I don't like Romany gypsies. My dislike of this ethnic group stems from personal experience and I have now reached the point where I routinely tar each and every one of them with the same brush. And many in this country share my opinion, not to mention other countries. In an attempt to develop a deeper understanding of the Romany people I have looked into their heritage and discovered how they came to be one of Europe's most disliked tribes. But it still didn't change my opinion on them nor, in my eyes, justify their behaviour on these shores. However in spite of my antipathy towards them it's hard to argue in favour of our law enforcers when discussing recent events.
In the wake of the suspected kidnapping of a blonde, blue-eyed girl by a Romany family in Greece the Irish authorities acted upon on a tip-off from a concerned citizen. They were informed that a similarly fair-haired child was living with a Roma family in Dublin and acted as they saw fit. What this meant was taking the child from it's family and bringing it to the hospital for DNA tests. But now before documents were requested, produced and then subsequently deemed insufficient. There was no indication that the child had been mistreated by it's guardians - no bruises, no signs of malnutrition - just a confused 7 year old being dragged away from it's mother and father.
And in Athlone it was a similar story, a two-year old boy spending the night away from his family while they fretted and worried for his safety. But it's easy to be wise after the event you say. And you'd be right. If these children had turned out to the victims of kidnapping we would be praising the actions of all those involved, those who had tipped off the guards would be solemnly brought forth to be showered in confetti and Enda Kenny's mug would be smiling out at us from every TV screen. But these children weren't abducted and there was never anything to suggest they were – other than the colour of their hair.
As it turned out the child in Greece was not the daughter of the man of woman she lived with, but she hadn't been kidnapped either. Her mother, unable to support a child, had given her away to the people she now lived with. And we thought our police had problems? Try sorting that one out. In truth you have to give credit to whomever alerted our Gardaí to the presence of these seemingly out of place children. Such vigilance may have saved the lives of several children over the years and I sincerely hope that the disastrous consequences of both cases doesn't deter further concerned citizens from following suit.
But would those people have been so quick to alert the cops if they had, for instance, spotted a black child getting into an SUV with a well-heeled, prosperous family? Highly unlikely. Through a combination of saturated media coverage and our own in-built prejudices we were led to believe that Romany gypsies kidnapped blonde, blue-eyed children as a matter of course. It's something they'd do, we thought, I'd put nothing past them bastards, we said. And now, thanks to our racism – and that's what we are, racists, myself included – two young children have been scarred for life.
Walking away quietly
When Sir Alex Ferguson vacated the manager's job at Old Trafford he vowed to learn from the mistakes of the past. It wouldn't be like before, when Sir Matt Busby retired from the same post but never really left. Unlike his fellow Glaswegian Fergie would not linger around the club, casting a shadow over his successor and ultimately undermining him, instead he'd take a back seat and allow the new man to get on with the job. Well so much for that. He's been true to his word in so much that he hasn't been knocking around the corridors of the stadium offering advice to his former charges, but he's hardly kept himself to himself now has he?
All I have to ask Sir Alex is why? Why release a book at such a delicate time for the club? Why use it to open up old wounds with ex-players? Why not use this platform to open the lid on things the fans really want to know about? Like the Glazers, or J.P McManus and that infamous horse spunk. Sadly the answer to all of these questions is relatively simple: money. It can't be anything else, he's spent a career in the spotlight and has had numerous opportunities to lambast Roy Keane, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard or any of the others he's taken to task in his second autobiography. His only motivation for doing so now is to ensure the book sells well.
It's made this great man - arguably the finest football manager of all time - seem quite small and petty, childish almost. Taking cheap digs in a public forum where there's no chance of reprisal was never his way. One of his most admirable traits as a manager was his loyalty to his players, even after the most shambolic of performances he would never criticise them, at least not openly. You can be sure they felt the full wrath of his tongue once he returned to the sanctity of the dressing room, but in front of TV camera? Never. Now it's taken him a matter of months to do a volte face.
