Last Friday was Culture Night and Cork once again showed its appetite for culture. Events were held all over the city and it evoked the heady days of 2005 when Cork was the Eorapeen-Capla-Culchor.
I would love to say I played my part in Culture Night but I did not. Instead I spent the entire evening draped on the couch watching American cop shows on TV. Despite feeling guilty about not being more cultural, I was still hooked on some of the more preposterous story lines in these series. For example in one episode of CSI, the team investigate a crime scene where the Director of a Government Employment agency, despite being incompetent, is somehow paid €1 million to leave his job because someone thought he might take legal action.
Ok I made that up. The past few weeks have shown the other culture in public life in all its murky glory – the waste-culture. The nonchalant disregard for taxpayer’s money displayed by FAS directors and former ministers would be utterly depressing if there weren’t small moments of farce to give us a smile. You know that satire is redundant when FAS, which, over the years has trained thousands of motor mechanics, loses a car. You know that politicians are one step ahead of the gag-writers when John O’Donoghue, as Minister for the Arts, travels to Delhi in 2006 to sign a Cultural Cooperation Agreement with the Indian Culture Minister and then submits an €80 expense claim for “Indians to move the luggage” .
Farce or no, this type of culture has a negative effect on our mood and that is why Culture Night was an important boost for the nation. There was such a positive energy about it. People were on the streets enjoying themselves without a question of any financial shenanigans. (Unless someone submits an expense claim for “Indians to move the papier maché head of Bono”)
Culture Night showcases something we do best in Ireland: organising the bit of craic. At any given moment there is a festival or carnival in full swing.
Carnivals historically have been religious in origin, celebrating the last day of indulgence before Lent like Venice Carnevale or the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The closest equivalent in Cork is the St Patrick’s Day Parade. The word ‘carnival’ itself comes from the Latin meaning ‘a farewell to meat’. Towards the end of St Patrick’s Day, we pay tribute to this derivation by giving our own farewell (involuntarily) to the meat we have eaten and heaving it out onto the street, via our mouth and nose, in a ceremony known as ‘the dodgy burger’.
While carnivals in Ireland are rare, there are than 400 festivals held every year. Many festivals are merely a means to convert unfocussed, sporadic drinking into a more coherent, organised and therefore more lucrative affair. The profitability of this is further enhanced by the use of plastic (and therefore, for some reason, smaller) glasses in which to serve drink. The Association of Irish Festival Events (www.aoifeonline.com) lists many reasons for plastic glasses. Trim in Meath, for example, will next year play host to the ‘National Haymaking Festival’ which, one hopes, coincides with the ‘While The Sun Shines Jamboree’
There is no limit to the imagination when it comes to organising the craic. A few years ago, locals in Coachford held a fund raising day and for one of the events a number of teams raced through the village pushing hospital beds. Bed-pushes are nothing new but the stroke of genius that set this race apart was that, as well as a human, each bed contained a pig. In order to win the race a team had to have two people running on either side of the bed, preventing the pig from escaping. Although pigs have been domesticated for thousands of years, nothing in Pig’s previous experience of Man would have prepared any hog for having to sit on a moving trolley while an excited crowd cheered on; so the pig quite often tried to escape. If the pig did abscond i.e. if the swine flew, disqualification was immediate.
Duran Duran’s ‘Girls on Film’ must have made a comeback that summer because, as the puzzled and increasingly restive pigs rolled past, onlookers spontaneously broke into a chorus of “Pigs on Beds, Pigs on Beds”.
Regrettably, we will not likely see Man, Pig and trolley joined in combat to an electronic pop-rock soundtrack again. The Pigs on Bed event was a one-off. Ireland’s growing population and deteriorating health service has since meant that such a frivolous use of hospital beds is now considered in poor taste.
But no matter. Whether you’re a pig on a bed or a former FAS director luxuriating in whatever cushy number your mates in the establishment have lined up for you next, it’s time for all of us to raise a plastic glass. To Culture.