Wednesday 14 October 2009

There's no such thing as ‘just’ a panic attack!

(a shorter version of this post appeared yesterday in the Irish Times.)

Breathe in 4 ... out 7 ... in 4 ... out 7 ... move that belly... now in 7... and out 11, come on man, I want to see that belly move like a bellows with each breath ... in 7... out 11...
Dammit. It’s not working. I’m still feeling tense, wobbly and shaky as I pace up and down my French hospital room.
Any minute now somebody’s going to come and take me off for a stress test on an exercise bike, and I’m nervous.
The day before the doctor had warned me.
“C’est assez dur, ce teste!”
Hard? Why thanks for letting me know.
I don’t feel up to it. Maybe I should cancel it. What’s the French for ‘cancel’?
Maybe they won’t come. Maybe it won’t happen. The cardiologist had said yesterday the test was at 09:30 today, but then I was told by the nurse last night that it was to be at 10:00, and now it’s already after 10:00 and who knows, maybe it’ll just be forgotten.
Oh bugger. There’s a knock on the door. Tall dark handsome young man in a white coat.
“Monsieur Adley?”
“Oui, c’est moi.”
Great holiday this is turning out to be.
Probably should’ve gone to the doctor before leaving Ireland, presenting symptoms of exhaustion, shortness of breath and hyper-anxiety, but I was sure that a week of total chilldom at a farmhouse in Bordeaux was going to be the best medicine in the world.
Over the preceding weeks I’d worked 14 hour days, 6 days a week, going through 17 years of my ‘Double Vision’ columns from the Connacht Tribune, trying to rush out a compilation book of ‘Best Bits’ in time for the Christmas market. When the column was cut in the summer, the pressure to earn was on.
We’d flown from Shannon to Carcassonne, where Sandra had explored every nook and cranny of the old city, while I lay for many hours in our air-conditioned hotel bedroom, worried about my health, unsure whether I was fit enough to drive on.
But the vision of that farmhouse; the quiet solitude; each other’s company while the world went away: it was enough of an incentive to press on.
Had we simply done just that, life might have been different, but instead we opted to drive deep into the stunning countryside north-east of Toulouse, to spend a night with a dear old friend, in whose house we drank and ate far too much and slept way too little.
Heading off early the next morning, we were hung over, cramming new-found tiredness on top of our well-established exhaustion. After only ten minutes on the motorway I felt dangerously dizzy and pulled over.
A few minutes of walking up and down and I felt a bit better, so we climbed back into the rental car and drove on, until 20 minutes later I felt terrible again.
And so went the day. Thankfully the French péage motorways have stop-off points every few miles, with telephones, toilets and the welcoming shade of trees, and little by little we made precarious progress to the farmhouse, stretching a 4 hour drive into a 7 hour marathon. We discussed taking a room for the night somewhere, but I just wanted the journey over. Finally we arrived and the hellish drive felt worthwhile; just to be there, miles from anywhere and everyone.
Bliss. Let the relaxation begin.
I fell into bed and awoke the next morning to a cooler damper day, with the distant rumble of thunder promising the parched plains some relief.
After breakfast I went outside to breathe in the clean air, but immediately started to feel dodgy. My heart started to speed into palpitations, and my guts were turning inside out.
Climbing the farmhouse’s spiral wooden staircase proved pretty difficult, my legs suddenly wobbling and weak. I went to lay down on the bed in the spare room.
At first I thought I was having what as a teenager I’d have called a ‘headrush’. I felt nauseous, dizzy and my heart was leaping in my chest. I tried 7-11 breathing for a while, and the palpitations slowed, but I felt profoundly dreadful, from head to toe.
Believing I was having a heart attack, armed only with an Englishman's understatement, I wobbled off to inform Sandra that:
“I'm having a bit of a funny turn, love.”
Sandra came to lie beside me as I tried to concentrate on my breathing, while not 2 feet above our heads huge raindrops started to pummel the big skylight window. Thunder now boomed constantly in one unending threatening grumble, and the writer in me considered the potential of pathetic fallacy in our circumstances.
How on earth I was going to get from this isolated spot to a hospital? Sandra was not insured on the rental car, and anyway that morning I didn’t much fancy sharing her first experience of driving on the wrong side of the road.
We called Guy the caretaker who in turn called the doctor. He arrived a few hours later, took my blood pressure and informed me that I had to go immediately to hospital. He gave me a TNT pill to put under my tongue, which simultaneously compounded my fears of a heart attack whilst making me feel like an 80 year-old, 30 years prematurely.
Guy drove us to the ultramodern hospital in Saintes, where I stumbled out of the car towards the Emergency Room. Outside a group of nurses and doctors saw me trying to walk, and one came over and taking my finger gently in his hand, led me straight through the waiting room, out the back and into the treatment area, where he laid me on a bed.
I was feeling so terrible I didn’t even remember to say goodbye to Sandra, who was left to fill out forms on my behalf.
After what seemed like several hundred tests, ECGs, chest X-rays and questions, performed by uniformly smiling caring professionals, I was told that I had not had a heart attack (yippee!) and that my lungs were clear (yowza!). However, my blood pressure was dangerously high, and as they could not ascertain the cause of my shortness of breath or the pain in my chest, they were going to admit me to the cardiac unit for observation.
Two short hours after my arrival at the hospital I was installed in a room of my own, for which I was truly grateful. Never the best at sharing sleeping space, I knew my blood pressure would be unlikely to fall if I had to share a ward with scores of wheezy ancient heart patients.
And so I lay there, feeling truly awful, wondering whether I had angina.
Was this the beginning of the end of my freedom?
Was this the start of old age already? If so, I wasn’t ready for it and feared the lengthy decline that I had seen in my father.
But he was 70 when he became ill, and I did far more exercise than he ever had.
How would I ever get home? Galway felt a million miles away. The thought of the stress incumbent in a Ryanair flight was enough to send me under the bedcovers.
Throughout my stay, I learned to understand technical medical French. All the nurses, orderlies, doctors and specialists were kind, efficient and pleased to find an Englishman who could speak their language.
I was ‘The English Patient’, grateful to have fallen on my feet into French medical care, which proved as excellent as we are led to believe. What chance of lunch in an Irish hospital offering ‘Tajine boeuf citron confit olives’ followed by a dinner consisting of ‘Ouefs mollets florentines’?
Sandra had by now moved into an hotel on a nearby industrial estate, and thankfully a good friend of hers drove up from Biarritz to offer her solace, company and language support.
Unfortunately, this friend chatted with the nurses, and confirmed my worst fears: ‘angine de poitrine’ was apparently what they suspected.
Angina. Bugger. That meant an angiogram, possibly surgery, and and and ... breathe ... breathe...
The cardiologist was waiting for me inside the testing room, and as the nurse wired me up to all the machines, she explained that I had to sit on the bike and keep pedalling, whatever happened. Every 2 minutes they’d make the pedals more resistant, but even if I felt pain I must not stop, and had to keep my speed consistent between 50 and 70 on the digital doodaah.
“Okay!” I said, “Let it roll!”
Armed only with Sandra’s advice (‘Imagine you’re cycling to Bearna, baby!’) and 20 years of walking the beaches of the West of Ireland, I peddled on peddled on peddled on for miles, Luka Bloom style, until the sweat was pouring off me and the test was over.
The cardiologist had seen enough.
“You can go home now!” she said abruptly. “There is nothing wrong with your heart or lungs. For someone of your age, weight and height, you have just achieved 91% of a potential maximum. Take these pills for blood pressure, go to your doctor in Galway and make an appointment to see a cardiologist for a routine check-up. But go home. Stop smoking and drinking so much, and live a long and happy life.”
“Can I ask you some questions?”
“No, I am busy. I have patients who need me., You do not.”
In an instant all those fears, breathing problems, wobbles and trembles were dispatched to hell. I felt great.
My heart was fine!
I was free to go!
Now, back home, I understand that what I had was a panic attack. I had been juggling too many things at once; working too hard and holding too many strands of pressure in my head.
No more juggling for me. Just watch me drop those mental balls. The compilation book can wait a wee while. I’ll find another column in another paper soon enough.
My bicycle has been dusted down, lubed up and a few days ago I cycled to Bearna.
But hear me now: don’t ever say ‘Just a panic attack!’.
There is no ‘just’ about it!

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Hey Tommy, did you hear the one about the Irishman who died in the famine?

Letter to the Editor - Published in the Irish Examiner

A Chara
A friend asked me if I was angry about Tommy Tiernan’s anti-semitic rant at the Electric Picnic.
“No,” I explained. “I’m not angry, just very sad.”
Sad because after nearly 20 years of living in Ireland, I thought my adopted home was finally moving on.
Sad because Tommy is an influential comedian, and if he gets away with material like this then many other bigots will feel safe spouting equal nonsense.
Sad because there is nothing remotely funny about anything he said, any more than there would be if this Jew stood up and told Irish Famine jokes to an audience of English folk.
Sad because nobody in Ireland seems to wonder why this country’s Jewish population is the only one in the free world that has shrunk of its own volition almost into oblivion. I am one of a minuscule group of Jews left living west of the Shannon.
Sad because Tiernan’s pathetic excuse that he was in 'a special protected environment where people know that nothing they say is being taken seriously' is at best disingenuous. The issue is not when or where who said what to whom, but rather that he thinks like this at all.
Sad because Ireland’s nascent anti-racist laws are puny and untested, unlike those of other modern countries who do not tolerate incitement to racial hatred.
Sad because I have encountered much anti-semitism in my life here, but it has usually come from those who have never met a Jew in their lives, and hence know no better.
That in no way justifies their views, but it does enable me to use my stock response: to tell them that ‘Sure, the worst thing about these Jews is that you can’t even spot one when they’re sitting right in front of you!’
Usually that does the trick. As soon as they see how ignorant and prejudicial they have been they learn not to do it again.
But Tommy Tiernan does know better. He has travelled the world and knows how vile and dangerous such views are once unleashed into the public arena.
Sad. Not angry. How angry can you be when you hear the term ‘Christ Killer’ for the umpteenth time in your life? Of all the anti-Semitic terms I have had fired against me, that one hurts the least. After all, Jesus was a Jew.

