Avoiding the interesting

Sep 25th, 2009 | By | Category: Ireland

Portsmouth sailor

The handful of coins was strewn along the road, distant from the nearest houses, presumably fallen from the pocket of some passing cyclist.  There were seven shillings in total.  Not a fortune, but enough to buy something in 1970.

A trip to Portland allowed access to a shop that sold model ships, for six shillings and ten pence an Airfix model cruiser.  It meant having only tuppence change from the seven shillings, but for a cruiser the expenditure seemed worthwhile.

The moment of disappointment came when reaching home.  The instructions included a history of the ship, the name of which has long since receded into the depths of the memory.  The ship had been launched in 1946.  Being launched in 1946 meant it had missed the Second World War, it meant that it did not command great esteem in the mind of a nine year old boy who thought significance was determined entirely by involvement in the conflict of 1939-1945.  The model never ever gained a place in the affections; no-one would be interested in a model of a ship that had not taken part in any major battle or campaign.

The model came to mind in a conversation with the head of finance of an organisation turning over tens of millions.

“How are things?”

“Interesting times”.

“As in the Chinese curse?”

“Indeed, as in the Chinese curse”.

The crew of that cruiser, putting to sea from Portsmouth or Plymouth, would have seen interesting times.  They would have seen times they would never wish to see again. Steaming down the channel, they would have been glad of the boredom; glad that no dark speck in the sky would suddenly materialise as a dive bomber; glad that ripples through the water would never again be a torpedo; glad that no merchantman moving sluggishly through the waters would suddenly explode in a bright ball of orange flame; glad that they would never again have to pull crewmen and bodies from waters covered in black oil.  They would have been glad to be sailing, without threat or danger, without prospect of battle or campaign.

At nine years of age, the cold realities of what it meant for a ship to be interesting had not sunk in; the crews of such ships were often men still in their forties, maybe they had not yet begun to tell the full story, or maybe a diet of comics and black and white films closed out what they were saying.

They were putting up posters for the referendum campaign as I drove home at 10.30; ‘No’ campaigners determined to keep Ireland separate from Europe;  people whose party specializes in rhetoric.  Had they lived through the ‘interesting times’ in Europe, their perspective might have been very different; as it is, they seem as connected to the grimness of history as a nine year old buying a plastic model ship.

Leave a comment »

  1. I’m really not across the Lisbon Treaty at all but I can’t see how Ireland can be part of the EU and not be part of the Lisbon Treaty. I must read more about it . .this is the second referendum you’ve had isn’t it?

  2. Difficult decisions for you all. (I can’t vote, I’m out of the territory.) Though you did vote before, and the disregarding of that decision sets a dangerous precedent. Then again, I didn’t say that about the second divorce referendum.

    These days, with WW2 anniversaries abounding, there may be a sense of regret, shame? or embarrassment about Ireland’s role in WW2 – despite all the volunteers from south of the border. But I wonder is this misplaced. Perhaps managing to keep the country out of the horrors of that war is a quietly great achievement. Badges of pride may be more colourful, but if the colour comes from blood, calmer earth tones may be the saner choice. Having had so much conflict played out in Ireland, do we regret missing one. Would Dublin sit more comfortably had it been blitzed like Belfast? (Keep in mind that the ugliest Dublin buildings that might benefit from being bombed are post-WW2.)

    As ever, though, your point is imaginatively and well made.

  3. This is the second referendum re-run, a similar experience occurred with the Nice Treaty. I don’t have a vote, anyway, being a British passport holder.

    The point about the ‘interesting times’ is that much of Europe is dotted with cemeteries left from the way the European nations did business for generations. I think Ireland does not have a collective memory of European wars in the way such a memory would exist in France and Germany. Whatever the faults of the EU, and they are many, it is better than what went before.

  4. In my workplace we recently worked on a similar process. The new students have a vote on student reps’, two lads from our course came forward and achieved a tie. One has ADHD and various associated conditions, the other a record of exclusion from school and a police record for ABH. We – I am almost ashamed to say – swung the vote in favour of the lad who can sit still, listen and appears to be fitting in and responding to what we have to offer.
    Wrapped up nicely with a little sop to our liberal natures -but not honest or fair.

  5. Is the education process itself not a matter of benevolent dictatorship rather than democracy?

Leave Comment