Frayed Nerves Are Snow Joke

A year into uncertainty and rolling lockdowns, there is definitely a fragility to our temperament, but at least there's skiing on the telly...

The Week

The internet has never really been a place for tolerance, but over the last year it’s been even less so. It’s hard to quantify, but surely that has to be down to the pandemic.

I am not immune. I don’t get into a rage as often as I used to (no, really…) but this week I fell victim to that combination of anger and exhaustion that virtually everyone has felt at one time or another during the pandemic.

It can be with someone close to me, or the fact that I got a parking ticket for parking 8.5m from a crossing instead of 10m, or that some idiot politician has said something dumb - normally I consider being multilingual a gift, but lately it’s just given me other languages to read idiotic political pronouncements in.

Luckily, spring is coming, and with it the promise of better days, mostly brought about by better people.

The Event

One of them is Joe Brolly.

I texted him this week as I needed a favour, and I hate asking people for them, but sometimes I have no choice.

I got an immediate, one-word response.

“Yes”.

I had barely explained what it was that I wanted, but Joe was in there right away offering to help.

What he hastily and generously agreed to was to do an online event with me to raise funds for Nordic GAA, in particular to cover the costs of referees for the upcoming season, whatever form that might take.

A lot of people have an image of Joe as someone who would start a row in an empty house or a person who just argues for the sake of it, but the reality is far removed from that.

He is one of the funniest, cleverest and most engaging storytellers I have ever come across, and being a barrister has made him better than most at delivering his anecdotes.

He is also - and he might not thank me for saying this - one of the kindest and most empathetic people I’ve come across. To him, Gaelic games are common ground - tell him where you’re from or about your club and he’ll give you a story, and all of a sudden you have something to share. It’s a beautiful way of making people feel seen and valued and I’m delighted that he said yes.

That said, he’ll probably now proceed to take the piss out of me for an hour, but as long as the money rolls in for Nordic GAA I don’t mind one bit.

The event is on St. Patrick’s Day at 2100 CET (8 P.M. in Ireland) and tickets cost 100 SEK, which is about €10 - all the details are here.

The Podcast

… this week covered the issue of healthcare for transgender people.

It’s an area I know very little about as it hasn’t affected me personally all that much yet - I don’t know of anyone in my family who is trans, for instance - but the trans people I do know, in Sweden, Ireland and beyond, are being let down.

Noah Halpin works as a community aid officer for Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI). When I spoke to him he was recovering from surgery and had just received a positive Covid diagnosis, but he was still kind enough to speak to me for over half an hour about the state of play.

I often don’t feel comfortable interviewing trans people, but it’s nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. I become very aware of my own ignorance - the last thing I would want to do to any interviewee is to offend or misrepresent, but Noah was extremely generous, even though he is under no obligation to teach me.

You can hear the episode here - if there’s anyone you’d like me to talk to, feel free to drop me a line and let me know.

The Screw-Up

Last week the far right in Ireland organised an “anti-lockdown” protest in Dublin which ended in violence and a media implosion that was as embarrassing as it was predictable.

The modern modus operandi of the far right is to find causes that provoke an emotional reaction in people and then hijack them to gain followers, radicalising them as they go. It can be a very quick process.

Without going into the details, the Irish police commissioner came out late on Saturday and said that both the far right and the far left were responsible for the violence, which of course was utterly wrong - but no follow-up question was asked and, as so often happens, it immediately became the truth.

Nor was any clarification forthcoming until the following morning - but not before the justice minister had doubled down and blamed “violent Republican groups”, which also turned out to be wrong. No apology or retraction was forthcoming.

It was a shameful day for Irish media and politics.

Why?

Because this is not a game.

This is not some opportunity you can use to scare voters back into your corner by scaremongering about Republican dissidents, the modern equivalent of the “reds under the bed”.

There is a very specific response needed when fascists take to the streets, and the first part of that is to reject them and their ideology out of hand as being specifically undemocratic, not by lumping them in with others.

I’ve been watching and studying and writing about these things for over 20 years, and none of this surprises me. Ireland is about eight to 12 years behind the Nordic experience, where far-right parties have made it into government in three of the four countries, wreaking havoc as they went.

Ireland is still at the stage where editors and journalists and politicians believe they are too smart to let this happen, which of course is nonsense. They think that fascists are coming to debate them, and that humiliating them or treating them with derision will avert the threat.

It won’t.

It will do the opposite.

But it’s never too late to change.

The Sport

Like rugby, it makes few ripples outside of certain places, but cross-country skiing can be incredibly dramatic to watch. The world championships are currently going on in Oberstdorf, Germany, and I’ve been writing brief updates every day.

Today’s 4x10km relay was an amazing race, ebbing and flowing like a raging tide of snow, and it was decided by a super-human burst by Johannes Klaebo on the final climb as burst away from Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov to take the gold.

There’s two races left, the women’s 30km on Saturday and the men’s 50km on Sunday. Catch them if you can - but like Klaebo, they may prove elusive.

As I wrote that I was sent a tweet by an American coach about an American athlete named Jessie Diggins, one of very few athletes I’m actually in awe of.

I met first met her just before the Pyeongchang Olympics at a press conference. The Americans were a bit of an oddity, a sporting superpower that was always the bridesmaid in the cross-country setting. They hadn’t won an Olympic cross-country medal in over 40 years, and I was one of a handful of journalists to turn up to talk to them.

Fast-forward two weeks and perhaps the greatest thing I have ever seen in winter sports unfolded before me as Diggins entered the final stretch and somehow won the team sprint relay together with Kikkan Randall, another awesome woman and a pioneer for the sport in America.

Diggins’ back story is one for another day - suffice to say she didn’t have it easy - and Randall was diagnosed with cancer not long after the games ended, but in that one magic moment, they were invincible.

With the Norwegians skipping the World Cup over Covid fears, Diggins looks like she’ll win it, but she has come up short so far in Germany missing out to Finland’s Krista Parmakoski in a titanic battle for the bronze medal in the team relay.

True Olympian that she is, Jess went by the Finns’ trailer to congratulate them an hour after the race, prompting this tweet from her coach:

Despite her Olympic gold, Jessie Diggins will no doubt have to find another job when her athletic career is over - there are no American millionaires in cross-country skiing - but in my eyes she is rich beyond belief, given her spirit alone.

Tomorrow I’m heading to an MMA event in Västerås, about an hour from Stockholm (or 20 hours and 49 minutes walking, according to Google Maps) - there’s a ban on all but elite sports at the moment so all the fighters had to turn pro just to take part.

I’ll let you know how it goes next week, but until then, mind yourself - there’s a grand stretch in the evenings now, so let’s make the most of them…