Monday 22 December 2008

Peace and Goodwill to all? Oh, yes please!

‘British Expeditionary Force, Friday December 25th, 1914.
My Dear Mater,
This will be the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don’t think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned a very clear frost moonlight night, so soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs. The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us - wishing us a happy Christmas etc ... Some of our chaps went over to their lines. I think they’ve all come back, bar one from ‘E’ Company. They no doubt kept him as a souvenir.
There must be something in the spirit of Christmas as today we are all on top of our trenches running about. ... Just before dinner I had the pleasure of shaking hands with several Germans ... I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I’ve also got a button off one of their tunics. We also exchanged smokes etc. and had a decent chat. They say they won’t fire tomorrow if we don’t so I suppose we shall get a bit of a holiday - perhaps ... We can hardly believe that we’ve been firing at them ... it all seems so strange. With much love from Boy.’
Strange indeed, how wonderful is the human spirit. We humans have hearts the size of harvest moons. Given the choice of killing indiscriminately or having a meal with friends, the vast majority of us lay down our guns and pick up our knives and forks.
I always find the Christmas Day truce of 1914 exceptionally moving, as for once, a religious festival was used to encourage exactly what it stood for.
As an atheist of Jewish stock, I have always loved the Nativity story. Evidently God was showing in the strongest possible way that social status meant absolutely nothing; that true power lay in the heart, mind and spirit.
All that matters is to be a loving human being; to shake hands with your enemy, love your neighbour and turn the other cheek. Christian ethics are an admirable and glorious collection, never better illustrated than by those good men who lifted themselves clean out of their hellish muddy disease-ridden trenches and played a little footie with the lads from the other side.
Christmas in my house as a child was a big affair. My parents felt it was important for us all to feel a part of the country that had taken us in, and so, in our own way, we assimilated the English culture of Christmas and left out the religion.
We had a tree, which was pagan anyway, and we had presents and decorations. Indeed, on Christmas morning my Dad would crack open a bottle of champagne and declare ‘Happy Christmas!’, and none of us felt any less Jewish. Didn’t we still light the Menorah candles and celebrate Hannukah? Didn’t we eat hot salt beef sandwiches with sweet and sour cucumbers on Christmas Eve night, feeling completely Jewish and comfortable within ourselves?
All wisdom and worthy religious creed is based around acceptance (not tolerance, even though some of you still fail to see the vital difference), but even at this time of year, when true Christians are supposed to be celebrating the arrival of peace on Earth in the shape of their Saviour’s birth, there is begrudgery and prejudice aplenty.
Even though I cannot stand the censorial excesses and puritan overtones of Political Correctness, I’m going to risk being accused of just that when I say that, unlike many of ye, including a fellow and esteemed columnist in this Noble Rag, I actually like that whole “Happy Holidays!” thing.
My colleague, along with many of you, believes that maniacal liberals demand the saying of “Happy Holidays!” so as to avoid offending non-Christian members of society, but they are wrong. No Irish Muslim, Sikh or Jew will be offended by one Christian saying “Happy Christmas!” to another, but there are other festivals that occur at this time of year in each religion. No minority immigrant is going to sit around and wait for an Irish Catholic to wish them a Happy Hannukah or Diwali, so why not cover all the religious bases, spread the love a little and keep everybody happy?
It seems absurd to me that people should get protective over their own religious festivals to the detriment of others. It feels a little like grown-ups who never learned to share their toys as children.
So no, “Happy Holidays!” does not preclude you celebrating your festival: it merely includes all of us who might be celebrating others. I have never felt in any way offended by the sight of somebody gaining wisdom or comfort from their personal religious faith, but I do feel offended when I read in these pages “...well tough luck, why should we worry about offending anybody in this our country...?”
Why? I’ll tell you why! Forgive this atheist Jew for preaching Christianity, but you should worry simply and purely because it is un-Christian to think that way. I have lived in ‘your’ country for 16 years. I love Ireland, the Irish and I even pay my taxes. At what point does this country become my country too? Clearly, never, as far as many of you are concerned, and once again I recall the words that my Dad used to say, when I was but a little boy.
“We are just visitors in this country.” he told me, “One day we may have to move on, like your grandparents did before you were born.”
The sooner the Irish completely accept that Ireland is very slowly growing into more than the mono-ethnic, mono-cultural, mono-theistic state it once was, the more truly Christian the place is going to feel.
How dare any of us become angry over such trifling matters, when we think of the bravery, love, compassion and ultimate sacrifice made by the lad who wrote that letter back in the trenches? A victim of a pointless and disgusting war, he and his equals on both sides found the true spirit of Christmas and made peace.
So please, as you celebrate this most important of feasts, give thanks to your God for all that you have, and try to love the fact that we are all so beautifully different.

