The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

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Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Friday, December 19, 2008

heelers recommends

Yes folks.
Here it is.
My top ten books for Christmas.
Many bookshops don't carry these. If you want to call my bluff on their quality, you're gonna have to look for em.
These are good as presents for others or as a gift to yourself.
They carry my personal endorsement as "good meaty reads."
The list is numbered from one to ten, but really I recommend each of these books equally. They're all sort of joint number ones.
These are the books Satan doesn't want you to read.

1. The Turin Shroud. (The illustrated evidence.) By Ian Wilson and Barrie Schwortz. Published in 2000 by Michael O'Mara books Ltd, Britain. Mr Wilson is a sceptic who, if I understand him correctly, claims to have had a conversion experience while studying the shroud of Turin. He's a well respected British academic and at times seems more surprised than anyone else to have found himself a Christian. I don't entirely trust Mr Wilson but the book is an experience. The photographs by Mr Schwortz are alone worth the price of admission.

2. The Da Vinci Hoax. By Carl E Olson and Sandra Miesel. The Ignatius Press, 2004. Readable and sound study intended to refute Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Olson and Miesel give good measured yet entertaining analysis. This refutation of the lies and manipulations contained in Brown's novel offered me the prospect of a much deepened and more joyous faith. For a moment I almost felt like thanking Dan Brown for telling the lies in the first place, since the present book which gave me such joy was created to answer those lies.

3. Pope John Paul The Great. By Peggy Noonan. Viking, 2005. She gushes but by gum she can write.

4. The Miracle Detective. By Randall Sullivan. Author and Rolling Stone journalist Randall Sullivan's personal experiences of the supposed apparition site at Medjugorje. The best writing I've encountered on spiritual themes. Hugely entertaining. Occasionally infuriating. Impossible to pin down. Honest. Brave. Sullivan has that rare quality in a writer, the quality of the genuine. If only Christian writers could write like this. But that's the thing. When God uses an atheist, sometimes the atheist, after a genuine conversion, will reveal a light in our faith that the rest of us have never seen.

5. The Great Divorce. By CS Lewis. Forget the Narnia rubbish. Forget the books publishing companies want to pass off as CS Lewis' best. This is his best book. A hidden gem. Dreadful title. But wait till you read it.

6. The Myth Of Hitler's Pope. By Rabbi Dalin. Answering some of the pseudo academic jeers at Pope Pius The Twelfth. Illuminating and sobering when addressing possible anti church agendas in media groups of the free world.

7. Does God Believe In Atheists? By John Blanchard. Published in 2000 by The Evangelical Press, and written with gregarious and passionate Protestant conviction. Cheery and adept in its challenge to atheism. This book truly is an engaging read for those of all faiths and none.

8. Mother Angelica. (Biography.) By Raymond Arroyo. The story of the nun who presents a television show on EWTN. We discovered her somewhat late in Ireland. I used to enjoy her show, chuckling at what I thought was its innocence as much as anything else. Boy, did I get a wake up call. This is a cracking read. Like a thriller in parts. It was news to me that Mother Angelica not only presents a show on EWTN but she also set up the network. Raymond Arroyo's account of her life is an eye opener. Not just conformist anodyne worthy spiritual reading. But a rip roaring account. Read this and tell me if I'm wrong.

9. A Life Of Saint Thomas Moore. By George Wegemer. Published in Ireland by The Four Courts Press, email . Let me just say this one's a doozy.

10. The Gospel Of Saint John. As I said to the Melia moghul last week: "You haven't really considered the possibility that Jesus is real, until you've read this gospel."

