Sunday, 9 October 2016

I am rubber; you are glue . . . and other thoughts about the Presidential election.

While reading a recent online discussion about the American election, there it was: two old-enough-to-know-better adults were going at it about the demerits of each other’s candidate and having abandoned all pretext at civility or decorum, were down to name calling and the online version of sticking their tongues out, culminating in the childhood taunt of: I'm rubber you are glue, your words bounce off me and stick to you.

And while this could be seen as very entertaining, it did cause a shiver of dread when I remembered that these people will get to vote in an election that has enormous impact on the entire population of the planet – existing and future.

I have no dog in this fight and have long ago lost any hope for the electoral process. For me, it is no more than divisive and mean-spirited reality TV at its worst. And my issue with that is that, for most part, it divides rather than unifies people. 

Add in the fact that it is also a massive advertising campaign where money dominates and you might begin to see things the way I do.

As we all know from our daily lives, money doesn’t come cheap. Those who “invest” in candidates have agendas that rarely surface during what passes for debates and are never scrutinized by analysts and experts who form many of the opinions of those who go off to vote.

It has been a long downward spiral to this particular election. In recent years we have seen processions of ‘Gee-Shucks’ cardboard cut-outs trying to out-Jesus each other; new and improved versions of smooth, slick, salesy types saying nothing and denying all that they previously might, or might not, have said, and visionaries who will lead us to Promised Lands where we can live free of all those who are not like us.

The Election industry has created a toxic environment where efforts at the reasonable debate of complex matters have long been abandoned in favour of cleverly tailored sound bites that are repeated like jingles.

Not surprisingly, elections for the most part have become less and less about intellectual civic exercises and more and more about emotional venting and the rejection of the ideals of people we hate, fear, or envy.

A compelling and recent example of all of this was the British referendum and I follow the resulting gyrations with a mixture of amazement and trepidation. There, a majority of voters followed leaders who, on winning, resigned and in doing so forced the country to actually begin to discuss what it was they had done.

Similarly, in the first American Presidential debate, the matter of Syria did not merit a mention.

Regardless of your views on the horrible war in that country – and finding a clear picture in the haze of misinformation is a particular challenge – surely a future president’s views should be examined and understood? Or are we to wander into a new world war without even the pretext of political rationale?

Perhaps it is the only logical way after the farce of the great WMD issue when the Coalition of the Willing, made up of the democratically elected governments of the free peoples of the world, attacked and destroyed countries that now seem to have had little or nothing to do with 9/11 – and all in the name of defending our freedom and democracy.

Not that any of that matters if we are all transfixed by the circus this election presents. Never mind that the world is being brought to rack and ruin by the privately plotted actions of State and Corporate interests, let’s get enraged about what the other candidate may have done or said, or looks like. Then, in place of real debate, let’s all turn on each other and call each other names, and worse.

As stated, I have no dog in this fight and, while one candidate is probably unfit to be allowed out in public and the other has the lingering odour of shady deals, I would be far more concerned with who is paying for all of this and what their real agenda might be.

It is one of the great flaws of democracies that so much of what is done in the name of the people is done behind closed doors. You can cite security, confidentiality, or whatever, but how can it be called the will of the people when they have no idea what is really going on?

Sure, many of us are happy to be sloughed off with media information from the sources that we trust implicitly, but that, at the end of the day, is little more than going through the motions so that we can pay lip service to the principle that democracy is supposed to enshrine: that “the informed voter is the sword of democracy.”

I began to question that long ago and now find myself more aligned with the great wit, Oscar Wilde, who has been quoted as saying: “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

Yes, it had been a long and torturous slide to where we are now and, far from being the shining light of freedom and democracy, this election may well be the beginning of the final act in the tragically comedic story of the decline and fall of human civilization.

And yes, I do have ideas on a better way. I might even get around to sharing them one of these days so if you are interested, check back in a while. I’ll be here, thinking about things.



Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Watching the Euros

I admit it; I am a football fan and this year I have the added incentive of watching games on Portuguese television – to improve my knowledge of the language.

I am not sure how well that is working but, as we all sit on the eve of the Brexit (English for Trumpism?) it does a tired heart good to see the fans in green.

The Irish teams, and there are two, N.I. (Northern Ireland) and R.O.I. (Republic of Ireland) are both here and while the former has acquitted itself rather well, the latter is a poor team of less than stellar talent.

But it is the Irish fans that are the talk of Europe. There is nothing these boys and girls in green can’t do; serenade pretty blond French women, serenade nuns, sing lullabies to babies and the French police, hold impromptu dance-offs with Vikings, change flat tires, and clean up after themselves.
Their mammies must be fierce proud of them all.

Ireland was one of the countries singled out for austerity and took it on the chin. And while there are those (mostly Irish politicians) who crow about being the “Poster Boys of Recovery” – when once they crowed about being the “Poster Boys of European Success” – they reality of the cuts has been severe, and at times brutal.

Hard to believe when you see the travelling Irish fans.

Neighbours here in Lisbon, who know I am Irish, stop me on the street to talk about them.  The Irish, they say, are always so jolly!

Now having spent time in some dark and dreary times and places in Ireland, I have to stop and look it from the outside. And, having lived two thirds of my life as an emigrant, I am getting better at that. Europe, and the rest of the world, needs to get jolly more often.

In no way am I discounting the plight of refuges, or the mass shootings in Orlando, nor am I going to pretend that the story of humanity isn’t littered with the most brutal and horrifying acts, but come here ‘til I tell you: there is more to humanity than the sum of our cruelties and petty divisions.

We are, in the eyes of whatever created us, all the same and any one telling you otherwise is up to no good.

We have the ability to get together and do what has to be done in a civilized and cooperative manner. We do it every day, everywhere, even if our media chooses not to focus on it.

Besides, if we are on the road to Armageddon, then why not go with a bit of class and enjoy the ride.

Enough of the psychopaths that would have us tear at each other. Here in Europe we have done far too much of that. Let’s be more like the boys and girls in green and be jolly in the face of all our problems. Others will come and behave like their leaders – and never forget that example comes from those at the top – but we will enjoy the good that’s in the day, and when it’s all over, let’s keep it going.

Our civilization is very flawed but it is far better than the anarchy of war. Let’s keep together in this, and extend it. Yes, the rich will always be a gouging lot, but there are more of us than them and, as our mammies often told us: we can set a good example.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

"The whole world is lying and cheating,and everybody else goes along with it--except when I do it."

Peter Murphy, author of "Lagan Love", his first novel, has now given us "All Roads”, the third novel, after "Born and Bred” and "Wandering in Exile”, in the Life and Times trilogy. These four books have placed Murphy in the league with other popular and loved Irish writers such as Roddy Doyle, Frank McCourt, Brendan Behan, Brendan O’Carroll, Sean O’Casey, Patrick Taylor and others. If you love to read about Irish life, culture, history ,family and other influences such as politics and religion; you will find this new voice and storyteller a must read writer.

This latest novel finds the central character, Danny Boyle, now in Canada with his family in 1997.The first line in the novel, "Hi, I'm Danny B. and I'm AN ALCOHOLIC”, kicks off the next 16 years in the life of Danny, his wife, family, friends, as well as his troubled life, to both himself and those who surround him and are affected by him. The novel takes place mainly in Toronto, but there are many times over the years, that the reader is transported to Dublin and Rome I won't go into details about the storyline of this novel, or the two proceeding novels of the trilogy, other than that each of the novels can stand alone in reading, but I strongly suggest you read "Born and Bred", "Wandering in Exile" and "All Roads" in that order. As I have mentioned in my other Reviews, this novel covers 16 years and a lot of characters; so I suggest you keep a list of the characters and their relationships as they keep re-appearing over the years. Murphy helps the reader in keeping track of time by dating the time period of each chapter.

