Saturday 26 January 2008

Sitting at the bar in Terry’s, just as I ever did and always will!


A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at the bar in Terry’s, a fine pint of Guinness in front of me, outside a fierce storm raging and howling.
I’d just left the wake of a beautiful friend, and seeking refuge and comfort, headed straight for EJ Kings, Eejays, or, to this blow-in who feels a bit of an old-timer at this stage of things, Terry’s.
It’s not the best pub in the world. Neither cosy nor particularly atmospheric, Terry’s plays a massive and vital role in Clifden life, and represents many milestones of my own life in Ireland.
On a 1992 day laden with fierce August showers, Ingrid and I hitched a lift with a morose Italian golfer in a rental car, and I sat in the back and watched Connemara unfurl its beauty for the first time.
This was the place I had dreamed of all my life.
Fresh off the boat from France, I’d been working as a kitchen porter in Kinsale. Staring at my map of Ireland between shifts, my eyes were drawn every time to the same area, and fifteen years later, I am still profoundly moved by the sight of it.
We put up our tent in Leo’s hostel garden, and headed into town.
Into Terry’s.
That first night I met the All Ireland Champion, and two years later, when I moved to Connemara, he and my friend were neighbours in the Townland.
Over those years I sat at the bar in Terry’s a hundred times a week.
I sat at the bar in Terry’s for a coffee after doing the weekly shop.
I sat at the bar in Terry’s on miserable grey afternoons, trying to resist the temptation to stay and shoot the shit with the loud and amusing gaggle of artists and writers struggling through their own days.
Oh how it looked such fun to sit and talk of creative activities, but novels do not write themselves, and so I bade farewell and wondered at how and when they produced their work.
In 1994 I sat at the bar in Terry’s with my American fiancée, her sister and her friend, and when the following four years in California came to an unhappy end, I sat at the bar in Terry’s once more, almost to prove to myself that I was, truly, back in Ireland.
Surely I wouldn’t know anyone in there? After all, it was a midweek afternoon, and I had been away for so long.
And there she was, my friend, smiling and waving, having a cup of tea with her children. That was really the moment that our friendship started anew; fresh and lively and lovely. I miss her.
I sat at the bar in Terry’s back when Busker Brown’s was nought but a twinkle in Terry’s eyes. On a couple of occasions the man himself insisted that instead of hitching to Galway, I waited while he finished his business and then drove me to the city.
Fair play to you Terry. Thanks for the lifts.
Wandering the Clifden triangle you’ll enjoy a rich and varied collection of classic Irish pubs, more authentic and desirable in many ways than Terry’s. Could there be a better place to watch a game on a winter’s night than Griffins? A summer’s evening in Malarkey’s or a good auld session in D’Arcy’s? Fishermen singing in Lowry’s and (thinking back a while) the young things falling stumbling hiccupping out of Humpty’s.
But Terry’s is where I seem to head for first, to put my toes in the water.
And although it’s empty this early evening, I don’t want to be too harsh about the pub. On a summer’s evening when the place is packed and the tunes are flying fast and frivolous, the craic in there has been mighty.
But while doubtless nobody mourns the loss of certain aspects of the ancient Irish pub, (remember those snot-ridden cobwebby filthy toilets; that skanky torn furniture; infuriating wobbly tables; nicotine-stained ceilings and disgusting sangwiches served in superheated plastic bags?) there is something androgynous and anodyne about the modern version.
Terry’s in Clifden is like Keogh’s in Ballyconneely. An excellent pub offering something for everybody, and yet, in no small way, destroyed by progress.
But on the night in question I just sat at the bar, ate some good fish and chips, and supped my precious pint.
When your boat is rocked; when you lose somebody overboard, you need to take stock, to go back to basics.
You need something you can rely on, a place to go that has been there for you in the past, and will offer the same in the future. You need a barstool and a pint of Guinness.
As that scribbler far greater than myself had it, it’s your only man.
At the bar is where I belong. I am not a table man. Staring at the optics, the mirror, phasing in and out of awareness of the worlds around me, I have sat at and found much sanity and solace in the bars of many continents, and now, sitting at the bar in Terry’s, faces come and go before my eyes, and for a minute I fear I might feel slightly overwhelmed.
And then I look around me.
How can I possibly feel overwhelmed in this large calm space, where nobody wants anything from me save the price of a pint?
Truth is, I may well be safe from the storm outside, but like a latterday and much less regal King Lear, the raging torment outside represents nothing compared to the tempest crashing around my brain, my heart and soul.
A spirit has left my life, and now I must rebuild her presence with my memories.
That will be my pleasure, because she was a pleasure to know.
And as the Wake shows us so graphically and starkly, death is part of everyday life.
Sitting at the bar in Terry’s, leaving the past behind me where it belongs, I take a snapshot of my life right now.
In four months the Snapper and I will be married, and our lives will move forward happily together. Even though death will always walk by our sides, life is the only part of the equation worthy of our concentration, and the living of it to the full must be our most worthy ambition.

