Archive for February, 2009

Agnes and Alzheimers

Agnes Houston from Coatbridge in Glasgow should have recognised dementia when it started to afflict her; she had nursed her own father through it.

Agnes came to Belfast to take part in a conference on Dementia and Human Rights, to argue that life is worth living after a diagnosis.

I found her one of the loveliest and most heartening people I had ever interviewed.  This is the full interview recorded for a report for Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme.

And this is the full report I made for Sunday Sequence of the conference on Dementia and Human Rights, held in Belfast on Feb 18. This incorporates clips of the original interview with Agnes.

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The Minister for the Environment in Northern Ireland has blocked a Government Information Ad on energy saving.

The disheartening part, for me, of the unfolding of the strange story about our Environment Minister’s theories on climate change, was not his decision to block a public advice advertisement: it was the relish and wonder with which the English media stroked its collective jaw.

Sammy’s decision may not have much impact on the campaign to save the planet from human pollution, but it has a massive impact on the British and international perception of us.

And now they have confirmation of what they have always thought, that we are awkward and backward. You could hear it in the tone of some of the journalists covering the story, the little – ‘here we go again’. You could see it in the way the story was reserved for the novelty item at the end of the news, the little funny to wrap up with.

During the troubles, you would hear that tone on the news: The sigh with which they said,  And now Northern Ireland – meaning, ‘and now for that tiresome tale of cantankerous folk’.

There are simplistic little stereotypes that prevail in media world and one of them is that we are just a bit daft and intransigent. For a blip in historic time, we got credit for working the miracle of peace processing, and then they started to notice that nothing much had really changed; that the executive partners were scowling at each other, that the first minister’s wife thought it was important to thump the tub against the abomination of homosexuality, and now that – what do you know? – we have an Environment Minister who doesn’t believe that C02 emissions cause global warming.

We have once again taken our place among the nations of the world as the daft one at the back.

And the worst of it is that we know what the English media doesn’t yet know, that there are more of these stories in the pipeline. Wait till they get hold of our collective answer to the inability to agree on academic selection: A Catholic 11+ and a Protestant 11+. That’s as good a story as the one about the separate Protestant and Catholic sewers under Belfast.

Any day now there will be a rerun of the local enthusiasm for the teaching of Creationism as science. In fact, the momentum of the current story, about our inherent dimwittedness, probably makes that story just the one to go for on the next slack day. There’ll be no problem getting someone on the education committee to make a complete ass of himself – and of the rest of us for putting him there.

Well, in some ways it doesn’t matter. Sammy is playing to a different gallery. There are probably a lot of DUP voters in the sticks who think he is doing a good job of sneering at the phoney liberal intelligentsia and the world wide leftie/roman conspiracy.

And you and I know that most people here are fairly easy going and accommodating, whatever the world thinks of us..

And Sammy playing the clown the odd time is no harm; even the Greens are delighted that they got so much publicity out of him yesterday. This is just the sort of rollicking knockabout that Sammy and others enjoyed in the council chambers before he became an executive minister. He wouldn’t be our Sammy if he didn’t give us a bit of crack.

And who cares what the English media think of us anyway? Certainly not Sammy.

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