Saturday 15 August 2009

The agony and the ecstasy.

Being a Chelsea fan. 10 more months of this....

And this is how I feel after we win?
Oy.

And two pints of Guinness, three coffees, two pints of Hooker and three whiskies. Or 4.



And a smoky bacon burger, fries and a shake.

Chelsea, eh?

Friday 31 July 2009

This colyoom ends here, but ‘This Colyoom...’ will be in the shops soon!

charlie-adley-allan-cavanagh
“Jeeze, you're taking it very well, Charlie!”
“Well, I'd be a fool if I was surprised, eh Mike?
We both went silent, nodding knowingly. It's every everywhere out there. Ireland's workforce is shrinking at speed visibly before all our eyes.
And anyway, I wasn't even an employee. He wasn't letting me go, as the disingenuous say these days. Mike was merely telling me that the accountants had done their sums, and the entire Life section of this Noble Rag that you are now holding in your hands has to go.
I'd be a fool to take it personally, and I'm not one, so I don't.
Given the choice, editors would keep this colyoom and Dick Byrne's 'Under My Hat', but it wasn't up to them.
Freelance has disappeared across the board. When I lived in north Mayo a few years ago, I was making a healthy living by writing this colyoom, selling features and a column to the Irish Examiner and flogging the odd feature here and there to the Irish Post.
Lovely jubbly it was, but now the word is 'insourcing', which in the phrase book of Freelance Language means 'you please to go now and please to try to not walk under buses thank bye byes to you.'
Mike was looking so sad.
“Look mate,” I said, “you know I only ever saw it as a weekly gig. To you it might have felt permanent, but to me it was only as good as the last week, and let's face it, some weeks were better than others!”
One of the greatest gifts that my beloved adopted home gave me was the word 'Scribbler'.
The auld fella in my first real Irish pub asked me what I did for a living, forcing out of me the word 'writer'.
I love the word, but hate how most nationalities react to it, and then he spluttered
“Ah sure, isn't everyone a scribbler here so? Doesn't every gobshite have their feckin' novel stashed under the bed?”
So it was back in October 1992 that an unknown uninvited English scribbler first walked into this newsroom, where Mike and I are now trying to make each other feel better.
I'd thrust three double-spaced typed sheets into his hand and asked if he could use a weekly column.
Only a few short weeks after I'd arrived in Galway, I had a column in the newspaper. I knew nothing about the place where I was living, yet was meant to deliver witty insight weekly.
And jeepers creepers, what an Ireland that was in '92! I'd been around the world a couple of times, so forgive me for thinking the country next door might be modern.
It was as if l were stuck in an episode of an Irish version of Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes.
Through a prism life appeared almost like over there in England, but then I discovered that the abortion referendum wasn't a vote of Yes or No, but about whether it was legal to display a telephone helpline for women, or whether they should be legally bound to stay in the country.
What? And What!!!???!!!
Oh, and there was no divorce.
You whaaat?
For the first six months my jaw was jammed open with shock.
This was the Ireland of the Beef Tribunal, that young Pat Kenny and buses down Quay Street.
But there was craic aplenty and Connemara, so I had enough to scribble about, but in those days took the sensible precaution of writing under the nom de plume of Andy Prince.
So-called Catholics were keen on sending me used condoms and vile photographs in the mail. Best to remain anonymous while my staggering ignorance of all things Irish was matched only by my enthusiastic arrogance.
Writing this colyoom has been the best freelance gig ever, and to me the best job in the world. Apart from 4 years America from 1995, I'm professionally proud to say I have delivered copy on time every single week since 1992, and having to think, notice, imagine and grump my way into a thousand readable words is a great exercise for the mind.
Well, it's been good for mine, even if it's destroyed yours on a regular basis.
For a scribbler, there can be no better thing in the Universe than to know that those 1,000 words will pay your rent, and in latter days, bills as well. This colyoom has defined the way I see myself a writer. Waffle well and you get a roof.
Life does not get better.
Ever since this colyoom's incarnation in this Life section, with a photo above and the excellent illustrations of my colleague Allan Cavanagh, there have been countless encounters with folk walking by who look at me and wonder 'Now, who the feck is that yoke? Know da face know da face alright, but no idea!'
Be still. I will soon be gone from your memory, and to some of you that will come a blessed relief, while others might wonder where their weekly dose of blather and insanity has gone.
Well, I'll still be out there, and soon a compilation book will be on the shelves, so keep an eye out.
Most important and finally, I need to come over all Grindead Paltrow and Kate Windswept, and say a few million tearful 'Thank Yous'. Trouble is, I haven't won an Oscar.
I've just got the bleedin' boot, but ennyhoodyhoo, I want to thank Mike, Brendan, Dave, Mags, Kathleen and all the other newsroom and downstairs crew who have helped me over the years.
When I returned to Galway after 4 years in America, I popped into the newsroom to say hello.
”Hello!" Mike said, "Are you broke?”
“Absolutely.”
'Do you want your column back?”
“Absolutely!!”
Kindness like that I do not forget.
I want to thank Allan whose brilliant drawings have destroyed any sliverish vestige of pride I ever had in my appearance. I want to thank the Snapper, for her patience and many appearances. Also, thanks to the Body, the Guru, Dalooney, Yoda, Angel, Soldier Boy, the Diplomat, Artist in Blue Towel, Grumpy Chef, the Artist formerly known as Snarly, the Waistcoat and the Goat.
Thanks also to the Whispering Giant and Blitz, who didn't make it into the above list in the print edition. What can I say lads, it's either a case of you're out of Connacht, out of mind, or just Charlie out of his mind.
Luvieeess dwarrleeengs, sniff sniff.
Mostly, of course, thanks to you, my loyal colyoomistas, as well as the occasional dippers and online readers. See you around, and thanks for reading this colyoom.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Armed only with Blue Bag, I’ll take on the world and win!

travel-cartoon
A couple of years ago, the nice man who works in the launderette was worried about me. He thought he’d done me a favour, but I was acting very strangely.
The big plastic bag into which he packed my clean clothes was usually the one in which I returned my dirty ones, but that week it had torn, so I’d stuffed my dirty clothes into my old beloved Blue Bag.
I never gave it a thought, until I went back to collect my clothes.
“Howya doin’ Charlie!” he smiled, grabbing one of the regular plastic bags off the shelf. “Here’s your clean washing, now!”
“Bu-bu-bu- but where is my Blue Bag?”
“Oh that old yoke? Sure, it was filthy, so I threw it in with the rest of your wash!”
“You washed it? You washed it? You washed my Blue Bag? You, oh, you, oh my god.”
”You all right Charlie?”
My face had gone white, my eyes rolling around in their sockets as my brain hit the express return journey back to some place hundreds of thousands of miles away, decades before.
It’s November 1984, and a 24 year-old version of your colyoomist has just spent ten quid on a blue Cubmaster sausage bag. I’ve just quit a lucrative but soul-destroying job in marketing and I’m off to travel around the world.
In the 1970’s I’d hitched around Europe with an A-frame rucksack and a small satchel bag, but I’d been young and ignorant.
When The Guru went off to India, all he took was a small sausage bag, He explained that in the Third World they put rucksacks on top of buses and somewhere else on trains, and he didn’t like to be separated from his stuff.
Being a less frugal packer than himself, I bought a slightly larger version than his: dark blue, with white straps, it was hanging on a hook alongside a hundred similar cheap bags, above the doorway of a tourist shop in Oxford Street.
Best money I ever spent.
Regular colyoomistas will know that your scribbler is not a man into ‘things’. My pulse does not thrill at the thought of owning stuff, but my Blue Bag I love, unashamedly.
Now, as I celebrate its 25th year with me, its effect upon me is as strong as ever.
Recently I was over in England celebrating a brace of 50th birthdays. It was going to be a decadent few days, involving a marathon of train rides, planes and pubs, beers and breakfasts.
Fearful of being out of practice, I hoisted Blue Bag onto my shoulder and immediately felt a shot of power run through me.
All was good. Nothing could touch me.
Together Blue Bag and I have travelled twice around the planet. We have hitched over 200,000 miles.
When about to hit the road, I buy one of those bright orange plastic mountain survival bags, into which I pack a complete change of clothes for keeping warm and another change for cooling down. Add spare footwear, a few creams and potions, and then I roll that orange bag into a tube and place it into Blue Bag.
Everything I needed to survive is now safe and waterproof inside Blue Bag, and yet it’s light and easy to carry.
Wherever I was, whatever the weather, be the terrain tropical or tundra, I’d always have a dry set of clothes. At night I simply put Blue Bag inside the huge orange bag, and then slide in myself.
My paranoia does not allow me to relax in a tent. Whilst out in the immense wonders of the universe I prefer to see it, to look up at the stars and know what’s going on around me.
I never understood tents. The entire wild world is just outside, but you are crammed into the teensiest space you’ll ever sleep in.
No, if I’m out there I like to be part of it and not apart from it. If it lashes rain, then all I need to do is slide down further into my orange bag, and roll the top over.
Come morning I am dry, as are all my belongings, and I’ve no tent to pack up.
In fact, as I sit here now there are probably confused folk all over the world who at some stage drove through the rain past a large orange plastic ball sitting by the roadside. Little did they know that inside lurked a mad scribbler, crouching inside a waterproofed ball, my hand holding the orange bag’s scrunched top to let in some air.
Blue Bag and I have have been through all manner of madness and tribulation, but always it is by my side, and with it I feel safe and complete.
In the Cadillacs of California, the buses of Bali and the 24-wheel rigs that master the English motorways, Blue Bag stood on its end between my legs, taking up no more space that I do myself.
In strange bars Blue Bag’s handles are hooked round my bar stool so that no stray hand might whisk it away. And before the ridiculous limits of carrying of liquids in airports, Blue Bag used to be my hand luggage, allowing me to be off the plane and out into a new country while all the other passengers were left behind, waiting at the baggage carousel.
Metaphorically and practically Blue Bag was my fast track to freedom.
“Charlie? Charlie? You okay?”
Woh! I’m back in the launderette, ripping open the plastic bag to see if my old friend has survived the rigours of the washing machine.
In all those years it never had a wash. Blue Bag bore the dust of 4 continents, the sweat of a quarter million miles hitched to my side. It had been thrown from ten thousand trucks onto the dust, gravel, mud or sand below. It had been infested by giant wood lice in Noumea, and somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne it had come under attack from thousands of bull ants.
Now all that dust, all those grubby souvenirs were gone.
Had it disintegrated into tatty ashes?
Was it now a useless piece of old cotton?
It was not.
Blue Bag looked grand. Clean, yes; not as good as new, but then again, nether am I!
And together with Blue Bag, I still feel ready to take on the world and win!

