Ireland, Europe, Britain and Brexit, a history of blood and comedy. And a way to fix it.

Ireland, Europe, Britain and Brexit, a history of blood and comedy-gary-j-byrnes

Stupid Brexit. And Titanic

Brexit is coming on fast, the language around it finally coming to the core truths: war, Hitler, God, blood, the Blitz, the landed gentry and Dad’s Army. It would be funny if it wasn’t so cuntish, the whole, stupid, unnecessary thing. The same can be said of Ireland’s history, especially the hundreds of years spent under British rule, of which the lowlight was the famine of 1845-49, which saw around a million Irish peasants starve to death. Literally. Britain’s involvement in Ireland’s affairs could be described as a tragic comedy, and the current Brexit conundrum is just the latest chapter.

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One hilarious part is how the DUP, a fringe political party from Northern Ireland, is propping up Theresa May’s zombie Conservative government in a real case of the tail wagging the dog. The DUP represents a tired, religious world view, is against equality, and takes the Bible kind of literally. Which is never good. Also, the people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, so why is the DUP refusing to represent the people? The DUP’s control of HMS Brexit is theoretical democracy at its absolute worst and Arlene Foster and Ian Paisley (the junior) are at the helm, steering directly at a great big iceberg.

The European Union also has problems, like its member monarchies and autocracies, the bank bailouts that foisted massive debt on EU citizens, and lack of a relevant Big Idea for Europe. The original EU big idea was that by uniting Europe’s nations states politically and economically, Europe won’t start World War 3, and make it three in a row. That’s on top of Europe’s long, long history of colonialism, slavery and religious genocide. So, not starting WW3 is the goal, and I’m fine with that. But we can easily make the EU better. Let’s call it as it is, and be clear that containing Germany was the main goal. Germany is now a leader in many positive ways, and is not going to start a war, so we need a new big idea.

And I don’t remember ever having seen the names Juncker or Tusk on a ballot paper.

But, Brexit? What does that mean?

It truth, a lot of Brexit is about the creation of Europe and the modern world out of the ashes of World War 2. Sadly, Europe is at a dangerous crossroads, with the wounds caused by Brexit oozing the pus that feeds an army of neo-fascists who want the whole thing to fall down. Could a collapse of the EU lead to the World War 3 that this was all supposed to prevent? Maybe. And that maybe should be enough to send a shiver down every sane person’s spine. In this post, I will do my best to explain the motivations behind the bewildering decisions of the key players, then present my 5 point plan to save Europe.

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Brexit by the playas and numbers, it’s like a bad trip

Ireland, Europe, Britain and Brexit, a history of blood and comedy-gary-j-byrnes

Ireland aka Republic of Ireland – A separate country from the UK (see below). Ireland won independence from the UK in 1921, when a border was drawn to separate Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK to this day. Leader is Leo Varadkar, a young buck with a penchant for a facade of social liberalism, while leading a political party that’s so conservative, it even had a fascist period in the 1930s (Fine Gael still gets queasy at mention of Eoin O’Duffy and the Blueshirts). Capital city is Dublin, famous for hospitality and tech. In process of social evolution after decades in the grip of the Catholic Church. Watch for mass graves of orphanage children, homelessness and opiate addiction, rugby, ‘the craic’, and property crashes.

Northern Ireland – A puppet statelet, typically under direct rule from London and with a small economy, dependent on subsidies from London. Sound as a pound! Capital city, Belfast, is famed for the Titanic. Indeed, Brexit is very much a case of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, as we are all transfixed by its stupidness while the very real, existential threats facing Europe and the world are ignored. Much of Game of Thrones is made in Northern Ireland, and that draws hordes of tourists. Cha-ching. Watch for flag-waving, rally driving, Orangemen, the occasional bomb, and theme parks.

UK aka United Kingdom – Technically, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the ugly offspring of the Acts of Union of 1800. Currently includes England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. Population 66 million. Capital, London, is a global cultural beacon while also home to billions belonging to Russian businessmen and petrochemical families. Watch for pro- and anti-Brexit protests outside the House of Commons, ‘Blitz spirit’, Russian spies and oligarchs, Middle Eastern money, and Pret a Manger.

EU – European Union, a block of 28 states, working together to promote liberal values, free trade and human rights. Winston Churchill was among the European leaders who put the foundations of the European Coal and Steel Community together in 1950. It grew and evolved, Ireland and the United Kingdom both joining in 1973. Population 512.6 million, the world’s largest trading bloc. Includes Romania and Hungary. And a lot more. Trust me, a lot. Kind of capital is Brussels in Belgium. Europe is not liked for colonialism, religious crusades and Nazis. On the plus side, European democracy, art, culture, food, wine, beaches, low air fares and liberal outlook mean it is still the centre of the world. But Brexit could tear it apart. European Parliament elections in May 2019 will be worth getting out the vote for, as the rise of far-right autocrats across Europe is feared. Genuinely. Watch for populists, gilets jaunes, Russian spies, Brie, wine, and Islamic State.

Conservative Party aka Tories – The establishment political party that rules the UK, supports monarchy, class and religion. A long and bloody history. Opposition Labour Party under St. Jeremy just started to give direction, proposing that the UK stay in customs union with the EU, which is perfectly reasonable. What if Sinn Fein took their 7 Westminster seats (they’re currently boycotting, of course!) and united the smaller parties behind Labour and against the Tory/DUP coalition?

DUP – Democratic Unionist Party, a pro-UK political party, founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley. Staunchly Unionist, Protestant, pro-monarchist, anti-Catholic, big fans of King William of Orange, the Dutchman who became King of Britain after defeating deposed King James VII at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 (pictured below). The DUP won 292,316 votes in the UK’s 2017 election, or 0.9%. This gave the DUP 10 seats in the House of Commons, the UK Parliament.

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Sinn Fein – The pro-united Ireland, ‘Catholic’ political party with representation in both Northern Ireland (7 seats in the House of Commons, which they boycott) and Ireland (21 seats in the Dail, where Leo Varadkar’s ruling conservative party, Fine Gael, has 49 seats). Ably led by Mary Lou McDonald, who has called for a referendum on Irish unity.

Good Friday Agreement – This needs bullet points.

  • Signed between the UK and Ireland in 1998.
  • Required the removal of British Army and customs checks along the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  • Was designed to make the border fade away.
  • The IRA promised to end their campaign of terrorism and disband, which they did.
  • The British to allow the unification of Ireland, if a majority in Northern Ireland ever votes for it.

This text is part of the Agreement (get the Tipp-ex!): “Wishing to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union;” All very positive. And it led to the removal of multiple British Army military fortifications along the border.

Brexit – The UK voted on leaving the EU back in 2016. Seems like so long ago now. Northern Ireland, Scotland and London were the only regions to vote stay, the irony! It was the Labour Party’s heartland, the north-east of England that swung it for leave, as illustrated starkly by the map below.

British PM and leader of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, was against Brexit, but since she took over from hapless David Cameron, displays an almost religious zeal in ‘seeing it through’. She triggered the countdown without having an exit plan in place. That’s why Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019 without a deal in place (as of 11pm, 17 Feb, 2019). A no-deal Brexit means chaos, pure and simple. It will mess up the lives of the people of Britain, Ireland and the EU, certainly. But no-deal will send shockwaves around the world, pleasing only people like Putin and Rees-Mogg. (Shudders.)

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36% – The share of the Northern Ireland vote won by the DUP in the 2017 election.

0.9% – The share of the United Kingdom vote won by the DUP in the 2017 election.