Friday 18 January 2008

When something is too good to be true, sometimes it’s just true!


Oh no no no, please don’t make me get up!
It’s cold out there in the real world, and I am cocooned in my duvet of warmth and cosiness and please no.
Trouble is, when you’re a scribbler, there is nobody telling you to get up. You have to do it all by yourself, just like a grown-up.
Most of the year I’m one of those loathsome out of bed with a bounce and out of the door to stomp the Prom types, but when it’s cold, oh my, just a few minutes more, I mean, I’m really tired here, and I might even be coming down with something, y’know, so I’ll just, like, skip the Prom this morning.
Best to rest the old body when it’s out of sorts, eh?
Besides which, it’s bloody cold out there and nice and warm in here.
This lump of a blatherer needs to have a tactic that gets his lazy quilted arse kicked right up and out to the real world. Recently for some reason, I have used a memory of the January I spent as a 24 year-old.
I say ‘for some reason’, but there is a good reason I dwell there when trying to overcome sloth.
In January 1985, I arrived in New Zealand for my first time. At the airport I was greeted by Tim, the ever-smiling Kiwi DJ with whom I had shared much fun and many recent adventures on an obscure island in French Polynesia.
At my side stood Cory, seventeen foot thirteen inches of bronzed Amazonian, a beauty from her Valley Girl mental reflex to her painfully constant therapisin’ an’ philosophisin’ an’ self-analysin’ Orange County ‘tude.
Cory was on a mission to cure me and took great pleasure in pouring nowt but scorn upon me, but we travelled together well. I was, as my friend Soldier Boy would have it, ‘Young, dumb,and full of come’, so it didn’t really matter at the time whether I liked her or not.
The airport seemed empty, and I asked Tim if it was a national holiday, to which he smiled even wider than normal, stretched his arms and declared
‘Nope. We’re just a quiet sort of a country, eh!’
To us, having just shared four nightmare days with fifteen others, marooned in a hut stilted above muddy flood waters, whence came swarms of mosquitoes the size of tennis balls, where supposedly grown adults argued for hours over the re-use of tea bags, well, New Zealand was a revelation.
Cory and I booked into a hostel, but were about to part our ways. I wanted to hitch around, to go with the lifts, meet the people, see where the winds of fate sent me.
Cory analysed this desire with much psychobabbly crap, telling me how egocentric and selfish I was being; how self-destructive and blah blah blah; she wanted to take the bus.
I bit my lip, trying my best not to ‘Groucho’ her with:
“You want to be on the stage? It leaves in ten minutes!”
But then, on the noticeboard, we both saw the card declaring its author’s interest in recruiting young people to sail on his yacht.
We looked at each other and called the number.
Even at that tender age, I had learned much whilst travelling, and three things in particular:
First: that happiness is more than feeling content; more than a mere absence of problems. Joy is an active feeling. Happiness pumps your blood, so never settle for less.
Second: that sometimes, if it looks too good to be true, it might just be true.
Third: that unless your cold sad lazy arse gets out of bed, you’ll never know. Gotta be in it to win it. Carpe bleedin’ diem, and all that.
Early the next morning we met with a small grey-haired man called Morris.
At first my naive macho suspicions felt he might be a bit of a dirty old man with an unhealthy interest in Cory, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Indeed, he and Cory ended up spending much time together, but that was because I was, as Cory loved to point out, egocentric.
But really, who wouldn’t have been?
For two New Zealand dollars a day, which covered sumptuous board and comfy lodging, Morris would sail us out of Auckland and into the Hauraki Gulf for two weeks.
A retired schoolteacher, he had hand built the stunningly beautiful Celeste, his 38 foot yacht, and now he wanted to teach people like us how to sail her; how to live on the water.
He loved all things natural with a vast and patient passion, and sailing, he felt, was entirely natural. Morris hated the sound of an engine on the water, and by the end of the first week under sail, so did we.
He showed Cory how to tie knots, raise sails, and all that malarkey; he showed her how to steer for the birds when she wanted to catch dinner. We threw lines over, reeled in lovely large fish, and then went to shore on the dinghy. One of us set the fire and the barbie going, while Morris took the other on a trail along the cliffs, the dunes, the rocks, where he showed great depth in knowledge and understanding of all the flora and fauna.
Cory found it fascinating, as I would now, at this point of my life.
But I owed neither of them, and was in my own place.
Two months earlier, I had jumped out of a career in marketing, and had since travelled to the Bahamas, America, Polynesia, and within 24 hours of arriving in New Zealand, I was there.
Sitting cross-legged on deck in the still of sunrise, while Cory and Morris still slumbered below.
A fine mist rising off the South Pacific waters.
Narry a ripple disturbing the bay wherein we moored.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn from Morris’ monumental scholarship and experience.
Simply, I felt happy. I felt calm and complete and thankful, all at the same time. Surrounded by subtropical splendour and safe as houses, in the arms of an expert, and what I knew then, and know still to this day, is a balanced universe.
Sometimes it can be wonderfully and generously benign.
At others, darkly cruel.
But you never know, and unless you get out of bed, you’ll never find out.