You might also wish to read my Reviews, as well as others, that have been posted here on Amazon.
While the stories, characters, family, friends, associates, and experiences make for an engrossing read; there are a plethora of lessons, good and otherwise, that you'll obtain from this trilogy; that will remain with you for a long time.

If you forget all about the lives and experiences of the people in this trilogy, just remember; Danny's words;

"When I was drinking I used to try and tell myself that I wasn't harming anybody else, but that wasn't true. Everything we do spills over into other people's lives--the good and the bad."

Jerry Guild

Monday, 17 August 2015

Whirly gigs and a small princess

Getting back into the whirly gig

For most of the last four years I spent my days in one chair or another, writing Life & Times, the story of one man and the abutting parts of the world that tormented and shaped him, deformities and all. It spans almost 60 years and required a lot of remembering and looking back at the way things were, and as old memories came back and mingled with my disconsolation with the present, and my distrust of the future, I needed to shut myself off. I had to carry the entire story around inside of me and shun all outside distractions and interruptions.

Moving to Lisbon was the reward, a necessity and a formal farewell to a great many things that had been churning around inside of me for years. Here I would get out more, get some sun, meet new people, and see new things. I knew it would be a transition as I had grown very used to my solitude shared mostly with imaginary characters. I knew it would be busy and, at times, hectic, but what I hadn’t considered was that it could be far more absurd than any fiction I might cobble together.

Back into the beast’s lair

Before books are released into the wild, publishers send copies to be distributed to friends & lovers, reviewers and other shady people an author might owe gambling debts, etc. It is a simple enough practice. The books are declared to have no value – fitting, eh? And they get delivered without too much fuss and bother.

Not here, though. It began with a very formal letter from the post office which I replied to in my best Googled Portuguese to the effect that I was not intending to resell the books and avoid paying tax on my lucre.

Perhaps Google wasn’t the best go-between because they sent me a template to declare what I had already declared. Fair enough, says I to the dog, and re-Googled.


It still wasn’t enough and after a few weeks, there was nothing for it but to make my way over to the alfandega. Now it wasn’t quite Gates of Mordor stuff but it wasn’t the most pleasant part of Lisbon.

Anyway, I took my number and waited to see the person who could verify that I had legitimate business with them and was sent back to take a number for the person who could actually deal with my problem.


While I waited, a young girl walked in with a flower in her hand and asked almost everyone there for a glass of water to put her flower in. Finally someone looked after her but I wasn’t so lucky. The woman behind the counter could not help me and could not explain what the problem was.

There was nothing for it but to resort to English and she agreed to send for the man who spoke English—only he was having coffee and I had to wait for a while.


When he did emerge, he was polite, dignified, and helpful. The declared dollar value on my box of books was, he was sad to inform me, “impossible in Portugal.”

Fair enough, says I and we both scratched out heads, eyed each other like we were playing poker, and eventually came up with a value that was possible. 150 Euros seemed fair—after all it is literary fiction and here in Portugal that still has some value. They still respect writers here and have ruas and largos named after poets and the like.

The value of literary fiction

150 Euros, says I to myself, I’m going to get dinged for tax here.
Portugal, like a few other countries has been singled out to pay the penalty of the recklessness of International banking and all their Credit Default nonsense that broke the way money works.


Fair enough, says I to the man who spoke English and he wished me a good morning and assured me that, now that the form had an acceptable value written on it, his colleague would now be able to look after me.

Except she was busy arguing with a couple who were trying to smuggle something past customs so I waited. And I waited. And while I waited some more, the young girl with the flower stepped in front of me, held up a ticket, bowed and smiled. Being well-breed, myself, I took the ticket and bowed back.

The little girl seemed content with her efforts and began to drink from the glass with the flower.

In time, the lady behind the counter was able to look at my form—with the true value of literary fiction in the appropriate box—and stamp the damn thing. She then explained that I should take the now acceptable form to another wicket.

