Friday 20 April 2007

Welcome to the Galway Diet! Have a drink, drop a dress size!

Galway water
I cringe every time I hear the radio commercial that feebly tries to reassure prospective tourists that Galway is a safe place to visit.
Please come, and we promise not to poison you. We provide bottles of safe water for you to wash your teeth with, so you and your family will have a wonderful holiday.
Although clearly well-intentioned, it's all coming from the wrong place.
Deep in the pit of the Adley belly, lurking in the vile bile, marketing skills thrive aplenty.
To me these skills feel a little like a tape worm. I know they are there, but hold them in contempt. It hardly takes a genius to see that with our very special little watery crisis, we have to think outside of the box.
This is water, people, not a sea view. When tourists draw up a wish list for their weekend away, believe me, water isn't on it.
You won't sell holidays, hotel rooms and coach tour stop-offs by showing off about how the water is safe because it's in bottles.
Thinking 'outside of the box' requires lateral thought applied in a manipulative way. You know where you want to get to, and you found out that straight on is not an option.
So you think in a way that you hope your target audience is not expecting.
Thankfully, at the time of writing, nobody has yet died from the recent outbreak. If there is a god or karma, I who have not yet suffered from cryptosporidium will now doubtless be stricken gastric, for speaking out as I am about to, for the good of my adopted city and county.
Forsaking my health to the vagaries, cruelties and compassion of the Fates, I'm thinking out the box on behalf of Galway City's pubs, clubs and hotels.
We've established water is not part of a tourists' wish list, so what is?
Da craic. That's always there, especially in Galway. Havin' da craic, looking good, having a bit of a dance and a few shcoops or seven or eight blue sugarvodkas.
That's where the money is folks, and right now Galway is in a unique position to offer all of the above list, with spades and diamante knobs on.
People want to look slim and drink, and sure, hasn't Galway always been 'Drink City'?
So let's run a radio commercial, but let's be thinking more along the lines of this:
"Right now, in Galway City, the 100% natural way to drink more and lose weight! Come West and have the time of your life, enjoying the Galway Diet!
The Galway Diet doesn't have huge lists of Do's and Don'ts!
The Galway Diet stops you having to go to the gym for exercise!
The Galway Diet lets you eat everything you like, because you will lose weight anyway!
Using only completely organic bacteria, the Galway Diet frees you up from the inside out!
At last you will lose all those heavy internal blockages!
The Galway Diet removes all that old baggage you've carried for far too long!
The Galway Diet lets you move more freely than you ever thought possible!
The Galway Diet is not G.I. It's not Carb Free and it's not Protein High!
Out here in the West life is simple.
Out here it's just H2O for Size Zero.
Come to Galway, have a drink tonight, and drop a dress size tomorrow!"

Alright, settle down, I know it's not all about dropping a dress size. Anyway, I can't stand the Size Zero look; scares the pants off me, to be honest.
Mind you, speaking as a bloke here, sometimes women just confuse the hell out of me.
That bastion of testosterone, tit talk and all-things male, FHM magazine recently asked 2,000 men with an average age of 30 about their attitudes to parenting, home life and the way they saw their role in their relationship.
Astonishingly, 7 out of 10 men revealed that they had rejected the traditional male role as fulfilled by their fathers. Instead they preferred the idea of sharing the parenting, housekeeping and earning on a clear-cut 50/50 basis with their partners.
As this colyoom has been saying for some time, Brothers are doing it for ourselves.
Trouble is, the Sisters are still evolving. Just when we finally start to become the men they asked for, women are now having doubts about just what kind of women they want to be.
The FHM survey revealed a great deal of turmoil within the subjects' relationships.
50% of those men asked admitted that while they wanted to spend more time with their children at home, their partners were putting them under significant pressure to earn enough to allow the mother to stay home on a full time basis, and a further 38% said the same, except their partner was willing to settle for a part time job, as long as the man stayed in full time employment.
From what I remember of Women's Lib, and the Feminist Revolution, its major tenet was the 'Woman's Right To Choose', which I always took to mean her absolutely undeniable right to have both a career and a family, or one or neither.
Don't remember any sub-clauses about men having to subsidise this dream of independence.
And while we're at it, can anybody explain to me why men should be deprived of these choices? Are we not equally entitled to the same basic freedoms?
Whichever way you look at it, Mums and Dads get very tired. Indeed, for some poor souls, parenting is just too much hassle.
When I say 'poor', I mean of spirit in this case, because young flash, financially flush and highly strung couples in England are now paying somebody else to do it.
That's right, for £2,500 you can pay somebody to sort the whole thing, (apart from the messy bits between the sheets, and later in stirrups...).
Keely Paice, the enterprising woman who founded Baby Planners, reveals how she takes the strain out of giving birth:
"We will organise everything from sourcing the best baby carrier to creating the baby's bedroom and arranging Parent Confidence Classes... we will hire the best maternity nurse, shortlist nannies, advise on feeding patterns and help establishing routines."
How do young couples afford this kind of hoo-haa?
More to the point, what desperate and special hell might be represented by a 'Parent Confidence Class'?

