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:

Monday 18 May 2009

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

“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.”
“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!

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 ‘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!”

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.