‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ is a 1968 Italian epic Spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Leone for Paramount Pictures starring two greats of American cinema; Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson.
One unusual feature of this film is that each character is signified by a particular piece of music and each time you see a character they are accompanied by this tune. Charles Bronson’s introductory piece is a haunting three-note tune played on a harmonica.
The man who played this astounding piece of music in the film was one Franco de Gemini, an Italian harmonica player. I looked him up on You Tube and there he was, a small stout man like myself, playing his world famous tune. Brilliant!
While we are talking about sound and music in the cinema I may as well tell you that Ray Dolby, the inventor of the Dolby button on the old stereo systems who changed his business to focus on cinemas when digital technology made the stereo units obsolete, also died in this last couple of weeks.
When Dolby decided to go into cinema soundtracks and when he had developed his system he sent his technicians to the major cinemas in the United States to try out his product. It didn’t work. This was because the speakers in the arenas were not in the proper places and sequences.
Dolby told the cinema owners that if they wanted the benefits of his new ‘surround sound’ equipment, which brought in the technology whereby we hear different sounds from different speakers, greatly adding to suspense scenes and the like, they would have to change their speaker systems to suit his technology.
Dolby was a shrewd businessman because he reinvented his old idea which had become outdated and made it into an attractive, useful, must have product.
I think someone in the Northern Ireland Office should learn to play de Gemini’s tune on the harmonica and play it every time Richard Haas walks into the room.
And I also think that the parties at the talks need to learn from Mr Ray Dolby and realize that when your product is old and out of date you need to change it and make it attractive to the people.
Members of the Belfast Business community went to meet Mr Haas and told him that tourism would have to play a part in the economic regeneration of the New North. They said:
"Resolving issues around the past, parades, flags and identity are essential if we are to move our economy forward.
"Divided societies are bad for business and will limit the economic potential of Northern Ireland. Economic issues need to be part of these talks and are a critical element of a shared future".
They added: "The work of Richard Haass and his team here is vitally important because it shows that Northern Ireland is serious about working together and continuing to move forward and must compete as an international tourist destination."
In this we come up against a couple of wee problems.
Second, these three months, June, July and August are given over to an outdated, redundant and economically destructive pastime called ‘The Marching season.’
The marching season begins on Easter Monday and runs to the Last Saturday in August.
Four full months of economic and social disruption to celebrate a win in a minor battle on a stream in a different country (for this is where the unionists believe the Boyne to be); what sort of lunacy is this.
France has the 14 July, the United States, July 4th, Ireland has the 17th March, and we have four months of it.
Why not pick a day, one day, and let whoever wants to march, march and parade from dawn til dusk, wherever he wants, wearing what he wants and playing whatever tunes he wants; and then in the evening let everyone get drunk and go home.
The next day we can start the tourist season.
We have scenery and tourist attractions that hold their own with any place in Ireland or the UK; the Glens of Antrim, the Mournes and Sperrins leave my American visitors stunned every time they come here.
But do we seriously believe that tourists are going to come and visit when there are few quality hotels, constant riots and large aggressive looking police landrovers driving all over the place.
Like Dolby and his music system, Northern Ireland needs to reinvent itself. As Britain comes out of recession we are going to be left behind.
In a year’s time the whole thing will change. The countdown has started.
On the 18th September next year Scotland goes to the polls to vote on independence. Of course it will not pass and the unionists here shall proclaim that it is a great victory for the union but the damage shall be done.
The not so United Kingdom is becoming more and more disjointed and we are still fighting yesterday’s battles.
In the United Kingdom we have an adversarial system of politics. You see it best at Prime Minister’s Question Time when David Cameron and Edward Miliband slog it out in Westminster.
We have no common good. There is no target or place at which Northern Ireland as a society is aiming. The only place we want to be is on top; equality in the Northern Ireland context is perceived as failure.
My favourite institution, the Ulster Bank, is now considered something of a failure.
A BBC story ran last week said:
“A wide-ranging inquiry into how banks operate in Northern Ireland is under way at Westminster.
It is examining lending practices and the future of the troubled Ulster Bank.
The government is considering whether to split the Ulster from the Royal Bank of Scotland group, due to its toxic property debts. Earlier this year, Ulster Bank posted losses of £1bn.
The inquiry is being run by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee.”
What annoys me about this is that we are having another inquiry into something that we all know is not going to change, good money being poured after bad.
The inquiry is also going to look at First Trust and Bank of Ireland as well as this new crowd Danske Bank.
“Over the coming three months, it will look at the way banks are run, how they provide finance to small and medium sized businesses and access to banking in rural communities,” said the BBC article.
Why do we need months of an inquiry to tell us something we already know? The banks are not lending money to small and medium enterprises because they do not have any money.
Why do we need months of talks to tell us something we already know? The parties are not going to agree on marching and flags, let alone the definition of a victim.