If we all broke our femurs we’d never complain about pain again!

For the first time in the 16 years I’ve been spouting drivel and dribbling pomp onto the pages of this Noble Rag, today I am fearful. I have been worried for days about sitting here and writing this colyoom, because I am in pain.
Before you go off on one of those patronising anti-man rants about how poor little diddums says he’s in painy wainy, presupposing that because I have a penis I therefore inflate the effect of any illness or bodily malfunction (apart from impotence, naturally!) I say save your breath.
Okay, so I might at some point in my past have fulfilled my bloke-ish destiny and claimed a cold was worse than it felt, but pain I do well.
Worth a mention at this juncture is the complete disappearance from Irish life of the common cold. All those decades and legions of scientists researching into how to defeat that pesky tiny mutating virus, and nobody thought to consult that august and imaginative body of folk, the Irish people. Nobody in Ireland has a cold. It’s a miracle! Call the Vatican. I cannot think when I last heard somebody here say
“Sure, it’s only an auld cold. It’ll go away in no time.”
Nope. Uhuh. Milking life for all its manky melodrama, the Irish only have da ‘flu.
“Sure I had the ‘flu yesterday, but I’m fine right now.”
Of course you are mate, ‘cos you had a bleedin’ cold. If you had the ‘flu yesterday, you would not be fine today. The ‘flu can kill. A cold makes you feel shitty and snotty. End of.
So, where were we? Oh yes, sitting here in my office chair, where I have sat for thousands of hours, comfy and productively scribbling away.
Yet today just finding a single painless sitting position is proving impossible. I know that the longer I stay sat here, the more my reward will be agonising when I finally stand, so I’m writing like the clappers.
As I say, I’m good at pain. When I was 17, I was taking my mate to visit his sister Bev, who was recovering from an operation in hospital, when a car hit my Yamaha 250. I broke my tibia and that biggest boniest Daddy-of-’em-all, my femur, into two clean halves. Like all the best tragedies, there ran through this episode a rich vein of irony, because Bev told us later how she had heard the sirens of the ambulance that came to rescue us from her hospital bed.
Hang on a mo, that doesn’t sound right. This pain is affecting my brain. The ambulance didn’t rescue us from her hospital bed.
Uh, you got it first time? Fine.
Anyway, there I was in the emergency room, being quizzed by this excellent bouncy bearded young doctor called Bill. Straight-talking and decent, he spared me no false protection.
“So we are going to have to operate. Couple of questions. You haven’t eaten in the last few hours, right?”
“Well, I had steak and kidney pie, chips and beans an hour ago.”
“Bugger. Okay, please tell me you haven’t got a cold, cough or anything like that.”