11. Padre Pio. By Colm Keane. Published in Ireland by Mainstream Publishing, 2007. A collection of anecdotes and personal experiences from Irish people who believe they have experienced miracles through the intercession of Padre Pio. The book is refreshing because the editor prints the genuine testimonies without tidying them up or proofing them for grammar, spelling and illogicalities. Some of the stories are corny. Some ring false to me. Some are mighty strange indeed. The compiler has also chosen to print the full names of the people involved in most of the cases, instead of coyly concealing the identities. This adds an extra flavour of immediacy and, who knows, maybe even veracity.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

tidings of comfort and joy

Something happened in Palestine two thousand years ago.
A child was born who would grow to manhood and make some ridiculous claims.
He claimed to have always existed; to have the power to forgive sins; and to be the creator of the universe.
How utterly preposterous.
Even today his story has a quality like no other story.
It is alive.
A business man in Kilcullen (he is my Uncle Jim) tells me he saw this 2000 year old Jesus emerge from the sun at Medjugorje in the form of the communion bread which Catholic teaching maintains becomes this same Jesus during the mass.
What is fascinating to me about my Uncle's claim is that Ireland's most successful magazine editor Heather Parsons says she saw precisely the same thing.
No not precisely.
According to Miss Parsons some 30 people who were with her at Medjugorje saw Jesus emerge from the sun as communion bread.
She herself had no knowledge of communion and saw him as a person, whom she instantly recognised as the risen Lord.
Afterwards she converted to Catholicism, a conversion which some believe had very negative consequences for her career at the Irish national broadcaster RTE.
A housewife from Kilcullen (for many years my near neighbour) was on pilgrimage in the Italian village of Lanziano.
She started to cry.
When asked why she was crying she said with surprise: "But can you not see Jesus bleeding?"
These are contemporary accounts from people who are well known in my home town. They actually insist they have seen Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
They say he lives now.
Can such things be?
What is it about Jesus that fascinates even those who don't believe he's real?
Consider the accounts in the Gospel about his life.
A girl was about to be executed for committing adultery. Her executioners asked Jesus was it right they should kill her by stoning in accordance with the ancient law.
Jesus said: "Let whichever of you has never sinned throw the first stone."
And the crowd dispersed.
No miracle there.
Just words.
Words that speak to us even now two thousand years later.
The greatest atheist among us might read those words and suspect something really happened there.
What Jesus said lives now.
"Turn the other cheek."
"Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me."
"Love one another as I have loved you."
"If you make my words your home, you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
He spoke with authority.
And then there's the miracles.
The gospel witnesses claim Jesus fed 5000 people using only a few bits of bread and a few fish.
They claim he made blind people see.
They claim he cured the most hideous diseases.
They claim he commanded the sea and it obeyed him.
They claim he brought a man called Lazarus back from the dead.
They claim that he cast Satan out of those who were possessed.
They claim in short that Jesus had authority over all creation.
What lunatic claims are these?
But remember, the claims are made by the same witnesses who told us about him saving the girl.
The miracles are as much a part of the story as anything else.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Not the teachings. Not the miracles. Not even his heroic acceptance of death on the cross. Nor yet his resurrection from the dead.
Just his birth.
The decision by God to send his son to live among us so that we might be freed from the rulership of all that oppresses us.
It is Christmas.
Everything you've heard about Jesus is true.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

a little church in the mountains

Photographed in northern italy this week by Luigi Avaro.