Tuesday 17 April 2007

"You cheat! You only walked 26,000 miles!"

Doctor Livingstone Henry Stanley
In one of my earliest memories I am looking out of the back window of the car, as my mum drives me to school. Off in the distance trees line the horizon, and inside me something stirrs.
I want to go off and live in them.
Even at that tiny age I had the urge to reject the comforts of security in exchange for living an adventurous life.
In many ways I have, but still I am captivated, inspired and enthralled by true adventurers.
Since then, I have also grown to love language, and dwell happy in the world of words. Would that it were possible to combine the two: to walk intrepid into unknown territory whilst also having just the right thing to say at the correct time.
Too much to hope for?
Unfortunately, apparently so.
Who wasn't somewhat enchanted by the legendary greeting uttered by Henry Stanley when he finally found Doctor Livingstone in the African jungle?
"Doctor Livingstone I presume?" said he, as understated and perfectly English as one might imagine possible.
Sadly, one might have imagined it all together.
According to Vanessa Thorpe of The Observer, our Stanley was a bit of a terror for the 'porky pies', as my London brethren would say.
Tim Jeal, having written a comprehensive biography of Livingstone, has just released a new biography, called 'Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer', in which he claims that Stanley was Britain's greatest land explorer.
Stanley did exceptional work as a cartographer in the Congo, while several of his expeditionary trips lie in historical limbo, shadowed by the classic encounter and memorable introduction that brought him fame.
Tim Jeal explains:
"Stanley told lies, that is the problem. And a liar can never subsequently tell the truth."
After being the first white man to clap his eyes upon the Victoria Falls, Livingstone went off to try and find the source of the River Nile, and disappeared for five years.
In 1871, the editor of the New York Herald sent Stanley to Africa to try and find Livingstone.
After the two finally met in Ujiji, in what is now western Tanzania, Livingstone recorded in his diary that he had met "a pale-looking white man in a faded blue cap."
The only other observation noted by Livingstone about the event was the way his servant Susi had cried "An Englishman coming! I see him!"
Riddled with insecurities about his background, Stanley rejected his Welsh roots and faked American parentage. Forever in awe of what he perceived as gentlemanly conduct, Stanley loved the story of how, when two English officers were crossing the wild and windswept Palestinian desert in opposite directions, they had simply touched their caps in respect as they passed each other.
Jeal believes that it was this anecdote in particular that inspired Stanley to embellish his greeting.
Stanley made a living out of his famous salutation, spending years touring the lecture circuit, and a transcript of such a lecture was recently sold at Sotheby's, offering the 'official revised' version of events. Stanley's script read:
"Doubtful of the temper he would receive me, I simply bowed and said 'Doctor Livingstone, I presume?'. He held out his hand in token of kindly welcome and in a few minutes we became warm friends.'
Biographer Jeal thinks not, instead believing these are the somewhat sad actions of a man seeking acceptance into what he perceived to be a cut and class above.
My hat goes off to both of them: Livingstone, lost for five years in the African jungle, back when nobody knew what that meant; Stanley heading off into the tropical abyss, and actually finding his man.
Menschen true, through and through, fibs or no fibs.
Anyway, this morphing of what was actually said into something more profound, poetic and historical is quite a common phenomenon.
Napoleon never complained "Not tonight, Josephine!" and Marie Antoinette never chirruped "Let them eat cake!"
Sherlock Holmes never quipped "Elementary, my dear Watson!"
Harold Macmillan never declared "You've never had it so good!" and Spock never told Captain Kirk "It's life Jim, but not as we know it!"
According to Elizabeth Knowles, an editor for the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, many of these 'folk' quotations have become a lot more interesting than what was actually said.
"Again and again we see misquotations flourish because they catch the tone of a personality more than the original remark." explains Knowles.
Still today, at the heights of intrepid bravery and extremes of physical endeavour, discord still rules the roost in the world of adventure.
Journalist Steven Morris caught up with Englishman Jason Lewis, who has spent 13 years making his way around the globe under his own power. Travelling by neither engine nor sail, Lewis has chalked up over 30,000 miles of walking, cycling, and pedalo-ing across oceans.
Yet his brain is filled with neither the fear of failure, nor what manner of piratical peril lurks around each corner, nor the pain of decade-old blisters swarming on his feet.
What Lewis is pissed off about is how a Canadian guy called Colin Angus has claimed to have done the same thing in just two years.
Angus did travel 26,000 miles, far enough to circle the globe, but Lewis and others complain that by his own admission, Angus never crossed the equator, and cannot therefore claim to have performed a circumnavigation. According to the Guinness Book of Records, a circumnavigation of the globe requires the crossing of two antipodal points.
Like like er, if you walk in a circle around the top of a globe, you haven't gone as far as somebody who went right around the middle.
Angus doesn't really care. He has scored book and film deals, and has won an award from National Geographic.
"Colin (Angus) is full of hot air, but that doesn't make him a balloon." says Tim Harvey, who set off with Angus, but dropped out when his partner differed over circumnavigation claims.
Jason Lewis says it all.
"If you have spent 13 years of your life trying to do something the right way, and then someone comes along and says they've done it, but not done it the right way, then it is extremely irritating. Angus has cheapened the concept. He has not acted in a gentlemanly way."
That dirty cheatin' Angus only walked 26,000 miles!
Now, how far is Black Rock?

