Archive by Author | Ryan

1225 Challenge: ‘The Struggle’

W.P. Boyce recently posted about the 1225 Story Challenge here and I decided to give it a go.

Simon P. Clark challenges us to:
Write a story either (a) in 1225 words or less or (b) featuring ‘1225’ as its theme

Publish / share it before December 25th, 2014.

The Struggle

The smell of the cold drifted in through the gap in the narrow window, piercing its way through the staleness inside. It was dark, but the sun was beginning to stir and only the whistle of a gentle wind could be heard.

“A new day,” said the man quietly to himself as he surveyed the scene.

He took a deep breath, allowing the cool morning air to cleanse his being, and returned to the sunken mattress in the corner of the room, ritually lighting a clumsily rolled cigarette. A half-eaten takeaway sat on the floor beside the bed, flanked by two empty bottles of beer.

There was a pile of old newspapers and magazines stacked high against the wall opposite him, discoloured and torn. Nestled among them was a blue bible, a gift given to him after he began attending local prayer group. He had become somewhat of a hoarder and his cramped box room was slowly closing in around him.

The man picked up a picture from the bed-side table and examined it deliberately as he smoked. The frame was cheap but decorative. After staring at the image for nearly a minute, a tragic, fleeting smile flashed across his face and he replaced it, carefully. In contrast to the surrounding squalor, the bed-side table stood empty and neat; the picture frame its only tenant. The man would look searchingly at the photo each morning upon waking and sometimes in the evenings too.

There was no room for a closet in the hovel and his few clothes formed a desperate mound on top of the chair next to the front door. He had one good suit, however, which he kept for special occasions, but he rarely had cause to wear it. Not anymore. It hung hopefully in the tiny toilet adjoining the flat gathering dust.

When he was finished his cigarette, the man rummaged through the heap on the chair and got dressed. His clothes were damp and dirty and clung horribly to his swollen physique. He walked gingerly over to the counter and filled the kettle with water. Slivers of the morning light quietly crept in through the window, lighting up his face as he turned it on.

“A new day, with new possibilities,” the man thought, repeating what his guide had told him at the prayer group.

As the kettle boiled he cast his mind back to the last meeting. The group met each week at a youth club in a council estate nearby. They were a diverse group and would have refreshments before engaging in discussion, prayer and meditation. The man’s sponsor, a guy named Joe, had reassuringly told him that every day brought with it a plethora of opportunities.

“We have a shot at redemption every single day,” Joe would beam. “That’s a beautiful thing.”

Even if he didn’t fully believe Joe, such platitudes comforted him and he genuinely enjoyed the social aspect of the group, for he had grown increasingly isolated in recent years. It was by no means glamorous, but it was warm and welcoming there.

A loud click of the kettle snapped him back into the icy filth of his own home. He poured the tea and sat back down on the bed, cautiously slurping from his mug. His eyes were drawn once more to the photo on the bed-side table and a trembling fear suddenly gripped his throat. He started to sob silently but stopped himself and stood up. He gazed out the window.

“A new day,” repeated the man as tears welled up in his eyes. He picked up the photo again, clutching it tightly. It showed the man delightfully hugging a young child.

“Happy Christmas, son.”

By Ryan Kelly

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On the run with Sanal Edamaruku

Yesterday evening I attended a talk, jointly hosted by the Humanist Atheist Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway and Atheist Ireland, from the fairly well known Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku. Mr Edamaruku is an academic and is the president of the unfortunately named Indian Rationalist Association (I.R.A). However, levity aside, Mr Edamaruku faces the unwelcome prospect of persecution in his home country of India. In spite of this, he spoke calmly and deliberately of his predicament.