Thursday 16 July 2009

What a splendid weekend, save for the beasts that gorged on my knees!

bad-hotel-cartoon2
The plan was simple. We'd get a taxi from Leeds Station to the B & B, check in, drop off our bags and head off to the party. We were on a roll; didn't want to linger.
But plans are proof that god has a sense of humour.
I'd arrived in London on the Thursday, four days earlier, and had been building up a beery head of steam with an ever-growing assemblage of lifelong friends. Friday evening we sat outside a pub in Hammersmith by Old Father Thames, drinking copious pints and eating excellent fish and chips. On the Saturday 'twas Martin's 50th birthday party, and having drunk dry his monumental supplies of champagne, wine and anything else we could get our hands on, we grabbed a few hours dribbly kip, and regrouped at Kings Cross Station.
Somehow we were all still in great form, and aided by wizardly cooler bag technology, we drank our way to Yorkshire in a couple of hours, powered by laughter and building excitement. Tonight the Guru's sister was throwing a 50th birthday party for himself, and as long as we kept going, all would be good.
But there was nobody at the reception desk of the B & B. In fact, all we were greeted by was an overwhelming smell of dirty greasy fat. Finally a diminutive lass arrived, and we told her of our plan.
"Well, you'd be best to tell the taxi driver to go, because we're all going to go into the sitting room and have a wee chat."
We all wanted to say "A chat about what? Who are you? Our mother?"
But we didn't, and were then suitably patronised by somebody 25 years our junior. Finally, having parted with a substantial sum, I was given my key and told my room was down past reception on the left.
Off I went, down past reception, but the only thing on the left was a flight of stairs.
Room 231? Hmmm, surely that must be upstairs? So I climbed the creaky old stairs, walked along a corridor, through another door, down some steps, along another corridor and there it was.
Oh, it's a cupboard with a tiny single bed in it.
Ah well, never mind. It's not like I'll be in here long.
Outside we swapped similarly miserable tales of our rooms. This one had no towels. That one stank.
Oh look, here's our taxi, hurrah!
And off we went, to enjoy one of the finest parties I have ever been to. There was beer and food aplenty, as well as a film of the Guru's life, a firework display and later, the release of hot air lanterns into the night sky. Magic times spent with your bestest of friends: memories to keep forever.
Morning was dawning as I stumbled up the B & B stairs, along the corridor, through the other door, along the other corridor and down some steps into my cupboard, finally laying upon my tiny single bed, only to find that the old broken mattress immediately collapsed into a 'V' beneath me.
Did I care? I was, as they say, past caring.
Kicking off the ancient blanket I lay under a single sheet and woke, three hours later, as an airlock in the plumbing was shaking the entire building.
OW! Ow and bloody hell! What's that?
All over my legs were giant volcanic welling bites. I've done a fair bit of bumming around the world, and have been bitten by many mozzies. This was not the fault of a flying beast. These gigantic bites (7 on one leg and 4 on the other) were the work of something(s) that had crawled out of the decrepit mattress.
Stomach churning, I leaped in the shower to be instantly blinded by the water coming not from the holes in the shower head, but out of the sides. Swiftly exiting my hellhole of a room, I stumbled into the dining area, ready to be rescued by what the hotel's website described as a 'buffet breakfast'.
There was a 'Routiers' sign on the outside of the building. They must have nicked it and put it up themselves.
In a bowl were some tired stale slices of the cheapest white and brown bread. There was a toaster with a timer, and a note telling you how to use it. Over by the hot water urn was a small bowl with a small amount of coffee granules in it. Everything had obviously been out since the night before. The vile catering-pack coffee granules would have been merely undrinkable, were it not for the milk which turned into clotted lumps as soon as it hit the liquid in my cup.
A bloke came out of the kitchen and took my order for a cooked breakfast, apologising for the off-milk. Several minutes later UHT cartons appeared; not exactly what you want with your cereal.
They must have given themselves those 3***. Nobody else could have.
Unlike the previous morning, we were now all royally destroyed. Our party weekend was over and we had squeezed every last drop of pleasure from our days together.
Frantically scratching my bitten swollen boiling knees, I tried to eat the grease-sodden breakfast put in front of me.
1981. I suddenly realised that I used to stay in places like this when selling advertising for Pearl and Dean, back in 1981. Nowadays there are Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses: less expensive, spotless, slick and plastically fantastic compared to this dump. If this is the independent sector, bring on the boringly corporate chain, any day of the week.
Giving up on my squidgy sausage I stumbled past reception, and in my semiconscious stupor passed the stairs on the left, only to find my room, yes, room 231, right in front of me.
No! Please no! Don't tell me my flea-ridden Harry Potter cell from hell was on the ground floor, only a yard or two from reception!?!
When the day before she had said "Go past reception and it's on the left", she had meant "...the right", and had I realised her error, I could have saved myself miles of epic stair-climbing and wandering the stinky corridor circuits of the entire scummy B & B.
Why put room 231 on the ground floor?
How did that work?
Evidently, as well as everything else in the place.
Thankfully, nothing could spoil that weekend. Sublime. Spectacular. Thanks guys!

Saturday 11 July 2009

We Galwegians are divorced from the Galway Arts Festival, but want to love it again!

galway-arts-festival-2009
Everyone hates a whinger who comes out with the same knocking copy each year. Yet once again I find myself looking ahead to the Galway Arts Festival with a mixture of excitement, hurt and sadness.
I couldn’t pin down exactly why, until I read in this Noble Rag a few weeks ago an interview with Noeline Kavanagh, the Director of this year’s Macnas Arts Festival Parade.
“Macnas is like the largest divorcee in Galway.” she said. “Everybody has a relationship with it.”
There it was: replace the word ‘Macnas’ with ‘Galway Arts Festival’, and that’s how I feel. We Galwegians used to be married to the Galway Arts Festival. We lived in the same place, loved each other, had our ups and downs of course, but generally knew that we were good together. These days, the people of Galway feel so divorced from the Galway Arts Festival, they can barely remember what it was like to love it.
I want us to renew our vows. I want the Galway Arts Festival to ask us to move back in; to woo us; love us; kiss us and lick us the way it used to.
I’m not sitting here on my voluptuous arse trying to diss that plethora of extremely talented people who put a vast amount of creativity and energy into the two week splurge.
I think they do a fantastic job, but somewhere along the way the whole affair was lost.
I talk to a lot of people, and at the moment the word on the street is that shows are simply too expensive. To be fair, I don’t think that price is the single biggest factor in the decline of the Galway Arts Festival. There are many cheaper happenings in this year’s programme than other years, but through their pricing policy we glimpse how badly the Galway Arts Festival has lost touch with the people of Galway.
I wanted to see the New York Dolls, Femi Kuti and Primal Scream, for which I would pay €112, to stand at all three gigs. But what really made me angry was the fact that if I was on the dole, I’d still have to pay €110 for those three tickets.
For god’s sake, get real, Arts Festival people! Are you trying to intimidate the poor with art? Do you want us once again to believe that art exists only for the affluent élite? Isn’t that the opposite of what the Galway Arts Festival once stood for?
Climb out of your ivory towers and take a look at how many of us have been laid off, or are just plain broke. Cop on to the fact that a night out which starts with a pair of tickets at €90 belongs to a dream of a Galway past, and exists now as an insulting anachronism.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the Tiger is dead, and we’re trying to stay alive by picking mouthfuls from its rotten corpse.
We all have our personal beefs about what is wrong with the Galway Arts Festival.
Project 06 splendidly reminded us how vital it is to include local artists and performers, yet each year, the official word comes forth that the Arts Festival have pulled off another major success.
Trouble is, for years now, it hasn’t felt like a success to us, the people of this city. Let’s learn from the dazzling success of the Volvo Ocean Race. If the organisers of the Galway Arts Festival understand anything of Galway City at all, they know that you could take a burnt banana skin, mount it on top of a bus shelter, and advertise ‘The ‘Burnt Banana Skin On Top Of The Bus Shelter Festival - the biggest thing to hit Galway since last Tuesday Afternoon!’, and as long as the people of this great city were behind it, hundreds of thousands of people would flock to Galway, because we’re the finest hosts in the best city in the world to throw a party, where fun is free and family-oriented.
Don’t tell me a over a half a million people came to our little city to see a sail puff in the wind. They came because Galway is uniquely packed with brilliant, skilful and diverse talents. We’ll give you the time of your lives, as we do every year during Race Week, but the joy of Galway is on the streets.
Doubtless during the Galway Arts Festival, our city centre will be strewn with buskers and performers of all kinds, which is just as well, because this year’s Galway Arts Festival programme lists a paltry 2 street acts, performing in total 5 times on 3 different days.
Shame on you, Galway Arts Festival.
If this marriage is ever going to work again, you really need to listen, learn and understand that whereas 15 years ago we were all buzzed up and proud of you, now you appear like a distant lost relative who expects us to run around, cook, clean, sweat and serve whenever you turn up on our doorstep.
As for the 10.00pm start time of the Macnas Parade, I say again, shame on you!
Parents simply won’t want to expose small children to crushed hordes of drunken midnight revellers. I’m sorry, Noeline, because I understand what you are trying to achieve with your segmented parade that tells a story, but who is entertaining who here?
You don’t see the purpose in “walking along with a rail of images that snake through the streets”?
Well, let me enlighten you. The purpose of the Macnas Parade is to say ‘Thanks!’ to the people of Galway with a dazzlingly fun and colourful event that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you are with Daddy at Spanish Arch and Mammy is in Shop Street with Granny, you’ll all see the same parade and later share your thrills and joys: it’s what they call a ‘communal event’.
Do I have any positive suggestions? Why yes! In order to save this sick marriage between the Galway Arts Festival and the people of Galway City, first quadruple the free street theatre; return the Parade to the afternoon; and offer a hefty price concessions on all tickets sold to locals, upon production of a locally-addressed utility bill.
Then we might learn to love you again, and put the best of Galway - the fun, family and free - back into our own Arts Festival.