“Sorry doc, but I’ve got a bloody terrible cough, chesty and rough as the backside of a pineapple.”
“Bugger bugger bugger. Okay, well, we’re still going to have to operate, but none of that helps. You are a mess of broken bone, sinew, gristle and tendon, and it’s all floating around your blood. You lost three pints of that too. So when you wake up, you’ll be on oxygen, and if any of those fatty or gristly lumps finds its way into your lungs, you’ll be going out of here feet first. Okay?”
”Er yeh.”
“Oh and your leg will be up in traction, so each time you cough it’s going to hurt like the blazers. And your cough will be made infinitely worse by the general anaesthetic. Okay?”
“Err right.”
“Okay, let’s get him on the slab and try and save that leg.”
Save it they did, and between himself and my consultant surgeon, a Mr. Rolls, who spoke like David Attenborough and pumped charisma, they cured me.
Well, they made my leg better, and over the next six weeks of hospital life, in no small way, I cured myself of childish whingeing.
At first they were giving me pethidine injections every four hours, turning me into that bloke you never want to share a ward with. I was high as a satellite, screaming blathering moaning and keeping everyone awake all night. Eventually I realised that they were turning me into a junkie, so I asked a nurse if I was going to be in pain for long.
”As long as you keep coughing and shaking that leg in traction, it’s going to hurt, yes. A lot.”
Accepting my fate, I took myself off all painkillers and accustomed myself to an altered state. It wasn’t as if the drugs had made the pain go away: they just made it easier for me not to care about it. Instead I achieved a level of bodily awareness that allowed me to feel the pain, and understand.
So last weekend, when I dropped off my rental car at Luton Airport and started my lone return journey to Galway, only to find my back and legs gripped by the fiercest pain I had endured since the seminal hospital sojourn of ‘77, I was able to suffer it simply.
All pain since my bike crash had paled into insignificance, compared to that cocktail of broken femur and chest infection, but this new pain was quite breathtaking. After two paces I could barely breathe. Each movement ripped through me like a machete, yet I still had to lift my suitcase onto the check-in desk; place my hand luggage on the X-ray conveyor belt; bend down to undo my boots at the security counter; bend down to do them up again afterwards; lift and put down my bag a hundred times in the Departure Lounge, toilet, shop and toilet again; hoist my hand luggage into the overhead compartment; lift it down again; lift my suitcase from the carousel, and hoist it, finally, into my home.
I survived the trip by seeing pain as something fascinating and different.
“Interesting!” I said to the Snapper, as dizziness swamped my consciousness.
“My poor bear!” said she.
“I’m alright!” I offered as a brazen lie.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

