Bananarama

Pegsy pulls a splinter from his thumb. He’d been told to wear gloves on innumerable occasions but his subconscious entwinement of masculinity and pain tolerance has led to a standing belief that gnarled, dirty palms will contrast the soft femininity he desires in a potential mate and make him minutely more attractive. This splinter is tinged with a royal blue, born of a pallet crafted to carry fruit into the store. Pegsy despises fruit, with a particular contempt reserved for bananas. His own father had held an ill-fated dream of opening a local store dealing exclusively in the trade of bananas and, perhaps in time, the sale of other banana-related products and merchandise. Alas, it was not to be.

 
Little Pegsy, not that he was ever truly “little”, had wholeheartedly supported his father’s fructose-soaked dream, gorging himself with bananas on a daily basis to prove this support to Papa Pegsy. The man took little heed of his son’s support, considering it an insultingly juvenile act and lambasting his son for such a childish approach to the whole banana business. It may have been negative attention, but it was attention nonetheless and the young Pegsy must have internally correlated banana consumption and fatherly attention on some subconscious level because each critical comment would only drive his daily intake of bananas higher and higher. Undoubtedly, this gluttonous childhood indulgence, coupled with the implied daddy issues and internalised importance of food consumption have contributed to Pegsy’s considerable volume today, and all the health issues included therein.

 
Generally, Pegsy would dispose of his multiple banana peels each day by adding them to a crude compost heap he had unintentionally created in the small back garden behind the family’s semi-detached house. The pile grew higher by the day, as did a simmering resentment on the behalf of Mr. Pegsy Senior. Still, they let Pegsy off with it because the compost heap, the countless bananas and the desire for attention all bore the hallmarks of a potentially excellent child, in an entirely conventional sense. An inclination toward appeasing the patriarch of the three-piece family unit, a desire to eat ostensibly healthy foods and a conscious head with regards to environmental salvation. Realistically, the appeasement of Pegsy Senior should have flagged burgeoning psychological issues, the bananas alone didn’t constitute a balanced diet and the recycling basically amounted to a huge pile of rotting yellow shit in the back garden. The dire condition of the back garden drew the ire of many neighbours but the rectangular green space mattered little to any of the family, given that Pegsy displayed no tendency toward physical endeavours and had no siblings with whom to traverse the outdoors.

 
Eventually, the council had been contacted with regards to the unsanitary nature of Pegsy’s makeshift compost heap and Mr and Mrs P decided that it had to go. Young Pegsy was tasked with disposal and the parents turned a blind eye as he loaded plastic Tesco bags with foul, decaying bananas and promptly fucked them into the canal. After this point Pegsy had begun to develop a sense of awareness with regards to the effectiveness of his exponential banana intake and the attention extracted from his father. One week, in a fit of potassium induced madness, the considerably-bigger-than-little Pegsy switched out the bananas for apples in a fit of prepubescent rebellion. Again, Pegsy’s father reacted with a sort of dull weariness akin to that which greeted the excessive banana consumption. Despite the essentially unchanged reaction on his father’s behalf, Pegsy swore he saw a glint of anger behind his father’s loveless eyes and mournfully returned to the bananas within twenty-four hours.

 
The compost heap having been consigned to its own figurative compost heap, Pegsy reeled his consumption down to one banana per day. He resolved to diversify his approach by leaving his single stray banana peel on the arm of his father’s regular chair in front of the sitting room’s battered television. Alas, this approach yielded a response of complete ignorance on the behalf of Pegsy Senior, and so a more drastic approach was taken by the young Peg himself. Having indulged in his customary post-breakfast banana, Pegsy left the peel sitting pretty in the white tiled hallway, just before the front door, ensuring that his father would have to encounter the yellow symbol of paternal adoration before he left for work. Sitting in the shadows at the top of the stairwell, Pegsy watched on, silently willing his father to bend down, pick up the peel and finally grasp the extent of his son’s love.

