Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Time for a new Irish joke

It’s been wonderful spending a few days in Ireland. There’s a warmth and generosity to the people here that keeps surprising me, used as I am to the much rougher edge of England. And the place is beautiful.

Dr Steevens' hospital in Dublin
You can query the spelling of the name, but not the charm of the place
Its ironic that the English have the gall to make jokes mocking the Irish.

Not every one of the jokes is bad, as it happens. My favourite is a classic, the answer to a tourist lost in an Irish village who asks, “is this the way to Dublin?”

“Oh,” he’s told, “if I was going to Dublin I wouldn’t start from here.”

Of course, the real reason I like it hasn’t anything to do with Ireland. It applies so much better in the world in which I spend much of my time, that of English business. In serious meetings about such crucial matters as strategy (“whenever I hear the word ‘strategic’,” a former boss once told me, “I get a chill up my spine because I know it’s going to cost me money”), I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told, “we really should have completed that product last year” or “we should have taken on more staff” (sometimes in the variant form, “we shouldn’t have made all those staff redundant”) or “it’s a pity we don’t have more contacts in that area”. Whenever I hear anything like that, I want to scream that we didn’t, or we haven’t, or we don’t, and that we are where we are and that’s the only starting point we can work from.

It was fascinating to see how many Irishmen talked about Brexit. They’re preparing for it, but in discussing Brexit with us, they always have a metaphorical shake of the head, as though to say, “what on Earth are you Brits thinking of? Have you taken complete leave of your senses?”

Actually, one of the people I spoke to didn’t even leave it metaphorical. She just asked what possible form of brainstorm had affected Britain.

Most are a little more polite than that. In words, at least, even when their actions speak loud. One told me that he’d lived and worked four and a half years in London but has just moved back. He had been working in one of the many Europe-wide organisations that have their headquarters in Britain.

“They’ve already begun cutting back on staff, and others have gone of their own accord. I didn’t apply for other jobs but when this one came up, I leaped at it immediately. I don’t want to be around when the whole card castle collapses.”

“You think your organisation will move away?”

“I can’t see how they can stay, can you? And practically every capital in the other 27 states has already put in a bid to house it. You can’t miss the writing on the wall…”

This all leaves me feeling it’s time for a new joke, to be told by the Irish at the expense of the English. It would go something like this:

“Did you hear about the Englishman who decided to leave the European Union?”

“No. What happened?”

“Oh, that’s it. Nothing else. There isn’t a punchline.”

It’s not very funny, I know. But isn’t that the whole point? Brexit may be laughable, but in a pretty mirthless way.

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