Friday 6 April 2007

Criminal celery, tattooed mountain women and other journeys into absurdity!

Life often appears to me as nothing much more than a wrestling match with the absurd.
Far from being a bad thing, these tussles, tumbles and teases with the preposterous and incongruous allow me to enjoy my life a great deal more than I would if I was forced to live in a rigid and rational reality.
A bit of nonsense every now and then can put a smile on your face, d'ya'know?
Over the water at my beloved Chelsea FC, while the media stalk celebrity 'Socceristas' Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, there is a fascinating and altogether more absurd struggle going on between the fans, the police, the Football Association and the club.
After each game, the referee makes a report which he delivers to the FA.
As a result of two recent referee reports, the FA has warned Chelsea that they are investigating celery-related incidents, and that the club may suffer sanctions if celery is thrown during games.
Celery? Yes, celery.
Whilst to the uninitiated amongst ye, this may appear strange beyond reason, inside the mind of every Chelsea fan reading this, there now sings a little song.
Unfortunately, the lyrics that accompany said ditty are just a tad crude for this family newspaper, but suffice to say that upon its catchy rhythmic melody rides a suggestion that if the lady in question does not intimately peak as dramatically as she might, a little tickling of her least visible orifice with a stick of celery might just do the trick.
Some might see a football chant. Others merely valuable and imaginative advice.
But now the Law has moved in, and once again absurdity has sewn its seed and taken root on the pitch at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have made a strong statement advising fans that anyone caught throwing the 'popular salad vegetable' could end up being banned from the ground. In the past, English clubs have seen idiots in the crowd throwing coins, in spiteful malicious attempts to injure visiting players.
But whereas that constitutes a physical threat, the throwing of sticks of celery, accompanied by the singing of the song itself, threatens only to make me feel proud to be a Chelsea fan.
Into the super-serious multi-billion pound industry that Premiership soccer has become, we Blues introduce a smidgen of absurdity.
As a club, we may be riding high these days, but we have yo-yoed up and down the leagues, and suffered enough over the decades to know that nothing lasts; that life is absurd and that we have to enjoy it as and when we are able.
Celery is now a banned substance at Stamford Bridge. We been officially warned by Chelsea FC that "The throwing of celery is a criminal offence for which you can be arrested and end up with a criminal record."
And just to help us lose all touch with sensible reality, employing shades of RUC tactics from the bad old days in The North, the club has urged fans who spot other fans doing naughty things with celery to call their the newly-opened Celery Line.
