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Veering West

COLM TOBIN: Waging war on the fact I’m turning into Tony Soprano in middle age!

March 13th, 2023 11:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

COLM TOBIN: Waging war on the fact I’m turning into Tony Soprano in middle age! Image

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I AM sad to report that I have entered the ‘World War documentary’ period of my middle age. There is a time in every man’s life when a sizable portion of his leisure time is spent ensconced in various iterations of the stories of both major conflicts from the last century, and across as many mediums as possible. I don’t think this happens with more emotionally evolved and sophisticated creatures, like women for example, but I could be wrong.

By way of example, this past month, I have been mostly diverting my free time listening to the Real Dictators podcast on Spotify, which variously follows the exploits of the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and various other historical gobshites, all delivered in a weighty narration by Paul McGann of Withnail & I fame. 

I have also watched the most recent film adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front on Netflix, with its grim and gory depiction of the trench warfare of World War 1 which, as it happens, is only half as terrifying as the novel on which it was originally based. 

These are just the latest in a whole clutch of similar titles I’ve worked my way through in recent years – World War 1 in Colour, The Siege of Stalingrad, The Age of Tanks, Hitler’s Silliest Pet Videos, I’m A Despot Get Me Out Of Here .… 

I don’t know why men like me resort to this sort of thing when we reach a certain point in our lives. I’ve seen the condition arise in numerous friends and family members too, and Tony Soprano was once famously depicted doing the very same thing on The Sopranos.

At least he was leading a murderous crime gang out of North Jersey and presumably could do with a bit of a steer on how to deal with a zero-sum-game war of attrition. 

From what I can gather, there are very few of my friends who go around whacking people or running waste collection businesses as fronts for criminal enterprises. Also, very few of them have to lead infantry divisions into Northern France. 

It obviously comes from something more deep-seated. Perhaps, at this stage of our lives, we all had expected to be involved in some sort of grand global, geo-political brinksmanship instead of, I dunno, leading a small back-office team in a local chartered accountancy firm? 

Maybe there is some deep, primal need in us to pretend we are saving humanity from fascism, even if the modern-day version involves sitting in front of the telly with a can of Smithwicks and a packet of Aldi mixed nuts?

Whatever the reason, during one of my recent world war marathons, the thought did strike me that it would have been absolutely overwhelming and exhausting to have had to follow the events of that era in real-time. Imagine if they had 24-hour rolling news and Twitter in those days?

Can you imagine the terror of hearing about Hitler’s expansion into France and then the Nazis edging towards Britain’s shorelines? Can you imagine trying to anxiously follow the various theatres of war from Africa, to the Pacific to the Eastern front as the world slowly edged towards oblivion?

Nobody in Ireland was doing that – they were presumably too busy trying to stay alive. 

In many ways, it’s fair to say that people were better off not knowing. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. And so I remind myself, whenever I find myself going down a YouTube hole to find out more about battlefield strategies in Ukraine. Or when I become overwhelmed by terrifying news of Washington-Bejing brinkmanship in the South China Sea. 

Sometimes you have to ask yourself – how much of this can I control? And how much of this will just make me anxious and hyper-alert and of no real use to my children?  

At some point, you just have to turn off the TV and close Twitter on your browser window. Some people would say I’m copping out, but maybe I’m just copping on.

Media giving it Holly!

SPEAKING of pointless noise, the national media was in a breathless tizzy at the weekend as they reported Holly Cairns’ apparent immediate impact on the political landscape, giving the Social Democrats a five-point bump in the latest Ireland Thinks poll for The Sunday Independent. 

In all fairness to Holly, it’s been a long time since our GAA players went five points unanswered in the capital, on any weekend. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has dropped two points to 29%, the first time they have dropped below 30% since September 2021 which comes with the news that MEP Liadh Ní Riada is stepping away from politics. A week is one hell of a long time in politics. Not that the government parties will be too concerned, as they appear to be holding their own somewhat with a block of 44% between them. 

What any of these figures really mean, in terms of the shape of the next Dáil, is anyone’s guess of course. You can’t deny there’s a fair wind blowing from wesht along though .…

Trump is still lurking .... 

HE hasn’t gone away you know. 

Earlier in the week, it was reported that Donald Trump has released a charity single featuring a choir of prisoners held in Washington DC for their parts in the deadly January 6th insurrection on the Capitol. An insurrection he incited, if you remember.  

It’s the latest desperate effort by Trump (or the ‘blob with the gob’ as I call him) to breathe life back into his faltering campaign as the Republican primaries loom later this year, and with stiff opposition coming to the fore within the GOP.

The song ends with a chant of ‘U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!’ and was allegedly ‘produced by a major recording artist who was not identified’, according to Forbes. 

Which narrows it down to a pool of about one significant loon, I reckon. 

This column always veers west, as you know.

The sad thing is, this will totally play to Trump’s base and could arguably work. Can you imagine Trump at the helm now, with Putin doing what he’s doing? 

As I promised myself, though, there’s not a lot I can control about this, so it’s time to get away from the noise and go out and smell the roses again. So I take a breath, close my laptop and leave. 

There’s a four-part BBC Four series on the French Resistance I’ve got lined up.

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