An Irishman's Diary

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

Why is it that, according to AA Roadwatch, gardaí are always going “to the scene of an earlier accident”? I mean, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to be attending the scenes of accidents, generally. But why “earlier” ones? The implication, surely, is that they could attend the scene of accidents that haven’t happened yet. And if they do have that much information, would it not be better to try to contact the motorists involved first and warn them to stay at home?

I know that, thanks to Einsteinian physics, our understanding of time is more complex than it used be. As the genius himself once said, comforting the widow of a recently deceased scientist, one man’s departure from this world ahead of others is meaningless: “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” he told her (which is so much better than “I’m sorry for your troubles”).

And even if the average garda is not a physicist, I suppose he or she may also have special insights. One rarely hears of a shooting, for example, where the victim is not said to have been “known to the gardaí”, a phrase that somehow implies their foresight of trouble.

But if there is high-quality intelligence available about future road accidents, maybe it’s time AA Roadwatch shared it with us. I look forward to the bulletins, eg: “Gardaí are advising motorists to avoid the northbound M3 at Blanchardstown, where just after 8am a poultry lorry will overturn, scattering 4,000 chickens across both lanes.”

Also troubling, for different reasons, was a headline on this newspaper’s web edition yesterday: “Kerry to keep pressure on Iran”. Reading this, naturally, my first thought was that it was another initiative by Danny Healy-Rae and his colleagues.

Not content with lobbying for drink-driving licences in Ireland, I imagined, now they were broadening the war on sobriety to the Islamic world: perhaps lobbying for UN sanctions against regimes that abuse human drinking rights, or urging Israel to make a surgical strike against a lemonade factory in Tehran.

There is a precedent, after all, for people from Ireland’s south east taking a lead role in international affairs: remember Skibbereen and the Czar? So it was almost disappointing to learn that the headline referred not to the county Kerry, but the city one – John – in Washington.

Still, now that I think about drink-driving, I can see what AA Roadwatch might be hinting. Maybe every time a garda breathalyzes somebody over the limit, it could be said he’s attending the scene of a future accident and, as in sci-fi movies, arranging that it doesn’t happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to the scene of an earlier accident. It occurred during Thursday’s Irishman’s Diary, which was written in slippery conditions.

The subject, eye-witnesses may recall, was the counting of crowds. And it was while attempting to change lanes between US imperial measurements and European metric that I had a head-on collision with logic: suggesting “half a square metre” – my estimate of the space occupied by an average Irish protester – was smaller than the US standard of 2.5 sq ft.

The resultant impact caused whiplash to a number of readers, judging by how quick they were to e-mail pointing out the error. Mind you, several were generous enough to cite an earlier comment – wherein I had suggested that many journalists were innumerate – and congratulate me on demonstrating the point so wittily.

“Clever”, “very subtle”, and “Swiftian” were among the tributes paid. And, yes, maybe I did mean it. Like Einstein, I have been known, when wrestling with complex mathematical problems like this, to pick up a violin and play sonatas while letting my subconscious do the deep thinking.

But, to be honest, this was just a mix-up in the space-time continuum. When I read 2.5sq ft, clearly, I was thinking 2.5 ft squared. And then, in a sort-of accordion effect, where I meant to write a half-metre squared, I wrote half a square metre.

Even with the obesity epidemic, half a square metre would be big for a protester. Whereas measuring people at a half-metre squared, I now realise that Dublin’s O’Connell Street could fit well over 100,000. But as stated previously they would need to be on footpaths, carriageways, trees, and statues. And that, probably, would be an accident waiting to happen.

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