51.9% – The share of the total UK vote to leave the EU, for Brexit.

55.8% – The share of the Northern Ireland vote to remain in the EU, against Brexit. The DUP campaigned for Brexit. Ireland was not involved in the Brexit vote.

Backstop – What is this backstop of which you speak? This is not the backstop you’re looking for. It’s behind that hedge over there. In this reality, the backstop is an insurance policy. If the UK doesn’t manage to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU that doesn’t require border customs checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, then Northern Ireland stays in the EU Customs Union. The DUP fears that this will mean a de facto united Ireland. The Conservatives couldn’t care less, and if the DUP didn’t hold the balance of power in Westminster, the backstop would have been quietly adopted. Teresa May’s decision to hold an election in 2017 was a serious miscalculation.

My 5 point plan to save Europe

  1. Get Sinn Fein to dump abstentionism, take their 7 Westminster seats, then vote with Labour and the other smaller parties (except the DUP, lol) to get rid of Teresa May’s zombie Conservative government, then go for a soft brexit with the UK remaining part of the European Customs Union. A people’s vote on the deal on offer might be useful. Let’s face it, things change, people change their opinions, and many who voted for Brexit back in 2016 are now dead.
  2. Turn the entire island of Ireland into a free trade zone, a halfway house between the UK, US and EU.
  3. Continue to improve Ireland, with real progress on housing, social equality and a future economy that doesn’t rely on US tech companies avoiding tax elsewhere. Fine Gael, the current ruling party, represents farmers, landlords and conservatism, so is unlikely to be able to achieve significant economic development. In time, we should aim for a vote on unification, but make that vote open to all who live on this island.
  4. Turn the governance of the EU upside down, with more participative decision-making by the entire EU electorate and less control by the unelected commissioners and Eurocrats. The EU must get tough on fascists, and stop treating taxpayers with disgust, especially in countries like Ireland and Greece. The fat cats ruined it for everyone, yet they got away with everything.
  5. What does Europe stand for? Liberalism? Equality? Social justice? I’m not sure anymore. Are you? Let’s get our shit together and decide, actually take on these enormous decisions for ourselves. The politicians have failed us, all of them. There must be a better EU, with a new Big Idea. There has to be, or we are all fucked.

Update, December 2019

Boris Johnson took over as leader of the British Conservative Party earlier this year and won a large majority in Britain’s December 2019 General Election. He had managed to get the backstop removed from the withdrawal agreement, with the consent of the EU and Ireland. What this means is that Northern Ireland will not be part of the EU Customs Union, but there will, in effect, be an invisible customs border down the Irish Sea, making Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the Republic of Ireland in customs and trade. There may yet be a hard border on the island of Ireland, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Johnson has pledged that Britain will leave the European Union by January 31, 2020, with a full trade deal in place by the end of 2020.


Backstory: A brief history of Ireland

As Brexit Britain brazenly becomes a Shakespearean tragedy, the question of what to do about the border in Ireland has been the dealbreaker. This is funny, ironic and sad, all at the same time. To understand why, a quick review of the history of Ireland is in order. (Takes deep breath.)

In a nutshell, Ireland’s history is: warring tribes, St Patrick, warring tribes, Vikings, warring tribes, Normans, warring tribes, King Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, King William of Orange, Easter 1916, Independence, European Union, warring tribes, the EU, an end to tribal warfare, the decline of the Catholic Church, and social advancement…

No real recorded history of Dublin until the Vikings sailed up the River Liffey in the 9th century. Ireland at that time was populated by a lot of Celtic tribes constantly at war with each other, St Patrick having converted some of the pagans to Christianity in the second half of the 5th century. Then the Vikings came over from Denmark, said ‘Hej’ and that was that. They liked Dublin because it was a good spot for catching salmon and handy for grabbing and exporting slaves. They made their bases at rivermouths across Ireland, including at Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Galway – all Ireland’s current cities, basically.

Dublin’s name in Irish is Dubhlinn, meaning ‘black pool’, which may derive from a deep river pool where salmon gathered. The original Viking settlement is at a place called Wood Quay, just upriver (on the south bank) from the quaint Ha’penny Bridge, past U2’s Clarence Hotel and now the location for the bunker-like offices of Dublin City Council (the original Viking origins of Dublin were dug up and skipped to make way for these horrible offices). The Vikings did annoy the locals, (something to do with the slave trade, perhaps) so a warrior called Brian Boru, from Killaloe, Co Clare, became the first to unite the Irish tribes against a common enemy. Boru’s army defeated the Vikings in the Battle of Clontarf on Dublin’s north city coastline in 1014. But Boru was killed in the aftermath of the battle. Ouch.

The Norman invasion began in 1169, commanded by Henry II. The Pope at the time gave Henry dominion over the “barbarous nation” of Ireland so that its “filthy practices” may be abolished, its Church brought into line, and that the Irish pay their tax to Rome. The Normans ruled the roost, mixing with the locals,until King Henry VIII decided to reconquer Ireland in 1566. The mainly Catholic Irish peasantry were never treated well and there was the occasional rebellion and famine, with Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, bringing about Catholic emancipation in 1829. Dublin’s main street, and the bridge leading from it to the southside, is named after O’Connell, as is the main street of virtually every town in Ireland. The Great Irish Famine of 1845-49 was a major event, with over a million starving to death. Dublin was largely insulated from the Famine, as the seat of British power, the centre of a defended coastal strip called The Pale, its citadel Dublin Castle. The Pale gave us the expression ‘Beyond the Pale’, meaning something weird and bizarre. Dubliners call people from outside the city ‘culchies’ or ‘boggers’ while country people call Dubliners ‘Jackeens’ because they loved to fly the ‘Union Jack’ flag in deference to the British rulers. So there you have it.

But the drive for independence continued, with the Easter Rising, a mainly Dublin event, beginning on 24 April, 1916. Led by Padraig Pearse and the Irish Volunteers, it lasted for six days with much of the action taking place around the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street. The rebellion was crushed and its leaders executed in Kilmainham Gaol. This outraged the Irish and a War of Independence was launched in 1919. Led by Michael Collins, it was intelligence-led, used innovative guerrilla tactics, and brought about independence in 1921. But Ireland was partitioned, Ulster remaining part of the United Kingdom, and this caused a brutal Civil War, which ended in 1922. A bitter taste remains and Ireland’s political landscape is still described as ‘Civil War politics’. Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins is an excellent evocation of the period.

Pearse and Collins are revered as heroes (de Valera less so), with many streets and buildings around Dublin named after them. But we owe Britain a great deal, including our love of the language, the finest architecture in Dublin, a key emigration destination and a strong bond between the peoples.

Dublin is capital of a broken nation, an utterly bankrupt economy, and a people with little faith in the inbred political class that caused the spectacular collapse, which began in 2008. There is a general sense of malaise and despondency and a visible urban decay in vacant retail units, derelict office blocks and so-called ghost housing estates. There has also been a noticeable increase in beggars, vagrants and homeless people on the city streets, exactly while the world’s tech companies flock to the city’s docklands to locate their European (tax-avoiding) HQs. Dublin people remain among the friendliest and best-mannered on Earth and are very welcoming.

Still less than a hundred years old, Ireland today is all about the contrasts, widespread poverty around bubbles of a shiny future, positive social change but the Catholic Church still in control of most schools and hospitals, and a populace enslaved by European bank bailout debt but still viewing the EU as the best hope for a better future. I hope we make it. We deserve to.

