Monthly Archives: January 2023

Lewis’s Adventures in, Well, Just About Every Field of Human Endeavour You Can Think Of

This was written for the Irish Independent a little while back, to mark the 125th anniversary of the death of Lewis Carroll, creator of Alice in Wonderland…

Alice in Wonderland, for me, is one of those classic works of children’s literature that are better appreciated by adults. You’d presume Lewis Carroll, with that strong sense of playful, nonsensical humour, would enjoy the irony.

The first time I read it – aged 10 or 11, at a guess – I’m fairly sure I found it too wordy, too weird, too Victorian. So unimpressed was this younger self, indeed, that I didn’t even realise until years later that, of course, it’s actually two books: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Years later I reread, while aimlessly riding the Tube for hours on a zero-budget trip to London, and loved it. The Alice stories are like being patched into a direct line to the subconscious mind of a child, totally unfiltered: naïve and irrepressible, bursting with life, madcap and maddening – and fascinating.

Carroll, whose 125th anniversary was on January 14th, created something unique and immortal with these books, first published in the 1860s and 1870s, as well as famous nonsense poems such as Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark. They were, and remain, great.

The Alice universe is so strange, surreal, dreamlike; it not only makes no sense, but revels in that fact. Hear Humpty Dumpty declare, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”, and you could be listening to the hilariously tortuous thought-processes of the average child.

The Red Queen screeching “Off with their heads!” is a toddler tantrum writ large. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is helter-skelter youthful insanity turned up loud. The Cheshire Cat coolly fades away as though he’s a kid who’s lost interest in whatever they were doing, leaving behind only that insouciant grin…for which all sins are invariably forgiven by parents.

Through it all Alice stumbles, baffled and annoyed, pleading for calm and rationality, tearing her hair out at these ridiculous, fantastic little people and their babble and bedlam.

They drive you crazy – but at the end of the day, would you really want to be anywhere else? The world of work, bills and commuting seems pale and boring compared to the magical mayhem created by the “enfants terribles” of our familial Wonderlands.

Carroll, born Charles Dodgson, was an interesting man himself, not always in a good way. There’s a bit of an Irish connection: his great-grandfather of the same name was Church of Ireland Bishop of Ferns & Ossory, and later Elphin. (As for that pseudonym: Carroll, of course, is a Gaelic version of Carolus, or Charles.)

He was the quintessential Renaissance man: author and illustrator, photographer, mathematician, academic and teacher, inventor.

Carroll took Holy Orders and became a country parson. He earned a double-first degree in maths at Oxford and worked there for decades. He created the “word ladder” puzzle, and an early form of Scrabble.

He attended Rugby School, bastion of imperial establishment machismo, where – in surprising contrast to our image of a stammering, effete dreamer – Carroll was “remembered as a boy who knew well how to use his fists in defence of a righteous cause”; in this case, protecting younger lads from bullying.

He invented a case for postage-stamps, a stylus for writing in the dark, a tricycle steering-wheel, new forms of money order and new rules for tennis, a double-sided adhesive strip and at least two ciphers.

Carroll was a member of the Society for Psychical Research and apparently believed in mind-reading. He also took lots of portrait photos, of landscapes, dogs, skeletons, Michael Faraday and Lord Tennyson…and, frequently, nude young girls, which posthumously led to claims of serious impropriety, still debated by historians and critics.

There’s even a neuropsychological condition named after his famous heroine. Alice in Wonderland syndrome is “a form of migraine aura” which affects how the brain perceives size.

What a life: that’s just a sample. Unlike most authors, whose workaday existences are in inverse-proportion to the magic or mystery of their work, Carroll’s seems to have been larger-than-fiction.

He could almost be a character from one of his own books: “Lewis’s Adventures in, Well, Just About Every Field of Human Endeavour You Can Think Of.” Until someone writes that one, the Alice stories will more than suffice.


