Burns Night: Neeps and Tatties

By Jason Michael

“It’s Scotland’s answer to Carnival or Mardi Gras,” I like to explain to the Wilde Irish I live among who don’t quite get our annual fetish for an late eighteenth century poet we can barely understand, “because he made sex cool in a dreary climate.” As an Ayrshire lad I was reared on the words of the Bard. That doesn’t mean I always understand what he was saying, and coming from a family of Kilmarnock printers – the toon where his famous first edition was printed – there was no escaping the connection with Scotland’s most famous philanderer until Tommy Sheridan.

Every year on Burns Night, like many a Scot from Russia to Nova Scotia, I boil me up some neeps and tatties, and if the spirit moves me I’ll add to that a wee dram. We are a sentimental people, but fond memory can’t quite move me to go hunting for a haggis. It’s hard to come by here in Dublin, largely on account of the Dubliners having a more refined palate – and even if I knew a butcher daring enough, I still think I would stick to the neeps and a nice cut of beef. The food and traditional music associated with Burns Night never quite moved me, but his words always have.

It would be nice to say that I love him because his love for Caledonia’s cause inspired my own sense of national pride. It didn’t. I always knew he despised the Union, but I grew to become an independentista for other reasons. It was his humanism and his curious love of the little things of nature that tickled me the most. Seriously, who else writes of mice and lice with such tender and hilarious affection? Few others have shaped my passion for human dignity and worth the way that Rabbie Burns’ words have:

A prince can mak a belted knight, 
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that; 
But an honest man’s abon his might, 
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!

A long time before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, before the abolition of slavery and serfdom, Scots were proud to say that We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns. That has stuck with me my entire life, and because of that wee bit of culture – probably the only real cul’ure I ever picked up in school – I can still see that the likes of Murdo Fraser and Theresa May aren’t really hiding horns under their hair. Not that Murdo has much of that. Other than the fair chance that most of us are descended from him, Burns is one of those great Scots we are right to celebrate.


Ode To A Mouse

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‘I, Daniel Blake’ Left me Bawling

By Jason Michael

I, Daniel Blake: Nothing I can write here is going to do service to this outstanding piece of social history cum Palme d’Or winning cinema. It is art and film speaking truth to power, and from beginning to end it’s like the story of our – working class – lives.

Close to the bone comes nowhere near describing Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake.’ Since its 21 October release I have read review after review. The trailer had me eager to see it months ago, but nothing could prepare me for the true, devastating and harrowing magnificence of this masterpiece. Already you can tell what “side” I’m on. Loach has rammed a wedge into the great divide of the cinema-going public; with the right-wing writing the film off as an over politicised and ideological exaggeration, and the left gushing like loved-up teenagers. I’m going to gush – that is, after I have wiped my eyes.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ follows the lives of the title character, Dan Blake (played by Dave Johns), Katie, and her two young kids Daisy and Dylan, as they undergo trial by benefit sanction at the hands of an impersonal, dehumanising, and overly bureaucratic Department of Work and Pensions in Newcastle. Dan is a widower who has been forced out of work after suffering a heart attack, and Katie and her children have been forced to relocate to the north from London due to the lack of housing closer to her family. The futility of their situations and their refusal to become powerless brings them together into a deep and enriching makeshift family, with Dan taking on the role of father and grandfather.

In spite of the pain infused into every scene, Dan’s gentleness, good humour, and razor sharp Geordie wit help oscillate the story between despair and comic relief. Dan’s true genius is that we’ve all met him before. He’s the soft-spoken, hardworking, working class man that lives on every housing estate the length of the country. Dan is that guy who looks out for everyone around him, and who – in the end – deserves so much better than what he’s given.

Katie, we’ve met before too. She’s the straight talking young single mum whose life is her kids, and who can never catch a break. Every lad who has ever been in her life has taken advantage of her good nature, and now she’s surviving by her wits. The well-dressed DWP staff members see nothing of this. She’s a statistic, a nuisance, a number, a chavette.

As the story develops the audience is drawn into an account of social structural violence that its both shocking and heart-breaking, with ordinary people – fallen on hard times – being abused by the system and left as prey for the most unscrupulous villains a burnt out community could produce. Still, the lines are constantly blurred between good and evil, law-abiding life and criminality. We’re given the crime of a woman stealing sanitary towels from a convenience store because no one donates them to the foodbank and the heartless evil of a store security guard you lures desperate women into the lowest end of the sex trade.