Readathriller-marketplace-shopify-save-the-planet


Learn more

Northern Ireland 2017 election results: https://www.bbc.com/news/election/2017/results/northern_ireland

UK 2017 election results: https://www.bbc.com/news/election/2017/results

UK Brexit vote: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36616028

European Parliament election 2019 (Steady on, Ted!): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_European_Parliament_election

Good Friday Agreement text: http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/today/good_friday/full_text.html

Brief history of Ireland first published in ‘Easter Rising 1916 Remembered – Ireland’s Crazy History and Broken Present’ by Gary J Byrnes, 2016: https://garyjbyrnes.blogspot.com/2016/03/easter-rising-1916-remembered-irelands.html


Picture credits

Map of Europe: By NuclearVacuum – File:Europe-EU.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8096180

Battle of the Boyne By Jan Wyck – http://www.battleoftheboyne.ie/TheBattleoftheBoyne/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34909021


Read more

Find Gary’s stories at Smashwords in all ebook formats: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/garyjbyrnes


Read our post

Top 5 things you can do TODAY to save the planet.

Flash fiction – Abraham by Gary J Byrnes

I found this sub-200 word piece of flash fiction that I wrote back in 2014. Enjoy!

Abraham

by Gary J Byrnes

The voices, again the voices. Always the voices.

“Quiet! One at a time.”

“You need to take him, yes him,” said the most powerful voice, as Abraham’s eyes were drawn to his son, the lazy one, sat on his arse, watching TV, “Take him out into the back yard and put his neck on the tree stump and take your hatchet and just cut his stupid head off.”

“That’s a mad idea,” said Abraham.

“What’s that, dad?” called his son. The buzzing of the gogglebox, the calling of the crows on their way home.

Abraham looked to the stump, squinting against the setting sun.

“Are you God?” he asked, quietly.

“Of course.”

Okay so. I’ll do it.

“Liam! Come on, come out here with me!”

“Aw dad, Power Rangers is startin’.”

So he grabbed his son by the hair and dragged him into the golden evening and took the axe and felt like a hero and was about to swing it, down onto the crying boy’s neck until the voice came back and said No.

In the olden days, they would’ve founded religions after him. But poor Abraham just ended up in the hospital. Where he stayed.

The end.

Worrying to realise that Abraham is the common patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Mad, Ted!

Read this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham

Fake news? These are Fake Times

Fake news generator? No way!

fake-news-fake-times

I’ve gathered together my blogposts from August 2014 to August 2018 and put them together in one convenient ebook for your enjoyment.

Topics covered range from Islamic State to Irish water, climate change to social change. I want you to enjoy my writing, and share links to the free downloads far and wide, among your friends and on social media (use the share buttons below!).

This is not fake news. I think.

‘What about a free download?’ you ask. ‘Go find the Easter egg,’ I say.

Download Fake Times:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/book/fake-times/id1449188053?mt=11

Smashwords (all ebook formats): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/916990

Industrial hemp is now legal in the US – Great news, especially for climate change

United-States-of-Hemp-flag

USA decriminalises hemp

2018 was short on good news stories, but President Trump gave the world something to celebrate late in December, when he signed the 2018 US Farm Bill into law. One part of the Farm Bill decriminalised industrial hemp, at federal level, meaning that US farmers can now grow the crop without a complex licensing process, or fear of federal intervention.

reefer-madness-film-poster-1936Reefer Madness and all that

The Marihuana (sic) Tax Act of 1937 effectively made possession or transfer of marihuana illegal throughout the United States under federal law through the imposition of an excise tax on all sales of hemp. This act was brought in to criminalise the use of recreational cannabis, following the infamous Reefer Madness religious propaganda film. Many believe that hemp was effectively criminalised under this act so as to protect the paper and plastics interests of American industrialists. Whatever the truth was, hemp is now legal to grow, without the need for licences or advance tax payment. The 1930s were truly odd.

Hemp for sustainable production that helps the environment

Hemp built America, and much of the modern world, so it’s great to see this plant again taking the lead in the search for sustainable materials that can keep us in the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed, but without destroying the planet. An acre of hemp absorbs 10 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, while the processed plants can displace materials and foodstuffs derived from trees, oil and dairy cows. So hemp is the champion that can save the world. And it is truly awesome to see America again take the lead in mass cultivation of hemp.

 

Learn more

This Wikipedia article has great detail on the history of cannabis in the USA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_history_of_cannabis_in_the_United_States

This article from Visual Capitalist has information on the 6,000-year history of medical cannabis: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-medical-cannabis-shown-one-giant-map/

Watch Reefer Madness, IF YOU DARE! https://youtu.be/esfKfTBGadg

Reefer Madness poster credit: By Motion Picture Ventures – posterwire.com direct link, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69820558

Why the Trumps love NORAD’s Santa Tracker: Genius content marketing

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Screengrab from NORAD Santa Tracker

Santa Tracker is genius PR

NORAD’s Santa Tracker is bug news worldwide every December. Here’s why: It’s genius content marketing that solves a few very tricky problems. How do you make a vast, expensive piece of US military infrastructure relevant to the population of the entire world, while projecting American values into regional hotspots? And, bizarrely, how do you deter a nuclear missile strike on America with red-nosed reindeer, while telling a seven-year-old that Santa probably isn’t real?

The answer is the NORAD (North American Air Defense) Santa Tracker, a website that uses Google Earth to track Santa Claus as he travels across the world at faster-than-light speeds on Christmas Eve.

Continue reading “Why the Trumps love NORAD’s Santa Tracker: Genius content marketing”

Flash fiction – Privilege Revoked by Gary J Byrnes

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Tell a story in 300 words or less

Flash fiction is all about brevity. From Ernest Hemingway’s famed six word story (look it up here!) to the Liberties Flash Fiction competition’s 300 words, it’s a great exercise. My story, Privilege Revoked, won the 2015 competition, and I publish it here for your enjoyment (Note: this story contains the c-word, and I don’t mean Christmas).

 

Privilege Revoked

by Gary J Byrnes, 2015

Jesus, the heat on Francis Street today. Every day for six months had been the “hottest day ever”. As Tommy passed through the security scanner at the pub entrance, the TV wall babbled about how fossil fuels were the best hope for a sustainable future. His body image flashed onto the scanner screen, every fold of fat on show, each cavity exposed.

‘Jaysus, Tommy. There’s a void in your stomach, cryin’ out for a pint of stout,’ laughed the security twat as he checked Tommy’s toolbox.

Tommy grunted, took his tools, sat himself at the bar. The droid whirred along its rail.

‘Pint of plain, cunt,’ said Tommy, inserting his WorthCard into the slot on the counter. He always took pleasure in this robot’s lack of insult chips. It was the little things.

The robot found a plastic half-litre jug and held it under the relevant dispenser. It suddenly jerked back. No stout flowed.

‘Pardon me, sir or madam. It appears that your WorthCard has declined this transaction. It transpires that your residential water bill has not been discharged to the System’s satisfaction. Alcohol privilege is revoked until the matter is resolved. Thank you and good day.’

The bardroid whirred to another customer.

Tommy slumped on his stool, everything finally catching up with him. Twenty years on from the Crash of ‘08, life was shit. No other word for it. Just shit. The EFU – Euro Fascist Union –  now controlled every aspect of life. No, call it existence. The fucking robots had all the jobs and the function of the ninety-nine percent came down to serving the elite, tending their droids, managing welfare credits, and not much else.

