Monday 29 October 2007

News is news and facts are facts, but squishing truffles is much more fun!

tabloid-hack.jpg

There it was, on page 30 of the Irish Daily Mirror, Friday, October 12, 2007:
Life, and all the emotion that is in it.
The bottom half of the page showed a photo of Thornton's chocolatier Barry Colenso proudly clutching an Easter egg, beside the headline:
"Grabbed by the truffles - top Chocolatier caught squishing rival's treats!"
Mirror writer Brian Roberts explains that Barry, evermore to be dubbed 'Willy Wrongka', was caught behaving bizarrely on CCTV in a store run by Thornton's main rivals, Hotel Chocolat.
Apparently he was "methodically gripping several chocolate sections."
A spokesman for Hotel Chocolat said
"Mr Colenso admitted 'handling' products in an 'inappropriate' manner. This was an extraordinary act of truffle squishing. We can only guess at what provoked it."
If this is fact, what might be 'surreal'?
If Barry's squelches were an "extraordinary act of truffle squishing", then what, one wonders, is 'ordinary' truffle squishing?
Above this gripping (ha!) tale, the Mirror ran a photostory showing hundreds of bloated wildebeest carcasses floating down a river.
The recent destruction of nearby forest has corrupted weather patterns in the Masai Mara, and 15,000 wildebeest have died in the rivers that now rage with an intensity matched only by that which impels the Wildebeest to cross.
Finally, on the left-hand side of the page, Greig Box-Turnbull's story relates how Bryan Drysdale had turned to the police, and called the health service complaining of a nervous breakdown; a feeling of 'his head cracking'; paranoid episodes in which he thought he was being targeted and heard voices in his home; worries that he might have HIV; and fears that he might take his own life.
When his car was later hit by a train on a level crossing, six people died.
Page 30 of the Daily Mirror, and what do I get? Only the entire gamut of human emotional response.
I am horrified that nobody listened to Brian Drysdale's cries for help; tormented by those avoidable deaths; disgusted by our uncaring society.
For those wildebeest, lost to the excesses of our needs, I am filled with guilt, compassion, sorrow and rage.
As for the truffle squishing, I'm thankful that not all news is a matter of life and death; shocked by this decadent act of wanton chocolate sabotage; and naturally, I am highly tickled.
But all we have considered are emotions.
What of fact? Do we care if these stories are true?
Fiction can be fun, but news is news, and never the twain should meet.
Not a journalist, I am merely a blabbermouth who is paid to give opinion, so I have the utmost respect for those professionals who take seriously the matter of accurately reporting news.
Those who leave their arse-groove in newsroom seats have to check their facts. They live by the rules of 'Who?' 'What?' 'When?' 'Where?' and 'How?'.
A few months ago I contacted a local journalist, who had reviewed in print a You Tube movie showing teenagers driving recklessly in a Galway car park.