There’s no friend like Galway City, and for that I’m thankful!

I’m stumbling over Wolfe Tone bridge into town. The afternoon is grey, the river is gushing brown, there’s an unusually large number of gulls flying and screeching overhead, and people are going about their normal daily lives.
I’m not normal. Right now I am an emotional, physical and mental wreck of a human being. Half an hour ago I finished the writing of a novel, and by the time you are reading this, I will have printed it out, left it be for a week and then read it as a book for the first time. Having done that, I will then ‘call it’, as the Americans say: Over. Finito benito. Dunded.
The End.
So right now I need a friend, but all my house calls and phone calls have come to nothing. Doesn’t matter. There’s still one friend I know will be around. As I cross the river I feel safe. I trust Galway City. Galway will be my friend today.
What do you look for in a friend? Loyalty maybe? Trust would have to come pretty high up on any list of friendship criteria, otherwise there’d be little difference between a true friend and a mere acquaintance. A friend is somebody you enjoy spending time with. Somebody who understands you and your needs, and of course, a friend is somebody that you can have fun with. When you go out to get your kicks, be that drinking in pubs, knitting in circles, licking the pavement with your bare tongue or collecting 17th century Argentine pickle jars, it’s a friend you’ll want by your side.
Finishing a novel is like climbing a mountain that disappears as soon as you reach the summit. There is no climb down. Just a void; a blank empty afternoon in which to exist somehow.
As far as loyalty goes, friendships are a two way street, and after returning from my life in America, I was welcomed back warmly, not only by all my friends and Howyas, but also by this noble rag. Galway was loyal, forgiving and accepting, just as a good friend might be.
First stop, a coffee and a Jamie outside Neachtain’s. I sit outside and and stare up High Street. Well, I think I am sitting and staring up High Street, but in fact, lost in my tiny world of exhaustion and insanity, I am sitting hunched, screwed up into an ugly twisted form, with one leg almost over my shoulder, my lips pursed, stretched outwards tightly and ridiculously.
“You’re in public , Adley!” I remind myself. “Wakey wakey! Come down here and join the planet!”
Trust is the foundation of any friendship, so do I trust Galway City? Well, depends doesn’t it. Do I trust Galway to nurture me, make me fit and well and return me safely home? If I do I am already dead. But do I trust Galway to be always ready and willing to offer me succour? Do I have faith in Galway City’s ability to transform any gentle straightforward day into a raving messy investment in tomorrow’s headache?
Just as I trust the ground beneath my feet.
As a good friend, Galway offers company, in the shape of our allocation of 10,000 Howyas, all those we recognise just enough to acknowledge, any one of which might be available for a wee chat, raising the stakes to friendship on the way. Galway is also good company without others, sitting alone, relaxed and at peace in a bar in Bohermore, enjoying a solitary stare at the optics and mirror. Thankfully, also, there are great friends, and others in-between, always available for that other ingredient of friendship: a laugh, a bit of fun, da craic.
Friends should be inspiring, and even though I hear several hundred great ideas a night pouring forth from the mouths of my fellow drinkers, none of these pint dreams elevates me more than the sight of the starlings at twilight by the Fishmarket/Buckfast Plaza, or the hills of Co. Clare bathed in orange twilight. Soul food and inspiration Galway has in spades, so chalk another one up to my good friend.
And before we get all schmaltzy and dewy-eyed, you can always have too much of a good thing, and just like any friendship, myself and Galway City have fallen out many times over the years. There was hardly a more joyful day in my life than that back in 1994 when I loaded all my worldly belongings into my Ford Transit van and fled to live in Connemara. Three times I have left, two of which were emergency escape hatch ejector seat type retreats, where my sleep patterns, liver and all points from sanity to dribbled dried-up porridge required and demanded I get the hell out of town.
Yes, there’s a lot to this relationship. I’m outside the Quays now, drinking another whiskey and trying to look as if I’m not completely nutsoid in the noodle, because today I am, but cannot help it.
There’s one other side to this friendship with Galway City, and it’s not the most attractive part of this city's personality. There exists what I have long called the ‘cruel craic’, which is what you feel and suffer if you know no better, and try to stay home expecting visitors. Out there you can feel the distant craic in Galway City raging unabated, but if you are not there, in the pub, you do not exist.
Thankfully, it has been ages since I suffered from the cruel craic, because I realised that by merely staying home I was not missing out on anything at all. But for years when I first arrived, and I am sure for many others to this day, if you cannot afford to go out, or are too tired and emotional to be seen in public, then Galway will betray you. It will shun you, turn its back towards you and nobody will even know you weren't there.
Galway City is not a friend who’s going to reach out, grab you and hug you. You have to make the effort and immerse yourself within it to appreciate its scary and wondrous talents.
And then there are days such as this, when I don’t give a hoot what people think, or how I look. I just needed to be with a friend, and for these two hours gone, I have enjoyed just that.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

A bird in your room, sir? Don’t shout, or they’ll all want one!