REMINDER: Why mandatory vaccination is morally wrong

A reminder, exactly one year on from when I first wrote this, that many people in Ireland (and across the world) don’t seem to have a problem with medical coercion and apartheid. I still find it mind-boggling that this was actually happening, in a democracy, in my lifetime. In some ways I don’t think I’ll ever properly process it…

NOTE: this piece was commissioned a week ago by one of the Irish papers, then unrelated circumstances resulted in it not being published. So I’m throwing it up on my own website, because I think it’s a VERY important subject, here and globally.

The situation, by the way, has changed since writing, for good and bad: the vaccine pass in Ireland is (the Government says – I’ll believe it when I see it) being phased out. On the other hand, masks for children remain in place, and the authorities are still full-steam ahead on vaccinating kids against this disease that doesn’t affect them at all, for God knows what reason. Meanwhile in Germany, actual Members of Parliament are barred from entering the chamber unless vaccinated. Austria has just confirmed that vaccination is mandatory, enforceable by police. The madness continues.

Anyway, the themes here remain revelant, so read on…

Will Ireland yet see mandatory vaccination, against compelling evidence that Covid-19 appears to be dwindling in threat-level to something comparable to normal ‘flu?

Professor Karina Butler,  National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) chair, this week said it should be given “careful consideration…there can be situations where making a vaccine a requirement is necessary for the overall good”.

Micheál Martin had earlier ruled it out, though experience urges a mental caveat on that: “Well, yes – for now.” If you think this is paranoia, remind yourself that throughout this ongoing horror-show, many things came to pass which we were promised would not, from masks for children and extended lockdowns to Covid passes and various intrusions on privacy and individual rights.

“Ah, that won’t happen,” Irish people say. Yet it keeps happening, all the same.

Mandates have already been introduced in several countries, from “State/health employees only” to “every adult citizen”. Frighteningly, Austria – of all places! – has gone further down the coercive rabbit-hole, incorporating teenagers. Even worse, Costa Rica introduced compulsory vaccination for five-year-olds.

So it’s going on elsewhere, and since when has Ireland made up its own mind or swum against international tides?

Indeed, I would argue that we already have mandatory vaccination: Covid passes. Refusal to submit locks you out of full participation in society, reducing you to a sub-class of unter-citizen. The pass is discriminatory, a form of medical apartheid, in contravention of Constitutional and UN rights.

And it’s coercive. Finesse it all you want with words like “persuasion” or “encouragement”, but that’s just sophistry. If non-compliance – insisting on freedom of conscience and bodily integrity – means withholding of civil liberties, you’re not being encouraged: you’re being compelled.

“Nobody’s forced to do anything,” the argument runs. “You can choose not to, but then accept the consequences.” That’s not really choice, though, is it? The man with a gun to his head can “choose” not to hand over his wallet…but then gets shot.

A “full” mandate, then, would merely amplify what already exists. And any sort of compulsion, from subtle to strong-arm, is profoundly immoral – simple as that.

There are practical arguments against mandates, as it happens. Vaccination doesn’t stop transmission; most people have a tiny chance of dying from Covid; those at risk can be easily identified and thus protected; almost everyone is vaccinated by now; the virus itself is becoming more uncontrollable but less deadly, from an already low mortality rate. And shouldn’t all this apply to ‘flu as well?

But my argument here is ethical. Forcing someone to take medicine, which they don’t need and (most importantly) don’t want, violates their physical self and basic human rights.

Your body is the only thing that’s yours, ultimately. Everyone has the right to deny interference, regardless of how justified people might think the reason.

This sanctified principle – the Biblical conceives of the body as a temple, a sacred and unique thing, manifested by divine will – is humanity’s most fundamental. Even atheists like me can see that, morally speaking, violation is anathema.

And once you do, it’s open season for State and society to insist on anyone undergoing any sort of physical intrusion, against their will, “because it’s an emergency/public safety/protect the health service” et cetera. You think that’s hyperbole? I refer back to “Ah, that won’t happen…”

Vaccine coercion violates physically – and mentally. It makes people question their sanity: how can so many others be wrong, surely it’s me? It bamboozles them with specious arguments about safety-belts, long-ago polio epidemics, malaria shots for holidays.

