestations of religious and civil power melded together. Sited on the banks of the river Tarn, they were built as bastions against the heresies of the Cathars arriving from Carcasonne, Castres and Bezier. They present an illusion of order.

As the light from the fire of Le Feu de St Jean dies down, the Cathedral and the palace retreat into darkness. The people revel in the heat from the glowing embers and from each other. Sonorous pipes, thrilling flutes and resonant drums play melodies and rhythms that are ancient and timeless.

Is The Doctor’s Wife among the crowd, seeing more than all of us?

BLINDNESS is breath-taking. Jose Saramago is a stylist in the sturdy sense that a master bricklayer is. There is build, lift and height in the writing. There is great flow and pace as sentences race one into another to create ramparts, arches and walls of story. Dialogues run in and out of themselves as speakers debate, harangue, humour, absolve, love and frighten each other in extended sentences with no speech marks, only commas, to guide the reader, who is swept along as an angel might abseil down the curvedwall of Albi Cathedral to join the revellers in the square. 

There are angels inside the Cathedral, a plaster horde of them, ranged above the seats in the choir, where prelates and priests sat. The plaster angels are colourfully painted, as befits their status. Now they gaze upon tourists, who sit in the seats that once held clerics, audio aids offering guidance to the history, architecture and clericalism of the Cathedral, glued to their ears.

The plaster angels are blind.

Film version:

Monday, 18 June 2018

OAK AND STONE remnant 2


You are in a painting in a book, an image from the past, a man, in burnt umber tunic and breeches, walking along a sandy beach in the direction of a walled city that rises from the beach and the marshes, in ramparts of stone, behind which fine houses are clustered. Cheek by jowl, they rise to the highest point of the island city, where a grand, square cathedral sits prominent as a head-dress on a bride above the castellated chimneys and the regular streets and gardens.

It is an idealised image, of course. As you will know.

The man is tiny in respect of the city rising above him and which seems to be his destination. Or perhaps he is making for the low, thatched cottage that sits snugly within the walls of its own garden field at the end of the bog road that leaves a gate in the city walls and runs to the beach where the imprint of the man's toughened, bare feet dry promptly on the hardened clay, this glorious June day, as you return from fishing.

For it is you. Oak and stone. Present at all times in the story; there, you carry a wattle or an ash plant, perhaps a pole you use to reach the net you place across the mouth of the Penny Burn to entice and secure the salmon and the sea trout that assemble there. You view the gulls who squawk when you arrive. They flounce away, then confidently return when they see your back recede in the direction of the walled enclosure they know as a source of scraps and thrown objects.

You are oak and stone and it is an oaken switch you carry. Strong and lean, cut from the ground as a sapling, trimmed tight by your blade, now smoothed and oiled by your hands and the fish grease you toil through. Yes, you are oak. Strong and supple. Pliable and firm.

Your tread is purposeful and singular. You are on the advance. There are matters to which you must attend.

There, off the bottom end of the painting, only seen through shifts of space and time, another man stands, on an unused jetty of steel and concrete, astride a sundial, testing June shadows, close by where gulls define abstract line drawings in the air in swoops, hovers, dive and landings. This man, in suede, not umber, checks a pulse on the side of his head and looks sternly at the river corrugating in front of him, where the Penny Burn syrups out to meet the great flow of the Foyle. He stands on the raised metal letters and configurations of the sundial, his own shadow cast obliquely across the timepiece. When he turns to face back towards the city, he sees the quays, the riverside walk, the buildings that press hard to the water's edge. He even sees you, always there, your dark umber tunic a tiny sail in the air, your oak switch aloft your right shoulder. You are wearing a hat, almost a bonnet, to bring focus as you stare through water into your nets, thrashing with river life and sustenance. To garner shade in the June light of an earlier time.

What do you hope for as you progress to the city? Will the city deliver your dreams? Or will it dash them?