Tommy snapped open his toolbox, found a nice big wrench.

The end.

Would you like to read more Liberties flash fiction?

Get the Liberties Flash Fiction Collection, free from Smashwords (any ebook format or read online): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/568168

Latest posts…

What’s the Big Idea?

david-ogilvy-what-is-a-big-idea

You hear it. The noise

Without a big idea in your brand, marketing and advertising, you are wasting time and money, and you are boring your audience. Pretty much all advertising these days is dull, doing nothing for the brand, merely adding to the noise. And the amount of media noise that we are subjected to daily keeps growing, so the Big Idea is becoming more important every day. In fact, it’s essential.

The power of the big idea

When your brand, marketing strategy and individual campaigns are driven by big ideas, it becomes so much easier to connect with your customers. Big ideas can come in many forms, from wordplay to combining two ideas that have never been used together before. So how do you judge a big idea? I go with David Ogilvy’s criteria, as Ogilvy is credited with devising the concept.

david-ogilvy-big-idea-criteria

At the end of the day, remember another Ogilvy quote: “Big ideas are usually simple ideas.” And big ideas are not limited to marketing: they drive the most engaging popular culture, and the stories that keep us interested in the world. Think about the books, movies, ads and cultural icons that stand out in your mind, that resonate, that connect; they are all built upon big ideas.

Now stop adding to the noise, cut through it.


Sources

ogilvy.com

facebook.com/ogilvy

AZ Quotes


Interesting

Mad Men agency Sterling Cooper is said to be based on the Ogilvy ad agency.

Hemp absorbs 10 tons of CO2 per acre, hemp is the climate solution

hemp-climate-solution

Don’t listen to climate change deniers

The climate solution is hemp. Whatever the deniers may claim, the devastating fires in California are a result of climate change. Carbon dioxide is the biggest problem in climate change. We produce it by burning coal, petrol and gas in electricity production and transportation. Agriculture is another big source of CO2, as are deforestation and cement production. The CO2 that’s released by human activities helps to warm up the atmosphere. This is called the greenhouse effect, and CO2 and other contributing gases, such as methane, are called greenhouse gases, GHGs. A warmer atmosphere has more energy, which unsettles weather patterns and causes more severe weather events. Hurricanes, droughts, forest fires, ice storms are all caused by our GHG emissions.

Continue reading “Hemp absorbs 10 tons of CO2 per acre, hemp is the climate solution”

Golem. A short story by Gary J Byrnes

Auschwitz-Golem-Story-Gary-J-Byrnes

GOLEM by Gary J Byrnes

Dachau, Germany – 1944

I

The moon showed her face as the wasted man looked into his killer’s eyes. He smiled, weakly. One last time, he held the page of crumpled newspaper close to his failing eyes, squinted, nodded.

‘Yes. You can kill me now.’

Strong hands closed around the old man’s neck, thumbs pressed on his throat. The killer trembled, hesitated. The old man closed his eyes.

‘God is truth. Now do it.’

The killer’s thumbs pressed harder into the windpipe. The victim struggled imperceptibly, eyes wide, but too late. The life that had been full – of happiness, the practice of medicine, family gatherings, the appreciation of poetry, the love of sunshine – slipped easily away. Since the world went crazy, the will to survive had faded to zero. The final image in his brain was of his beloved son, age six, pedalling his new red tricycle in the patio garden, the happiest child on Earth. Then nothing. The body was lowered gently into the patch of moonlight on the dirt floor and the watching grey faces all around faded back into the darkness. Prayers were whispered from the darkness. But it was too late for prayers there.

‘Goodbye, father,’ said the killer as he folded the piece of newspaper and tucked it inside his rough shirt. He was both confused and amazed by how easy it had been to kill his own father. This heap before him had given everything he had – finally his very life – for his son. Yet the hardness in the killer’s heart meant that there could be no grief. So he dragged the bony body to the rear of the draughty billet and worked on the second phase of his plan. Dawn was seven hours away and there was much forming to be done.

II

The bored police captain sat uneasily in his spacious oak-panelled office. He shuffled through a slim pile of official reports, made the occasional note. Every few minutes, he stood and gazed through the window at the rushing city below. He was stifled. In truth, he had been considering a transfer into the military. As he straightened up his desk and prepared to leave for lunch, his secretary rapped at the door. He knew her knock.

‘Enter.’

‘Captain, I have a report that requires your urgent attention,’ said the secretary, pointing towards the upstairs office suites.

‘Oh? What is it?’

‘A murder.’

‘At last. I thought I would go mad. All the definitions have changed. I honestly don’t know what constitutes a crime anymore.’

He internally reprimanded himself for showing annoyance, however slight, with his political masters. But the secretary could be trusted. Still, he shot her a hard glance. She looked to the floor. A murder! His heart leapt. Somebody important? It must be.

He took the folder from her, flicked to the case page and quickly scanned it. Confusion, then anger seized him, made his hands shake.

‘Is this some kind of joke? A Jew? What does the killing of a damned Jew matter?’

‘Read on, Sir,’ said the secretary.

He read on.

‘The body was concealed in a golem. Curious.’

‘Who better to uncover the truth?’

He scanned the wall, admired again his collection of framed press cuttings, diplomas and – in pride of place – his photo with the Great Leader.

‘Yes, that’s true. Nobody knows more about golems and Jew mysticism. But what does the formation of a supernatural saviour from clay have to do with some Jew infighting?’

‘What is a golem, sir?’

‘Adam was the first golem, mentioned in the Jew Talmud. Fashioned from dust, brought to life. In modern times, it symbolises a defender of the Jews. You make it from earth and water, make an inscription on its forehead, chant and chant some more. Then it will come to life and do your bidding. The most famous example is the Golem of Prague, believed to have defended the Jew ghetto there in the sixteenth century.’

‘Ah, the one you – ‘

‘Correct. The one I searched for in thirty-nine. According to legend, it lay in a secret room in a synagogue, awaiting the spell that would return it to life, to defend the Jews once more. I searched every synagogue, broke every wall. There was nothing. I disproved its existence, weakened the will of the Jews. The more I smashed, the more they needed the golem. And he never came.’ He glanced at the photograph, smiled. The undoing of the Golem of Prague had made his reputation. ‘Essentially, the golem is a metaphor. It represents the attainment of wisdom and holiness, the godlike ability to create life. Just another stupid religious fairytale. But why conceal an irrelevant Jew’s body in one?’

‘A religious rite?’

‘I don’t know. The victim was of no importance. I smell a disagreement over money. Still, it will be good to get out of the office. I will leave for Dachau immediately. Send a message to the camp commander. I’ll drive through the night, get there tomorrow early. Please arrange any necessary clearances.’

‘Of course. Do you need a driver?’

‘No, I need some freedom. And can you please inform my wife?’

He sat at his desk, began to write a list of items.

‘I’ll need to pack my camera, analysis equipment and probes, maybe some sausage and wine. A golem, eh? But first, lunch, something special.’ He looked at her. ‘Will you please join me? I apologise for losing my temper just now.’

He stood and went to her, put his arms around her perfect waist. She smiled as he smelled her pinned-up hair, the Chanel perfume on her neck.

‘And over a Jew!’ she said, laughing.

He said ‘A dead Jew!’ and laughed with her.

III

The workers stood – swayed – in ragged lines on the camp’s central square. Guards in winter coats circled, collars raised against the bitter January wind. Drooling Alsatians strained. The camp commander entered the square with his adjutants, addressed the workers.