No more spoilers. I’ve seen this film before. Many of us have. In fact I have been Daniel Blake on more than one occastion, and I see Katie and her kids every single day. In all, it was close to the bone because it was like looking into a mirror – seeing through the eyes of the director the crappiest realities of being dependent on a state in a country where there just aren’t enough jobs. By the end of the film I was in tears. I was sobbing in the cinema and I wasn’t alone. No one moved from their seats until the lights came on, and even then people took their time shuffling out. Loach had scolded us for what we’ve let happen and hugged us by telling our story.


Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)

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Dinnae Gie Up Yer Mither Tongue

A huv bin spennin’ some time hinkin’ ae whit it means to bei a Scot an’ tawk oor ain leid in oor ain plot ae urth. We kin blame ithers fur the pair state ae Scotland, an’ much ae that micht bei true. Bit we hae a pairt tae play in aw this annaw.

It ay wis saed, cairtinly whin a wis grawin up, thit oor mither tongue o’ Lallans wis somehow an inferior wae tae tawk. Ilka moarnin et the sckul yon Inglish maisturs an’ herd-beckt mistresses wad chide us wains fir huvin the neck tae yimmer ’mang oorsels in a wae they thursels wur loathe tae unnerston, ur e’en appreciate. Et haim thur pudgin wis felt oan the mooths ae mithers and granmithers who’d pit oan an eejit telephone vyce ae the Queen’s Inglish tae hemmer haim that trawth thit theim whit spoke the wae we did wur saft – styipit bawheids and daftlike loons fit fur nout but laibrin ur the dole queue. Oor ain mithers thocht this ae oor ain leid, whit bluidy chance hud we in seein’ oany feck in oanyhin it meant tae be a fowk?

Hinkin e’er aw that noo, it mair than le’es  me dowie. It hus me ragin’ doon inside. Ragin’ a’caus it kinna hus me trowin’ thit it’s aw true. Nae mair dae a hear ma ainsel in ma heid tawkin’ the wae a did as a wain. Noo ma inner vyce is pyoor Inglish. Whin we wur wee we wur telt auld yairns bei oor gran; yairns ae auld Scotland, the leigins the shenachies yist tae tell, in Inglish – an’ a ne’er saw the kinch in oany ae this a’caus a kent ma ain leid wasnae proper. Efter mony a year noo ae lairnin theologie an’ ither yoosfa hings av come tae unnerston thit ye kinnae rade and ken holy writ withoot huvin a solvendie gresp oan the leid in whit it wis first scrieven. Sae whitwey kin we rade ur hear oor ain stories in anither leid?

A riever hus din this tae us. Am ay telt  thit wur no a colonie, an’ mony a Scot wad hod that tae be true, bit a dinnae agree wae that naymair. Ithers see us as a servile fowk, an’ we widnae want tae see oorsels as sich, an’ yit whin we hink ae oor predicament an’ oor place in the wurald it’s plane tae see oor ain servilitie. The ang’ur we ken whin we hink ae Inglan’ an’ the Inglish. We hear thum mockin’ us, cawin’ us “British” in orr successes and “Scottish” in oor defaits. Wur no alood tae jist bei oorsels, an’ we ken it. Weil we ken it. Sae am gled thit wur stertin’ tae see the wey we huv din this oorsels, and pittin’ oor ain hoose back in order. This leid isnae bad Inglish. It’s aulder than that Inglish they tawk doon sooth. Oor leid is Lallans an’ we huv the richt tae sain it, an’ we shood.

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Beyoncé said it Loud and Clear at Superbowl 50

Privileged white America was rocked when Beyoncé brought the angry voice of African American protest to every television set in the country. Commenting on her performance Ben Shapiro, writing for The Daily Wire, wrote: “Racism is fine as long as it’s black-on-white,” and an outraged Rudolph Giuliani, former New York City mayor, who saw little else in the show than disrespect for the police bit back, insisting that what the black people in the States should be doing is building up respect for police officers. Rudy and Shapiro’s ire was raised, along with Fox News’ and a whole bunch of conservative white Americans, because Beyoncé had dared to be black in their faces.