He is currently in exile for his “provocation” of the Catholic church in Bombay, whereby through the act of explaining a so-called miracle involving sub-standard plumbing and a statue of Jesus, he incurred the wrath of a number of high-ranking bishops, not least “His Eminence” Oswald Gracias . As a consequence, the church has contrived to have Mr Edamaruku imprisoned  for his contravention of laws regarding blasphemy – laws which, no less, date back to the 19th century. The very real threat of three years in prison – and worse –  forced Sanal to flee his native country and he has sought refuge in Europe. He was abruptly cut off, indefinitely, from those dearest to him, while attending to the business of a lecture trail overseas. Nevertheless, despite the potential dangers he faces, he has vowed to return to India, saying, rather confidently, that he is on a “mission” against the prevalence of such archaic laws and other such superstitious practices. “The problem we have in India is that we have the 14th and 21st century coexisting,” he said.

His “mission” is what brought him to Ireland. While seeking support against ludicrous legislation in his own case, Edamaruku has simulataneously called on the Irish people to rid themselves of their own law against blasphemy, which prohibits the utterance or publication of “grossly abusive or insulting [material] in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, which causes “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. As Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland noted, in closing, at the event, such a law strongly appears to “incentivize outrage”. Furthermore, Mr Edamaruku stressed that the Irish law against blasphemy was increasingly being used as a precedent on which to lay the foundation of an argument for a much more far-reaching law against blasphemy. Such a prospect is simply terrifying.

If the people of Ireland truly value human rights and equality, then it is imperative that they resolutely reject their most stringent and archaic laws, and lend their support to the plight of those who, like Sanal Edamaruku, are suffering their outrageous consequence.

Ireland, our cream has turned sour

Galway is a much nicer place to be in the summer months. It is on the west coast of Ireland, so it is not because of the weather, nor is it a result of the increase in cultural celebrations and events (although, it must be said, that does help). The reason is simple: the students have, for the most part, gone home. They have absconded back into the arms of their doting parents who will once again cater for their every need.

Now that September has rolled around once more though, the inhabitants of the city will again be forced to endure the naïve and idiotic actions of a group of adults who, equipped with loans, grants and their parents’ money, have granted themselves a license to lead a hedonistic, irresponsible and ludicrous lifestyle for the next nine months at least.

This is how many parents imagine their children at university.

First come the ‘Freshers’. As the label suggests, these are the fresh-faced, wet-behind-the-ears kids that have left home for the first time with the noble aim of bringing their education to the next level. Or so it seems. It is an exciting time, no doubt, for those who do manage to fly the nest and into the world. But don’t be fooled – they are anything but noble. And while they may be fresh, they are certainly not refreshing, for each year, the wave of bodies that follows is as dull, stale and predictable as the last.

Then you have the rest. The second years, last year’s ‘Freshers’, who strut around campus unwilling to stifle the desire to re-live the ‘glory’ of the previous year, spurred on by the empty qualifier that “nothing matters until final year anyway”. The final years, who know that they should behave better for the sake of their degree, but find themselves drawn in by the allure of the craic and reassured by the 40 per cent safety net that ensures a pass.

This may be closer to the truth of many a student’s lifestyle.

Engorged on alcopops, spirits, cheap cider, and who knows what else, grown men and women stumble and stagger from their glorified chicken coops and into the heart of the city, so that they can treat their eardrums to an aural assault, while attempting to dance in a dimly lit room. People actually pay money to enter these darkened cattle markets. Don’t ever forget that.

Taxi drivers have the front row seat as the inebriated entities are hurriedly ushered from establishments and the regurgitated spectacle unfolds. Pavement bedecked in multicoloured bile and other bodily fluids, men attempt to impress the high-heeled ladies that struggle to string together so much as a pace. Fights break out, food and rubbish find their home next to the splattered puke and the police attempt to make their presence felt. “They’re out every night of the week,” an affable taxi driver assures me. “You’re thinking, ‘do you do any reading at all?’”

The truth is, they don’t have to. Their recklessness, their gung-ho partying and complete lack of studying does not matter, for university lecturers will hand them grades on a plate. No one likes to see those pass-rates dwindle, after all.