‘There was a killing in your billet last night,’ he barked. ‘The killing of Jews is solely the right of pure-blooded German officers and guards. The act cannot and will not be tolerated. Who was responsible? Tell me now!’

Silence, every freezing man staring at the cobbled ground.

‘Very well. Take off your clothes.’

Resignedly, the two hundred and eight men of varying ages began to strip, peeling away flea-infested layers, exposing pallid, blotchy skin to the weak sun and freezing air.

‘My only regret is that I am under orders to keep you alive until an investigator makes his way here from Berlin. An expert.’

At that word, the killer’s heart lurched. His bait had worked, the trap was set. When the expert arrived, investigated the golem, then he would spring the trap. And escape from this cursed place. Switzerland just hours away.

‘But I will beat you until you explain this golem to me,’ continued the commander. ‘Why bury a Jew like that?’

Nobody told about the golem. They knew it was a rhetorical question, asked by a brute, an unaware man. So the guards went through the ranks, beat and whipped and dehumanised the workers at random.

The commander looked to the twisting pipes and chimneys that loomed nearby. This was the final solution, right here, so why should they be distracted by the killing. What matter of it? He thought. A Jew? The new ovens will see to them all soon. And this lot will be first in, he vowed. He strode to the nearest Jew, punched him hard in the stomach, kicked him, spat on him.

After twenty-seven minutes of abuse, night had fallen. So he ordered the workers to put their clothes back on and get indoors. The captain from Berlin wanted to preserve all evidence. That was all that saved them from a full night of pain. But it was alright to starve them. He watched as they trudged into their billet, to sleep four to a bunk under horsehair blankets.

‘We’ll be watching,’ he screamed. ‘Any Jew who touches the dead one shall join him instantly. Understood? Understood?’

Then he went to the ovens to supervise the first test, thankful that the dead Jew could not delay that milestone. The oven block was a low, redbrick building, which could have passed for a municipal swimming pool. It was well-lit inside and the air was noticeably warm and sweet-smelling. A steady hum throbbed through the space. Twenty naked and emaciated men stood in a ragged line, a dozen guards standing to attention as the commander entered.

The workers’ eyes darted nervously. They knew something bad would happen, they just didn’t know what. When, at last, the commander ordered them into the new showers, they smiled. They wanted to believe that, yes, they were simply being used to test the showers. This didn’t necessarily make sense, but they clung to it anyway.

On the roof, pigeons squawked, squabbled over the best perches by the chimneys.

IV

The police captain found that it was easy to get in to Dachau. Only delay was a line of trucks ahead, each filled with gas cylinders, marked IG Farben. Finally, the iron gateway greeted ironically: WORK WILL SET YOU FREE. A kind of salvation for the human waste that would work, suffer and die there. An odd smell in the air, like roasting coffee. His papers were checked casually by a guard inside the gate, for who would want to come here without good reason? A long column of workers shuffled. Just ahead. The ragged men looked at him with the eyes of ghosts.

‘What’s that? Did one just smile at me?’

‘I doubt that, sir. We kill the insane ones the day they arrive. They’re no good for anything. You may dine at the officers’ mess. Immediately to your left.’

‘Thank you. Then I need to see this dead Jew.’

‘Block four, sir.’

‘Very good. Where should I park?’

The guard indicated a space for the official car, made an entry on his report sheet and the investigation had begun. The captain was tired, should have taken a driver. Decided to get through it quickly, get away from the stink, find an inn, maybe that one he’d passed an hour before. Taking his camera and briefcase, he walked to the officer’s mess. It was a pleasant stone building standing on its own, curiously fronted by a lawn and ornamental trees.

The mess was quiet so he was given the best table, beside a huge window which looked onto the lawn with the open square beyond. The waiter brought coffee and the day’s paper, offered the menu, busied himself with a table of engineers in clean overalls nearby. They were in high spirits, discussing the oven schedule, the successful tests and the race to be the first Nazi camp to commence the actual extermination of the inferior races. Schnapps. They sent a glass to the captain, which he accepted warmly.

Then the captain read war news and ate good sausages, fried eggs, nutty bread. He drank four cups of coffee, didn’t want to leave the cosy room. He tipped the waiter generously, loaded his camera, wished the engineers luck, went to examine a golem.

The golem was partially ruined, but still an impressive sight. A bulky male figure, over two metres in length, emerged seamlessly from the ground, hands by his side, face strong and impassive. Most of the golem’s head and all the powerful body were carefully finished to a smoothness that didn’t fit the matter. An area around the neck was torn away, fragments returning to the ground from whence they came. The dead Jew’s face and upper body were exposed and starting to stink. His mouth was open, stuffed with dirt, his eyes caked. There, scratched into the dirt that formed the golem’s forehead, he read – as expected – the Hebrew word EMET. He bent down, erased the first letter with his thumb. MET remained. Truth became death.

‘Now you are deactivated, golem,’ he said as a shiver rattled his spine.

The captain took photographs, observed how the earth that formed the golem had been scraped from the ground in the billet. That task had probably taken weeks, in preparation for the killing. But why? ‘Why, golem?’ No obvious clue. He searched his memory for every reference. Nothing clicked.

He left the building, which was little warmer than outside, ordered the waiting guard to send in the suspects one at a time ‘And tell them to hold out their hands, yes?’ He connected the ultraviolet bulb to its battery and lit the golem in a purple glow. The Jews came in. He held the bulb over each man’s hands. The light sparkled off the minerals on the Jews’ skin, residue from the concrete they were using to build the gas chambers and ovens. They filed in, filed out. Finally, hands that had little glow, too much dirt in every pore and fold. This is the man who made the golem.

‘Stand there, Jew.’

To be thorough, he checked the rest of the sorry men. But there was just the one suspect. He advised the guard that the killer had been found and it would take but a little while to understand why. Just the two men in the billet now, their weak shadows falling across the golem. The captain lit a cigarette.

‘Why did you kill him and why did you bury him inside a golem?’

The man just smiled weakly. Was this the one who had smiled earlier in the square? Something about him. Something odd, intangible.

‘He wanted to die.’

‘But why the golem?’

‘What do you know of the golem?’ asked the Jew.

‘The Fuhrer has an interest in such matters. Know thine enemy, etcetera. I know that the golem is a Jewish fantasy, a desperate cry for help by a doomed race. Your god has abandoned you, so why persevere with such matters?’

The Jew studied the captain, watched his mouth, his eyes, his hand movements.

‘I did it out of respect,’ answered the Jew. He straightened his back, lost his stoop, raised himself to a height equalling the captain.

‘Are you trying to imitate my voice?’ said the policeman.

‘Are you trying to imitate my voice?’

‘What is your game here?’

Now it was dark outside. It was time. The Jew reached inside his striped jacket, brought out a piece of folded newspaper. He handed it to the captain.

The police officer – now confused – unfolded the paper. Saw the story. The story about himself. The photograph of himself and Hitler. The smiling Jew hunters. He stared at the picture, his smiling face. His brain clicked as the actor’s powerful hands closed around his throat and thumbs pressed his Adam’s apple through his windpipe. He couldn’t scream, just croaked, and his hands were too weak to break the Jew’s grip.

‘I look like you, captain. Isn’t that funny? A Jew that looks like a pure-blooded German officer.’

The Jew was strong. The captain fumbled for his pistol. Too late.

‘Too good an opportunity to pass up, captain. We’re not so different, we could be brothers. My father gave his life so that I might have a chance at mine. Thank you for being so predictable.’

The officer’s life was extinguished.