Monday 6 July 2009

Oh yes, you know when you’ve been Galwayed!

quicksand-jungle-cartoon
I’ve been Galwayed. Galwayed good and proper, that’s what I am right now. I had a double, a double Galway: that’s city and county.
If I’d mixed the county after the city, I might not be feeling so bewildered and crap.
But I didn’t.
So I do.
My head is crushed, my thoughts spinning in negative spirals that I know well to leave alone. This is not about a hangover. Being Galwayed is a combination of sleep deprivation, over-consumption, over-stimulation of sensory experience and a glut of social auld bollox that seems substantial at the time, yet dies into ephemera with the first snore of the semi-comatose night.
Coming or going are concepts you abandon when being truly Galwayed.
As I write this I know that it’s Monday, but it could be Saturday, Flipday or tomorrow.
I’m going to pin the guilt for the whole sad and wonderful day on the sun, which rises so early and sets so late over Galway at this time of year, you wake up three hours before you’ve gone to sleep.
So yesterday, Sunday morning, at 5am, I open my eyes, go for the middle-aged peeper, and realise to my horror that I am quite awake.
I also notice that herself the Snapper is not yet home. A text tells the tale of a well-earned glass or two after a hard night’s work which led to a party, and who could blame her?
I go back to bed but I’m half thinking about herself getting home safely, and half thinking about how that’ll be fine, and half thinking about the blue sky and sunshine and how you can’t have three halves.
So I get up at silly o’clock on a Sunday, and walk the causeway to Mutton Island under blue skies before the shops are open, wondering how to fill my day off. Even when you work for yourself, you have to have days off, where sloth is no crime.
But today is a day for action. Firing up Shaaanny car, I do what I do most naturally, and head west, excited at the prospect of the very early very empty road to Clifden.
Connemara looks jaw-droppingly beautiful as piercing summer sunshine is hidden and released by towering tumultuous storm clouds. The Maamturk Mountains themselves appear to move, as vast black shadows travel at speed across them.
Speeding along but less stunning, your scribbler arrives in Clifden at 10:15, and takes a most excellent breakfast in the Off The Square Restaurant. Great service, fab food, followed by a stroll down to the bridge on the Ballyconneely road, to watch the river cascade a while and build a thirst.
All the serious pubs are shut.
Himself the Goat is not responding to texts, and why would he?
What am I doing in Clifden so bloomin’ early on a Sunday?
Well, now what?
Back in Shaaanny, to drive at a more leisurely pace back to Galway. I pick up a hitcher in Oughterrard. We chat and laugh and then I’m back, aimless and hyper in Rahoon (never a good combination). I call round to Angel, but he’s not about, and Soldier Boy has been out since yesterday fortnight, so I’ll leave him be.
I go home and see the curtains upstairs still drawn. I sit and try to read the Sunday papers but no, not for me, not today. Something is eating me up, so I drive into town not knowing if I really even want to go into town.
Instead of parking in the Claddagh, I drive down Henry Street and for some reason decide to pointlessly pootle in circles around the town centre.
Sitting alone outside Neachtain's, watching Sunday strangers throng with cameras, up pops the Artist Formerly Known As Snarly. Off to the Quays, where we talk of religion, fly fishing and zombies in dreams.
Then I wander up to God knows where looking for the Devil knows who, and stumble into Dalooney outside Tigh Coilis, who persuades me to have a pint. Half of me is still in Connemara, half of me still on the road, half of me in bed asleep and the other half suddenly holding a pint that somehow makes sense in a world with too many damnable halves in it.
But I’m driving and have to call it a day, so I walk over the bridge and bump into The Waistcoat, who thrusts a can of Apples into my hand, and feeling bad and reckless and boring and mediocre I sit and chat as we reminisce of 80’s London and great travels and watch the river flow past.
Then, knowing that this is one of only 3 occasions in my long life when I have driven whilst possibly over the limit, I drop the car back to Salthill.
The bedroom curtains are still closed, so I go into the house, have a blissful peeper, and head off, again, into the city, feeling like Martin Sheen going into the jungle in ‘Apocalypse Now’.
Deadly black clouds are hanging huge and low. Me no walky, no be soaky.
Get a bus? But no, there’ll be an age to wait but look at that cloud and ennyhoodyhoo, why are you going in when you haven’t any money you fool and look -yahoo! -there’s a bus!
‘Tis meant to be. ‘Tis written.
Amen.
Quay Street again, where first I gorge myself on piping hot salty vinegary potatoey heavenly chips from McDonaghs, and then head towards the motley crew of eccentrics, musicians and gobshites (myself included) hanging outside Tigh Coilis. Dalooney and the Waistcoat show great generosity with the drink, and I know I’m being Galwayed, but I don’t care, because at that moment you care about neither future happiness nor past pain.
The Snapper texts to say she is coming into town to pick up her car, left in town the night before, and would I like a lift home?
Finding myself incapable of texting properly, I realise that thanks to the beauty of Connemara and the kindness of friends, I have managed to make it through this strange day. Hallelujah! Now I must indeed go home.
Later, despite being wrapped entirely in the synthetic warmth of the Chelsea blanket, herself trembles and shivers on the sofa, while I sit mouth agape, dribbling staring unblinking at a procession of godawful Sunday evening white chocolate TV dramas.
We know.
Oh yes. We know we’ve been Galwayed.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

If UPC Support is a lottery, I’ve so many numbers I’ll be a winner soon!

ntl-upc-customer-service-cartoon

Dear B from UPC/NTL/Chorus,
Thanks so much for all the calls. You called twice on Tuesday, leaving a message on my mobile and my landline, and twice again on Thursday. You might have wondered why you bothered. Did I really gave a damn?
By way of explanation, let’s pretend our screens are going all wavy and wobbly as we drift in time, all the way back to February, when the Snapper found she couldn’t access her Eircom email.
Eircom advised that the problem lay with our Internet Service Provider, which is you NTL/Chorus/UPC guys.
She asked me to help. I couldn’t face phoning your technical support, because I didn’t want to spend hours sorting the problem. I just wanted a simple explanation; either a ‘Do this!’ or ‘Forget it and start again!’ type of response, so on April 27th I sent an email to NTL Broadband Support, asking what a ‘parsing error’ meant to the average bloke? Why was it blocking the wife’s email and what could I do about it?
Instantly I received your automated response:
‘Your query has been given a unique tracking number for your reference - 452724. Our aim is to contact you within 2 working days.’
Kind regards,
Customer Support Team Chorus NTL
On May 8th, just as I was about to give up on your support, one of your colleagues sent an email:
Ref: 452724
Dear Mr Adley
Thank you for your email, my sincere apologies for the delay in getting back to you. If possible, can you please provide your account number so I can escalate your details to our Technical Support Desk?
If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us on our freephone number 1908 or email us on customer.support@upc.ie
Kind regards,
S
“Escalate?”
I didn’t want my details escalated, but naturally I sent off the information she requested, and immediately got yet another automated response: Your query has been given a unique tracking number for your reference - 461272. Our aim is to contact you within 2 working days.
Now I'm getting slightly confused, because I’d been given two unique tracking numbers for one problem. And having actually made contact (albeit by email) with a real human being (herself ‘S’) was my query now back out wandering, lonely and helpless in the NTL Support wilderness?
But no. S came through, thanked me for the details and referenced Ref: 461272, which was the latest most recent number.
Aha! So that’s how it works! The unique tracking number is killed off by the next unique tracking number.
Sometimes it’s terrible having testicles. You’re forced to try and understand everything, even the most boring trifling detail which ovary-bearers quite correctly might dismiss as surplus to requirements.
S said she had “passed your query to our Broadband Support Team for investigation and a member of their team will be in contact with you shortly. Thank you for your valued custom.”
Thanks S, I think, but - and call me stupid here if you must - I’d dared to think that I was already dealing with the Broadband Support Team, because all my emails had been addressed to broadbandsupport@upc.ie.
Silly me.
Anyway, that was May 8th, and then I head nothing. Nada. Zilch and diddly squat. I started to come over all agitato jubilato. This was no longer about the Snapper’s email account, which doubtless had by now been deactivated through lack of use.
Now it had become personal. We’ve paid a tidy amount to Chorus/NTL/UPC over the years, and this is the first time we’ve ever asked for help, yet after 2 months all we’ve been given is a rake of reference numbers and emails telling us how much they value our custom and we’ll hear from them in two days.
When I decide to write about a person or a corporation, I feel it only fair to let them know, especially if it’s part of an existing problem, so on June 3rd, I sent off an email referencing all my reference numbers, saying how I was intending to write about this process, and in the meantime, what was going on with my query?
Obviously, the first thing I got was another pesky automated response, assigning me another bloomin’ unique tracking number
“Our aim is to contact you within 2 working days.”
Which unique tracking number was I now? 452724? 480639? 461272?
The following Saturday morning, my mobile phone rings, and it’s you, B from UPC, and you’re very upset about all my troubles. You are delightful, telling me you don’t really understand computers yourself, but if we set up a time to call, you could patch me though to the technical support team, without me having to wait.
‘Splendid! Fantastic! Are you really calling me on a Saturday? Wow! Lets make it Monday at 11:00. Is that okay? Great, Monday it is then.’
Within minutes I receive your email, B, confirming our arrangement that you will call me on Monday at 11. I send you one back to thank you and yes, get another automated response and another unique tracking number.
If UPC Support is a lottery, I’ve got so many numbers in it, I must be a winner soon!
On Monday I rush around before 11 o’clock, at which time I am to be found sitting at my computer, mobile phone charged and ready to take your call. I sit and wait. And wait and wait and wait, but no call comes.
My heart sinks. I wanted to sort my wife’s email, and then, very importantly, I wanted to ask you, B, why our newly-installed NTL/UPC/Chorus Digital TV box keeps turning itself off, for hours on end? I wanted to ask you why it came fitted with a two-pin plug? Do we live in Greece? Is it even legal to sell a two-pin plug on appliances this country? More to the point, with the inbuilt protector on modern 3-pin sockets, extracting two-pin plugs is tricky at best, but we have to keep doing it to reboot the bloomin’ Digi-tv-box. It feels unsafe.
But B, you didn’t call.
Well, you did, on Tuesday and Thursday, when I was out and busy. Now I lack the energy to deal with NTL/UPC/Chorus anymore. What a shame. All their kind regards, and reference numbers made me feel unique for two nano seconds.

