Cou nter poi nts
June 2019 8
vegans definitely vote Remain. They’re not a popular bunch. A recent American study found that vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals. The only group who fared worse were drug addicts.
This may partly be due to the fact that people tend to be very tribal about food. In all societies, food is a source of group identity—particularly when eaten communally. Vegans mark themselves out as outsiders by refusing to eat the same food as everyone else. Notice, for instance, that meat eaters generally don’t comment on the fact that vegans don’t wear leather or wool—it’s tofu that gets them going.
But the Greggs incident was particularly heated because of the way that class plays out in our new American-style culture war, which is concerned more with social values than with economics. The arrival of the vegan sausage roll was interpreted as a betrayal, even an invasion, by those who despise the stereotypical vegan and everything she stands for.
The liberal metropolitan elite have—quite legitimately—been accused of sucking the country dry, accumulating money, power, and cultural capital at the expense of the rest of Britain. Greggs was supposed to be safe from this. The sausage roll treachery showed that it wasn’t.
BY Michael Duggan
Born before it even existed, Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) knew all about Ireland’s hard border. “O stony grey soil of Monaghan,” he wrote, “you burgled the bank of my youth!”
The son of a farmer-cum-cobbler, Kavanagh shook the border clods of Monaghan from his boots to become one of his country's greatest poets and a brooding, acerbic presence on the Dublin literary scene. One young poet complained to him that publishers and critics were secretly uniting to thwart his career. He gave Kavanagh some work of his to read and later asked for his advice on what to do about the conspiracy. “Join it!” was the answer.
Kavanagh wrote some beautiful poems about Dublin, but he also returned again and again in his writing to the rural heartlands of his youth. He was no bucolic nostalgist: “You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch / You fed me on swinish food” are not words you are ever likely to find in the tourist brochures. Kavanagh captured like no one else the agonies suffered by the Irish peasantry as a result of poverty and sexual frustration.
Monaghan, he railed, “flung a ditch on my vision / Of beauty, love and truth”. “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” finds him alone on the night of a dance, cursing the plight of having “what every poet hates in spite / Of all the solemn talk of contemplation”: he is alone, a king of “banks and stones and every blooming thing”.
Yet Kavanagh could also write with great tenderness about rural Ireland, and even about the beauty and consolation that the Catholic faith sprinkled across otherwise harsh lives. In his new book My Father Left Me Ireland (Sentinel, £20), American journalist Michael Brendan Dougherty movingly contemplates lines Kavanagh wrote about farmers who prayed for help with the necessities of life, but came away with something greater: “It was love, love, love they found: / Love that is Christ green walking from the summer headlands / To His scarecrow cross in the turnip-ground.”
And what about that border? Many years before his country joined the EU, Kavanagh wrote about an Ireland that “froze for want of Europe”. Clearly, he didn’t have in mind customs unions, but was thinking of an
Ireland that history, had removed from the mainstream of European culture. But, if Kavanagh were around today, it might not be Brexit that would be preoccupying him, but the social revolution in Ireland signalled by referendums such as those on equal marriage and abortion. Before the 1950s were out, he had already written a parodic poem entitled “House Party to Celebrate the Destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland”.
However, when talking about Kavanagh and borders, one must eventually come around to another wonderful sonnet, “Epic”. The poem concerns a 1930s land dispute between two Monaghan farming families. Kavanagh handles the whole affair with masterful irony and the concluding sestet—well, as people seem to like to say on Twitter, I’ll just leave this here.
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which Was more important? I inclined To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind He said: I made the Iliad from such A local row. Gods make their own importance.
A penny saved by Alice Dunn
When vehicle tax discs became obsolete in 2014, my thoughts turned to a dismayed young boy who had appeared on the news with his collection proudly pasted into albums. My thoughts turn to myself when I hear talk of the early retirement of copper coins as we inch closer to becoming a cashless society—a sad day indeed for coin collectors such as me.
Everyone collects money, whether as numismatists or simply by discarding loose change in a jar. For me, marvelling at a new coin’s unique glint is one of the small pleasures in life. It’s rare to find a new coin before it loses its shine. The urge to be first can even lead you to spend more money to increase your chances of receiving one as change, which can’t be bad for the economy.
I save unusual specimens in the hope they might be worth something one day. According to the Royal Mint, 60 per cent of coppers are used only once before being consigned to a piggy bank. Clearly, few can bear to feel their pockets weighed down with coins of such small worth.
But removing them from circulation would create a hole in an important symbol—we would no longer be able to fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle to form the picture of the shield on the £1 coin. (If this is news to you, gather every coin under the value of a pound that bears the date 2008 or more recent and—hey presto!—a montage will form before your eyes.) Just think of the valuable moments of mindfulness we would miss doing that.
More importantly, coins unite us. Loose change has always been a carrier of time, telling stories for the present and future. Commemorative coins remind us of significant anniversaries and historic figures (the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth was celebrated with the most exquisite depictions of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck on 50p pieces). Surely these are precious conversation-starters in our dwindling social interactions?
If coins were to cease to exist altogether, it would also spell the end of the Trial of the Pyx, a ceremony of great pomp, presided over by a High Court judge that ensures that the Royal Mint is producing coins to the right weight and composition.
Hopefully that day will never come, but best see a penny and pick it up while you still can.