In some ways, the ostensibly kinder, “let’s listen to their concerns and get them thinking the right way” approach is worse than the jack-booted “submit, schweinhund!” stuff. It’s the definition of gas-lighting: “You’re not thinking straight, but that’s okay – trust me and you’ll be fine…”

Or maybe it’s more like an unscrupulous sleazeball in a bar, turning the screws on a woman who’s already expressed her choice, clearly and repeatedly: “I said no…yeah, but you don’t really mean that. I said no…come on, listen to reason. I said no…but it’s the right thing to do…”

Mandates are a disgrace to so-called civilised society. They force individuals to betray their true self, renounce their rights and – worst of all – silence that precious “still, small voice of conscience” inside their head.

“The unvaccinated” (oh hateful term) have been psychologically assailed by government and society for months: an unending onslaught of abuse, calumny and fear-mongering. Leo Varadkar called these people – your family and neighbours – “the problem”. One columnist described them as “a threat to the nation”…not to mention fascists.

The dire mental toll of all this on refuseniks is obvious. Or is it? Maybe not. I suppose it’s hard to truly understand something until it happens to you personally.

If some people really can’t grasp this elemental principle – the corporeal sanctity of the individual, no matter the circumstances – one can only wait until the day they, too, are forced to take something into their body they don’t want.

Then, presumably, they’ll understand. We learn from experience, as the saying goes.

Ireland’s Covid amnesia

That’s the title of a piece I wrote for the brilliant UK website Spiked – a voice of sanity in a mad world – which you can read here:

It’s basically a lamentation about our depressing non-reaction here, one year after restrictions etc. ended, to the whole shit-show. Covid has been probably the worst thing to happen in Ireland in my lifetime, and I obviously don’t mean the virus itself. I mean everything else: the hysteria, spitefulness, stupidity, blind obedience and all the rest. And there has been ZERO reckoning with the dire consequences. Irish people are acting as if it never happened; like it was all a dream. Nobody has been held accountable for any of the horrors inflicted, especially on children.

As one of the (apparently few) Irish sceptics, I must confess that I don’t see this place in the same way anymore, feel hardly any connection or loyalty or responsibility towards Ireland (which I used to, strongly), and have more-or-less zero respect for most people now. I don’t wish them ill or anything, in fact on an individual level I’m fond of lots of them; but I don’t respect most of them anymore. Sure, they probably don’t respect me either, so it’s all fine on either side.

Anyway, thanks to Spiked for giving me the platform to vent on this. I want to add one important note: my original piece, which was cut for reasons of length etc., went in much harder on the general public than the published version, which focuses more on Official Ireland. So I’m reprinting a few relevant paragraphs here, because for me this is a crucial point: the people are as much to blame as the ruling classes.

The iniquities of the powerful are impossible without the mindless compliance of the public. They have no power only whatever we give them. Please stop handing your power over to these clowns.

Anyway, here it is:

On a personal level, I’d like to see Irish people stop doing the typical Irish thing of “keep the head down and pretend it’s not real and hopefully it’ll just go away”. Goddamn, we give ostriches a bad name.

Keeping the head down, my fellow citizens, is what allowed this to happen in the first place. The aforementioned rat’s nest dwellers drove the bus, yes – but you jumped onboard and cheered them on to step on the gas.

It would have been impossible without your hysteria, conformity and compliance, lack of backbone, vindictiveness, double-think, illogicality, inanity, insanity. Don’t blame the ruling classes – only a simpleton or child believes these people ever have anything but their own interests at heart.

No, blame yourselves. I know I certainly blame you.

It’s time for Irish people to ‘fess up and say it loud (if not quite proud): I got played. I allowed myself to be sold a pup, through my own cowardice and stupidity and selfishness. I was an idiot. I’m pathetic.

It’s okay – we’ve all done things we’re ashamed of. That’s what grown-ups do: they say sorry and promise it won’t happen again. Do you want to be grown-ups, to take public ownership of your life and mistakes?