Monday 22 June 2009

"Are you eating your own hand, Charlie?" "No shanks, I'm fine!"

cut-hand-cartoon
The Irish habit of leaving Ireland when times get tough appears strange to this Englishman. Maybe the English stay in England because they love a grumble, while their Irish counterparts mutter only:
“Sure, I’d complain, but what’d be the point?”
Maybe it’s because the Irish are broadly welcomed anywhere in the world, while the English have to overcome post-colonial loathing in so many countries.
Then there’s the two things that Paddy loves best: the leaving of Ireland and the coming back to Ireland. Personally, apart from a couple of weeks’ hols abroad, I hate leaving ireland, but Galway City is another matter.
With Galway I suffer a similar paradoxical conundrum to Paddy’s. I have left it and returned to it three times, each stay being an absolute pleasure, until it becomes unbearable.
Now, as another Summer of festivals approaches, my mind wanders back to the Spring of 1994, the first time I left Galway City.
Truly, it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Two years before I had left England, and arrived at Galway after a few months spent wandering, wondering whether I might live in either Granada, Barcelona, Roscoff, Cork and Kinsale.
Sharing in a tiny house in Salthill, I had partied like a mad thing for two years, but not as madly as the 24-hour party people living next door. My nerves were shot to shit, my liver was the size of Cyprus, and I yearned for privacy and peace. Each weekend I’d hitch out to Connemara, and recharge my soul, gradually realising that what I really wanted was to live out there, alone.
Some things are just meant to be. Through a bizarre twist of fate I called a certain Pat from Ballyconneely on the phone about a house I’d heard he was renting and got through to a completely different Pat from Ballyconneely, who purely coincidentally just happened to have a house to rent, but hadn’t even advertised it yet.
Off the main road, by a lake, with nearby beaches on three sides. the tiny housesheen was perfect, and as I loaded my life’s belongings into my transit van, I was aware that this was indeed a seminal moment in my life: the end of a very long road which ran from the leaving of London 5 years previously, downsizing to Bradford, Galway and finally to the townland of Bunowen.
The sun shone as I drove out of the city, the silhouettes of my broom handle, upturned chairs and boxes of books appearing in my rear view mirror. I’d never had a house to myself before, and was amazed how easy it was to move my stuff into it. There were no parking problems; plenty of space, and unlike flats in the cities of my past, no flights of steps to struggle up and down up and down, with all my stuff.
Within an hour it was all in the house, and I was off to the pub to celebrate.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of grass being ripped from the ground by cows outside my bedroom window. I was in a state of bliss. After walking to the beach I started to prepare my first proper meal in my first solitary house. In honour of the occasion I was treating myself to a lamb shank, with roast spuds and crunchy green things.
As I took the meat out of the oven my stomach growled with hunger as my heart swelled with pride.
I was plain full of myself, so happy I could burst. I had done so well, to get away from all the madness of it all, to be alone at last, wanting nothing from nobody, anywhere, ever.
The sun shone in the blue sky. A hare sat on the gravel outside my house. A soft breeze whispered a scented zephyr through my open windows and the carving knife slid slowly but surely through the tender lamb, out the other side and right through my hand, at the base of my thumb and finger.
Instantly I knew it was a deep cut, and my body settled straight into shock.
Fuck fuck fucketty fuck. Not now please please not now. No no no.
Being a most basic beast, my main concern was for my dinner. All I had wanted was to sit and eat a fine meal in my fine house and feel fine.
My roast lamb was pink, but I was looking increasingly crimson. Having washed the wound and caught sight of something white that hopefully wasn’t bone, I considered asking for help.
Clearly I needed to go up to the farmhouse and ask them to take me to a hospital for stitches.
And then again, maybe if I did, I’d look like an idiot incapable of lasting 24 hours on his own without managing to dismember himself.
No. Nobody needed to know.
Screw it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Instead of being sensible, I wrapped my gaping bloodied wound in acres of toilet paper, and holding it high above my head in an effort to staunch the bleeding, I stubbornly proceeded to try to eat my dinner.
Clearly a knife and fork were out of the question, but who cared? I was all alone in the middle of nowhere, and still had four good fingers and one opposable thumb.
The veggies and spuds went down in three or four hand scoops, and as I lifted the shank to my mouth and started ripping into it like a cross between Fred Flintstone and Henry VIII, my young landlord just happened to put his head round the door to make sure his new tenant was settling in alright.
In place of the calm clean Englishman he had welcomed 24 hours previously, he was greeted by the site of an insane gravy-smeared carnivore, holding a blood-soaked arm high above his head, muttering through a lamby mouthful:
“Yesh yesh hime fine, danksh Pat! Good ash gold, shanks!”
Afterwards I wondered if he thought I had chopped off one hand to eat it with the other. Poor guy probably still has nightmares about that. Sorry Pat!
Having once again learned that pride comes before a fall, I proceeded to live a splendid life in that house.
But every two weeks I made an excited dash to Galway City, to see my mates, make sure I still had the power of speech and could behave like a human being in public.

Monday 15 June 2009

Deface yourself and become a bamboo!

facebook-cartoon
It started with a simple email from my old friend, the Guru:
‘Hi, just to let you know I'm closing my Facebook account. If you want to contact me my email is ...
I wanted to do it too, but my vanity said I should wait a while, otherwise I’d look like a prat incapable of original action. But then I got another email from somebody on Facebook, a friend of a friend of a friend who wanted to add my birthday to their Facebook Birthday Calendar and I thought no. Nuhuh. That’s it.
I don’t know their birthday because I hardly know them at all. The people who already know my birthday are the ones who matter to me.
Of course I could have just ignored it, but that wouldn’t stop more people coming along who wanted to send me a badge, ask me to choose my favourite food colours, or demand I eat my own toejam for a laugh.
Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand why Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, bebo, Second Life and all the other social networking and Web 2.0 sites are such a success. Were I a decade younger or simply a slightly less grumpy person, I’d be out there with the rest of you, sharing my whims, fancies and online farts.
But the only reason I signed up for Facebook in the first place was to be polite; to respond to requests and generally feel a part of what’s going on.
Trouble was, I didn’t belong. I never wanted to play Top 10 Popes of the 1970s, or nudge or poke anyone in any way. The whole thing became depressing, as I saw what my Facebook friends were up to. Increasingly I felt like a slightly pervy voyeur, wondering if so-and-so wasn’t maybe feeling lonely, what with all the time he was spending playing inane Facebook games.
Oh look, that ‘friend’ is going away for the weekend, this one is drinking a cocktail and that one is having a cup of coffee.
A cup of coffee? Why would anyone feel the need to share the fact that they are having a cup of bleedin’ coffee?
Go on my son. Just tick the button, and yippee, my account is deactivated!
Well no, apparently it isn’t over yet.
A page appears with photos of some of my Facebook friends, captioned by ridiculous assumptions:
‘Deirdre will miss your messages. Herbert wants you to play ‘Lick my Lapel’ games with him. Jerry will miss seeing your face on your profile. Maeve was going to tell you she loves you but has decided not to now that you want to leave Facebook.’
What a nasty attempt at emotional blackmail, just to try and make me return to Facebook.
Now, what’s this?
Yet another page, demanding I click a box in a list of possible reasons why I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. None of them come close to reflecting how I feel, so I just click ‘Other’.
Up comes the dreaded internet red print, telling me that having ticked ‘Other’ I’m compelled to explain further in the text box below. Failure to do so will result in the cancelling of my account deactivation, bad breath, plague, leg falling off, that kind of thing.
Barely managing to restrain the darker side of my vocabulary, I type ‘Precisely because of this attitude.’ in the text box, and hit return.
Tick this box if you don’t want any more emails from Facebook.
I tick it, feeling liberated for a second. At last, my account has been deactivated.
I check my email. There’s a new email from Facebook, saying should I ever want to return to Facebook, all I need to do is log in as normal and my page and details will still be there, just as I left them.
So what in God’s good name was all that deactivation shite about, if it’s all still there? And, despite the fact that I specifically asked for no Facebook emails, they immediately sent me an email.
The whole process was truly nasty, and I am delighted to be freed of Facebook.
It seems I am not alone. Many others were inspired by the Guru’s leap of faith, and have since defaced themselves, as I call it.
Do I miss it? Do I hell? There’s a physical life out there, with extraordinary people doing fantastic things.
Galway City is crammed with them, and sure enough, just the other day I met a particularly amazing human being.
Joël Francois was raised by nuns in a Belgian orphanage, and introduced to Martial Arts at the age of 6. Recently he passed his Yondan, a 4th Black Belt grading of Traditional Japanese Ju-jutsu. For anybody this would be an astonishing achievement, but to achieve that level by the age of 39 is astonishing.
Yet the quietly charismatic man refuses to talk about his achievements, instead enthusing about the Martial Arts Festival he is organising in Galway City.
“It is absolutely incredible the people we have at the Galway City School of Judo. Sergei Alexandrov is Black Belt in Judo and Sambo. Ronan Kane is Nidan, 2nd Black Belt in Aikido. Raul Sannueza is 6th Black Belt in Muay Kensan, a Chilean Martial Art. Chris Hickey, the owner of the school, is Yondan, 4th Black Belt in Judo, while current European Champion and ex-World Champion Shane Fitzgibbon is 5th Black Belt in Taekwondo, while his wife Lisa Connolly is 3rd Black Belt as well.”
All of the above will be demonstrating alongside Joël at the Galway City School of Judo, on Saturday 13th June, between 2-6. There will be finger food, tea and coffee, and a chance to talk and ask questions of these world class experts.
“Our code of honour in Ju-jutsu is: Integrity, respect, discipline, peace, love with balance. We must be like a cane of bamboo. When times are hard and the wind blows, we must be flexible and bend, so that when times are good we can be strong and upright.”
So unplug yourself from the recession, the internet or whatever might be getting you or your kids down, and head on down to the show Deface yourself, and make like a bamboo. You just might rebuild your body and free your mind.
Try doing that on Facebook!
So Contact: Galway City School of Judo
Unit 27 Oldenway Business Park
Ballybrit, Galway, Co. Galway, Ireland
086 251 0909
www.gcsjudo.comocial networking

