Sustaining rays of hope will soon be replaced by a winter of discontent

NORMAL service resumes next week.

This is the last, lazy week of summer. Maybe there will be more, glorious good weather. If you are back from holidays, I hope it is still doing you good. If you are still there, enjoy.

If you haven’t had a holiday and being abroad seems like another universe, maybe the sunshine gave you a lift. If that sounds patronising, I apologise. There are few phrases as phoney as ‘I understand’. You know too well how few people do.

But climate change and the human condition are intimately linked. Balmy days relax the worry that gnaws at us. Like a full belly pacifies a predator, sunshine, when it penetrates the gloom of Irish skies, massages sore joints. We are livelier and happier. Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant, and it is also a great ease for anger and guilt. They thrive better in the gloom, and gloom will shortly return. Even Indian summers do not last.

Media is adverse to good weather. News and the public are not fair-weather friends. During good weather, people care less about the news and much less is news. Sport, summer schools and arts festivals are served up instead of bad news. It is seasonal fare, like recipes for Christmas pudding and turkey stuffing. Cataclysm in Egypt, and tragedy on a train in Galicia, regrettably, made up for a thankful domestic deficit this year.

But great episodes of sport and art are more wholesome for body and soul than most news. The cauterising cynicism served with every news helping is not satisfying. Far too much comedy is recycled as tragedy, and, if not as tragedy, then as stories with unfounded pretensions to be taken seriously. Synthetic simplicity too often masquerades as a solution.

The great story of the Irish summer was Pat Kenny’s move from RTÉ to Newstalk. The coup for Newstalk, of course, wasn’t getting Kenny. It was getting all the publicity over a bank holiday weekend, and for days and days afterwards. Whether Pat’s undoubted talent overcomes the sclerosis of the Irish audience in moving the dial on their transistors remains to be seen. He will take some of it, but Seán O’Rourke will anchor a lot of it.

That is predicated on those canny and adaptable operators playing the same old game. Chances are that at least one of them is up for a major change in tune. Then, all bets are off. But was the story ever remotely commensurate with the coverage? Not on your nelly.

At moments, it was more Podge and Rodge than Woodward and Bernstein. It was a pudding with far too many eggs to be edible or wholesome.

Amidst the underappreciated comedy of the ‘silly season’ was the fulmination of that great conservative in dress and liberal in politics, Richard Boyd Barrett, against a supposed ban, in a Dun Laoghaire school, on a young Muslim girl wearing a hijab or headscarf. If a young girl is upset, that is a pity.

But the irony — we are talking slapstick comedy — of Barrett championing deportment or religious liberty is side-splitting. His own attire would exclude him from most schools in his constituency. And his Socialist Workers Party are as amenable to organised religion as gulags are to picnics.

And on the pleasant subject of picnicking we had, or nearly had, all the summer schools. The great and the good were out on safari across the Serengeti of the Irish wilderness, roaming like big cats amongst the wildebeest.

These tours are welcomed, at least by the tourists. They are some of the last remaining occasions when anything approaching a full-length speech is digested and even reported in our sound-bite age. For big cats, a full speech is equivalent to a full meal. MacGill in Donegal, Parnell in Wicklow, Merriman in Clare, and, still to come, Kennedy in New Ross, are names redolent of great thoughts and deeds.

These hedge schools are easily caricatured as a podium for the opinionated. The better ones are socially riotous. But they are oxygen for a fuller public debate too often suffocated by brevity.

We nearly all ‘text’ and a lot of us ‘tweet’. But we were never supposed to end up thinking like that. We are still capable of full sentences.

The truly great summer schools, however, are almost entirely unreported. If they appear at all, it is as novels, long after, or as embarrassed recall among friends in the small hours of a morning years later. Growing up seems to happen more intensely in summer time.

Less school, more freedom, away from home for the first time, it is a heady time; a time of hurt, and of finding out. Summer schools this year, on dry-stone walls in the Gaeltacht and on patches of urban waste ground, are already indelible memories.

Our gaucheness eventually goes, but so, too, does our daring. We become the more astute people who know to stay away from the flame and regret not walking right back into it.

Dreadfully, as one young girl found out at Slane, electronic technology no longer allows memory to be edited and reinterpreted. A lot of our own, treasured memories could not withstand any assault from the facts.

Summer in Ireland is not experienced as an annual event. It is a state of mind excited by sunshine, sometimes here, sometimes far away. It is a time of life and it is a frame of mind. Thankfully, the former is not a dependable guide to the latter. Summer can come at any time.

BY the end of next week, holiday-makers bringing up the rear will be back in work. School books, school uniforms with or without hajib, and all the attendant cost will be perplexing people.

Bills for that holiday will land. Once-flexible plastic cards will be arthritic. Listen to Pat on Newstalk, listen to Seán on RTÉ, try and hear yourself think? The certainty of misery, the misery of uncertainty. You can have it all.

For now, rejoice. The world has a new Rose of Tralee. She is always a sign of the changing seasons. The Government meets again next week, too.

This is not a matter of rejoicing; they have little cheer to give. Of course, they offer hope. But hope is in a different tense to cheer.

Hope is future tense and you have to believe in it to have it. Cheer is now. It is Summertime,/And the livin’ is easy/Fish are jumpin’/And the cotton is high/Oh, Your daddy’s rich/And your mamma’s good lookin’/So hush little baby/Don’t you cry.

Normal service resumes next week.

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