Communicating privately, I told him that I had been approached by parents of teenage children who were furious about his coverage of this life-threatening activity.
He said that his journalistic responsibilities were intact, as all the facts were true.
My heart sank. There is far more to journalistic responsibility than fact. Integrity and social responsibility rate pretty highly too.
Facts are indeed the building blocks of news.
That's why it is so dangerous to run a front page lead story about asylum seekers and hotels when facts have not been checked. By the time your correction appears, the damage has been done.
The racist responses an erroneous story and patronising editorial evoked are already embedded in the Galwegian psyche.
I was shocked to find behind the correction of last week's story another editorial about how a recent murder victim's parents are waking up in Galway, when in fact, at that time, they were not in Ireland.
Yes, I know I am being petty, but a newspaper editor must check facts.
The Galway Advertiser is a vital and impressive part of Galway life. There cannot be a person under 40 in this city who has not queued on a Wednesday for the Accommodation Lists. When I want to find a job, I go to Business and Appointments in the Galway Advertiser, and then, when I realise I am not qualified for very much, I go to Situations Vacant.
The Galway Advertiser is an advertiser, and as such it is excellent. But there is a massive difference between a free advertiser and a newspaper that is paid for by the reader. Within these pages (save for this colyoom) you read stories that will have been robustly checked and well written.
Of course, nobody's perfect. Mistakes will be made and clarified . But if you want news, buy a newspaper, and if you want to find something to buy, pick up an advertising free sheet.
Despite persistent rumours of the end of all newspapers, you can in Galway now pick up a different paper each day, from Monday to Friday. More than anything, this glut of advertising shows only that there is still much cash in the coffers of local companies.
There is one matter it is important to clarify.
Figures appearing in two free local papers recently declared massive circulation rises, as compared with the sales figures of the rags of this Noble House.
Certainly, circulation of the Galway Advertiser has risen at my address by 200%, as where we used to receive nothing, we now have two copies put through our one front door every week, anytime between Thursday and Sunday.
When Galway First was launched, we had to call and ask them to take away a bundle that had been dumped at the end of our street.
A friend who lives in a block of 15 flats claims his building took delivery of 50 Galway Advertisers last week.
If we gave away this Noble Rag, and filled empty swimming pools with bundles of unread papers, we could 'circulate' more copies than any paper in the world.
If you want to believe what you read, try one paper per household, paid for and read from cover to cover.
And never forget, beyond all those depressing headlines, there may well be some truffle squishing going down!