‘Enjoy hell.’

Now time was critical. The Jew undressed, removed the clothes from the body, put on the police uniform. A good fit, if a little loose around the stomach. But warmer. He smoked a cigarette and kept talking, imitating the captain’s accent and voice modulations. He put his old clothes on the captain’s body, punched his face until he bled, then set to work kicking the dead man’s head.

‘Filthy Jew!’ he cried. Maybe the guard was listening.

Happy that the face was sufficiently disfigured, he lit another cigarette, cocked his cap slightly to one side, assumed the arrogant swagger of the superior race. He checked the captain’s papers. They were not specific, allowed free travel. This was what he had prayed for most of all. Grinning, he packed up the captain’s gear and left the billet for the last time.

Stop grinning, you fool.

The guard stood to attention.

‘He admitted everything. The golem was just a stupid Jew attempt at salvation. I killed him for wasting everybody’s time.’

He rubbed the tender knuckles of his right hand.

‘Can you have the bodies cleared and burned? And advise the commander.’

The guard wasn’t sure about any of this, but didn’t dare question a captain.

‘I need to get away from here. The smell of Jews is too much. How far to Switzerland? I promised my mistress I would bring back a fat diamond.’

‘A short drive, sir. It’s well signposted.’

‘Very good. That’s all.’

He walked to the temporary parking area, looked for the car with Berlin plates. A Mercedes. The key in his pocket fitted, so he began to breathe again and drove to the gate. The guard didn’t even check his papers, lifted the barrier, waved him through. He smiled, waved back.

V

His heart painfully pounding, blood rushing through his ears, he drove away from the miserable place. A long train approached slowly, drawing up beside the entrance. He glimpsed faces and hands through the gaps in the cattle cars’ walls. He wished there was something he could do for them. Then he accepted reality, his reality, the reality of his escape. He rummaged in a basket on the passenger seat.

‘Sausage! Bread!’

The smooth glass of a bottle. He pulled off the road, just for a couple of minutes, just to calm his heart, and drank the wine greedily. As the dark towers of Dachau faded from his rear view mirror and the forest gave way to a view of moonlit snow-capped mountains, the Jew laughed.

‘Oh my earnest captain, how could you not know the modern meaning of the word golem? Fool, stupid, clueless!

 

Vampire Story – book, film and music

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I had the idea for Vampire Story a couple of years back. The idea being to tie Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, in with modern vampires living in Stoker’s hometown of Dublin. I knew I had to make a film, to direct the telling of the story. My friend Padraig said he’d back it. So he became the producer. I didn’t realise how big the project would become. Making a film, even a short one, is a piece of work. Dozens of talented people, location permits, equipment hire, the weather, the script, pizzas – all these have to come together at the right time for magic to even stand a chance of happening.

Making a film is a very enlightening experience. It’s all about the suspension of disbelief. Now I understand why the top actors are paid so well: they have a true talent. Acting is hard. Editing is hard. Getting the audio right is hard. I get why movies can cost so much: there is so much to get right so that the audience loses their grip on external reality. That’s the magic of film. So, over a period of about 18 months, the magic did happen and we have a showcase available now for all the world to see, for free.

I figured that a story about a novelist needed to be expressed in its literary form also, so I wrote Vampire Story the book, taking the intimacy of text as an excuse to push back the boundaries of the story, create some new worlds within the world that was captured so well by Canon 5D cameras.

Then I contacted the musical geniuses who made the movie soundtrack, Carol Keogh and Aidan Casserly, and asked if we could release the Vampire Story music to the people of the world to enjoy as their own, personal soundtrack to life. They said Yes! and, within days, the original soundtrack was available globally.

Vampire Story is now full spectrum entertainment, and all for free). Thanks to all the cast and crew for helping make it happen, for sticking with it. It’s hard.

So enjoy it, and go spread the vampire love…

See the movie, for free, on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/mtbuLxOcHLo?list=UU4FqaSDtMkYv9uLUIipzXDA

Download the ebook, for free, from Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/488055

Download the ebook, for free, from iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/book/vampire-story/id934729908?mt=11

Listen to the OST, for free, on BandCamp here: https://carolkeogh.bandcamp.com/album/vampire-story-soundtrack

Please share widely – the perfect soundtrack to life. Even if you live forever…

Like Vampire Story on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/vampirestorymovie

Vote yes to remove blasphemy from Ireland’s Constitution (Yes we did!)

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Peasant Ireland

Picture the times: Peasants roamed the shabby streets, gathering the droppings from passing horses and the occasional nuggets of coal that fell from carts, numbed the pain of existence with stout and whiskey. It was a filthy land, the deep wounds left by tribal conflicts still oozing poison. Into the social void, the high priests, with their glittering temples and mysterious ways, had assumed absolute power. ‘See this shining thing’, they proclaimed to the uneducated masses. ‘It is all that you need. Let us take your souls, your minds and your bodies, and the shining thing will give you a wonderful life. When you’re dead.’ ‘Oooh,’ gasped the peasants.

That was Ireland, in 1937. That’s when Eamon de Valera and the Catholic Church wrote Ireland’s Consitution. Together.

The Irish Consitution is truly a primitive and uninformed document, written with the specific purpose of keeping the peasants in the shit (literally), while the Church and State could reap their bodies and souls, while maintaining the social order. I believe that the whole Constitution should be discarded, and a completely new document created, one which can be used to unite all the peoples on this island, and with human dignity at its core.

But, for now, we continue to amend the Consitution. On October 26, 2018, Ireland will vote for our President, and voters will also have the opportunity to remove blasphemy from the Constitution.

The current text in the Constitution reads (Article 40.6.1):

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Bizarrely, the law defining the offence and penalties only came into effect in 2009. Yes, 2009. A Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition, led by Brian Cowen, decided that, with the world tumbling into a debt-driven cycle of despair, and Ireland selling out her peasants to pay off European banks’ gambling debts, we really needed to get blasphemy onto the statute books for once and for all. Yes, we defined the punishment for blasphemy in 2009.

The Defamation Act 2009

That Act says that a person publishes or utters something blasphemous if they publish or say something that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and intend to cause that outrage.

Under the 2009 Act, where a person is accused of the criminal offence of publishing or saying something blasphemous, it is a defence if they can prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in what they published or said. If convicted of this offence, a person may be fined up to €25,000. There is no prison sentence for this offence.

Freedom of expression

So, let’s get blasphemy out of the Irish Constitution, and let the Government expunge its nastiness from the law. Sedition and indecent matter will stay in, why not just get rid of the whole shitty shooting match? It’s called freedom of expression.

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Why can’t we freely criticise a dysfunctional state? Who decides what ‘indecent’ means? We should remove all this text shown above.

Check out the Preamble to the Irish Constitution

As part of my reasoning for the drafting of an entirely new Constitution for Ireland, I invite you to read the offensive Preamble to the Irish Constitution:

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire,

Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,

Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,

And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,

Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

OMFG! WTF?

Update, 27 November, 2018

Today, President Michael D Higgins (who was re-elected, thankfully, on the day of the blasphemy referendum), signed the order that removed the offence of blasphemy from Ireland’s Constitution. 65% voted for this to happen, 35% wanted to keep blasphemy in the Constitution. While it’s shocking that a third of the population still fearss the wrath of the invisible sky god, we must see this outcome as progress. Go, Ireland!