Saturday 12 January 2008

‘Suffer and Pay’ is the order of the day with phone charges!


I’m feeling lucky, like the perp in Dirty Harry. Maybe the time has come once again to try and sign up with Talk Talk.
Oh no! Please no! Not again!
Just the thought of it sends a tired sigh diving down my spine.
When you’re a Jewish son who lives in a different country to his family, the phone plays a daily role.
Like, we talk, and then we talk, and then we call back and talk some more.
If I signed up to Talk Talk’s ‘Talk Lite’ and ‘Talk 3 International’ packages, I would make massive savings.
‘Talk Lite’ is only availiable if you sign up online, and so several times I have wandered through their website, filling in page after page of sign-up, until, like a block of ice hammered onto a rampant member, at the very last moment they refuse.
Nu-uh. No thankyoooo. Ezzz nooo posseeeeblay, amigo. Gotcha again.
On the phone I go, to tell them what happened, and they explain that my telephone number already has an existing account on it.
“Yes, I know it does, Niamh. That would have been the bloke who used to live in my house five years ago. Could you cancel it, please?”
“Sure, that’s done! You can go off and sign up now!”
“Are you sure, Niamh? You see, I’ve already called four times before about this. I’ve spoken to so many of your colleagues I’m beginning to feel a bit like a stalker at this stage of things. I know Katie, and Anita and all the crew. And each time they say just what you said, and then I go off to try it on my computer and it still doesn’t work. But I want to believe you. I really really do. You sound like a nice girl who visits her mother. And I want to give Talk Talk my money but-”
“Sure, that’s done! You can go off and sign up now!”
“Are you sure, Niamh?”
“What did you say about being a stalker?”
So I tried it and it didn’t work, and then I had a private manly little cry.
And then I left it for another few months.
Then the Snapper had a go. Maybe with her womanly ways she would see a blip that I had missed.
But no. She too was told that the old account was finally cleared, destroyed, null and void, an ex-account, dead gone pining for the optic fibres, and so off we went, onto their website and filled out absolutely everything again, only to be told ‘No, nyah-nyah nya nyaaaahhhh-nahhhh!’
So today I’m feeling lucky, but should I risk it?
Trying to spend money shouldn’t be this difficult.
You might think that in our consumer society, companies would make it as easy as they can for us to pay our money; sign on the dotted line, roll in with wads of green folding, cross their palms with shiny euro.
But the relationship between them buyers and us sellers has deteriorated to such an extent that global Corporates now treat us with contempt and derision, while fledgling start-ups struggle to offer anything approaching efficiency.
All I want is a reliable service that doesn’t cost the earth, and feel reluctant to sign up with every fly-by-night outfit that sends some poor unsuspecting salesperson, armed only with a smile and a clipboard, to knock on my door just as the footie has started on TV.