Monday 8 June 2009

“I can see Galway now, the race has gone, all of those pretty flowers will disappear...."

election-posters-cartoon
“And nowwwww the end is neeeeear, the race yachts faaace the final keel turn.....”
No, that’s not it. Too punny and painful.
How about
“I can see Galway now, the race has gone,
All of those pretty flowers will disappear.
There’ll dog poo again upon the Prom,
Gonna be a dry wet grey Galway-ay day...”:
I love Galway and I love living in Galway, but thanks to those who run the place, I feel a bit like a student living in a hovel with the parents coming round for Sunday dinner.
Cripes, we’d better clean this bloomin’ mess. Quick, shove some plants into the roundabouts! Throw a lick o’paint over that wall! After the race, sure, we can flog the flowers and yeh, I know that paint won’t last and that old mouldy damp will soon show through, but sure feckit, it’s called whitewash for a reason.
I’m house proud, but there’s no point in my home only looking good when I’ve got poshies over for tea. I want it to look its best all the time, ‘cos I live there. Yet somehow, in their efforts to spruce up the city with hanging baskets, arty murals and the annual ceremonial relaying of the cobbles on Quay Street, those who seek to make Galway look great manage to make us Galwegians feel generally a bit crap.
If they can make it look fab and clean and fun for 2 weeks, why can’t they make it look at least half as good for the other 50?
Don’t Galwegians deserve that? As they say where I come from: ‘What are we? Chopped liver?’
Mind you, 5 million wooden planters aside, we won’t be able to see our city until all those photographic facial avenues of power-seeking underachievers are taken down.
Some of the nicest people I know are politicians.
Well one of them is.
Poopers, I was trying to say something touchy-feely about our elected representatives, but I just couldn’t, because essentially they all seek power, and beyond Coco Pops and cluster bombs, I can think of no more abhorrent product.
I am very grateful for my right to vote, but what purpose does it serve if there is no reason to use it?
The MP’s expenses scandal in England has shown once again that corruption knows no political boundaries. Left and Right were all at it, while here all the political parties habitually fail to convince us that they truly give a damn.
If only we had the right to vote for None Of The Above, as they do in Ukraine, Spain, France and Colombia. Then we could really show those pompous politicos exactly what we think of them.
Imagine: the Irish vote in a massive majority for None Of The Above, and force all the political parties to go back to their think tanks and drawing boards and country estates and tax-free havens and come up with a better idea or five, because all of a sudden they’re facing a worthy and powerful opponent: active democratic dissent.
“How dare you!”, they will cry. “How dare you make us work so hard to come up with new ideas? Why should we have to do this all over again?”
To which we, the downtrodden masses with blissful grins on our collective faces will reply,
“Oh poor diddums. Did ickle wickle wannabe leaders forget how you told us that you didn’t like our vote on the Nice Treaty? Didn’t you tell us to go back home and have a good think and come back and vote the way you wanted us to vote in the first place? Didn’t we know you were never going to give up until we employed our democratic liberties to do exactly what you instructed? And aren't you about to ignore the way we voted for the Lisbon Treaty and ask us to go back home and have a good think and come back and this time bloody well behave ourselves and vote the way we were told the first time?
So with this majority for None Of The Above we have a mandate to send you home and come up with some morally sound compassionate policies that won’t force us to choose between a geriatric’s hospital bed or a mile of motorway.
And while we’re on the the subjects of motorways, which we weren’t at all, I have a proposition to make.
There’s a roundabout just beyond the Dublin Road/Oranmore roundabout, on the way to Clarinbridge.
It’s a small perfectly formed roundabout, yet it lacks a certain something. Built at the tipping point of the boom, it was meant to offer an entrance to an estate that will now most likely never be built.
It is a dead roundabout. It is not sleeping, nor pining for the fjords. This roundabout is going nowhere and it desperately needs a function in life, beyond just slowing down the traffic a bit and confusing tourists.
Out in Recess, on the Galway/Clifden Road, a monument declares that ‘On this site nothing happened’.
Well hell, we can beat that.
This colyoom suggests that we formally name our pointless roundabout the ‘Dead Tiger Roundabout’, and pile high upon it twisted ‘00’ car number plates and smashed-up Estate Agents ‘Sold!’ signs.
It will serve as a national monument to greed, lucre and hubris, until a far-distant future when the High Kings return and proceed to build giant grassy burial tombs on all the major roundabouts in the country, despite outcry from radical extremist civil engineers who will camp out, sit in and beat protest rhythms in clipboard circles through the night, and fight against what they see as the abominable and hateful greening of Ireland, and the mindless destruction of its ancient motorway network.
Galway is meant to be Ireland's capital of Arts and Culture, with capital As and Cs, so let’s get down with our interactive circular installation. Let’s turn our impotent roundabout into a living breathing (it’s got grass, ain’t it?) meaningful sculpture.
Eat your shark’s heart out, Damien. Suck our sheets, Tracey baby.
Interactive? I should coco. You can drive around it, can’t you?
What use is a roundabout that goes nowhere? As much use as a vote for someone you don’t want to win. Fight for the right to elect None Of The Above. As the Anarchists say: “Whoever you vote for, the government gets in.”

Monday 1 June 2009

It’s my party and I wouldn’t cry if I was able to get to it!

midlife-crisis-death-cartoon
By the time you read this I’ll have been 49 years old for two weeks, and as I write this now, I’m not feeling too excited about my birthday tomorrow.
Most people are thrilled about becoming 21, and find deep and meaningful significance in turning 40. Neither really meant anything to me.
My 21st birthday party was a hoot for a lot of people, but for me it was a bit of a nightmare. We all went up to the West End, where I had booked a table to see the great Horace Silver play at Ronnie Scott’s.
In my pretentious youthful mind, I envisaged us sitting around drinking in a darkly-lit smoke-filled pit, but as it turned out, the famous jazz club was lit loud, while the silence imposed on the audience was oppressive.
We were a young and giggly bunch, secretively pouring vodka from hidden hip flasks into our orange juices. None of us had imagined that we’d have to sit back and say nothing at all. What about all those jazz clubs in the movies where the Mafiosi meet to make deals while strange men send Martinis to women at distant tables?
Ronnie Scott’s was not an informal swinging joint, and as the voddies tickled our fragile laddish brains, we started to chuckle a bit to each other.
After all, this was a party, wasn’t it?
I was right in the middle of telling a funny story to my friend Jon when the music suddenly stopped, mid-song. I turned around to find Horace Silver himself staring at me, his head cocked to one side.
“Some of the folk here have come to listen to the music. I say why not let them?”
As I sank lower and lower into my chair, a round of applause rippled around the room. Part of me was cringeingly embarrassed, the other pretty pissed off with having been made to look like a right royal prick on my big night out.
As soon as the band finished their set, I dashed off to the loo, but when I came out there was no sign of my mates.
I checked the ladies loo and then stood outside the club, waiting for some or all of them to turn up, but no, the low basstids had scarpered, gone without me.
Even more annoying was the fact that I knew precisely where they had gone, and how they had got there. Back in those days I had an account with a minicab firm, and had ordered three cars to meet us outside the club to whisk us off to my sister’s house, where I was staying while she and her family were away on holiday.
On paper it had looked like a great night: cool jazz followed by a hot party in an empty luxury house.
Trouble was, the gig had been a nightmare and I wasn’t at the party.
I called the minicab firm, but by now it was peak time on a Saturday night and they had no spare cars. Eventually I resorted to spending a week’s wages on taking a black cab all the way to the outer suburbs, where I finally found the drunken dribbling detritus of my own 21st birthday party.
Naturally, my friends all thought it absolutely hilarious that I’d missed my own party, and the fact that I’d been told off by a famous Jazz musician was the icing on the birthday cake none of them had thought to buy.
So my 21st birthday didn’t ring my bell, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t important; just numbers, and what difference could a bunch of numbers make to me?
Maybe I’d feel different at 30, but no, that landmark came and went without so much as a mental twitch or whiff of mortality.
But then, out of the blue, 35 hit me really hard. I just couldn’t work it out at all, but for some reason I suddenly felt my age, didn’t like it, and had to come up pronto with some kind of explanation to calm myself.
Eventually I decided that maybe the reason I felt so dreadful about being 35 was because my Dad was always going on about the ‘three score years and ten’ we are allocated in the Bible. 35 being half of 70, I accepted that there might be some sad corner of my subconscious that felt I’d passed the half way line and was now headed down the inexorable slope towards death.
40 came and went without a whimper, but then, blow me down with a feather if 46 didn’t come along and knock me sideways. Why was it that such a seemingly arbitrary age made me feel so very low and miserable?
Why couldn’t I just conform and attach significance to the same big birthdays as everybody else?
And then, of course! I realised that the reason 46 hit me like a blow over the back of the head was because I was all of a sudden nearer 50 than 40, and evidently didn’t like that feeling one bit.
So now a few mere hours from being only one year from 50, with old school friends celebrating their half-centuries all over the place, I face the new frontier.
I know that 90 is the new 80 and that there are nutters climbing Everest at 75. I know that and 50 is the new 12, and that what with advances in medical science and the application of horse chestnut bark cream and octopus rennet mud and sand flea blood compound you can feel as right as rain and twice as fruity, even deep into your dotage.
I know, but I don’t care. I’m getting older and accept that. I have no choice. The other day I spotted some of those ‘old people’ freckles on the skin on the back of my hand.
So I take comfort from the words of the late great Jim Morrison, a man who embraced an early death and certainly lived life to the full. Addressing his own mortality, he offered the following comforting prayer:
“I tell you this. I tell you this. I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes down in flames.”
Amen to that, and a Happy Birthday to me.
Well, if I make it to tomorrow, that is!

Monday 25 May 2009

Sure, the Volvo boats are stunning, but Galway has the finest boats of all!