Naturally, this horrific binge culture is not confined to the halls of student residence. It is a widespread ailment that has (always?) gripped wider Irish society (see blog by finishedatlast ), but it cannot be denied that among students, going to college carries with it an expectation to party. Indeed it is viewed as a rite of passage.

This is the future of Ireland. The cream of our crop has turned sour.

Special thanks to Thom Wilcockson for his fine male modelling.

The integrity of Ray D’Arcy

Ray D’Arcy (centre), Zig and Zag

Irish radio host Ray D’Arcy came under intense public scrutiny last week when he said on his morning radio show that the Catholic church had “in many ways…fucked up [Ireland]”. Unsurprisingly, the loudest cries of objection spired from the Catholic church itself, with Catholic communications chief, Martin Long making stern demands that the affable veteran broadcaster issue an apology and a retraction of his rather frank assessment. Long, who interestingly claimed to speak for “all those who hold the Catholic faith dear”, said that the language was deeply insulting and appalling, while the statement was fallacious. D’Arcy, however, remained defiantly steadfast in his conviction and immediately refused to conform to the demands of Mr Long. The silver-haired Kildare native insisted that, while he regretted his use of profane language, no apology for or retraction of his statement would be forthcoming.

 

A few things stand out about Mr Long’s criticism of D’Arcy’s comments and they raise interesting questions as to the position of the Catholic church in Ireland as the 21st century trundles onwards. Firstly, Mr Long, objecting as a communications chief of the institution of the Catholic church, claims to be a spokesperson for “all those who hold the Catholic faith dear”. Who are all of these people, one asks? Where are they? Where is their outrage? He cannot, surely, be lumping all of those who mark an “X” in the box which defines them as being of the Catholic faith – anecdotal evidence alone shows us that these individuals do not necessarily hold the Catholic faith dear. No, in reality, Mr Long is nothing more than a privately appointed mouthpiece of the Catholic church in Ireland. His criticism of D’Arcy’s comments simply reveal the reactionary nature of a church that has been rightly exposed as one of the most disturbingly corrupt institutions in the history of Ireland.

 

Interestingly, Mr Long argues that his gripe is not with criticism of the church per se (believe that at your peril), but with irrational criticism of the church, which he describes D’Arcy’s observation to be. Let’s look at D’Arcy’s criticism, then. It is fair to say that the sentiment behind D’Arcy’s comment was that the Catholic church has had a negative impact on Irish society. Far from being irrational, it is a truthful and brutally honest observation – one need only look at the malign legacy of their interference with state affairs: the banning of literature, strident censorship, the banning of contraception and that list is not exhaustive. Such a legacy has undoubtedly had a negative impact on Irish society, or to borrow D’Arcy parlance, it certainly has fucked up this country. The revolting actions and attitudes of certain priests and the Catholic hierarchy towards the children of the nation has also, to put it mildly, left its mark. In this sense, it is Mr Long, then, who is displaying a lack of rationality. By holding up the positive work of the church and brazenly comparing it to the inexcusable legacy of fear and abuse that it has, Mr Long is moving into the realm of the apologist, seeing what he wants to see.

 

So fair play to Ray D’Arcy for having the integrity to express a truth and bravo for standing up to the fascist intimidation of a reactionary group that is desperately clawing to what remnants of influence it thinks it still possesses.

‘Through their own folly they perished – fools’ – A Health Warning to Higher Education

“Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion.” – Homer, Odyssey I

If in the event that someone was so desperate as to ask me for just one piece of advice, right now it would be to postpone any prospective plans of going to university to study the arts or social sciences, by-pass it completely if at all possible. The primary reason being, that such a degree has, unsurprisingly, lost so much of its value as to render it practically useless. On the surface, this advice might seem preposterous (just how will one progress in society?), but at the moment I am inclined to believe it to be sound. Why then, do I advise the postponement of a university education?