I'll always love Sir Alex for what he's done for United, but not for the first time I find myself questioning his actions away from the pitch. He has always been fond of recounting tales of his tough upbringing in Govan, the rough and ready working-class district in which he grew up. He has spoken at length about how this environment instilled in him the morals and principles required to survive, and excel, at the very top of his field. But where are those morals and principles now? Where were they when this self-confessed socialist conveniently ignored all he believed and jumped into bed with the Glazers? It would appear that Fergie has learned all too much from his newly found American pals, he has learned that in this life only one thing talks, and that thing is money. Money, money, money.
An institute you can't disparage
I'm not usually one for stats but these figures speak louder than any rumination on my part ever could: 49% of unmarried women between the ages of 18-34 in Japan are not in any kind of romantic relationship, that number rises to 61% when examining their male counterparts in the same age. But that's not all, a third of Japanese people under the age of 30 have never dated at all. But wait, there's more: 45% of Japanese women between the ages of 18-24 are “not interested in or despise sexual contact” and a quarter of men feel the same way. As a result of this aversion to a bit of jiggerypokery the population of the country has plunged and is expected to drop by a further third by 2060.
I don't need to tell you that this doesn't bode well for one of the traditional super-powers of the Far East. Their economy has been stagnant since before the days of our current global recession and fewer people quite naturally leads to a certain amount of downsizing across the board. But the big question is why aren't Japanese people having it off anymore? There doesn't appear to be any definitive answer but several theories have been aired. Unlike the westernised world it is still very much the norm to form a conventional family, ie; Daddy goes to work while Mammy stays at home and minds the kids. Becoming a single-mother or even having a child out of wedlock is very much frowned upon in Japanese society.
Others cite this 'celibacy syndrome' as a symptom of recent national disasters; 2011's earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown chief among them. Why run the risk of procreating when the entire country could go up in smoke any minute? Most interesting is the assertion that the Japanese obsession with all things technological has led to it's young peoples inability to form meaningful, loving connections. This for me is the most salient argument, we're constantly being warned about the dangers of living your life online and it's effect on our capacity to interact with real-life human beings, and now here's the proof!
So what can the Japanese do? How can they redress the balance and get their repressed youth fucking again? I have an idea. They need to recreate something that was a rite of passage for virtually every child growing up in Ireland over the past fifty years: the teenage disco. Monitored by a handful of responsible adults - preferably parents of some of those attending – the disco will promise good clean fun for all those present. Upon arrive you're corralled to your section, boys on one side girls on the other. Then the music starts, something soft and slow a bit of Barry Manilow perhaps, and the couplings begin. It worked for us and we were some of the most shy, awkward and self-conscious feckers to ever draw breath. And look at us now! Take note Japan.
I'd plant a grenade for you
The thought of marriage can be terrifying for a lot of men. It signals many things, the end of their freedom, the start of a life of drudgery, finally having someone to do your cooking and cleaning - and oh yeah their love for a woman or something like that. But you can't escape the inevitable, eventually they will wear you down until you're standing in the church, looking at a priest and thinking “what the fuck am I doing here?” There have been cases where the condemned has wriggled free though, we've all heard tales of the fella who did a runner to the Bahamas; leaving nothing behind but a sobbing bride and her vengeful father.
But now there's a new way of getting out of it, a quick and easy method which allows you to swap a life sentence for a relatively shorter one. Neil McArdle was just like all the rest of us, railroaded into a coupling of which he wanted no part. In an act of true chivalry he conveniently forgot to fill out the relevant forms required to seal his fate: marriage to a Miss Amy Williams. This wasn't enough for Neil though, he had to make sure he'd fucked things up. So instead of telling Amy that he'd botched the paperwork and their big day would have to be postponed he decided to ring the Registry Office and tell them there was a bomb on the premises. That's the spirit Neil she definitely won't want you after this!
And his ingenious plan worked, the wedding was called off and his skin was saved; back to nights out with the lads and the occasional sleepover at her's. Not quite. The call to the registry office was traced and silly ole Neil was charged with communicating with false intent, or in layman's terms 'frightening the shit out of folk for no good reason'. Neil's punishment? A year in prison, now every night will be a night with the lads. But hey at least he doesn't have to worry about getting married anymore. If only. Amy is going to stand by her man, she is still determined to be a bride, his bride, and when he finishes his stint in the clink he won't be a free man for very long.