You know how it is when you hear yourself saying the same thing, over and over again, year in year out? Unless you’re an arrogant fool, after a while you find yourself wondering if maybe you were wrong all the time.
So can there be a better outcome than to be proven right, just when the self-doubt was starting to niggle?
Ever since I arrived in Ireland back in 1992 I have been shocked, saddened and confused by the bizarre Irish mentality that so often looks abroad for help.
Fresh off the boat from France, I walked the streets of Cork City looking for a job, but found myself continually discouraged by the locals.
“It’s all been shite since Ford and Dunlop left.” they told me.
“But that was ages ago, wasn’t it?”
By the time I arrived in Galway, Digital ruled the jobs roost, and not a bad word was ever said about them. Sure, didn’t they help out families with their mortgages, and didn’t they sponsor the Galway Plate?
Yes, and didn’t they then bugger off exactly when it suited them, just like all the other American and multinational companies? Didn’t they lay off all their workers in the name of economic efficiency, and who could blame them? Just like Boston Scientific and MedTronic, they are corporate creatures, whose only concern is profit.
And that profit is cashed in abroad: somewhere else, not in Ireland.
Yet here in Ireland I met every day resourceful Irish people, fired with passion, imagination and well up for hard graft.
Everyone had a scheme or a dream; a business that’d make them rich; a product that’d sell by the millions, but tragically these ideas drifted into empty pint glasses, unrealised and unsupported by successive governments, who thought it more important to pump Irish taxpayers money into offering tax breaks to foreign companies, on the off chance that they might stop over for a while and pump some short-term money into the economy.
Just like the Volvo race, you might say.
As my love of the Irish grew, it hurt more and more to see their talents, ingenuity and energy squandered. Gripped by some kind of post-colonial inferiority complex, (apologies to Martino and any others who object to the term ‘post-colonial’ in this 26 county republic, but down here in the real world...) it seemed that having finally gained independence, the Irish didn’t trust themselves to deal with it. They quickly found warmth and security clinging to the belly of the European Union beast, while they suckled on the teats of American and global industries.
Now the milk’s run dry, and a fake boom built on greed, foreign investment and EU Structural Adjustment funds has plunged us into potential ruin. But fear not, fair readers, because I was right all along. The Irish are indeed magnificent, and all that passion and all those skills are still available.
Yes, we’ve got the Volvo yachts coming in this weekend, and I am genuinely excited to see them. But I’m much more excited about seeing the ‘Badoiri an Claddaig Gleoiteog’ coming upstream into Claddagh Quay on her maiden voyage this Sunday, May 24th, at 5:00 pm.
Purchased in a poor state of repair last year by the Claddagh Community Boat Club, the Gleoiteog is truly the physical embodiment of all those exceptional Irish qualities listed above.
From the great works of Club President and King of Claddagh Michael Lynskey, through Chairman Michael Coyne, Vice Chairman Martin Joyce, Secretary Peter Connelly and Treasurer James Croker, all 35 members are local boatmen who burn with desire and ambition to revive and sail the great Galway Hookers. They want to teach young people how to restore the boats, how to sail them and on the way, instil within Irish youth the importance of their own history, and its relevance in the modern world. Alongside the inestimable collective experience of these Claddagh seafarers, the club were lucky to have on board a member who has an in-depth knowledge of timber work in boats.
But of course such a massive restoration project needed a lot of financial support, so the members of the club recently turned to the people of Galway for help.
You might be forgiven for thinking that in such desperate economic times, a few lads knocking on the doors of hard-up businesses looking for sponsorship of an auld boat might have had a rough ride, but oh, you’d be so wrong.
As Peter Connelly explained to me, everyone from local businesses to City Hall jumped at the chance to invest in the project.
“We had 100% great reaction, passionate and unquestioning. This project has shown and will show the city that the talent is still there. All these people involved with their own businesses know how look after the pennies, so we never wasted a cent. Everything we used was carefully sourced and priced. It’s a community project, through and through, and when they gave us money we respected them for the trust they gave us, to take this boat upstream.”
Alongside the bucket collections, barbecues and small business sponsorship, the Gleoiteog project has been helped and supported by the Galway City Partnership, as well as City Engineer Kevin Swift, Heritage Officer Jim Higgins, and Catherine Connolly, who helped to co-ordinate meetings.
From the tip of her keel to the top of her mast, ‘Badoiri an Claddaig Gleoiteog’ is a symbol of how great the Irish can be, if they are simply asked to invest in themselves and be proud of their skills, vision and heritage.
Now more than ever the time has come for the Irish to start appreciating each other, and to work as a team, like these heroes of the Claddagh Community Boat CLub.
The magnificent Galway Hookers crossed the Atlantic centuries before anyone had ever heard of a Volvo.
Yes, it’s great to see the fastest and most modern boats in the world in our harbour for the next two weeks. But the greatest boats of all have been there all the time, and I’ll be on Claddagh Quay on Sunday to cheer my heart out as the pristine and perfectly restored ‘Badoiri an Claddaig Gleoiteog’ sails up the Corrib.

The club has been asked by the Galway City Heritage Department to restore another Gleoiteog. For information on how to become a sponsor, please call Michael Coyne: 086 383 9150; email: claddaghboatmen@gmail.com.

Monday 18 May 2009

If you can’t afford to tip properly, you can’t afford to eat out!

waiter-restaurant-cartoon
“Bloomin’ eck, is it just me, or are these desserts taking a long time? I mean, the mains came really quickly, but we’ve been waiting ages for dessert. It’s been yonks!”
The Snapper looks over at me. She can see that I’m agitated, and knows well enough how impatient I can be when hungry, but for once it’s not hunger that’s driving my mood.
When money is harder to come by, life’s little luxuries grow in importance. Recent figures from the retail and service industries show that people are now shopping frugally in the supermarket so that they can still enjoy the occasional luxury.
Hey, I’m nothing if not a man of the people, so we are sitting in this pub in Barna, waiting for our desserts, and because it’s now a rare treat to eat out, I want it all to go swimmingly; to feel a bit special for an hour or so.
I start grumping silently to myself.
Wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Must’ve been twenty minutes now, and this wait is spoiling a lovely evening out.
Mind you, herself appears unperturbed. Maybe it’s time to light the fires of indignation within her belly.
“I mean, how long does it take to scoop a bit of bloody ice cream?”
“But Charlie, we haven’t even ordered dessert yet.”
“What?”
“The waiter came over and asked if we’d made up our minds. You were lost in a quandary about sticky toffee pudding and pistachio ice cream, so I asked him for a couple more minutes.”
“Really? Oh bugger. How long ago was that?”
For once I’m delighted to be in the wrong, because thankfully I haven’t yet verbally abused an innocent waiter. Something dangerous happens to certain human beings when they are being served. A little like road rage, we suddenly and irrationally see ourselves as the single most important and powerful person on the planet, for whom all must run perfectly.
Having been a barman for years in my youth, and befriended many chefs and waiters, I know all too well what it’s like to serve people like me, and therefore respect and honour good service by smiling, saying thanks, and because I know it’s a vital part of a server’s wages, leaving a chunky tip.
Shame that others don’t do the same.
I was talking to a despondent friend of mine the other day. A city centre waiter, he was bemoaning his lot, complaining that as the recession bites, people are leaving tinier and tinier tips. He couldn’t understand how people decided they could afford to eat out as long as they left pathetic tips.
“It’s like cutting the weakest link in the chain just so you can pretend to be well off! And now people like me can’t afford to live!”
“Sounds like the government all over again, if you ask me!” I offered, amazed at how thick and selfish some folk can be. “I don’t know how you do it mate! I wouldn’t have the patience.”
“Oh believe me, mate, you so wouldn’t. You’ve got no idea. The other night I seat two tables at once, right? I give menus to both and go to the first table to tell them about the venison special. They say they’re not ready to order, so I say
‘Fine, take your time!’
and go over to the second table to take their order. Three of them order the venison special, so by the time I’m back at the first table, we’ve run out of it. Of course yer woman orders it, so I tell her that I’m afraid there is no more venison. She says I shouldn’t have told her about it if it was all gone.”
“Do wot! She wha’?” exclaimed your colyoomist. “Ooooh, I’d’ve bloody hit her!”
“And that’s why you’re not a waiter, Charlie. So I explain politely that when I first told her about the special, there were three portions left. Then she asks me who had those portions, so I point to the other table. And then, get this, she says that I should go over there and explain to them that she wants a venison special so they can’t all have it.”
“She she she WHAT? No way mate! Don’t believe you!”
“God’s honest truth, mate. So I smile and tell her that no, I simply couldn’t do that, as she’d actually had first choice but declined to place her order when there was still venison on the menu.”
“I cannot believe she told you to go and nick the other table’s food! That makes my arrogance look paltry and weak-kneed. I mean, it’s not too hard to understand is it? Not exactly complicated stuff? Yes, we have no venison, so tough bloomin’ titty love. Stuff a scallop in your gob and shut the hell up.”
“You’d think, mate, but she still hadn’t given up. She asks me if there is any chance of me finding some venison in the kitchen. I tell her again that it’s all gone. And then she turns a bit nasty and sarcy and says that if I should happen to come across some venison that I didn’t know about, I was to tell her and she’d order it. I smile once again and tell her as calmly as I can that that isn’t going to happen, because Chef has a very precise knowledge of exactly what he has and doesn’t have in his kitchen, and there ... is ... no ... venison.”
"Don’t know how you do it mate. I do not know. Fair fucks to you, and all of your comrades.”
A voice is muttering in my ear. I’m ripped from the memory of my mate’s tale of venison, waitering and woe by a smooth gentle servile voice.
“Would you like to order dessert now, sir?”
How lovely to be asked that question. How lucky am I that professionals employ their superb cooking and serving skills just so that prats like me and that vile venison woman can have food brought to them?
“I would, and thank you! Thank you so very much!” I say to a slightly bemused waiter who thought we might be upset because he had taken so long to serve us.
I leave him as big a tip as my pocket will allow, and suggest you all should do the same.
If you can’t afford to tip properly, you can’t afford to eat out.