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Thursday 18 October 2007

Unpredictable, astonishing and appalling: Chelsea are back to mirror my life!

Football humour

With a little dust precariously settled after the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea, this colyoom stumbles disconsolate once again towards the truth that football (the 'English game') is a metaphor for life.
If you do nothing but defeat all your enemies, then your victories will feel increasingly meaningless and shallow. To truly know the value and excitement of winning, you have to know what it is to lose.
If you win all the time you have no hope; there are no dreams left unfulfilled. All you are left with is the dread of loss, whereas if you lose often, your dreams of winning grow all the time.
Before the arrival of the Special One at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC offered their fans all that life had to offer.
They would destroy Manchester United at Old Trafford, and three days later lose ignominiously to a team of part-time herring fisherman from a hamlet in Norway whose goalie was blind in one eye.
Regardless of whether managed by Hoddle, Vialli, Gullit, or the original Tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea never fielded the same team week to week, played one day with passion, commitment and flashes of dazzling brilliance, only to offer for the next game a performance damnably lacklustre and dreadful.
Each glamorous manager bought international superstar goalscorers to Stamford Bridge, who, having donned the blue shirt, became instantly unable to find the net ever again (some things never change).
Following Chelsea before Mourinho was excruciating, infuriating, exhilarating and inspiring.
The former because an ethos of inconsistency permeated the entire club.
The latter because life is like that: scattered with rare and beautiful victories, besmirched by ugly shoddy shabby times and most importantly, completely beyond our control.
Then came the Russian billionaire, who hired the Portugeezer, and immediately everything changed.
Suddenly Chelsea were entirely predictable.
Almost impossible to beat, they were Premiership Champions two years in a row, whilst picking up an FA Cup, and two Carling Cups on the way. There were two Champions League semi-finals and a double-header against mighty Barcelona that some consider the most exciting European game ever played.
Mourinho picked the right players. He made daring and impressive tactical substitutions, and kept his players out of the English tabloid papers by gushing forth a constant torrent of apparently mad and egocentric nonsense for the gutter press to feed upon.
Something of a genius, something of a despot, it was no surprise that he failed to get on with the post-Communist fascist who was his boss.
Although I have enjoyed the last three years, I am not inordinately sad to see him go.
All that winning became a strain. It didn't feel quite right, and the football was rarely stimulating to watch.
As football reflects life, so my team should have erratic, flawed, passionate yet talented players who do their best, will not always win at the expense of style, and accept their fate with dignity.
Chelsea have never been a dynastic club like Manchester United, who suffer a joyless search for perfection. The Blues are more like you and me: living on the edge of uncertainty, aware that change is the only constant, relishing the good times, and learning from the bad.
My only deep concern for the club I love rests with Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich.
We all sit and shout at the TV and tell our mates what we would do if we could boss the team, but we realise that in the real world, the Manager knows best.
Blinded by power and wealth, misguided by sycophantic Yes-Men, and drowning in his own vanity, Abramovich decided he knew more about football than Jose Mourinho, the man who won the European Cup with a team from Portugal; the man who did not lose a single home league game throughout his entire tenure at Chelsea.
If Abramovich continues to play 'God' by deciding what he thinks is best for the team on the pitch, Chelsea will crumble and die within a few years.
But now, with Mourinho gone, what will happen?
We might win and we might lose. Once again, Life and Chelsea are back on the same track, and it feels good!
In purely commercial terms, Roman Abramovich has scored a massive own goal by sacking Jose Mourinho, but ironically, in the process, he gave me back the team that mirrors life as I see it: ever unpredictable, often astonishing and sometimes plain appalling, Chelsea came back to me. (The Snapper, however, is still in mourning.)
****
On a slightly more literate note, by now the winner of the Man Booker Prize will be known, and the winning author will be showered with fame and wealth.
Indeed, each writer on this year's Booker Shortlist is guaranteed to sell several thousand copies of their nominated novels.
However, it's worth taking a quick look at the numbers of those books sold before they were nominated on the Shortlist.
While ├╝ber-scribbler Ian McEwan's novella 'On Chesil Beach' had found its way into a respectable 99,660 homes, Nichola Barker's 'Darkmans' had sold less than 500 copies.
Two of the other shortlisted books had sold less than 900, and quite amazingly, 'Animal's People' by Indra Sinha had made it onto the list despite having sold only 231 copies.
231 copies? Is that all it takes to catch a ride on the Man Booker Prize Express?
Once you've flogged a few to your mates, your family, and the barstaff at the launch; put 20 in a box in the attic for those yet-to-be-born grandchildren who will be oh-so grateful for your foresight, you'll have flogged 250 copies.
So why would anyone want to try and write fiction? Clearly, it's not for the money. Sure, the above shortlisted books will now make their writers rich, but it is, after all, a short list.
Personally, I think we scribblers are just a bunch of nutters who need to write in order to function as vaguely acceptable human entities, and some of us are better at it than others.
But if you only need to flog 200 copies to make the Man Booker Shortlist, there's hope for us all.
So the next time somebody tells you they are writing a novel, hesitate for at least a second before you gush
'Oh wow! You'll be loaded! Remember us simple folk when you're a gazillionaire!'

