A gentle spot of insane optimism to brighten up your day

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The Independent Online
LAST Friday afternoon I was sitting on the coach from Cork to Bantry, trying to look like a man who wasn't interested in music. This was to avoid being mistaken for any part of a group making its way to the Eurovision Song Contest, a violent attack of which was about to break out at a place called Millstreet just north of Cork.

I had never heard of Millstreet before. Perhaps people in Cork had never heard of Millstreet before. But ever since a taxi driver had said to me at Cork airport, 'Would you be a portion of the Bosnian group by any chance, sorr?', I had been trying to look unobtrusive and tone-deaf.

Now, crouched in an Irish bus seat, I found myself subjected to a non-stop broadcast from Radio Irish Chat Show, featuring a kindly sounding man called Des who was inviting people to phone in and tell him what they thought about Kerry jokes. Ever since the disappearance of jokes about the Irish, I'd imagined that Kerry jokes (which are the same as Irish jokes, but about Kerry people) would have vanished, too.

Not a bit of it, according to those listeners who rang Des to say that the Kerry folk are the most intelligent and sensitive in all Ireland, which is why the others take the mickey out of them. There were also those who rang in with 'new' Kerry jokes, such as the one about the Kerry wife who said she had been rinsing the ice cubes a moment ago and now couldn't find them anywhere . . .

I have to report, in tribute to those on board, that this didn't get much of a laugh on the Bantry bus last Friday. Instead, it set my mind drifting to the time I had asked the great Claud Cockburn to explain the nature of the Irish joke to me.

'The English have got this thing about the Irish, and the Kerry people, completely wrong as usual,' he said. 'The real Irish joke is not about stupidity. The Irish aren't stupid. It's about a certain fey quality in their logic and an insane optimism that overcomes everything.'

His words were strangely vindicated by the Cork Examiner on Monday. On the front page was an item headlined, 'Gardai foil attempt to start sex shop'. According to the report, the police had seized a 'saucy' film thought to have been made in nearby Glanmire. The police believed they had 'foiled a plan to operate a sex shop in the locality. The two girls featured in the video were described as being very attractive. The sexy scenes were 'stitched' into a copy of Fatal Attraction, a film featuring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas. Gardai believe the intention was to doctor other films in the same way'.

It isn't explained why exactly they should want to stitch naughty bits into famous and 'respectable' films, unless it was for the same reasons that people put cocaine inside washing-powder packets. The idea, presumably, was that customers would come in and say, winking, that they would like to see something steamy, and the video rental man would say, also winking: 'I think you'll like this UNUSUAL version of Great Expectations, Mr O'Driscoll.' Exit satisfied customer.

Unless, of course, you lost track of which ones you had doctored and some elderly pair sat down to their sincerely rented copy of Great Expectations, and the wife said: 'I'm not sure if I've been following the plot correctly, Patrick, but I don't remember these two girls in the story before now.'

'Sure,' says Patrick, 'and one of them must be Miss Havisham when young. It's a flashback.'

'Then who's the other one? And why are they both taking their clothes off?'

'Well, I don't know, but I suppose that it must have been very hot in those Victorian drawing rooms . . .'

'That's never a Victorian drawing room. It looks more like

Mrs Malone's front room over Fermoy way. And, come to think of it, that young lady is uncommonly like Mrs Malone's Sheila - good heavens, whatever is she doing now?'

For a spot more insane optimism, try this ad from the very same page of the Cork Examiner. It's headed 'May 10-15, Festival Of Food, Queen's Old Castle, Cork. Join us for a fun-filled week of food


I think you get the idea. Festival of Food . . . food tasting . . . touch of the old gourmet experience . . . Now pass on to the first featured menu.

'Mary Rose Restaurant. Breakfast Special 99p. Bacon, Egg, Sausage, Toast, Tea/Coffee.'

If THAT isn't gently insane optimism, then you're not easily