Read the blasphemy referendum results in detail here (I’m worried about Donegal): https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/blasphemy-referendum-results

Sources

Referendum Commission

https://www.refcom.ie/current-referendums/referendum-on-blasphemy/present-legal-position/

Irish Constitution

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Ireland_(consolidated_text)

Picture credits

Photograph of President de Valera kissing the ring of Rev. Dr. John Charles McQuaid Archbishop of Dublin: UCD School of History and Archives. UCD Archives. Press Photographs of Eamon de Valera (1882–1975). P150/PH/3855

What’s next?

Make sure you vote!

Join my Facebook group, Secular Ireland: https://www.facebook.com/SecularIreland/

Ebook bestsellers! A trio of trilogies – for free!

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Just when you thought that life couldn’t get any better, along come three awesome, free ebooks

Bite-sized adventures that might just change your life, and how you see the world. Grab these free ebook trilogies from iTunes right now, then share this link out among friends, family and everyone who deserves a special treat: the joy of reading!

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9/11 Trilogy

Challenging, edgy short stories that happen before, during and after 9/11. ‘The Garden at the Inn’ is set in Afghanistan and Pakistan and looks at the formation of Al-Qaeda. ‘Tuesday’ is Manhattan on September 11, 2001. The trilogy concludes with ‘Nine Twelve’, a vision of life the day after.

These stories will challenge you, on your journey into the cauldron of New York on September 11, 2001.

Number one bestseller, free from iTunes for a limited time: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/book/9-11-trilogy/id465575321?mt=11

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History Trilogy

The creation of the Jesus myth in ancient Rome.

The downfall of King Louis XVI in France.

The horror of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

History is full of lessons for us. But can we ever learn? Three thrilling stories in one ebook that will make you reconsider history and your place in it.

It’s said that history is written by the victors (of war). What if history was written by artists, lovers, heroes?

Get it free from iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/book/history-trilogy/id731358895?mt=11

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Ireland Trilogy

Three short stories set in Ireland. The first story, Perhaps A Few, happens just before Ireland’s devastating potato famine of 1845-49. Troika is a story that happens in the dark 1930s, while Blitzkrieg Ireland 2016 considers what might have happened during the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, the event that led to Ireland’s independence.

These stories are entirely speculative, creative fiction. It is a given that Ireland has had a pretty miserable history; Ireland Trilogy brings some of her formative forces into sharp, painful focus.

Download now, for free, from iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/book/ireland-trilogy/id543200529?mt=11

Other ebook formats

If you don’t use iTunes for your ebooks, you can find these trilogies, and many more Gary J Byrnes titles, on Smashwords here. They can be downloaded in every ebook format, including Kindle, and also read online.

The Writer (or, Who wrote the Bible?). A short story by Gary J Byrnes

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THE WRITER (or, Who wrote the Bible?)

Rome, The Empire – 40 CE

Rats feasted on a dead drunk, but out of sight. A heavy evening after the scorched afternoon; late summer, the month of the God Emperor Augustus. The air glowed, smoke from thousands of oil lamps and open fires catching the sun’s fading power.

The writer’s eyes burnt as he stood on the balcony of his family domus on the Palatine Hill, watched the murmuring city stretched out below. He acknowledged a peculiar beauty in the wide sweep of wretched humanity huddled together; slums and tenements hugging the banks of the Tiber, hill after hill to the glimpse of distant, burning sea.

Time passed. Abstract forms took shape. His heart leapt, giddy.

Later, a fat moon rose from behind the imposing home, cast its cold light over the dead day, the greatest city in history, the worried man. But the writer had a fire in his belly, a new idea burned, became alive. At last, his simmering anger had found a purpose, some kind of direction.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ said his mother, touching his elbow and rubbing it fondly.

‘From up here, yes. But it is a different life in the slums,’ he answered. ‘It stinks like a dead dog.’

‘It’s said there are a million souls in the city now, Marcus. A million. They are here by choice. This is the Golden City of Dreams. Dreams of wealth, success, excitement. You cannot blame our Senators or our Emperor for the squalor that success inevitably brings.’

‘Especially since we have a Senator as guest this evening, mother?’ quizzed Marcus, worried for his father.

‘We must be gracious. Anyway, Maximus has been very kind to us. And he’s your father’s best friend in the Senate.’

‘That’s a very beautiful stola you’re wearing, mother. Where did you get it? And is that black wig from India, perhaps? Has generals’ pay risen again?’

She didn’t answer, just stared at the city in silence until a servant announced the Senator’s arrival.

‘I will welcome our guest. Please, for me, be happy.’

‘I’ll try,’ said Marcus, as if to himself.

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Get it for your ebook reader for free

His mind flew: filled with conflict, many emotions, passion. In recent months, he had begun to question the society in which he enjoyed a privileged place. The vast majority were poor or enslaved, while he had enjoyed a Greek education, the spoils of Empire and the stability of position. But it wasn’t enough. Not anymore. Not since he’d started hearing the stories, the stories he’d begun to write down and share, in Greek so that they could be read throughout the civilised world.

Would his stories bring any fairness to the casually cruel and biased system that controlled so many millions of lives? Probably not, but he knew that was not reason enough to abandon his project. The simple act of writing would purge his own guilt and, like a pebble in a pond, who knew where the ripples would end up? His heartbeat louder as he lost himself in the structure, the plot, the drama. He was truly lost to it.

He heard his mother calling his name repeatedly.

He drained the goblet of wine and took a deep breath. He turned from the glorious musings, hesitated, went to the dining area. During the hot summer season, evening meals were taken in the peristyle, the open garden in the centre of the domus. The servants waited in the shadows while oil lamps on the pillars illuminated the guests. Two child slaves were tasked with using ostrich feathers to keep flying insects away from the diners. The centrepiece was an innovation: a long oak table which overflowed with gold platters of grapes and bread and many jugs of wine. The guests were seated on plush, high-backed chairs, rather than the typical lounges.

‘Mother, your generosity is unequalled in all of Rome,’ said Marcus, touching his lips and bowing deeply. He turned to the guests. ‘I welcome you, Senator, and all our guests on behalf of my father.’

‘Indeed,’ said his mother. ‘He risks his life blood in Gaul so that we may enjoy the fruits of the Empire.’

‘I thank you for your welcome, Marcus,’ said Senator Maximus, resplendent in his purple-trimmed Senatorial toga. ‘In these difficult times, the welcome of friends is indeed a respite.’

Other guests. His mother’s current artist-in-residence. The wine merchant who lived next door. The merchant’s wife. To Marcus, the artist was a pompous man whose ability didn’t match his ego, a frighteningly familiar idea for a struggling writer. The merchant couple were wealthy, overweight and vulgar in all their habits. Bacchus was their favoured god. So they called for more wine. The servants filled the wine goblets with mulsum, honey wine. All present stood and drank in honour of their hostess, her courageous husband and the House Gods.

For the first course, a plate of mixed salad with olive oil dressing was followed by sea urchins marinated in liquamen, the sauce made of salt and rotten fish. Salt was ubiquitous, Rome herself having been founded on a salt mine. The finest spices from Ephesus were passed around the table. Praise flowed and Marcus was happy for his mother and thankful for his fortunate circumstances.

The talk was of politics, of course. There was discussion of little else at Roman dinners, Emperor Caligula having recently returned from Gaul with cartloads of seashells and thousands of slaves. Now, the Emperor was reimposing his will on the city at the centre of the world.

‘I know Tiberius put the last independent legions under imperial control and will be remembered for not much else,’ said the merchant, ‘but I preferred him to Gaius Caesar Germanicus Caligula.’