Thursday, 7 June 2018

OAK AND STONE: remnant 1

As ever oak or stone was sound

Paulina, A Winter's Tale, Act 2, Scene 3
William Shakespeare

Formed as a rivulet, merely a trickle before that, sprung from a cleft in mossy rocks, tumbling into life on the sky mountains, the river is an artery that flows its sap through the heart of the city it began and causes to grow.
This is a city between hills that are no more than elevated ground on either bank of the river. If you look closely along the river, as it creates its own course, you will find sparse and occasional stands of the great tree that has deep roots in the geography of the city. It has further, deeper roots in two -ologies it runs through: geology and mythology.
If you follow this story you will prepare yourself to sweep along with the river and its -ologies. The landmarks and the myths will be your beacons and your guides, your compasses, sat navs, maps, gps and grid references. You will swim, cycle, walk, rest, run, amble, bolt and pause. As you might in any city on a river, for Bosnians say Grad bez riek nie grad. A city without a river is not a city. And are you all not Bosnians, war-torn, ancient, groping into a future as a grilse breasts a great river, throwing off the salty tang of its birth, droplet by droplet?
You will journey with others, some of whom are not aware that they are on the same journey as you, because they are bounded by the limits of this book. But you, you have no such limits.
Your branches reach everywhere and your twigs sprout green in the spring. You drop sere, serrated leaves when cold, damp nights prevail.
You are oak. If you find a stand of such trees in the Autumn of a year, below your feet you will crunch acorns into the loamy mulch. This is good, provided your tread is not too firm, for the pressing of acorns into humus is the means by which growth is alerted to begin. The seed reservoir of the world – the pitted, hoary nut – is the fraught guarantee that new trees will be.

Your footing of the acorns into the loam is essential. As essential as holding and reading this book. It is your passage through these pages - are they not made from the fibres of trees? - that is the act of generation and growing.
You will know. You are toothless and young; rooted and rootless; reaching and fixed; sheltering and open; resolute and frail.
You are oak, indeed. 
And you are stone. 
Bedded to rock formed by pressures on muddy plains. Aeons of time and material founded an ancient, schist shelving that rose from earth masses that stretched out of an icy north, driven from the round pate of the world by relentless sheets of glaciers moving minutely and resolutely in millennia, then sheared and clashed in plates so tectonic the heavens bellowed with their grinding, leaving rolling hills and meandering river valleys always aching towards the sea, often faltering and bound, but always managing to reach the ocean, in an eye-pleasing topography, edged by gravel and sand pits, their moraine-leavings, the ground from which you formed the mortar of your life. 
You are schist. Laced with mica and feldspar, quartz and hornblende, graphite, chlorite and talc.
You are stone. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2018


Roddy Doyle takes the literary notion of the ‘unreliable narrator’ to its ultimate end with a Walter Mitty-type character it is very hard to like, mainly because Victor Forde doesn't like himself. The book Victor Forde fails to write in ‘Smile’ is another literary conceit Roddy Doyle brings before the reader. The core of the story is loneliness, assuaged by middle-aged fantasies. The foundation of the story is rape.

With the recent reactions surrounding the alleged rape on trial in Belfast, Roddy Doyle's novel is a timely delving into the concept of consent and of the consequences when it is not present. Consent is a fragile concept, readily broken, mis-used, mis-understood and trodden underfoot. In the case of a man raping a woman, it is wholly askew to ask if the woman consented to the sexual intercourse in the first place. Already there is a yawning field of doubt for bad justice and worse law to plough. It is as if the woman has no agency but to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to what a man asks her to accept in matters of sexual congress. This is the model of sexual relations most favoured by heterosexual pornographers. It is not consent that is being tested. It is mutual agreement. Do both adults agree, as equals and without coercion, to the sexual intercourse? And, if not, then the crime of rape is committed.

In ‘Smile’, multiple rapes, committed by an adult on children, are revealed and recalled, late on. The adult rapist is more powerful physically and institutionally. There can be no doubt coercion, direct and indirect, is involved.

The raped narrator, Victor Forde, lives a victim’s life, often minimising the crimes perpetrated upon him, blaming himself and creating a fantasy of edgy public admiration, daring efforts to shock on national radio and in other media and socio-sexual success that borders on heroic.