The Irish Times recently reported that there is an estimated 100,000 unemployed graduates in Ireland, which makes for just over a fifth of the total number of unemployed in Ireland in 2012. In short, graduates are entering a strained and over-subscribed labour market that does not require the expertise, if any, that a university degree provides. A quick perusal of the skill requirements of even
the most menial of jobs will show that ‘real world’ experience trumps a degree every time, and so a vicious circle emerges: one needs experience to get a job, but one cannot get experience without a job. The result is an ‘educated’ sector that is not qualified, is deflated and increasingly aimless. Consequently, if it is not viable to seek a career change, and in many cases it isn’t, the only way to
use one’s degree is to look to post-graduate study, be it through a taught MA, Higher Diploma in Education or structured PhD. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that post-graduate courses are now prone to flooding, in the same way that undergraduate courses have been and continue to be. Sadly however, it appears that the trend is continuing. Of the applicants to higher education this
year, over 42% applied for courses in arts or social science:

‘This year, more than 8,800 students opted for higher-degree science as their first choice while 5,400
opted for engineering and technology. This is still dwarfed by the 15,600 who made arts or social
science their first preference.’ (Irish Times, March 2012)

The ease with which higher education can be accessed, as facilitated by the government, who pays for most if not all of it, along with the relative ease with which people can attain degrees has made going to university a very attractive route for young adults in Ireland, but it is ultimately detrimental to the value of education itself. Many campuses are already over-crowded and lecture halls unfit for
purpose; they are littered with apathetic hordes and faux-revolutionaries. Most are drawn to university not by the noble pursuit of knowledge or even the hope of carving out a decent existence, but by the lurid allure of the disgusting party life-style, which has apparently seized society by the scruff of the neck (see dreadful programmes such as Skins, Jersey Shore and Tallafornia). This is
not socialising, this is sheer, unrestrained mindlessness. To call the modern Irish university a zoo would be an insult to animals.

A recent article in Sin (the student newspaper of the National University of Ireland, Galway) reported that drunken students routinely harass a prominent group of peaceful protesters in Galway, sometimes employing glass bottles as missiles in addition to their ignorant verbal assaults. However, it is during events such as the infamous misnomer ‘RAG Week’ that swathes of students (and admittedly other non-student stragglers) embarrass themselves beyond repair. Youtube videos show mobs of inebriated adults stupidly engaged in primitive chanting, acting in an intimidating and destructive manner. Yet, amazingly, local politicians have implicitly excused these adults for their outrageous behaviour. Labour councillor Billy Cameron, in what must surely be construed as pandering to the student vote (if that even exists any more), said that while he did not condone the actions of drunken students, he thought that the responsibility ultimately lies with pubs and clubs who, as he suggests, ‘facilitate’ such despicable behaviour. In one fell swoop, Cameron granted a licence to grown adults to behave like unmannered, ill-disciplined children. Is it really any wonder that Ireland is where it is with such ludicrous public acceptance of such deplorable convention? Interestingly, and I’m not sure if this was deliberate on the part of the editor, but under the aforementioned article was a piece called ‘Overheard in NUI Galway’ which recounts some of the, perhaps more absurd (perhaps not), overheard conversations on campus. Without quoting them here, rest assured that it will not fill one with confidence for the welfare of future Irish generations.

So, if a lack of clear opportunity at the end of the tunnel isn’t enough to dissuade you from pursuing a degree in the arts or social sciences at present, then the untethered debauchery and the insufferable pseudo-intellectualism of many of your peers should ultimately put you off, that is, unless you happen to be among the wretched yourself, in which case, you will no doubt revel as the proverbial pig in… Does an alternative currently exist? It seems that our newest Elysium is now Canada, which is crying out for skilled tradesmen and labourers, but the images of recent job expos have shown the harsh reality that these positions too will be grossly over subscribed. What, then, is the solution? To my mind, a reform of the manner in which one can enter higher education would be a start. From there, standards within higher education itself can be raised. Put simply, the value of a higher
education must be restored.