Coffee with Bank Executive Jackie.
I don't know what she's worth to the world of international finance but she's worth a hundred million dollars to me.
Well you know what I mean.
She listened to my tale of woe.
I still couldn't believe I'd walked over to the skanger in the Whitewater Centre.
Only I knew how close it had come to a brawl.
The skanger couldn't know.
Because he doesn't have a brain.
Jackie listened.
She said:
"I met a senior manager once. She was an Afro Carribean lady. Very capable and a black belt in Karate. She would get a lot of hassle from the sort of people you met. I asked her how she handled it. She told me that you've always got to bear in mind that if someone is insulting you in a public place like that, they know something about themselves that you don't know. It might just be that they're carrying a knife. Or that they've already been up in court for assault. Or that they're on drugs. Yes, they know something about themselves that you don't know. So you've just got to walk away. Nobody normal tries to provoke people in public like that. Nobody. The one thing you can be sure of is that these are not normal people or healthy people or happy people."
I listened to Jackie and felt a weight lift off my shoulders.
"James," she said. "You're a good person. You're kind to everybody. You wouldn't hurt a fly. You're a religious person. And you're a strong person. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is walk away. Remember this. The only power people have over you is the power you give them."
When she had gone I sat alone for a good half hour.
Eventually my cousin Yankee Joe breezed in.
I told him what had happened.
When I got to the salient point of the story he interrupted.
"Aw Heelers you didn't," he groaned. "You know the rules. Don't get involved. It's their problem. You leave that stuff behind you at school."
He continued in like manner for some time.
His advice was more invectival than Jackie's containing quite a dollop of personal reproof for me.
I heard the wisdom in it.
And finally.
When Yankenstein had gone.
What light from yonder cafe breaks.
Why it is the east.
And Hoddlebun is the sun.
She entered stage left.
As she listened to my story a slow growing delight suffused her patrician features.
"Oh wow," she enthused with strange high inappropriateness. "You actually called them scum? I wish I'd seen it."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

in the gutter

Lil and me sitting in the Costa Cafe in the Whitewater Centre in Newbridge.
We were relaxing into our highly popular mother and son routine.
I felt them before I saw them.
The two cheap girls had drifted into the cafe and were looking around with sad silly vacant eyes.
Such worthless specimens you ne'er did see.
The opposite of sex, I think it's called.
Their male companions were queueing at the counter.
A bespectacled man and a bearded man.
In recent weeks this group, all four of them, and a fifth absentee, had made us the object of certain delinquent harassments at the Whitewater Centre where apparently they are staff members.
So here they were again.
The males just as unprepossessing as the women.
Let me put it this way.
They didn't have a lot going for them.
As projecting their inadequacies onto other human beings is their stock in trade, we might readily understand these two have a lot to be inadequate about.
Presently the bespectacled man sat down with the hags of Bearna.
This left the bearded man alone at the counter.
A wry thought came to me.
Alone at the counter was a very bad place for that man to be.
I waited until he caught my eye.
He tried to hold the stare but it was less easy for him when his friends weren't at his side.
I stood up slowly.
I walked towards him.
He looked a little bit shaken.
I stook in the queue behind him.
A moment passed.
What passes for confidence among the lower orders came back to him.
(By lower orders, Heelers means people who attempt to cover their own inadequacies by intimidating other people. - Ed note.)
Wee Beardy looked over to where his friends were sitting.
He made some hand gestures to them.
He made some faces towards me.
He did a little jinking sidestep.
I let the scowl on my face do its work.
The situation became less fun for him.
He shifted from foot to foot for a few minutes.
Occasionally he looked to his friends.
Occasionally he waved.
Occasionally he turned towards me.
The queue was moving very slowly.
It became much less fun for him.
My stare held only contempt.
He turned away and tried to converse with a girl in the queue.
I let him talk for a minute.
I said.
"What a squeaky voice."
He went quiet.
He tried to talk to the girl again.
I gave him another minute.
I said.
"What a sssssqueaky voice."
He fell silent.
The girl left.
I gave him another minute.
I said it loudly enough.
He stood there.
I gave him another minute.
Louder this time.
More distinct.
My voice held that very special intonation which most of you will never have heard from me. Normally I retain it for those rare occasions when I inadvertently mention management at the Leinster Leader and the Johnston Press. Those brilliant fellows who fired me from my job last year just before Christmas.
(In the Heelers pantheon of contempt, the Johnston Press is right at the bottom. Then you've got the Jihadi's. Then you've got this bearded coward in the coffee queue. - Ed note.)
The bearded coward stayed silent.
I paid for my coffee.
I dropped a coin.
The bearded coward went to pick up the coin.
"Don't touch my money," I said.
"I'm just trying to be friendly," he squeaked cheekily.
"Don't try to be friendly," I snarled.
The bearded coward lapsed into silence.
The coffees arrived.
I sat down.