As the story unfolds, Victor Forde shyly re-connects with men and women his own age. His social and sexual capacities are tested. At the point he may be about to find ease in such society, a former school-mate, another loner, but one more caustic and chilling, confronts Victor Forde’s fantasies in a laddish bout of violence, because Victor Forde may have ‘stolen his girl’, a middle-aged woman, whose husband ‘is working away’.

Victor Forde is hapless. All the men are hapless, to varying degrees. Only Fitzpatrick, the bully, also deeply traumatised by a paedophiliac Christian Brother at school, appears to have some agency. Only Fitzpatrick appears to be ‘doing’ something, even if it re-traumatising one of his fellow victims.

Smile’ is not an easy read, for a number of different reasons. There are longuers of middle-aged men swallowing pints and talking shite. There are detailed, unbelievable sexual encounters with a vivacious, compliant and intelligent woman, Rachel. In another novel, Rachel would not have stuck it out with Victor, the failing writer. She would not have had a son with him.

But she does in this novel. For her, consent and agreement are part of Victor’s fantasies. She is only saved from victimhood by being a literary fiction. All this leaves the reader wondering about their son, the one Victor never meets. Perhaps he is too much of a fiction to even appear.

The rape by the Christian Brother, so long repressed by Victor Forde until asserted by Fitzpatrick, is visualised as wrestling by a bigger, more powerful man on a smaller, weaker boy. It is named as grimly as Iago’s infamous call that ‘they are now making the beast with two backs’. Except the boy has not agreed to this tussle, groping and violation. This crime.

Perhaps there is another Victor Forde novel in which the narrator gathers agency and moves from victim to survivor? Perhaps Roddy Doyle will create another less hapless character, more enabled by his future than disabled by his past? He is a master novelist and certainly capable of anything he choses.

For the present, readers can frown, or like Victor, simply cry, for there are no smiles here, despite the angsty Dublin crack and the timid social and cultural references.

Smile, Roddy Doyle, Vintage, 2018; ISBN-10 1784706353


Monday, 26 March 2018


Two quotations, from very different writers, help reveal the context for the froth and bother that have followed the chemical weapon crime in Salisbury, England.

From the book, that led to the tv series, McMafia, by Misha Glenny:

Organised crime is such a rewarding industry in the Balkans because ordinary West Europeans spend an ever-burgeoning amount of their spare time and money sleeping with prostitutes; smoking untaxed cigarettes; snorting coke through fifty-euro notes up their noses; employing illegal untaxed immigrant labor on subsistence wages; stuffing their gullets with caviar; admiring ivory and sitting on teak; and purchasing the liver and kidneys of the desperately poor in the developing world.

And from Mail on Sunday columnist, Peter Hitchens:

If Nato was dissolved tomorrow, you’d be amazed how peaceful Europe would become. The reason for its existence – the USSR – vanished decades ago. We don’t keep up a huge alliance to protect us from the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Ottomans, or any other powers that have disappeared. So why this one? It was preserved to save the jobs and pensions of its staff. It was only expanded because American arms manufacturers were afraid they would lose business when the Cold War ended.

So they spent huge piles of cash lobbying the US Senate to back eastward expansion, as the New York Times uncovered. Having survived and expanded, it needed something to do, and began to infuriate the Russians, and so that is where we now are. If you look for trouble, you get it.

Rather than being on the outside looking in, from the safety of their sofas, a mug of tea and a chocolate biscuit close at hand, citizens are living through a tv drama crime spree. Pubs and restaurants are chemically weaponised, as is much of the rest of the world. The innards of computers and smart (sic!) devices, where souls now reside, are mined for the ores of data they contain, which is refined and processed into political power and financial profit.

Even before the recent 8 part tv series McMafia, cultural and public processes to demonise Russia as a state and Russians as people – a huge number of individuals across a vast territory - as demonic and to cast them as the New Other, got underway.