Knowing that the Snapper and I like nothing better than to flee to the country, a group of mates clubbed together and bought for us as a wedding present a two night stay in a castle hotel in Co. Sligo.
Driving up the long approach road we fall silent, awed by the beauty of the trees in the grounds. Up ahead the castle looms huge and rambling. It has proper turrets, slit hole windows for archers, and a flying buttress. The night is closing in now, the rain lashing sideways on strong wind. We are excited, and equally open-minded.
The hotel’s website said:
“Great care has been taken to retain the character of the old building and the family atmosphere rather than the formal, impersonal atmosphere of more luxurious hotels.”
What a bizarre way of describing your hotel! ‘Not as luxurious as it might be’.
Clearly, looking after such a building is an unbelievably demanding task. Just keeping it watertight must be a nightmare, let alone running a not-quite as luxurious as it might be hotel.
The entrance hall was freezing, but hey, it’s a castle. A simple pair, we prefer the human delights of warmth and welcome to those of wi-fi and 24 hour room service.
Climbing the staircase with our bags we arrive finally in the reception hall, the smell of woodsmoke accompanying the unquestionable fact that we are now inside a most impressive castle. A huge stained glass window depicting Henry VIII and Elizabeth I seems madly incongruous in these depths of the Connacht countryside.
Our room is bitterly cold. Thankfully, the heater on the wall works well, but would it have hurt to heat the room beforehand? There’s a storm blowing out there.
The great thing about attention to detail is that you’re only aware of its absence, just as we are of no more than the one solitary coat hanger in the room’s cupboard.
What is this? A metal chain attached to the TV remote? Do people really steal TV remotes?
Well weird.
Finding the bar, I drink three Jameson’s in quick succession, sitting alone in a strong crosswind (just to keep me warm, you understand!) until the Snapper arrives, looking all regal and scrumpy.
We adjourn to the restaurant, where the French maitre d’ is a real character, at last making us feel special and welcome. The young Slovakian waitress is charming, has a permanent smile on her face, and runs around eagerly to help us enjoy everything.
With everything apart from drink already paid for, I see no need for moderation and order each night a different yet excellent wine that my father introduced me to, when I was a younger and infinitely wealthier man. Himself the maitre d’ is delighted to see us enjoying the best of his native France, and the entire dining and drinking experience is top rate: unfortunately, a different class to that at reception.
Having absorbed the hotel’s own bumph about ‘family atmosphere’, we are increasingly surprised that, with the exception of the English woman who checked us in, nobody at reception ever raises a head, let alone a smile; nobody says hello or good morning, or ever makes any effort to acknowledge our existence. Yet, having confessed to not being luxurious, this was all that was left for the owners to offer.
It made me worried for this country. The Frenchman alongside the Slovakian and English women had all smiled and chatted and made us feel welcome. Did Ireland learn nothing from its immigrants, who came over here to work their experienced and caring arses off, making your Tiger boom the success it was?
Of course many Irish companies offer sensational service, but sadly some of the local so-called ‘service professionals’ prefer to languish in the squalor of that terrible old Irish culture of ‘Here’s your soup. No problem!’, while the world’s service industry has moved on to ‘My pleasure!’ and ‘You’re welcome!’
Nonetheless, we have a fantastic time, pootling around the back roads of lovely Leitrim, stopping to marvel at the Glencar waterfall, and slipping into Sligo to sup hot whiskey in Hargadon’s wonderful wooden pub.
On our last morning I stand in front of the reception desk, as the Irish lass keeps staring at her computer.
“Hello.” I offer
She looks almost annoyed at having to say hello back. Whatever happens, I am going to be polite. Oh yes. My bestest calmest behaviour.
“There’s no way you could know, I mean, looking after a place like this, and we could have asked to change our room yesterday, had we wanted, so there’s no problem, but I do feel you ought to know that there’s a bird’s nest inside the wood panel, inside the bedroom’s window. On the inside. You hear them scrabbling about all night. We thought it was rats at first, and they kept us awake.”
She looks at me, stoic to the last.
“Yes, they come every year!”
Colyoomistas, I was taken aback. It doesn’t happen very often, but your scribbler was at a loss for words. As the Snapper pointed out later, I should have said
“Really? Well that’s good. At least you’ll have something that comes back each year!”
but I was not able to speak. She was as far from a ‘Sorry’ as I was from kissing her.
“Well, it’s not very nice to hear animals behind panels inside your room.”
She continues brazenly not giving a damn.
I carry on undaunted.
“Oh, and maybe, the next time you’re doing decorating work, you could put signs up on the doors while the work is going on, and not just after. Yesterday I came out of the corridor by my room, and there was a bloke on his knees with a gloss brush the other side of the door. See, I now have gloss paint on my wax cotton jacket, here, here, and see, this big blob here.”
Sod her. I’m going to force a bloody sorry out of this ice cold character.
“Look! Here! It’s gloss paint! It won’t come off!”
I stand my ground.
This scribbler's not for turning.
I walk away, a mere pyrrhic victory behind me.
Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our friends, we thoroughly enjoyed a most splendid trip. Just maybe, when the hotel’s website said ‘Family Atmosphere’, they meant a family that doesn’t get on very well with each other!