Monday 11 May 2009

The Strange Case of the Half-Empty Half-Filled Fish Food Fraud!

fishing-fish-cartoon
You know how it is with the Spring cleaning. It’s taken me weeks to find that combination of the right time, energy and mood to get well stuck in, and then, a mere couple of minutes into shifting my gear out of the way so I can have a proper go at that skirting board, I find myself holding an ancient notebook.
Oh, and look, there’s a newspaper clipping in it. The Irish Independent, May 14th, 1993.
Now Adley, don’t go getting distracted. You’ve got a job to do!
Yeh, but I wonder what was going on in Ireland back then?
Just two stories on the yellowing scrap torn from the Indo’s World Report: one about fresh killings in Israel and the Gaza Strip; another about ...er... ‘Home Alone Fish’?
Under the simply splendid headline:
‘Fish owner facing scales of justice’
an unidentified Indo journo told the story of how 37 year-old David Sharod was up in court, accused of abandoning his pet fish, for your indulgence m’lud, they being one South American suckling loach and one sucking plec, in circumstances likely to cause them unnecessary suffering.
The accused, a former electrical engineer, had left his home in August to work for a friend in the Cricketers pub, a full two miles away in the dreamy-sounding parish of Littlewick Green, of the county of Royal Berkshire.
Leading the prosecution, Glyn Lloyd made a strong case for fish:
“When animals are abandoned, the public tend to think of cats and dogs, but fish have a right to be looked after as well.”
You tell ‘em, Glyn-o.
Apparently, RSPCA Inspector Mark Turner had somehow been alerted by ‘electricity board officials’, and proceeded to stick Sellotape over Mr. Sharod’s front door, to see if negligence was afoot, or even, afin.
Mr. Sharod protested his innocence, claiming he had frequently returned home to feed his pets, but Inspector Turner told the court that the filter had not been working, the tank was half empty of water and that there was a nearly empty container of fish food.
Had your confused colyoomist been defending the innocence of any man accused of such deeply dastardly deeds, I might have asked the court to consider that the tank was, in fact, half full.
In addition, m’lud, I ‘umbly ask the court to tell me when it became a crime in this true realm to offer pets a ‘nearly empty’ food container.
Instead the stout defender Richard Blake came up with a bizarre line of questioning, truly worthy of the case before the court.
Grilling the RSPCA Inspector, Blake asked:
“Did the fish look distressed? Were they behaving in an unusual way?”
After a long and heavily pregnant silence, Inspector Turner finally offered the court his expert opinion:
“I don’t know what a distressed fish looks like. I’m not an expert on fish.”
A mighty gasp doubtless rouse from the public gallery. The case was adjourned to June 10th.
Trouble is, what with that being June 10th 1993, we’ll never know the outcome of The Strange Case of the Abandoned Suckling Loach.
Who were those mysterious ‘electricity board officials’, what did they know about Mr. Sharod’s movements, and why did they care so much about his fish?
How many years can you get in an English jail for letting your fish almost run out of food?
All this comes as a wonderful distraction, not simply because it means I can go and have a cup of tea instead of Spring cleaning, but also because a few days ago Sammy was put down, and pets alive and dead are on my mind.
My family always had cats. First there was Pussy, (yes, as a blushing insecure pubescent, I had to go outside late at night and get the cat in by yelling that more-than-risqué name out loud, so that all the other teenagers in the neighbourhood could be 100% sure I was a sad pathetic loser) a Tortoiseshell and White of rare beauty and vicious temperament, who ruled our house throughout my entire childhood. She was replaced by Junior, and then came Sammy and his mother Tizzy.
Tizzy died just before my father last year, and so together Sammy and my mother have made it through a difficult year. Sammy sat on mum’s chair while she watched TV. He slept on her bed, and allowed her to talk out loud to herself as she pottered around the house, because, you see, she wasn’t really talking to herself but to Sammy.
Yes, we see, Mum!
But Sammy was suffering and took the needle just before his nineteenth birthday. I was sad, because Sammy was a cutie and even though I don’t live over there, he always recognised me as family and gave me as much feline attention as he could.
But mostly I was gutted for my mum, who had lost her friend and companion, and so I was delighted when my sister organised the adoption of two little grey tabby cat sisters, who needed a home to be saved from the pound.
Their previous owner had been an Arsenal fan, and displaying an ignorance befitting his football choices, had ignored his pets’ genders (and the fact that both namesakes have long-since departed Arsenal) and called the girl cats, ‘Thierry’ and ‘Coley’.
Outraged, my mum declared:
“Well it’s so stupid, because they are girls. And anyway we are Chelsea in this house!”
I declined to mention that ‘Coley’ (or ‘Cashly’ as he is known in my home!) now played for the Blues, instead asking what names she had decided upon.
“Well, I didn’t want to confuse them by changing their names too much, so I’ve decided on Tiffany and Chloe!”
“Brilliant mum. Very girly!” said I, “Just be careful never to leave their food almost empty, or else you’ll be arrested by an Inspector and taken off to Holloway Prison for ever and ever and who’ll feed the little kitties then!”
“What was that dear?”
Oops. Did I really say that? Must’ve temporarily lost touch with reality.
“I just said how lovely and excited I am for you to have new catty company and they sound cute and lovely and I can’t wait to meet them.”
“Oh, that’s funny, I could’ve sworn you said something about me going to prison.”
“Now mum, I’d never say anything like that. Just feed the cats and look out for sellotape on the front door.”

Monday 4 May 2009

The advice from my FAS Officer? “Keep your eyes on the vacancies!”

fas-irish-training-agency-cartoon
I’m sitting in the FAS office, waiting to see a FAS Officer. Trouble is, I don’t want to see a FAS Officer.
It’s nothing personal. Just that at my advanced age I know what I can do (office administration, writing, cleaning, fundraising and youth work) and what I can’t do (everything else), and I know that to find work, I must put myself out there, in as many different ways as I can.
So a couple of months ago I wandered up to Nun’s Island, to update my address and recent job details with FAS, and check out their vacancies boards.
The extremely helpful woman behind the counter printed out my details.
“Just make any changes you need to.” she said, and less than a minute later, having done that, I took the forms back to the counter.
“Grand. Now take a seat over there and a FAS Officer will see you in a while.”
I told her that I really just wanted to update my details.
She told me that she couldn’t make any changes to my details. That had to be done by a FAS Officer.
I looked over at the big table where several people were already waiting.
“Can I make an appointment?”
“No, you can’t, because you’re not on Social Welfare. But it shouldn’t take long.”
So I sat and waited, a little frustrated that these simple changes couldn’t be made without wasting the time of a FAS Officer, who might be better off helping somebody who genuinely needed guidance in how to find work.
As the minutes went by, I realised that my wait was pointless. People who arrived after me were being seen before me, because they had appointments.
I returned to the desk, where another woman was now working. She gently explained that I might be better off to come back in the afternoon, because there weren't so many appointments in the afternoons, so I wouldn’t have to wait for so long. What with her being a fresh face, I chanced my arm and tried to explain to her that if she could just change my address on the database, I wouldn’t have to come back at all.
But no. I simply had to see a FAS Officer. Ah well, I’d come back some afternoon and anyway, the trip wasn’t completely wasted, because I spotted a vacancy on the boards.
Having started this FAS process, I needed to finish it, for my own peace of mind, so here I am, back in the afternoon, waiting to see a FAS Officer that I don’t really want to see.
Alongside a few blokes and a couple of women, I sit around the table in patient silence. The utter pointlessness and waste of time involved in changing a couple of lines on a database is beginning to get to me. Why can’t I just go into their website, offer a password and update my details there?
Finally I am called through to see the FAS Officer.
“Hello there. I’m Charlie! Look, I don’t want to waste your time, because I know you are busy. I’m working full time to find part time work in my chosen fields, to supplement my freelance writing, so if you could please just update my address and most recent job, that’d be great. Oh, and here’s my CV and current references, which I send along with every job application.”
The FAS Officer motions me to sit, and then proceeds to tap into their computer.
I stare out of the office window, wondering why they are typing so slowly.
taptap...tap....tap tap tap.....tap.........tap tap......tap.......
In silence I sit, as Spring turns to Summer. The chicks in the nest on the branches of the tree outside the window grow, learn to fly and head to Africa.
tap....tap tap.....tap....tap tap tap.....................tap.
Not a word has passed between the FAS Officer and myself, which is fine, but there are needy jobseekers out there patiently waiting to see somebody.
tap,,,tap.....tap tap tap.........TAP.
The tapping stops and the FAS Officer turns to me. I sit up in the chair, expecting to be told that my details are all updated and asked if there’s anything they could do to help.
But no. Instead, the FAS Officer looks down, picks up my CV and references and starts to read them. All of them. Crushingly slowly. In absolute silence.
I sit and stare out of the window, as the Polar ice cap melts, the ocean levels rise and most of Galway is engulfed.
The FAS Officer turns the page and reads on, apparently unaware that the silence has been deafening for the last twenty minutes.
Night turns to day, Autumn to Winter to Spring once more, as the FAS Officer turns the page of my final reference.
Why they are reading so incredibly slowly? Can they not skim, while I am physically there with them?
Finally, as post-apocalyptic zombies prowl the remains of our charred planet, just before our ancient sun collapses into its death throes and goes Supernova, the FAS Officer turns to me.
“So. Keep your eyes on the vacancies. Now, that’s it.”
I walk out, furious and completely confused.
Keep your eyes on the vacancies?
Keep your eyes on the bloody vacancies?
Was that really all they said?
Did that really happen?
To be fair I wasn’t looking for advice, which was just as well, but I’d made two visits to their offices, spent three hours of my time waiting and sitting in silence, only to be told by a professional job counsellor:
“Keep your eyes on the vacancies.”
This farce was not the fault of the people working for FAS. The entire debacle was the fault of a rigid idiotic system, which forced me to waste my time and theirs, when the whole thing could have been done in 30 seconds.
But as I stepped outside, by god that fresh Galway air felt good after the frustrating stress of such a wasted visit.
Clearly, if FAS and other similar organisations and agencies are really going to help those who need help most in this country, then these arcane systems need to be crushed and thrown away.
In their own mission statement, FAS declare: ‘We strive to be as innovative and as flexible as possible in meeting the changing needs of our customers.’
Yeh, well, strive away.