Monday, December 15, 2008

wise counsels

Sitting morosely enough in a Dublin cafe.
The self pity had lasted a day.
Time to phone Alan Massie.
He is American, a former hippy, now an expatriate living in Greece.
He writes and plays music.
He also moonlights as a counsellor for Irish poets who are feeling sorry for themselves.
I only call him when my normal state of perturbation has reached crisis levels.
He spoke to me on his mobile from the shadow of the Parthenon.
I told him all about the encounter with the Whitewater Centre pond life.
"It was ringing so many bells Alan," I said. "I was back in childhood. I wanted to fight them. All of them. I was ashamed that I wasn't fighting them. And then I was ashamed of myself for wanting to fight them."
Alan laughed.
"Jamie me lad," he proclaimed cheerily. "The Celts and the American Indians are famous for fighting when the odds are against them. But you gotta let it go. Discretion is the better part of valour."
I let his words sink in.
He hadn't finished though.
"I remember when I was in High School getting quite a beating in a street fight," he murmured. "In Washington DC at the time, High Schools and Universities had fraternity houses. Later they were made illegal. We'd all have jackets that marked us out. Nearly like gang colours."
"Mr Massie," I cried warmly. "You were a teenage hoodlum?"
"Listen to the story," quoth he. "So one day six guys from another fraternity beat up on me and one of my friends. We just had to lie in the road until they finished kicking us."
I let these words sink in too.
I began to see a bright side.
Whatever had happened in the Whitewater Centre, at least I hadn't gotten worked over.
Having spread his share of wisdom, Mr Massie rang off.
Presently the Perfect Fit arrived.
The only friend I really like.
Well you know.
She's not a believer.
But, my God, her soul.
Over coffee I told her the same story I'd told Parthenon Pete.
She listened.
Then she looked alarmed.
"I hope you didn't fight them," she said.
"No but I was tempted," said I.
Nur shook her head.
"You don't know what sort of people they are," she said. "The right thing to do is always to walk away. I had a situation in Madrid once. This girl came up to me in the street and she was pushing me. She was showing off to her friends. I told her: I don't know you. And walked away."
I tried to let Nur's words sink in.
"It's good in theory," I intoned glumly. "But it's not easy."
She put a hand on my arm.
"James," she said softly, "indifference is a powerful weapon."

reporting the shoes

Sky News informed us this evening that an Iraqi journalist had stood up at a press conference and thrown his shoes at President Bush.
Sky News took the perspective that this lone Iraqi somehow spoke for the Iraqi people.
Sky News pointed out that throwing a shoe is considered the worst insult possible among Iraqis.
Frivolous analysis Sky.
It might pass in Journalism School but not here.
Far worse insults than shoe throwing have proliferated in Iraq up until recent times.
Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay were accustomed to torturing and murdering people in acid baths before Mr Bush and the American army sent them to hell.
Torture in an acid bath is a good deal worse an insult to human dignity than having a shoe thrown at you.
The Iraqi people know this full well.
Sky News should know it too.

So Sky News contends that throwing a shoe at someone is the worst possible Iraqi insult.
Oh Sky.
Surely you are aware that your friends in that non threatening "scattering of affiliated Jihadists" known to the world as Al Qaeda, have plenty of even worse insults.

