The United States has always been a land of huge contradictions for me. For the most part, and certainly in my experience, its people are extremely friendly and polite and they have a great sense of humour. They take love of country and love of God very seriously. Their sons and daughters have given their lives in combat all over the world in the name of freedom and the popular music that has fermented in America is simply wonderful and a pure joy.

It really is a land of opportunity but it remains a mystery to me that the United States still operates one of the harshest penal systems in the world? How can it be that this wonderful country and its warm, decent people can still put people to death in electric chairs and by lethal injections. Such a thing has always puzzled me because I cannot equate the people with some of the deeds carried out in their name.

Then last week came the shocking statistics that, every day, almost one-thousand Americans die because they have no health insurance. In other words, each year over 45,000 American people go to their graves prematurely because they are sick and don’t have the money for the medical care that might make them better! In 2008, 70 per cent of all bankruptcies in the United States were caused by healthcare costs. It is mind boggling that such things can happen in the most modern democracy in the world. Like the Kennedys and President Clinton before him, President Barack Obama is trying to introduce a national healthcare plan but is being hindered by the Republican Party which, in fairness, is only reflecting a large slice of public opinion. To paraphrase the late British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Forty birds (feathered) on electric guitars

I’ve always been a bit dubious about certain types of ‘living art’ such as ‘a pile of bricks thrown in a corner’ or an ‘unmade bed’ but I came across a new art project last week by the French artist, Celeste Boursier-Moygenot, that really tickled my imagination. Displayed in London at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery, the ‘piece’ comprises of forty, live zebra-finches in a large cage but instead of ordinary wood, the birds’ perches are switched-on electric guitars. In other words, every time a bird lands on a ‘perch’ the guitar emits a sound depending on which part of the instrument’s body or strings the creature chooses to use. There are forty finches so you can imagine the cacophony. It sounds magical.

Real life knife drama in stage play

The winner of this week’s ‘Show Must Go On’ award must surely go to a young actor named Ellie Condren who is a member of the Kilrush Drama Group.

Ellie was involved in a real-life drama at St Brigid’s Hall, Carnew, County Wexford, during a production of the Marina Carr play, Raftery’s Hill’. She was playing the character Sorrel Raftery and received an accidental knife-wound to her arm as the first half drew to a close. The audience didn’t realise she had suffered a real wound and Ellie bravely acted on giving what is described as ‘a powerful performance’.

But, when the curtain fell at the end of the scene, Ms Condren had to be taken to Wexford General Hospital for treatment and stitching. Everybody was full of admiration and praise for the way she carried on and, although the play had to be abandoned on the night, the Kirush Drama Group will return to Carnew this Sunday night, March 7th.

One may wonder why a knife was being bandied about on stage but, even though I haven’t seen it myself, I understand Raftery’s Hill to be a dark tale

about a life of incest, misery and madness endured by a family living in the Irish Midlands so one can understand why a knife might be produced at some stage or another!

Remembering Christy Hennessy

The many fans of the late Tralee-born singer/songwriter, Christy Hennessy, will take some comfort in the knowledge that his wife has received a substantial settlement from the former Greater London Council in respect of his death.

Readers will recall that Christy’s real surname was Ross and that his wife, Gill, sued on the basis that Christy died from an illness called Mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos when he was a painter and decorator in London during the 1970s. The singer was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2007 and, sadly, died just seven months later aged 62.

His daughter, Hermione, said Mesothelioma was a poor person’s disease mostly contracted by ordinary working people and the family hoped that their successful action would give courage to other bereaved families to also take legal action if appropriate.

Details of the settlement from the London Pension Fund Authority, formerly the GLC, have not been released but Hermione said the figure was substantial and would provide financial security for her mother.

Beat them at their own game!

The male caretaker at a certain girl’s school was having a difficult time with a particular group of girls. Every evening when he went to clean the toilets and cloakroom he found dozens of lipstick kisses on the mirror that ran the entire length of the room. It took him ages to clean the mirror every evening and the more he complained the more kisses appeared.

Eventually he took his problem to the principal who was very sympathetic and told him he should have approached her earlier. Telling the caretaker what she wanted him to do, the principal instructed the group of girls in question to meet her in the toilets after their last class.

“Girls”, she said, “I don’t know who is responsible for this but it has to stop because it is taking poor old Johnny ages every evening cleaning up the mirror.

Johnny, show the girls just how hard it is to remove the lipstick from the mirror.”

With that, Johnny pulled his long-handled squeegee from the bucket, stuck it down a toilet-bowl to moisten it and started to scrub down the mirror. The giggling girls were horrified and, after that, there were no lipstick kisses on the mirror. As my old geometry teacher used to say, QED!