In what was an astounding piece of entertainment and spectacle, Beyoncé brought race centre field to a white viewing public that is doing everything in its power to ignore it with her new song ‘Formation.’ Of course this is an hommage to Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and all things Black American Resistance, and why shouldn’t it be? The constant demonisation of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US media, while white America at large continues to turn a blind eye the obvious systemic racism and violence against African Americans in the nation’s law enforcement, judiciary, and entire political superstructure, is outrageous.

Shapiro, as always, couldn’t be further from the mark. There was nothing racist in this whatsoever. What was racist was his comment. Racism, among so many other detestable things, is a relationship to power, and – if we have seen anything at all – this is what white America has in barrel loads. The black kids being gunned down on America’s streets have a zero percent share in that power cake. More to the point, this could only have been construed as “black-on-white” racism if the lyrics were about white people. Nothing in the song was about white people. It was a powerful statement of black identity; ironically in the middle of Black History Month, and an affirmation of black empowerment. Not getting that was racist. Protesting it is racist. What Beyoncé Knowles did was unmistakably racial, but certainly not racist. Why does it always have to be about white people?

What has really pissed off the white American establishment is that “that negro with that Creole,” that woman, has shoved their nasty, vindictive, racist, hypocrisy right in their noses when they thought they were in the safe zone of their All-American, whites-only, Superbowl frat party. Yeah, Giuliani was right; this wasn’t Hollywood, but it was entertainment, and even if it were Hollywood she still wouldn’t be getting an Oscar for her efforts. Beyoncé has done well for herself, sure. She’s in the money, and nothing is likely to make her much poorer now, but she knows as well as anyone that this stunt won’t go unpunished. That right there is the very definition of bravery, of integrity.

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Purging the Revolutionary Women of Ireland

On 28 April 1916, after Pádraig Pearse announced his intention to surrender, the Cumman na mBan nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell made her way under a white flag to the end of Moore Street in Dublin to give notice to Gen. William Lowe. O’Farrell was one of about ninety women who participated in the uprising. The women of Cumman na mBan acted as auxiliaries, nurses, and active insurgents, but in the years since 1916 their role in the events of the Easter Rising have been muted, their requests for military pensions were denied, and their presence was quite deliberately edited-out of history. One hundred years on and women are still being erased from Ireland’s social resistance.

Elizabeth O’Farrell, for those not from Ireland or otherwise unfamiliar with her story, was sent back to 16 Moore Street by Gen. Lowe with the undertaking to send Pearse, as commander-in-chief of the Irish Republican Army, out to him with an unconditional surrender. Having found himself in an untenable position and seeking to avoid further civilian casualties Pearse agreed to the unconditionally of the capitulation and accompanied O’Farrell to offer his sword. A photograph was taken by an unknown British Army photographer of the meeting, and not wishing to be a focus of what she knew was a significant moment in Irish history O’Farrell pressed backwards so as to be obscured by Pádraig Pearse.


Ten days later the picture was featured in the Daily Sketch newspaper with a number of notable alterations. The presence of O’Farrell – her cape and coat, along with her feet – had been completely airbrushed out. In a possible attempt to ennoble the scene the expressions on the soldiers’ faces were subtly changed and the cigarette in the younger officer’s mouth, Lowe’s son in fact, was removed. Elizabeth O’Farrell, who played such an instrumental role as a militant, a nurse, and a dispatcher, and who opened up the parley with the British command at huge personal risk, was removed from the photographic record and from the later mythologised story.


A century later, in Austerity Ireland, the image of the surrender has been adopted as a symbol of the struggle against a new type of national oppression – corporate imperialism. At some point over the past week a piece of Banksy-esque street art tagged to suggest it was the work of Banksy (which the real Banksy has denied), featuring Pearse surrendering to property developers, appeared on Moore Street. In spite of the prominence of many brilliant anti-austerity female politicians and activists in Dublin and around the country, the as yet unknown pseudo-Banksy opted to reproduce the infamous historical injustice and left out our warrior women. So much for the proclamation’s “Irishmen and Irishwomen!”


Putting Elizabeth O’Farrell back in the picture.

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