But Sky News isn't interested in Al Qaeda.
Sky News has for seven years failed to accurately report the Al Qaeda threat, preferring instead to demonise Mr Bush.
Interestingly enough, today's shoe throwing coward is not known to have ever thrown a shoe in anger while Saddam was murdering one tenth of the population and attempting to precipitate nuclear war with the West.
We might legitimately conclude that the shoe throwing Islamist coward is an agent of Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This isn't rocket science.
It's the bleedin obvious.
Yet Sky News chose to interpret this lone shoe throwing coward as being representative of the Iraqi people and to juxtapose his cowardice with five year old pictures of crowds of Iraqis beating Saddam's statue with a shoe after the Americans liberated Baghdad.
They thought it was the same thing.
Hey Sky.
Only one person threw his shoes at President Bush.
There were millions celebrating in the streets and thousands beating Saddam's statue the day the Americans came to Iraq.
Can you spot the teensy weensy incongruency in your juvenile sneering agit prop reportage?
I'm trying to help you.
Because I know you're not bad.
Just criminally incompetent.
After today's dramatic shoe throwing incident, Al Jazeera, the Arab Nazi channel, used precisely the same story angle and five year old footage, to tell precisely the same lies as Sky News.
Al Jazeera asserted that the lone shoe thrower this afternoon somehow acted with the sanction of the Iraqi people and held exactly the same mandate and legitimacy as the crowds who beat Saddam's statue with their shoes.
Hey Sky.
You and Al Jazeera.
Now that's good company you're keeping.

Here is the news.
Today a single cowardly Iraqi Al Qaeda supporter threw his shoes at Mr Bush.
The single cowardly Iraqi Al Qaeda supporter missed with both shoes.
The single cowardly Iraqi Al Qaeda supporter has never done a courageous thing in his life, choosing instead to uphold the interests of murderers, dictators and Islamic fascists.
Five years ago when America and Great Britain liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, fifteen million Iraqis celebrated in the streets, and tens of thousands beat statues of Saddam with their shoes.

The millions who celebrated the Americans' liberation of their country are indeed representative of the Iraqi people.
The Prime Minister of Iraq who thanked Mr Bush for the American liberation of his country is representative of the Iraqi people.
The group of Iraqi journalists who immediately apologised to Mr Bush for the actions of today's lone coward shoe thrower, are representative of the Iraqi people.

Sky News is representative of no one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

spiritual warfare

James and his eighty year old Mammy in the Costa cafe in the Whitewater Centre in Newbridge.
Across from us, a most depressing vista.
A table full of twenty-somethings.
Two men and two women.
Not young people.
Not so young though that they have an excuse for their behaviour.
They are making a series of uninspired face and hand gestures at me in an attempt to amuse themselves and perhaps validate their fervourless uninspired unremarkable lives.
They look like inestimably joyless parodies of the characters from the television series Friends.
Ah but it's depressing.
So there are two men and two women.
The women are tawdry and cheap. One has short dark hair. The other is blonde. The blonde is wearing a spangly top.
No one in the universe could care what the dark haired one is wearing.
Tawdry and cheap alright.
But let me be clear.
Not tawdry and cheap in the positive vital, vibrant, sensual sexual sense of tawdry and cheap.
They are tawdry and cheap in the sense of being worthless.
They are nothings.
I think they are employees at outlets in the Centre.
The two men are doing most of the provoking but the women are egging them on.
As if often the case in this sort of situation, the women are equally complicit but less obvious.
One of the men is wearing a bandana tied over his bald patch.
The other man has a little brown beard and a felt jacket.
The bearded man is what passes for the ring leader in their august society.
We think the men also work in the Whitewater centre along with a third of their companions, a blonde bespectacled fellow in a suit who is absent today.
Yes, the Mammy and I have seen these strange sad pseudo middle class creatures before.
For a number of weeks we have been the focus of their attentions.
Whatever about feral youth or teenagers hassling people in the Whitewater Centre, it's getting a bit Irish when the hired help start doing it.
The Mammy leans forward.
"Do you want to leave?" she whispers.
I draw a breath.
"Well Lil," sez me, "I promise you I won't do anything to them. But if you're at ease with it, I'd like to stay. As a sort of spiritual exercise."
The Mammy shrugged.
"Okay," sez she.
We sat.
For an hour the little bearded man continued his performance while his friends giggled and gestured along with him.
Then they left.