So I settle for the safety of the status quo. Every two months I pay a massive amount of money to eircom for their grossly-inflated line rental charge, and resist the bombardment from other telecoms companies to swap.
With Options and World Select I don’t do badly out of eircom, but hey, what is this?
Right there on the front page of my eircom bill is a bold-printed ‘Did You Know?’ advertisement, which says:
“Introducing 2 new voice packages: eircom talktime UK and eircom talktime international, which include line rental, local, national, and international calls all for just €35.99 per month.”
There it was, in print.
So I called eircom’s sales number, and was intercepted by not one, but two of the most infuriating voice menus I have ever encountered. It is impossible to believe; to mentally absorb in any calm or untroubled way, that this is how the nation’s supposed No.1 telecommunications provider treats people approaching their sales department.
But I remember my manners when I finally get through to a human, who naturally asks for all the information that I have already given, first to a talking computer and then into the keypad.
“Sinead is it? Hi Sinead. I wonder if you can just clear something up for me? I was looking at my bill, and noticed the bit that’s advertising the new voice packages.”
“Oh, the talktime packages?”
“The very same, Sinead. What I was wondering was this: When they say “eircom talktime UK and eircom talktime International includes line rental, local, national, and international calls all for just €35.99 per month, do they really mean it?”
“Do they mean what?”
“Do they mean what they say? Do they mean that if I take talktime International, I pay you €35.99 a month, and that covers my line rental, local national and international calls?”
“Well, no, of course it doesn’t mean that.”
“Well, thanks Sinead. Goodbye.”
Just as I thought. Throughout decades of state-owned services, we were lectured by the political Right about how, once monopolies were broken, we would all benefit from the effects of ‘healthy competition’.
Yet now, between the labouring old monolith that is eircom and the jabbering carnivorous beasties that are talk talk, Perlico and all the other bottom feeders, I find myself being deceived in print, unable to sign up and generally left drowning in a sea of junk mail, useless offers and absurdly expensive services.
There was a similar telecoms situation when I lived in America in the mid 1990’s, but the way they dealt with it could not have been more different.
We left our provider AT&T, and switched to MCI, because they offered us $100 free calls for the move. Then, unsolicited in the mail, we received a cheque for $100 from AT&T, which we could cash the moment we switched back to them.
We played them off against each other and made several hundred bucks a year.
Now that’s what I call a special offer.

Friday 4 January 2008

Don’t be a yo-yo victim of the Beauty Bullies!