Who do citizens believe when the Russian state, through its press secretary in Ireland, flatly denies any involvement, in the recent nerve gas attack?

Moreover, Russia has no means to arrange that kind of chemical attack since Soviet chemical programme has been stopped in 1991, and all the stockpiles have been destroyed in accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons, and their destruction was overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) observers. 

At the same time, as has been indicated by many experts, including former Soviet scientists involved in chemical studies and living now in the US, the type of chemical agent that the British government is talking about has been extremely researched in the US and several European countries, Britain among them.

The use of nerve gas in the city of Salisbury is a heinous criminal act. The rush by UK Prime Minister Teresa May and others to blame the Russian state is knee-jerk. It is also politically dangerous, because citizens have grown wary of assertions that the demons out there are mad and bear weapons of mass destruction pointing this way.

Citizens are not aware of the macro-moves around them. Most of the time. When the UK or the USA states sell yet more fighter bombers to the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia, the sales literally pass over citizens’ heads. Most of the time. But even within the criminally secretive world of arms manufacturing and sales, cracks are appearing and chinks of lights, often beamed by Quakers abseiling off road-bridges into the paths of arms convoys, are finding their ways into the high-rise office towers and sumptuous halls where the deathly deals are done.

So citizens live in a Hypocracy, where the demons own the most expensive houses on the most expensive streets in London. They bring their money, openly labelled as white (legal) and black (illegal) and launder it through the financial services industry.

Britain plays a central role in the global financial system, for good and ill. Our financial services are a major employer and tax-payer, but they also enable globalised corruption: according to the National Crime Agency, at least 100 billion pounds worth of illicit money flows through our institutions every year. Much of this money is corruptly acquired from some of the world’s poorest countries and, indeed, much of it ends up buying top end real estate, and luxury goods from the London’s finest brokers.

Citizens ring their hands, saying “of course we have spies and contract killers and agents. If only the New Other didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have to, but they won’t play the game our way. So we have to be vigilant. And if they didn’t launder their money in London, they’d go somewhere else. The benefits might as well be here.”

What benefits? What costs? As citizens experience life as a Kleptocracy, where wealth, services, data and livelihoods are stolen by nameless corporate agents of progress and modernity, masking the activities of individuals hoovering riches and power into fewer and fewer hands.

Business/enterprise/capitalism/profit-making, all the honoured terms that underpin the modern way of life, are weaponised against us, in a Grand Theft Data. Citizens are conned and manipulated   for political and financial gain. The data theft penetrates deep as a nerve agent and as far as the most powerful political party in Northern Ireland, if the conclusions in Fintan O’Toole’s article, The DUP and Cambridge Analytica (The Irish Times, 24.3.2018), hold up.

A letter writer to The Irish Times wonders if the Irish state is going to expel Russian diplomats, what about the expulsion of British, American and French diplomats for deaths in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen?

A good question for citizens living in a Kleptocracy and Hypocracy.

Frontline Club, Kleptocracy 9

McMafia, BBC tv crime series

The Irish Times, Letters to the Editor; Vasily Velichkin and Eugene Tannam

Thursday, 15 February 2018


When news broke of the collapse of the current round of political attempts to bring devolved government back to Northern Ireland, as it is found in Edinburgh and Cardiff, government centres in other parts of the United Kingdom, hundreds of us went to the theatre, specifically to The Playhouse in Derry, to see Liam Campbell's terrific new play, The Bog Couple.

The show is a sell-out, which is great for theatres, but not for political parties, who cannot show a side on which the phrase ‘sell-out’ can be scrawled. The play opens with a cabal of poker players bantering and hectoring themselves into a lather of worry that one of their members, Felix, has gone missing and may be severely depressed as he has been rudely uncoupled.

Just as seems to have happened with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin (SF) at Stormont, except that they’re both out of the house now. Along with all the other parties, who, when you tot up their mandates, represent a sizeable chunk of the voting population.