‘Little Boot has increased the free flour ration and the games are becoming more bloodthirsty,’ said Maximus. ‘So the masses are happy enough. But I must warn you all that he is seeking to replenish the state treasury.’

‘How?’ asked the merchant, worried. ‘More taxes?’

‘Worse,’ said the senator. ‘Extortion and confiscation. He has demanded tribute from many wealthy citizens. Failure to pay has led to confiscation of estates.’

The merchant became pale and quiet, calculating how much he could easily offer the Emperor should the agents come knocking. He decided to lead the discussion away from the disturbing topic.

‘Yesterday, I saw two gladiators fight a lion,’ he exclaimed. ‘A lion! It managed to gore one of them before they dispatched it with a dagger in the ribs. It was truly a spectacle. The mobs lapped it up. But think of the expense in bringing a lion to Rome from the furthest part of Africa.’

‘The servants are talking about his plans to make his favourite horse a senator,’ said Marcus.

‘Nonsense,’ retorted Maximus. ‘I fear these whispers are being put about by someone who sees opportunity in our emperor’s madness.’

‘Such as?’

‘Claudius, perhaps.’

‘Claudius does have the loyalty of the Praetorian Guard,’ said the merchant. ‘And Little Boot executed Naevius Sutorius Macro of the Guard after he ascended. So there will be no love lost there.’

‘The Guard may yet save us all,’ said Maximus.

The discussion was interrupted by the head servant, a Greek, who rang a beautiful gold bell to signify the arrival of the main courses. A full roasted pig, assorted baked fish, a roast pheasant and copious quantities of wine soon covered the table. The guests rejoiced and praised their hostess.

‘Did you hear about Caligula’s little episode in Jerusalem?’ asked the artist, a self-obsessed man who observed his reflection in anything shiny at every opportunity.

‘Please go on,’ said the merchant’s wife.

‘Well, I have it on good authority that he wants to put a wondrous statue of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem.’

‘How do you know this?’ asked the merchant.

‘My very good friend is the sculptor. The statue is almost complete. Fortunately our puppet there, Herod Agrippa, won’t allow it. He thinks it’ll drive the locals mad. They’ve been very restless in Judaea, apparently.’

The conversation waned, all mouths busy with the main courses. Marcus was more disillusioned with Roman society than ever before. He knew Caligula was broadly disliked, but now it seemed clear that the Emperor was mad and the citizens would suffer for his insanity.

‘Yes, I’ve heard stories from Judaea,’ said Marcus, quietly delighted at the opening.

‘Do tell,’ said his mother.

‘I’ve been speaking with a Judean. He’s a slave in the baths near the Forum. Nice chap. Quite intelligent. He can even read Greek.’

‘Fascinating how some of the savages can adopt our ways,’ said the merchant. ‘But no more civilised than dogs.’

The others nodded their approval of the assumption, a commonly held superiority complex.

‘So this slave, Luke is his name, he told me about a character in Judaea. I’m writing a long story about him. A novel.’

‘Wonderful,’ exclaimed his mother, clapping her hands and kissing him on both cheeks. ‘You will be the greatest writer the Empire has known. You are still so young. You have time. All you need is the idea. Praise to Mercury,’ she said, raising her goblet, ‘Protector of writers.’

‘And merchants!’ said the merchant as all at the table raised their drinks.

‘Tell us your idea, Marcus,’ they chorused.

‘The idea is to write a sequel to the Testament, the holy book of the Judeans, which is very popular reading among the literate classes.’

‘I’ve read some of it,’ said the artist. ‘I even have the scrolls in my studio. Quite fascinating, really. Their god character is such a brute. Is it meant to be ironic?’

‘Oh, it’s magical,’ said the merchant’s wife. ‘A fantasy, I’d say. The part about the creation of the Universe is so exciting.’

‘Genesis, isn’t it?’ said Marcus’s mother.

‘Everybody’s talking about it. Escapist, exotic literature is such an antidote to political plays and love stories.’

‘I’m so tired of the Greek myths.’

All agreed.

‘Yes,’ said Marcus. ‘So I hope to capitalise on this interest in religious escapism and continue the story.’

‘In which direction?’ asked the merchant.

‘More wine!’ called his wife. ‘Bring us that pale Spanish.’

‘You’ll like this,’ said the merchant. ‘It hasn’t suffered for travel. Marcus, I apologise. In which direction will you continue the story?’

‘This slave, Luke, has given me the entire structure,’ said Marcus, excited now at the growing potential of his story. In truth, he was amazed at the popularity of the old Judean stories among Rome’s elite. It all seemed to fit perfectly. ‘Just a few months ago, a man in Judaea claimed to be the son of their god.’

‘Yes,’ said his mother, ‘the Judeans have only one god. How quaint.’

‘Needless to say, he upset the local priests and they had him crucified. Our man Pilate was forced to order the killing.’

slave-market-who-wrote-bible-writer-gary-j-byrnes
The Slave Market by Boulanger

‘As cunning as wolves, priests.’

‘This crucified man supposedly performed miracles, such as turning water into wine.’

‘Water into wine? Then off with his head!’ exclaimed the merchant.

‘Quite,’ continued Marcus, after the laughter subsided. ‘He is also said to have cured lepers and raised the dead.’

‘All very interesting,’ said the artist, a secret atheist. ‘But it sounds like a simple religious fantasy to me.’

‘It gets better,’ said Marcus. ‘After he was entombed, three days later, he rose from the dead.’

‘A standard switch, I would’ve thought.’

‘Those Judeans have had too much of the man’s magic wine, I fear,’ laughed the merchant, uneasily.

‘Apparently a lot of them believe this is all true. Besides all the magic tricks, he had a profound message: that all men are equal, that the Emperor and the slave are as one before god.’

‘Be careful with this tale,’ warned Maximus. ‘That kind of talk could get you deported. Or worse.’

He’d thought of this risk, of course, and had already taken the decision to publish under an assumed name. Perhaps a Judean name for authenticity: Matthew or Luke or just put it down as the word of God. Edgy. He would lose credit for his work and any chance at profit. But these motivations were no longer the drivers of his creative urges. His spirit demanded more. His soul had awoken. He would create a character like none seen in fiction before. Pit him against an empire. Challenge the status quo. An Odyssey for a new millennium, a Ulysses not on a journey of self-discovery through allegory, but a hero for the poor, the enslaved, the ninety-nine percent.

The dishes were cleared and dessert of Syrian pears and Greek honey was placed before them.

‘Your main character, Marcus. The magician, what is his name?’ asked the merchant’s wife.

‘Literally, the anointed one who brings the salvation of God,’ said Marcus. ‘For a hero, Jesus Christ has more of a ring to it, don’t you think?’

‘I’m worried, Marcus,’ said his mother then. ‘I don’t want you causing any trouble.’

‘Don’t worry, mother. It’s just a story.’

A story that can wait awhile, perhaps. This scene, this now, this is too interesting to lose.

Another story formed.

The writer excused himself, went outside to smell the night and to look at Jupiter, King of all the Gods, in all His glory. He smiled.

The end.

Want more?

Find this and all my short stories so far in one juicy collection, The Writer and Other Stories:

iTunes ebook

Amazon print

So, who wrote the Bible?

What do you think?


Get this story for your ebook reader, for free, from Smashwords.


Image credits

The Slave Market By Gustave Boulanger – http://peripluscd.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/boulanger-gustave-clarence-rudolphe-french-1824-1888-the-slave-market.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31742831


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SERP

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Description

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Bottom line

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