Chelsea FC, who might have exercised a little more wit and restraint, promise "All calls will be treated in confidence.", but by taking the stick between the teeth, they have allowed a wonderful slice of absurdity to cut the austerity of reality.
Can you grass someone up to the police about a vegetable?
Does that mean you have to vegetable someone to the cops about grass?
Thanks to one of my favourite annual competitions, we have no need to stray from the wonderful wold of the absurd.
Once again, the estimable The Bookseller magazine has invited libraries, publishers, agents and ...yes... booksellers to submit their choices for the award 'Oddest Book Title Of The Year.'
Ever since 'Proceedings Of The Second International Workshop On Nude Mice' ran away as winner of the first award in 1978, I have been enchanted by the whole affair. In 1985, at the height of militant feminism, the winner was 'Natural Bust Enlargement With Total Power: How To Increase The Other 90% Of Your Mind To Increase The Size Of Your Breasts'.
Personal politics still played a part in the following year's winner: 'Oral Sadism And The Vegetarian Personality', and stayed relevant all the way to 1990's winner, 'Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual'.
Although last year's winner was the robustly original 'People Who Don't Know They Are Dead: How They Attach Themselves To Unsuspecting Bystanders And What To Do About It', my personal favourites are 2002's gloriously titled winner: 'Living with Crazy Buttocks' and 2004's plainly bizarre and brazenly enigmatic 'Bombproof Your Horse'.
Why not join in the fun, and vote for this year's winner at
Refreshingly, the actual content of the book is wholly irrelevant. All you must concern yourself with is the book's title, and to help you with this, I print below this year's official shortlist.
And before you ask, yes, they are all real, and have all been published in the last year. Choose between:
'D DI Mascio's Delicious Ice Cream: D Di Mascio Of Coventry - An Ice Cream Company Of Repute, With An Interesting And Varied Fleet Of Ice Cream Vans' by Roger de Boer. Yes, you guessed correct. It's an ice cream history of Coventry.
'How Green Were The Nazis?' by Franz-Josef Bruggemeier, Mark Cioc and Thomas Zeller, which offers an environmental perspective on the Third Reich.
'The Stray Shopping Carts Of Eastern North America: A Guide To Field Identification' by Julian Montague is described by its publishers as a way ' comprehend the complex relationship between (shopping) cart and landscape.'
Let's invite them over to check out the contents of Irish canals for Volume Two!
'Tattooed Mountain Women And Spoon Boxes Of Daghestan' by Robert Chenciner, Gabib Ismailov, Magomedkhan Magomedkhanov and Alex Binnie. This baby is self-explanatory, as much as it also completely defies explanation.
'Proceedings of The 18th International Seaweed Symposium' has so many editors I cannot name one, and finally, a rather cheerful little tome entitled:
'Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence' by David Benatar.
Have fun, vote wisely, and never ever forget the wonder and wisdom awaiting those who revel and romp in the absurd.