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Dark reflection of our future selves

It was rather frightening to be told of the scale of larceny of taxpayers’ money that Irish Nationwide seems to have (so far) gotten away with, seeing as no one has yet been held to account for the goings on there before the financial crash.


The facts offered by journalist Richard Curren on Inside Irish Nationwide on RTÉ One on Monday were nothing short of staggering; you knew you were in scary territory when the chartered accountant on the programme described a report carried out on the company by Ernst & Young as “terrifying” and left the former deputy director of the IMF, Donal Donovan, shocked.

Not content with having upsetting myself a little by watching it, I decided to turn to Channel 4 to catch Charlie Brooker’s new three-part Black Mirror, just to see if it could top last year’s dystopian effort which was just plain nuts in parts. For those who missed out, one plotline involved the British prime minister forced into having carnal knowledge of a pig. The rest I won’t even get in to but suffice to say, it all felt like being part of a nightmarish video game.

The thing is though, I like Brooker’s material. Even in his darkest vision of the future of industry or communication technology, he draws a crowd, because there is that niggling feeling at the base of your skull that he might not be so far left-field as we might like to think.

Set in a distorted future where there are ‘drive safe’ buttons on cars and Minority Report-style laptops and the like (kinda could be reality already) we are introduced to young couple Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) and Martha (Hayley Atwell) as they are moving all their gear to a cottage in the middle of nowhere. Signposting where events might be about to lead is the news on the van’s TV about advances in intelligent synthetic flesh aimed at getting amputees up and about.

Ash is like anyone with a smartphone these days and takes pictures of everything and shares his musings on life with his social media buddies. He may have been glued to the phone when he crashed the van, we don’t know, but he had clearly not pushed the drive safe button. His death leaves poor Martha all on her lonesome and she becomes a dab hand at DIY in her grief.

To complicate matters. she finds out she’s pregnant (hilarious pregnancy test by the way, someone should try to prototype it) but not before her mate has signed her up to some internet software programme that can mimic people. This rather spooky service gathers Ash’s electronic footprint – telephone calls, emails, facebook updates and so on – and compiles a profile of the lad so she can chat to him online.

Things take a turn for the really strange when the software starts calling her and she begins to drop out of normal life to start having conversations with her dearest from beyond the grave. At least the voice acknowledges it is bat shit crazy that he can talk to her. But wait, what’s that? There’s a third level to this crazy, an upgrade if you will. A wax dummy in a box arrives at the door complete with instructions on how to create a live action figure – steep one avatar in a bath of mineral gel that smells of marshmallows, add some electrolytes and brew. Oh and leave a towel by the bath or you get Ash 2.0 dripping water all over the floor.

How Martha’s mind had not melted by this stage was a mystery to me. Luckily for her the waxwork turns out to be a bit better in the bedroom than its human predecessor due to having access to reams of porn on his CPU. Things begin to fall apart quickly though, as he might look and sound like Ash, he’s not emotionally tuned the same way and he’s missing great big chunks of memory and personality – all the parts he didn’t put online. So Ash becomes a spectre in the house, a ripple left over from too much time spent on the internet.

A few points were hammered home, the growing addiction to the virtual world becoming a mite scary is just one of them. But the overriding emotion was how people deal with grief and the length they can go to keep someone in their lives in whatever capacity that may be. A lot less bleak than most of Brooker’s previous efforts and all the better for it.

TG4 really are a dab hand at documentaries and I love the little interesting factoids that are to be picked up from them. The Fíorscéal series is among the best, but the one I caught on Sunday was a lovely little tale that tied British and European royalty to the poor of Ireland in a lace bow.

An Chaille Bhrídeoige began with the wedding of Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark and Australian Mary Donaldson in May 2004 and how her veil had been created 100 years earlier by the women of Ireland.
The veil, made from Irish lace, was first worn by Crown Princess Margareta of Sweden, then by her daughter Ingrid, Queen of Denmark and later by Ingrid’s daughters Margrethe, Benedikte and Anne-Marie, before Mary wore it in 2004.

In 1905, a few days before the wedding of Margaret, princess of Connaught and grand-daughter of Queen Victoria to crown prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden, she was given a gift from Irish women in honour of her Connaught title and the time she had spent living in Ireland. It consisted of a fan, a handkerchief and a veil, monogrammed and decorated with lillies, medowsweet and shamrocks, each piece handmade in Carrickmacross Lace.

What followed was the story of Carickmacross Lace’s humble beginnings in a small cottage, credited with being started by Margaret Louisa Lindsey, the wife of Protestant rector John Grey Porter in 1816. Struck by the poverty she witnessed in Carrickmacross, she wanted to help and so set up a little lace industry. Having bought some lace in Italy on her honeymoon, she and her servant Anne set about trying to learn the appliqué style and started teaching girls in the locality, a style which is still going today almost 200 years on.

It also delved into the story of Limerick Lace, which was far removed from the cottage industry of Carrickmacross. Charles Walker was less into people’s welfare and more in it for the money and found it was cheaper to make lace in Limerick rather than the UK or Europe.

He was the Dell of the 19th century and his death in 1843 marked a change in the city’s fortunes. A woman by the name of Florence Vere O’Brien revived it somewhat in 1883 when, newly married and on arriving in Limerick, she found elderly women selling poor scraps of lace after the industry had vanished. A niece of the poet Matthrew Arnold and the adopted daughter of the Minister for Education William E Forster in Gladstone’s government – she was well-placed to help the poor and set up a school to teach lace making. The Lord Lieutenant’s wife Lady Aberdeen was also hailed as a champion of the industry, bringing Irish Lace to world fairs and won accolades at Chicago (1893) and St Louis among others.

So Irish Lace is a valued heirloom of the House of Glücksburg since 1905 and if anyone is interested, the crown prince and princess honeymooned down the road in Adare before they moved to Sweden.

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