 
As Pegsy the Elder strode toward the front door to carve out a path to his banana kingdom he never even glanced downward. His stride was long and fierce, covering two tiles in a single step. So careful was the placement of the little yellow trophy, growing browner by the minute, that Pegsy Senior, with such an immaculate stepping pattern, was destined to land heel atop peel in a moment of wondrous symmetry. And so it played out thusly, Pegsy watching through the vertical bars lining the staircase, his father slipped with such comedic verve that Pegsy still half-believes he heard a cheesy sitcom VWOOOOOMP, unlikely as that may seem. One sound effect agreed upon by Pegsy Jr and Mama Pegsy, in the adjacent kitchen at the time of the incident, is the sickening crack of Papa Pegsy’s skull upon the shiny white tile. Perhaps solace could be taken in the fact that Pegsy Senior died doing what he loved – rapidly losing consciousness.

 
The funeral passed in a haze of potassium-soaked guilt and in the wake of the incident, Pegsy, understandably, kicked his banana habit cold turkey. Futile attempts by Mama Pegsy to distract her son from the almost unfathomable recurring guilt that would characterise the course of his life were regular and ineffective in the weeks and months following his father’s burial. A particularly unfortunate attempt involved upgrading Pegsy’s battered old Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the three-dimensioned glory of its progeny, the Nintendo 64. Alas, the games bundled with the console, Mario Kart 64 and Donkey Kong 64, served only to remind Pegsy of the comical near-manslaughter of the man whose approval he would now never receive. He never managed to win many races on Mario Kart owing to his paralysed refusal to press Z and utilise the item whenever he received a banana, or bunch thereof, with which to thwart his opponents. He did, however, in some sort of sordid sadomasochistic penance, manage to 100% complete the notoriously collectible-saturated Donkey Kong 64, picking up every last banana, gold or otherwise, along the way.

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The Starling

I was walking home today and a man in the passenger seat of a car rolled down his window and shouted something mean-spirited at me. In times past, when I was shackled with depression, I would have taken this very poorly indeed. Likely, I’d have gone home and fixated on it for hours, if not days, convinced that this ill sentiment toward me must be shared universally. The man who shouted at me has doubtlessly forgotten that I even exist, but had I been feeling a bit more vulnerable today, his seemingly inconsequential action could have had a detrimental effect on my mental well-being.

Now imagine if I’d been really, seriously suffering today and this man’s lack of compassion had tipped me over the edge. His actions could have had irreversible consequences. Worse again, imagine I’d been a lone woman, naked and vulnerable, in the throes of a mental breakdown and the man in question had been a member of the Gardai, and instead of merely shouting, he’d taken the footage of my terrible ordeal and shown it to all his friends. Then imagine that these friends, members of the public service ostensibly designed to protect and serve vulnerable members of society, had allowed these images to make their way online, doing untold damage to an already fragile mind. Except, you don’t have to imagine it, because it actually fucking happened and now a woman is dead.

Dara Quigley’s death is shocking and tragic, offering a bleak illumination of some oft-ignored societal ills. For all the supposed advocacy, the celebrity soundbites and the constant stream of discussion on mental health, the mentally ill in this country will continue to suffer because a basic, societal empathy is largely absent. The widespread understanding of mental illness refuses to develop beyond a narrow, diluted picture of relatively straightforward sadness. Compassion is employed up to a point, but when the behaviour of a mentally ill person becomes too striking, or even just inconvenient, we revert to the freak show mentality. We point and laugh. Obvious cries for help, serious manic episodes, are discarded as the behaviour of raving lunatics, beyond saving.

Worse yet is the sort of institutional boys club culture that will happily value a sick thrill above the health and safety of another human being, particularly one who is so clearly suffering. The man who shared the video initially may have been the instigator, but those in the WhatsApp group who allowed the footage to exist, and spread, without immediately acting to intervene, are culpable too. So too those who watched the video elsewhere and did nothing. It’s a damning insight into our collective lack of empathy and a worrying symptom of a desensitized society. Even as the story spreads online, our national media seems reluctant to highlight such a sickening case of Gardai malpractice.

It happens often, the mockery, we just don’t notice because the outcome isn’t so immediately tragic in the way that Dara Quigley’s death has been. When someone acts out, they are routinely dismissed as eccentric, attention-seeking or hysterical. The desire to understand isn’t present, instead there’s a shallow desire to appear understanding. This self-preserving image of compassion is cultivated, online and elsewhere, but genuine empathy is being corroded. I’ve seen people portray themselves as advocates when it suits them, then go on to viciously mock an obviously unwell Sinead O’Connor. The narrative surrounding mental illness in Ireland is dangerously narrow. We’re fine when someone just needs to talk and everyone loves it when some celebrity sells exercise as a panacea, but when the stakes are raised and things grow too uncomfortable for us, we shun the mentally ill. When an unwell woman walks naked down the streets of our capital city, she can expect ignorance at best and cruelty at worst.