I looked up at the screen that informs which ticket is next and I looked down at the ticket the little girl had given me. I was next and with little more ado, I got my box of books, didn’t have to pay tax, and was on my way.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

I used to have a real job once.

For marketing purposes, I’m supposed to be working on my blog – Following the Muse ( – but the damn thing has gotten so far ahead of me that I am wandering around in a bit of a daze.

Having recently moved to Lisbon, I have become a bit absorbed in the new life all around me. I’m in “input mood,” I keep reminding myself as each gloriously sunny day fades into another cool, pearly evening.

But I did manage to get back to working on the next novel and it is a struggle. Novels are like lovers in that you are rarely in the mood at the same time and when you are ready, your novel crosses its legs and sulks. At least mine do!

I’m less concerned about that these days and while it might be the effect of the aforementioned glorious sun, or the cool, pearly evenings, or the fact that life in Lisbon has not yet been totally trampled underfoot by what often gets confused with progress, I prefer to think of my work as fruit. It will ripen when the time is right.

Some of my readers will agree and think of lemons—and to them I say: life is grand.
Thinking like this is an adjustment because I once held jobs in the regular sense of the word and I was even good at some of them. I was very focused on things like timelines and deliverables. I understood that in the great clock-likeness of the modern enterprise, each little cog had to play its part; on time and on budget. It became a bit of an obsession with me and I suffered interruption with the grace of a disturbed hippo—particularly when the time wasting came from above.

I masked my disdain with a kind of strained stoicism as some director waffled on about synergies and scalabilities and all the other words they had recently stumbled upon while reading an in-flight magazine. You know the type. They wear their company IDs to the washroom and I can only assume that it is a precaution. If the better parts of their brains fall out, they can still remember their primary purpose which is to assert their importance by interrupting the progress of those they bore for hours with pep-talks about improving productivity and importance of individual accountability in the grand scheme.

Over time my strained stoicism wore thin and I began to garner a reputation for “being a bit abrasive.”

Given what was really going through my mind, I think I should have been awarded medals for tact and diplomacy.

I once worked with a guy who regularly fell asleep at his desk and could be relied upon for nothing—except his uncanny skill at ass kissing. He could do it in his sleep. Naturally he was promoted beyond all usefulness while the rest of us struggled on in relative anonymity. For the most part I kept my comments to a bare minimum—acerbic as they were—and instead just hung signs on his desk!

I was thinking about this the last few afternoons which have been a bit on the hot side -- 35+ which is beyond my operating range. As I sat staring at the end of chapter 3, wondering which of the next story lines to go with, my head would start to nod. No amount of coffee could forestall the inevitable and I gave in and took naps.

There was a time when I would have scolded myself for that and imposed new and stricter deadlines to compensate. Now, not so much. You see all those jobs; carrying bricks up rickety scaffolds, digging holes like redemption was underground, dusting ballot boxes in a government basement, writing yards of computer code, taught me a great many things that have become so much clearer in the rear-view mirror. I now know myself and I know that I know how to get things done.

I should also admit that as I get older, I have become a little more indulgent with myself. I have come to the realisation that “I’m not the worst of them” and that some of the stuff I write—albeit overlooked by the shallow masses—has merit.

Writing books I have become to realise is less about one critical path and more about meandering through myriad possibilities. It is a bit like how we used to learn things before we got packed off to school; we played until we knew.

Fortunately, I work for myself these days as such thinking would be heresy to the bottom-line crowd and their synergies and scalabilities and all the other words they use to mask the sad fact that so very few of us really have any idea what we are doing. I certainly don’t, but that might yet turn out to be my greatest asset.

Anyway, enough chit-chat, time to get back to staring at the computer screen.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Following the Muse - part 4

When in doubt, follow your dog.