Thankfully, Felix turns up and, in early scenes of uproarious slapstick, expertly directed by Kieran Griffiths, involving keeping Felix away from open windows, kitchen utensils and pills, all returns to calm. Oscar, Felix’s friend, says he can stay until he gets himself sorted out. Felix is astounded and delighted and, in the play's most deliciously sentimental irony, Oscar admits that he is lonely.

Many of us aahed from the comfort of the bleachers.

No one wants to be lonely. Except perhaps Masters of the Universe-types who think they rule the world from corporate, governmental and banking high-rises. Or, in our own little world, from a colonial heap in Stormont.

The poker game in the play is a cabal. The talks in Stormont are a cabal. And, as one member of the DUP is reported to have said, ‘no preparation was made for the climb-down”. Silly that, for all political talks, like relationships, proceed in compromises and climb-downs, u-turns and revised promises.

The differences between the play and the politics are that the play is a rip-roaring laugh and that we trust the work before us and the artists who bring it to us, to not let us down. They meet all our desires not to be lonely. As a serial gag-fest, the play puts a strain on our ability to keep up, at times. Just like the politicians do. The play doesn't leave its audience behind, however. The politicians do.

Of course, they may have their eyes on other venues and settings. The DUP on Westminster. Sinn Féin on Dublin. There are reports of tension within the DUP between MPs, who wish to play power games with Teresa May’s Tories and locally-based Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), who have to go to small towns and rural parishes and explain to people that “yes, there will be some kind of deal and an official recognition of Irish, just as there is in Wales for Welsh and Scotland for Gaelic, because we are as British as those places, but don’t worry, you won't have to put the name to your Orange Hall in Irish above the front door”.

The play’s strongest section is still funny, but more dramatically so. It occurs in the second act, at the point where cultural and national identity differences, partition (the border in the flat is drawn with sugar, a form of sweet rather than hard Brexit, perhaps) and the movement of people in the face of violence, including sectarianism, are jousted between Oscar and Felix. They acknowledge each other's sacrifices and efforts. They hold to friendship. They acknowledge hurt. But even they cannot hold together and Felix leaves/is thrown out, depending on your interpretation.

As an aside, the research commissioned by the Pat Finucane Centre into Protestant migration from the West Bank of Derry-Londonderry, 1968-1980, by Dr Ulf Hansson and Dr Helen McLaughlin, will be published in early March.

So here we are with regard to the failed talks. Sinn Féin, and many others, say a deal was close to hand, a classic fudge of language and legislation, over the weekend past, sufficient to get the Taoiseach from Dublin and the Prime Minister from London to put on their flak jackets and venture into the cabal-infested hotspots of Stormont. Usually such personages only land in the sticks when they can throw laurel wreaths around and rub noses with natives in joyous celebrations. This time the two leaders of the nations who guarantee the legal standing of our wee country left with their garlands in tatters and the sleety gusts of failure as their tailwinds.

Not so Felix and Oscar. Change, but never failure. It’s a comedy, after all. Or maybe they embrace failure as all there ever is. The words of Samuel Beckett ring in our ears. We should go on and learn to fail better.

We went home smiling, after a fine night at the theatre. Just like John McGrath (A Good Night Out) said we could.

You go into a space, and some other people use certain devices to tell you a story. Because they have power over you, in a real sense, while you are there, they make a choice, with political implications, as to which story to tell – and how to tell it.

We woke up to snow, recriminations and disagreements over what exactly did happen. What we do know is that bumbling, austere and thoughtless Tories will soon set budgets and take decisions on our hospitals, schools, roads, rail and social services. It will be neither a gag-fest nor dramatically funny.

Unlike The Bog Couple by Liam Campbell, in a fine Playhouse production, directed by Kieran Griffiths, well-served by a fine cast, notably Pat Lynch and Gerry Doherty, as the principals, which is both a riotous gag-fest and dramatically funny.

We need to get the people off the bleachers and into the game, the democratic game, where the cabal is shut down and the chips and the cards go about fairly.

Not easy.

As Neil Simon said

Take care of him/her. And make him/her feel important. And if you can do that, you'll have a happy and wonderful marriage. Like two out of every ten couples.