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Monday 15 October 2007

This is not the Vietnam War - it's just an hotel near Girona!

apocalypse-now.jpg

Towards the end of our holiday, the Snapper receives a phone call, and has to return to England.
On a scorching hot morning, I drive her to the airport, where an emotional goodbye leaves me with 48 hours to kill.
No longer in holiday mood, I have booked a room at an hotel directly between Girona City and the airport. My plan is to pass time, because the only place I now want to be is home.
Unfortunately, I read a few internet guest reviews of my hotel after I had booked the two nights. Many referred to dark dingy rooms and an unfriendly man at reception.
I drive off into the midday heat and proceed to get completely lost, puffing and sweating around the Catalan countryside, until I finally find the hotel, between a motorway construction site, a dual carriageway, the high-speed rail link and the flight path.
Ah well, it looks nice enough. Palm trees and a pool - how bad can it be?
Knowing that I look a wreck, with five days stubble, three hours sweat and old geezer shorts on, I employ my biggest smile and to show willing, greet yer man behind reception with a big native Catalan "Bon dia!"
He neither smiles nor greets me back. His melancholy eyes sit on a huge Humpty Dumpty head, which unfortunately twitches from the neck, his low-hanging jowls wobbling in a less-than-sexy way.
"Passport."
Charming.
"Your room not ready. 20 minutes."
No 'Sorry!', 'Please!', 'Hello!'; not a 'Why not wait over there, Sir?' or anything. I ask him for my passport.
"Why you need your passport?"
"Because... because it's my passport!"
"I must put it into computer. You do not need your passport."
I go to wait in a lounge, and later hear him yelling out to me, but my obstinate feet will not budge. He can bloomin' get off his lazy rude arse and come to me, which eventually he does.
I lug my heavy bags up to the room, where they sit on the bed for 20 seconds, before I take them back down again.
My plan is to stay in my room for many hours over the next two days, and this room is vile.
My spirit is so low, my energy supply gone, but I do not want to stay here.
Giving Laughing Boy his keys back at reception, I explain that I'll find somewhere else.
"You cannot do that! If you do that I will charge your credit card!"
"Look, mate, see this printout? It says I have a top floor room with balcony. You just gave me a first floor cupboard with a tiny window, soaking wet floors and I don't want it!"
"If you leave I take your money on your credit card!"
"If you do that I will call my credit card company and make sure they cancel their account with your hotel! I phoned two days ago, and spoke to somebody who sounded very much like you, and they said my room was on the first floor, and I said I wanted the top floor, and they said the hotel had only a first floor. If your builders can knock off that whole second floor in two days, seems to me you should send them down to Barcelona, so they can get cracking on Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral. They'll have it finished in no time!"
Laughing Boy twitches up a storm and starts to lose it.
"I book you this room. I don't know why! I book you this room and I not know why!"
For once in my life, I actually lose my temper: good and proper, arms waving, voice shouting, all guns blazing, nothing held back.
It felt great.
"You don't know why? I'll tell you why! Because you're working in a fucking hotel, that's why! I book a top floor room with balcony and you confirm it by email, and then I get a middle floor room with wet floors, no light and barely enough room for a mouse to masturbate, and I don't want it. If I go to a bakery and ask for a loaf of bread and they give me a brick, am I going to eat it?"
To be fair, that was a little obscure, and Laughing Boy is lost.
"I know nothing of a phone call. Nobody called me on the phone!"
"Are you calling me a liar! Are you? Are you? Look, I walk in here with a smile on my face, say Bon Dia and you do nothing. You don't even offer to help me with my bags."
"I help nobody with their bags!"
"Yeh, I bet you don't! So I want out! Bye bye fruitcake features!"
As I head for the door he shouts to me:
"Come please, let us try again! Please, we can start again!"
Ever compassionate, I turn and smile.
"Now you're talking! Ola! Bon dia!"
"Hello. Look, here are the keys to a room. Leave your bags here and go up and see if you like it."
The room is huge, with a balcony and pool view. Shaking from anger, stress and exhaustion, I unpack everything and lie on the bed, taking notes.
As I write, a noise comes into my head. Sounds like a flood.
Up on the wall the air conditioner is shooting two jets of water out of itself, down onto the table below, upon which I have spread my phones, the phone charger, the electrical adapter, my wallets, cards and documents.
Rushing for the button I turn off the unit, and the flood subsides to a steady trickle. Almost in tears, I carefully dry off all the electrical appliances, remove all my cards and documents from their soggy homes, and then lie on the bed, in 35 degrees of heat, doing a bit of 7-11 breathing ... calm down ... calm down.
If only there were a propellor fan above my head, I could have relived my favourite scene from Apocalypse Now.
But this is not the Vietnam War. This is supposed to be a holiday.
I know that I will not be telling Laughing Boy about the air conditioner.
I do not want to move rooms again.
I do not want to have engineers in my room.
I just want to lie here, breathe calmly, feel intolerably hot, and wait two days for my plane home.
Horror. Horror.

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Thursday 4 October 2007

Holidays are like life: it's not how much you get, but what you need to be happy!