Adapting to life in Lisbon can be hectic in ways that I hadn’t considered. Sometimes I feel like my dog whose nose hasn’t stopped twitching since we arrived. We are both in the same boat; trying to make sense of it all and to find our bearings.
Dogs are more suited to this and simply sniff everything, taste whatever smells particularly interesting, piddle on everything else, and become intimately informed of others of their species.

We, on the other hand, have to conform to social norms that change from place to place, but I suppose it’s true for dogs, too. Back in Canada, the dogs sniffed each other’s faces first. Poor Baxter; she’s had to sit tight and snarl to dissuade some of these Lisbon hounds.

And then, just when she was beginning to assert herself into the dog pack at the local park, we moved. However, right after unpacking we took our first walk around the new hood and met the most dignified and elegant collie. She wanted no part of us and I can only assume that Baxter must have picked up some inappropriate habits while strutting through the streets of Mouraria. I would worry about that but she usually displays better sense than I and will adapt. 
There is something happening here.


Lisbon, I am finding, has its own logic that seems to make little sense at first but becomes more rational with understanding. I suppose that is true about most places but it does escape the tourists who seem to expect life to rearrange itself to their expectations —the “Holiday Inn” mentality that a familiar sameness is required with enough local flavour to identify which holiday photo is which. And while I have only been here for three months, I am beginning to develop a sense for the depth and beauty of life here.
Reading about Lisbon, I came across two things that have given me much to ponder on. (I do that—I ponder a lot.) Lisbon, probably in honor of its Phoenician past, and the golden age of the Navigators, is often referred to as the “City of the Sea.” It was from Lisbon that ships set out to “discover” the new world.
It was also a city that suffered devastation from the sea when, in 1775, a tsunami followed an earthquake that destroyed the city and turned Portugal from an externally focused, expanding empire into the more insular nation it has become.

It also allowed for the redevelopment of much of the downtown region so that the current city combines many of the evolving lessons of urban planning. Broad avenidas link parks and squares and are lined with elegant houses that are part Romanesque, part Arabesque, a little pompous but, for the most part, practical with a few wedding cakes thrown in.
In the rebuilding, older lessons were also remembered and while there is always a hill in Lisbon—no matter where you are trying to get to—there is always a breeze and some of them are fresh from the sea. Good thing too because there have been a few days when my body, finally thawed from the Canadian winter, became a little seared around the edges.
Then comes the night, cool and bright with memories on the air . . . but then there are these mosquitos that are very impartial to mostly thawed, slightly seared, Irish blood. We had them back in Canada but for the most part, they left me alone.  These Lisbon mosquitos are mean little buggers. I blame the Portuguese people—they are far too nice and accommodating, except for some of the bureaucrats we have had to deal with.

You are nothing without a NIF
Without the Número de Indentificação Fiscal, all that is magnificent about this place would shudder and collapse again. It is a government issued number that allows the good people in whatever taxation department to keep in touch with every single resident in their day-to-day lives, but you can win a car.

“Fair enough” we said to each other. “Let’s be getting one of them.”
It is never that easy. The first time, we took a number and waited. Others took their numbers and wandered off down the street for coffee; even the man in wicket 5, the one that was dealing with NIFs that day. Finally our number came up, but the kind gentleman, who had just returned from lunch, regretfully informed us that the system was down. He was kind enough to hear our problem and replied in a combination of Portuguese and English. My wife, who was from the Azores which as I was to find out later “Is not a part of Portugal”, did her best but her Portuguese clearly wasn’t adequate.

He talked and he listened along with the woman at the next wicket and offered condolences with a shrug. The system was down and he was so powerless that he seemed to deflate in front of us.
My wife went alone on the second day and the system was back up but the deflated gentleman was not dealing with NIFs. The hard faced woman in wicket 3 was; the one that wore D&G glasses. My wife explained her situation with nodding approval from the woman in wicket 4 who had heard it all before. Ms. D&G insisted that my wife was in the wrong place and suggested she go to Immigration. (Later, we concluded that it must have been the language issue.)

