- This is My Hadji Bey
- Eurovision in a Cowshed
- The Boll Weevil 3: On the Waterfront
- A Year in Brocante 11: An Easter Egg
- A Year in Brocante 10: Upscaling and Hacking
- Kevin Pearce
- The Bol Weavil and the Lightning Bug 2: On the Ground
- The Boll Weevil and the Lightning Bug 1: A Home in Ireland
- Love In The Air
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With loyalty points from our local supermarket Super U, you can get fantastic gifts such as sandwich toasters and ice-cream sundae glasses and polyester pillows, but with an active imagination and a memory not yet lost to age or the cumulative effects of mild narcotics, one can get much more. Yesterday, in the euphoria of collecting a new electric toothbrush, courtesy of my Carte Super U, I remembered the Green Shield Stamps.
Green Shield Stamps were reward trading stamps redeemable against gifts from a catalogue issued in shops, supermarkets, petrol stations etc as a shopping incentive, first introduced in America in 1896 and most popular from the 1930s to the 1980s. During the 1960s the US Green Stamps gifts catalogue was the largest publication in the United States and the company issued three times as many stamps as the Postal Service. Unlike Super U Carte loyalty points, which are electronically scanned and provide an enormous amount of information about the customer, Green Shield Stamps were perforated and gummed and had to be moistened (i.e.licked) and stuck into a book before one could claim one’s gift from the catalogue. I remember getting a SodaStream with my stamps and a radio alarm clock which was still going strong long after the Green Shield Stamps company had folded in Ireland and Britain.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan was President of the United States. In Nineteen Eighty Four, not all of George Orwell’s 1949 predictions of an oligarchial dictatorship of pervasive government surveillance had come to pass internationally – we didn’t have the technology – but now we do. Loyalty cards and Facebook ‘Likes’ are all monitoring our every purchase (and emotion or physical need triggering a purchase) and could yet become the most damning evidence against us if we are ever accused of Thoughtcrimes.
Ronald Reagan was a popular President (with the Right, with those enjoying tax breaks on un-earned income and with the likes of Margaret Thatcher.) He was also popular with satirists; almost a decade before he himself admitted to suffering from Alzheimers Disease, the British TV show “Spitting Image” had a segment called “The President’s Brain is Missing.” Reagan wanted to woo the Irish-American vote, so he came to Ireland to visit his ancestral Irish homestead, as had President John F. Kennedy. With the visit to his Irish ‘homestead’ the ‘President’s Brain’ was depicted as a potato.
Reagan described the Soviet Union as “the evil empire” and escalated military spending to stock-pile weapons against the Communist Threat, but Reagan was lucky in that history sees him as an active participant in assisting the fall of the Soviet Regime. This March, two gorgeous teenage sisters from a home-schooled, Christian fundamentalist Oklahoma family of 7 who form the band “First Love” attended a rally for the Republican presidential candidate hopeful Rick Santorum and wrote a song called “Game On”. Actually, their parents – very much part of the act – wrote it, the girls probably know nothing about Ronald Reagan except that, like Michael Jackson, he played with a monkey.
The song included the lyrics “Oh there is hope for our nation again/Maybe the first time since we had Ronald Reagan/There will be justice for the unborn, factories back on our shores/ where the constitution rules our land…..yes I believe Rick Santorum is our man.” (A comment was made in response to the news that the song had gone ‘viral’ on the internet, that yes, the song was ‘viral’ because the video “makes you sick and you want to throw up after you watch it”.)
The Kennedys of Dunganstown County Wexford really did look like the Kennedys of Boston. The Regans were from Ballyporeen in County Tipperary. There was one Ballyporeen Reagan in particular who was the spitting image of the US President – he could easily have been mistaken for Ronald Regan’s brother. (No such physical similarities were apparent when last year President Barak Obama visited Moneygal, County Offaly, home of his great-great-great-grandfather.)
Everyone in Ireland adored the Kennedys, but not everybody celebrated Reagan’s Irish visit. The Raven Arts Press published a book called “After the War is Over” edited by Dermot Bolger and introduced by Francis Stuart which included such respected poets as Sara Berkeley, Anthony Cronin, Michael Davitt, Sean Dunne, Michael Hartnett, Pearse Hutchinson, Aidan Murphy, Sydney Bernard Smith and Matthew Sweeney. It was described as bringing together satire and serious poetry dealing “directly or indirectly with aspects of Mr Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies and examines the growing influence of American consumer and cultural imperialism on Irish life today. The protest made in this book is not, primarily, a political one. It is a humanitarian protest about the erosion of human values, the deprivation of human rights in South America and elsewhere, the rewriting of history, the genocide of minority cultures and the threat of destruction hanging over the earth. ‘After the War is Over’ is the voice of 16 individuals from a small nation raised against the largest propaganda machine in the world. Faced with all the hype of this vote-gathering visit, the aim of the book is to mark with dignity the concern of those writers, and we feel, the majority of Irish people, at the policies, at home and abroad, of the government of Mr Reagan of Washington DC and Ballyporeen, County Tipperary.” (Reading it again a quarter of a century later, it did not turn out to be prophetic, rather very worthy and inflamed, in a way our poets’ protests no longer seem to burn. Maybe it was the time of man. What is sad is that so many of these poets are now dead: Davitt, Dunne, Hartnett, Hutchinson, Smith, Stuart……)
But back to Ballyporeen: It was cold and wet on the afternoon at the end of May 1984 when I went to the village a few days before Ronald Regan was due. Preparations for the visit were well underway and the media coverage was enormous. The wooden stage was up and the bunting was flapping in the rain. Already access was restricted, security was tight and Secret Service personnel were sweeping the area. The fleet of armour-plated limos had arrived from America and I just happened to be at the petrol station as the drivers and bodyguards (wearing their trenchcoats, suits and signature sunglasses in the Irish rain) were filling them up. There was hardly enough petrol in all of Tipperary to satisfy the engines of these massive automobiles, the meter clicked and clicked and so did my brain. I approached a man in sunglasses with a walkie-talkie holding a hose into a gas guzzling beast and asked him, in a very nice, friendly fashion, if I could have the presidential cavalcade Green Shield Stamps……We speak the English language fluently in Ireland, a language common to our American cousins, but I may as well have been speaking one of the First Nation languages of the New World wiped out by the arrival of the Europeans and their cultures. To say that I was brusquely rebuffed would be an understatement; I felt all the ice used in the Cold War aimed frostily in my direction. For a very, very long time I have known not to make jokes with military, police or security personnel. That day in 1984 in Ballyporeen, I learned never to ask them a favour either.