Banks need money and politicians need votes.
What Sinn Fein politician in his right mind would say ‘let the Orangemen walk down the Garvaghy Road,’ or what DUP man would say, ‘in the interests of tourism we are going to suspend all marches from June to August.’
They would be laughed out of office before being hung, drawn and quartered by their supporters.
So why all these talks?
Think of Syria. A couple of weeks ago we were all getting ready for war until Uncle Barack realized that he was going to have to do all the fighting himself so now we have an inquiry into Assad’s chemical weapons.
‘Do nothing but be seen to be doing something,’ is the order of the day.
The Orange Order went to see Mr Haas last week. UTV reported;
“Following their meeting with Dr Haass, Deputy Grand Master Alastair Smyth said: ‘It was a very constructive meeting, Dr Haass was very much in listening mode.
The substance of our time with him was focused on the parading issues which is obviously important to our whole existence and a lot of issues around that were explored.’”
Something very revealing is said in the last sentence; the parading issue is very important to the whole existence of the Orange Order.
For Sinn Fein and others this presents a ‘zero sum’ conundrum.
Do we want a Northern Ireland where the Orange Order ceases to exist? I think such a Northern Ireland would lose a lot of its heart.
Can we convince the Orange Order that a much shorter marching season is needed if we are to achieve some sort of normality during the summer?
You see, as a nationalist I see the Orange marches as sectarian celebrations but a healthy society needs diversity and we have to acknowledge the different interpretations of history that we have here. The Orange Order has been here for over 200 years, a lot longer than the IRA.
These different interpretations add to the richness of our culture.
Let’s cut through all the talk and ask the real question, the question that no one wants to answer with a direct yes or no.
Do we want to win or do we want to build an inclusive, multi cultural society, where we all have a stake?
Truthfully, do you want to be equal to your Catholic or Protestant neighbour or do you want to be just that little bit superior.
Stop for a minute and think about it. Isn’t there just that little bit of us that wants to say ‘we won’ or ‘we have shown them.’
David Cameron and Ed Miliband roar and shout at each other, but in the final analysis they are English and they will obey the law and accept the decision of the courts.
Our leaders are a wee bit Irish and a wee bit British and the decision of the court is accepted only if it goes your way.
Do you remember a song by Barbara Streisand called ‘Second Hand Rose?’
“Father has a business strictly second hand
Everything from toothpicks to a baby grand
Stuff in our apartment came from father's store
Even things I'm wearing someone wore before
It's no wonder that I feel abused
I never get a thing that ain't been used.”
For me that song sums up the atmosphere of Northern Ireland; there is nothing new and fresh in the air, we are dependent on Britain’s handouts and their leftovers. How many nationalists have fallen into a nice little earner here and are prepared to accept the status quo for a good job and a pension.
People get comfortable in the new surroundings. There is no real incentive to change because too many of us are doing ok.
The fact that Northern Ireland is still a seething cauldron of hatred and bigotry just below the surface does not matter that much because we have it confined to a couple of months in the year, in a couple of areas of Belfast.
We have finally reached the nirvana that Roy Mason talked about thirty years ago. Yes, my friends, we are there: we have found the “ACCEPTABLE LEVEL OF VIOLENCE!”
There has been no one killed these past couple of years, so that’s not too bad, there have been no big explosions, so we are not out a pile of money and the rioting and protesting, though inconvenient, is mostly in the working class areas.
All is well in the wee north.
I see on the internet this fine Monday morning that Dublin has won the All Ireland; didn’t know a thing about it. Watched a fair bit of TV yesterday and saw no sign of it on BBC or UTV. I don’t have RTE.
Gaelic football is by far the biggest spectator sport in Northern Ireland and to see the BBC you would think that no one was interested.
Every Saturday afternoon we are treated to a soccer match with half a dozen in the crowd coming over the airwaves courtesy of Radio Ulster.
When two hundred turn up to see Northern Ireland thrashed as usual in Windsor Park (Windsor is the surname of the Queen) everything is taken off the TV and ‘the match’ is put on.
Strange how our culture is secondary to Escape to the Country and Songs of Praise on BBC 1 and the America’s Cup and Canoeing on BBC 2.
How many of you know what sport the America’s Cup involves?
Well, let me enlighten you.
The America’s Cup is a rich man’s yacht sailing completion. There are no such yachts in the New North.
But the BBC has a master plan.
Escape to the Country shall bring thousands of nice English people to Northern Ireland where we shall all sing Songs of Praise, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is going to bring the America’s Cup to Lough Neagh and canoeing to the River Bann at Portadown.
Meanwhile the Haas talks shall fail (no fault of ours), I shall go on listening to that man play the harmonica and the yearly cycle of marching lunacy shall provide nice background music to the whole thing.
Ain’t the wee north great!
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