holidays-in-hell.jpg

Having scrimped, saved, and slogged our guts out, the Snapper and I are back in the Costa Brava, the northern Spanish coastline stretching from Barcelona to the French border.
Right now I am sitting on a large balcony feeling smug. For less than the price of a Galway B&B, we have a two bedroom apartment by the pool, with a view high over the stunningly beautiful Cadaques bay, looking far to a headland that Co. Clare would be proud of, dropping into the bluest of Mediterranean waters speckled by fifty bobbing white fishing boats, washing onto a beach by terracotta houses with red tiled roofs baking in the midday sun, the olive trees swaying in the breeze.
We really enjoy our two nights at Carpe Diem in Cadaques, and could have stayed at the chilled-out comfy complex for the entire fortnight, but tomorrow we must move down into the town, to the three-star Llane Petit Hotel.
I'm not sure if I like hotels. Why do we all look forward to paying wads of cash to be surrounded by people on all sides, above and below? Children are crying, the plumbing is whooshing all around, despite it being only 08.30 on a Sunday morning - and this the morning after every man woman and child in the town danced and partied in the main square until 3 am celebrating Cadaques' own Fiesta.
But hotel breakfast starts at 08:30, so naturally at 08:32, all the other guests feel obliged to pile out of their rooms, into echoey narrow corridors.
God knows what those accents are yelling to each other, but my hangover-knackered mind performs its own translation.
"Ah good look! See mother and small children of mine! An empty corridor, and behind one of these doors lies a hungover decadent writer. So Mutti and Alfie, go down to the far end and then shout to to me, and I will shout back a few more times and then we can all laugh because it is so funny, so very funny to make a big noise early on a Sunday morning. Aha. Aha. Aha. And they say we do not have possession of a sense of humour! Aha! What are they knowing? Come on now, shout louder. I think some of them are still sleeping, yes?"
Somewhere in this hotel a creature - for that is how it sounds- produces the most terrifying sound I have ever heard. Audible from a distance of 500 metres, the screaming howling wail sounds like a victim of the most heinous torture. Evidently from something young, I imagine a mutant feral beast, half-human half wildcat, with claws for fingers and fur on its back, its massive Leonine mane wrapping contorted features around a tortured mutant feline-human face.
The screech, which makes me feel simultaneously terrified and crushed with compassion, comes roaring in 30 second bursts of steady tone and massive lung capacity, as if the creature's claws were being ripped out one by one with a pair of red-hot pliers.
The Snapper turns to me and simply says: "Teething."
Next we head towards Calella de Parafugell, where we check out the Hotel Garbi. Sadly, the lass behind reception doesn't give a shit. You can smell it a mile off.
We're off before you can say 'Stuck-up Peahen!'
Now exhausted from our day on the road, I fortunately have a secret weapon.
Down the road is the Hotel Sant Roc.
Unique and imposing in a grandfatherly way, the Sant Roc is only a three star, but the people who work there make you feel you're in a five star. They care, take pride in their work, and a cocktail on the terrace at dusk can be both electric and charming.
Run now by the third generation of the same pioneering family, the Sant Roc feels like a classy joint. Sure it's pricey, and with Balco de Calella, their new restaurant, they are trying to offer fine dining, which might be a mistake.
The Sant Roc is wonderful because of its atmosphere and gentle class. They should stick to what they have been doing exceptionally well for five decades, which is making people feel fantastic, and let somebody else grate truffle over the sorbet.
The secret of success in business is simple. All you have to do is to know your market, and then meet its needs
The next day we find the Port Bo Hotel, a business that knows exactly what it is doing. Conveniently behind the town centre, the place has little charm, but offers a crew of friendly efficient staff, large clean double rooms with balcony and sea view; a whirlpool swimming pool and loungers; free internet and laundry; and the best buffet breakfast we have seen so far, all for ¤33.00 per person per night. The Port Bo has no pretensions. It just delivers what it offers for a very reasonable price, and all power to it for that.
I don't care if I stay in a cave or a castle. Holidays, like life, are not about how much you get, but rather how much you need to be happy.
Bizarrely, I cringe with embarrassment when I spot or hear other English abroad. At breakfast one morning I hide behind my croissant, as three tables of posh English Sixtysomething friends start to swap a bit of banter.
The vowels are stretched from table to table, repeatedly misunderstood and misheard, in true Tony Hancock style, until I find myself laughing with them as well as at them.
"Little Brian is doing Latin. Says he likes it."
"How old is he?"
"12 now."
"I remember when I was 12, my Latin teacher came at me with a knife, so exasperated was he with my inability to grasp the lingo."
"Bloody hell! He'd go to jail for that now!"
"Did he?"
"Did he what? Go to jail?"
"No! Did he come at you with a knife?"
"How long did he go to jail for?"
"He didn't! I just said he would have under the present regime."
"Bloody right. Be strung up for that now. Bloody shame!"
Ah me, yes, indeed.Such a shame that teachers can no longer run at their pupils brandishing sharp blades. What is this modern world coming to?

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland
Connacht Tribune