Each year before Christmas we are bombarded by a barrage of industries’ nagging advertising campaigns, persuading us that we are beautiful beings who deserve to wear the finest jewellery, the most expensive shoes; to eat vast amounts of the most luxurious of foods; to drink oceans of beer and rare vintages of wine and generally indulge in all manner of excess.
Then, after New Year, we annually find ourselves assaulted once again, under attack from several different industries trying to convince us that we made a terrible mistake; that we are in fact gross, ugly and fat; sick in mind and body; that we must lose weight, detox and clean up our acts.
The only requirement placed upon us at subjects (sic) of the consumer society is that we consume. Trouble is, if we behave like good little citizens, buy loads of shit, and adhere to the imperatives of the bottom line, (the gross and net margins), we become nothing more than merely the other half of the equation that creates profit:
Industry creates, we consume and somebody gets rich.
Human beings are expendable links in this chain. It doesn’t matter if we become obese or anorexic. The angles are covered by products on the shelves.
Well, right now, I want to detox, to cleanse my life of this selfish greedy society.
I’ve just spent a few fascinating minutes sitting on the loo, reading a little freebie red top tabloid magazine called ‘Individuelle’.
Under a subtitle declaring itself a ‘Beauty Essentials Magazine’ the front cover promises:
‘Lose inches in an hour.’
‘Bigger breasts without surgery.’
Despite its name, ‘Individuelle’ is clearly concerned with anything and everything apart from individuality, steering its readers away from beauty, and into the murky mediocre world of homogeneity, where all of us look the same, or at least, for some godawful and as yet unknown reason, aspire to.
The mag leaves me with a really nasty taste in my mouth, and no, I didn’t munch it, but I did feel like screwing it up and chucking it into the recycling.
Instead I kept it to share it with you, because the perception of beauty is important.
We are a beautiful species.
Although I may have been in my dim and distant past, I’m no longer an inveterate slut, but still when people ask me if I fancy a woman, I invariably say ‘yes’, because, well, because I just think women are beautiful.
Even though the stuff that goes on between their ears remains a mystery equal only to the fascinating words that spill from their mouths, I find it easy to fancy all women: tall short thin fat white black brown and yellow.
Blokes aren’t bad either, and despite being a straight as the next man, (often that ‘next man’, however hairy chested, macho and GAA he might like to appear, has actually got a whole loada woman going on inside him that he tries his manly desperate darndest to ignore) I am able and willing to admit that I can spot a pretty boy and a handsome bloke as well as most birds.
Sometimes, I get it completely wrong, and to this day cannot fathom what the fuss over Brad Pitt is all about, but I can see clearly why George Clooney and Jose Mourinho are considered handsome.
But so are you, and you and you, yet to believe ‘Individuelle’ and the industry it belongs to, we must each consider ourselves loathsome.
Flipping the pages of ‘Individuelle’ we travel swiftly through the need for whiter teeth toward something that is ‘Better than Botox’.
Next up is a tablet that will increase your breast size, followed by a scary-sounding hair retardant spray that will nuke your body of any trace of its natural mammalian fur.
There are pills that will have the fat falling off you and potions that will make your spider veins disappear.
If you put on a Detox Foot pad your liver will somehow magically shed its poisonous load onto the tiny bandage overnight.
Your life is apparently meaningless without a décolleté patch, breast enhancer, underarm sweat shield and something called an EasyLife Speed Shaper, while your HairPro laser zapper gun will encourage hair to grow once again where it has given up the ghost.
My eyes start to swim as I read about cold sores, stretch marks and fake tans. Bloody hell, an alien who picked up this maglet of tripe would imagine humans to be a complete bunch of mingers.
This magazine is not about beauty at all: it’s dedicated to making you feel ugly and disgusting, and whoopee, it just so happens that right now so many companies out there want you believe that you are in desperate need of a makeover, inside and out.
Well, this colyoom says screw ‘em.
Their hypercritical and bullying tactics seek to destroy your self esteem.
If you believe, you will be worshipping at the altar of an industry that treats you as a victim; an industry that insists on pointing out every thing it considers ‘wrong’ about you: (and here I quote from another tabloid freebie simply entitled ‘Beauty’):
‘You want a cleavage that makes other women jealous.’
‘You want a facelift.’
‘You want serious pouting power.’
But do you?
Do you need to look like everybody else, when you have your own unique beauty, that nobody else can buy?
Why am I on my high horse about this? Of course, we need the freedom to do what we want with our bodies, but by participating in this narrow-minded perspective on beauty, we have created a culture where a narrow band of beauty is held in such esteem that it has become more important than our own humanity.
This selfish beauty is insidiously eating away at values that humanity demands be kept intact.
Everyone in Galway remembers the tragic murder of 17 year-old Swiss student Manuela Riedo last year.
But ask yourself this:
Would you have cared as much, or felt so much remorse, had the murdered woman been a fifty year-old alcoholic homeless person, whose pockmarked aged and decrepit face looked like the back end of a bus after a rear-end collision?
Be honest.
Come on, wasn’t it easier to mourn Manuela, because she looked good, in a conventional way?
Now tell me that one life is more important than another, and I will leave this place and pay someone to wax my crack back and sack.