Someday the man who amplified Dara Quigley’s suffering will come face-to-face with the mental anguish of someone close to him. A friend or family member, maybe even one of his own children, because mental illness is never far from any of our doors. When that day comes I hope it cuts him. I hope it cuts him deep, because he’ll look on back on the day he hurt Dara, instead of helping her, and maybe he’ll realise that his actions have contributed directly to an uncaring, borderline malicious society that doesn’t only ignore the mentally ill, but openly treats them with utter contempt.

“Our economy and society is modeled on the behaviour of pigeons, survival of the fittest, everybody out for themselves. The reality is more complex and beautiful than this regime can possibly imagine. In reality, we are more like a flock of starlings, producing intricate, amazing patterns all arising from one fundamental rule: no one bird is allowed to get lost. This is the type of society I want to see, where no one person is allowed to fall between the cracks, nobody gets lost and no person is homeless.” – Dara Quigley

The Dole Office

-”No, no, no. You need to fill out form 207B and bring it to reception.”

-”But, this is form 207B? It says it here at the top?”

-”No, what you’ve got here is form 207b. See it’s got a lower-case b. You need to get 207B, capital B, and bring it up to reception.”

-”Hang on, up to reception? Isn’t this reception? It says ‘reception’ on that sign there behind you.”

-”No, no, no. This is the reception exclusively for those in their late 30s who were employed in the tourism sector in the early-to-mid 90s. You need the reception for recent film graduates from forgettable midlands counties. That’s up on the 28th floor, between the Icelandic tourist department on the 26th and the samba soccer graduates on the 28th.”

* * *

-“So, you’re unemployed and you want to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance?”

-“That’s correct, I’ve got all the forms here, I think, and the lady downstairs told me to bring them…”

-“You don’t have a job, is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

-”Eh, yeah, that’s right…”

-”And why not? You fucking piece of human waste.”

-”Excuse me?!”

-”I said, ‘Sir, why do you think you’ve been unable to attain employment?’”

-”Eh, um, well I just finished college there a few weeks ago and I’ve been applying for jobs but…”

-”Hang on there a minute now, finished college?! Why have you gone and done that?”

-”What?”

-”Why have you finished?”

-”It’s… it’s a three-year course and I’ve just finished my final year…”

-”So you decided to just finish your degree, knowing that you’d be a jobless parasite afterwards?”

-”I, well, I don’t really get to decide how long the course is you know?”

-”Less of the attitude now, you little bollocks.”

-”What did you just..!?”

-”I said, regardless of your poorly considered decision to finish college after just three years, this is the wrong form.”

-”How do you mean?”

-”Well, you see, what you need to supply us with is form 207B.”

-”Yes, I’ve been told… This is form 207B.”

-”No, no, no. This form you’ve handed me here is form 207β. You see? That’s not a capital B, that’s the ancient Greek symbol for the letter beta. This form is for Jobseeker’s Allowance, but only for those who graduated from Plato’s Academy from 367 – 347 BC. They deal with those claims in the Socratic reception up on the 71st floor.”

-“…the… the Socratic reception?”

-“Yes. If you want to hand in 207β, bring it up there and be ready for a few questions from the man behind the desk.”

* * *

-“Hello, good afternoon, yes. I’d like to check if my social welfare payment has come in yet. I was told to check this post office on Friday the…”

-”Yes, yes, yes. Give us your card, please.”

-”Eh, here you go. Thanks.”

-”Yeah, says it’s all here for you now, a month’s backpay and everything. Hang on just two seconds…”

-“Ah, that’s great, thanks very…”

-“There you are, a hundred euro.”

-”…much… A hundred?

-“Yes.”

-”One hundred euro. With backpay?”

-”Yes.”

-”…Feckin’ Greeks.”

sanzio_01_plato_aristotle

Plato and Aristotle throwing shapes in the dole queue.