Anyway, undeterred, my wife produced her national identity card—the one she had painstakingly secured before leaving Toronto—splendid proof of identity despite the awful mugshot. Except for one tiny detail; there was nothing in the little box labelled Número de Indentificação Fiscal. They could not issue that in Canada but everything else looked good.
Looking a little piqued, I have been assured, Ms. D&G held the card in her long bony fingers like it was a specimen of something catching.

“You have to give it to her now,” the woman in wicket 4 joined in.
“Very well,” Ms. D&G reluctantly agreed and began to tap her way into the system. “What parish were you born in?”

That was when my poor wife learnt that all she had been raised to believe in, all the proud Portuguese stuff about exploring and discovering, and being the first and best at everything, and that the cream of all things Portuguese are from the islands, was a lie. According to whatever corner of the system Ms. D&G had tapped into, Angra do Heroismo, on the island of Terceira, the third largest island in the Região Autónoma dos Açores, was not a part of Portugal.
Even the woman in wicket 4 took up the Azorean cause but to no avail. My wife was to be considered some type of alien until she could produce sufficient documentation – which my wife was not carrying. (Something I put down to the Azorean sense of autonomy.) Home she came, without a NIF and made to feel like an immigrant instead of a home comer.

Naturally, I went the next day as the muscle if such was required and because I never miss an opportunity to study absurdity in all its glory. We took our number and waited. Ms D&G was attending to other matters and so was wicket 5. Wicket 4 was our only hope and when she returned from coffee break, she smiled, clicked a few times at the system and gave us a NIF.
That weekend the local square was filled with folk dancers and celebrations of the good things in life. They might have been there for other reasons but it made my wife smile again.

Eu não falo Portugues

It is the only phrase I have mastered so far and I have said it so often that I am trying variations in tone and timbre, timing and delivery. Someone laughed at me the other day and said: “You just said that in Portuguese.”
I will learn the language but, as I have reminded my critics, most of the Portuguese took 18 to 24 months to say their first words and I am way ahead as I, after only 3 months, can pop up with a few of the basics of civility. Please, thank you, good day, good afternoon, and goodnight. I can almost order coffee but I am still buying cigars in sign language. Food is easy because it all tastes great and most of our neighbours are gracious enough to speak to me in impeccable English laced with just a touch of accent. Lisboetas can be a very cultured and dignified lot.

Still, I will learn the language because it is the least I can do for the generosity this city offers, once you have a NIF.
Now getting the dog one; that’s going to be fun. Though she already has her European doggie passport, good for entry to the whole continent—even Greece, for now.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

All Roads

All Roads, the final book in the Life & Times trilogy, goes out into the word today.  I wish it all the best as I am rather fond of that book. In fact I liked writing the whole trilogy, but I might be a bit biased. It’s not unlike having children, you know, and I have some of those too. You want to be protective and all that, but you just got to sit back and let it find its own way.

I remember when it was nothing more than a few notes and scraps of character. In fact the trilogy came about because I started three different versions of what I thought was the same story. 100 pages into each, it dawned on me and Born & Bred, Wandering in Exile, and All Roads were the result.

It is not—and I repeat not—autobiographical even though much that happens in the books did happen, but not to me. I just happened to be nearby when it did.

The responses so far have been mixed, to say the least, and that is not a bad thing. The story of Danny and the rest of them; Deirdre, the kids, Jacinta & Jerry, Miriam, Patrick and the rest are the stories of people I have watched cope with the ever changing times I have lived through. 

The past plays a role as it does in real life and today, just like every other day, the past is the backdrop and we struggle to be free of it.

Since writing the story, I have moved and am slowly settling into a very different reality but I look back at the 4 years I spent in my writing chair with a mix of pride and nostalgia. There are new and different books waiting to be written but today I’ll take a moment to sit back and acknowledge Danny Boyle for all that he taught me.