Friday 5 December 2008

Who answers the weird job ads? Weirdos like me!

Ever wonder who answers those ads in the paper that offer ‘Great Earnings Now - No Experience Needed!’? Well, with everyone either trying desperately to hang on to their own jobs, or find one to apply for, I think it’s time to share with you a cautionary tale. Unlike most people, who diligently work their way along a career path, earning steadily more as they age and gather experience, I had at the tender age of 24 the highest-paying job I might ever want.
Back in 1984, the Japanese photocopier giant that I was working for thought for some reason that I was the future of UK marketing, and were streamlining me along a fast track outside of the regular company structure. They were paying me a whopping salary, and commission linked to the entire sales force. They gave me a flash car, a petrol card and an unlimited expense account. Today’s equivalent on-target-earnings would probably be in the region of €200,000, and look what happens as soon as my brain starts to think corporate: all of a sudden I’m spouting about ‘on target earnings’ and coming out with phrases like ‘in the region of’.
I simply do not fit well into the corporate wold. Sure, I’ll always do my job as well as it can be done, but a giant coporation’s profit means zilch to me. The more they told me I was a success, the more empty I felt. Did I really give a crap about the 6040 copier with its 120 cpm? Indeed, would I ever care about any of it, save for the fellow human beings at my side?
By paying for everything in my life apart from rent, the company made it impossible for me to spend money, allowing me to save vast heaps of dosh, thus hastening the blissful day that I walked out of there, and onto a plane to New York.
Eleven years later, I was moving out of my little Connemara house, where I had lived alone and happily in peace for a year and half. In the intervening years, I’d lived and worked in Barcelona, London, Melbourne, Kinsale, Galway and Bradford, West Yorkshire, and was now heading off to live in San Francisco.
Trouble was, I had no idea how far I’d evolved from that sharp little zippetty-dippetty whizz kid. If I’d taken a wee look at my life before I moved to America, I might have realised that while simplifying my life, shedding unnecessary needs and saving greed for my cakehole rather than my wallet, I’d also simplified my head. That’s not to say I was a grass-chewing local yokel, but I think I’d wanted to be one for a while.
So by the time I hit the wonderful city of San Francisco, my job skills were less honed and more non-existent.
So I stared at the jobs in the San Francisco Chronicle, wondering how to make my yankee dollar, when lo, my eye settled upon one of the aforementioned ads, offering so much return for a simple phone call.
The phone call gave me an address, so I journeyed far out of the city centre, to a corporate estate where yellow brick and glass buildings stretched for miles.
After finding Building B57, I arrived into a small auditorium, where a group of fellow applicants were sitting in rows, looking just slightly more excited than I thought they should be.
By the time things got going, there were about 200 of us: people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, but evidently, not economic groups. We might have had different colour skins, but our clothes all came from the same discount stores, and we knew it.
Lights dimmed, leaving just enough for us to be able to see each others’ expressions, and a man and woman walked on stage. There appeared a white felt board and a flip chart, and before I could say
“Yikes I think I’ve made a terrible mistake!” they started their spiel.
“Do you all have any idea what kind of chemicals you put into your bodies every day?”
I shrugged, but was taken aback by an enthusiastic cry of “No!” from all the other applicants.
Blimey! Maybe I should look a bit more keen. But how can I, when the two presenters, salespeople, recruiters, whatever they were, proceeded to read out the list of ingredients on the side of a toothpaste tube, each long-sounding chemical name succeeding in whipping my fellow job applicants into a loud fervour.
“Mono flourophosophate!” they cry.
“Noooooo!” the crowd yell back.
Mumma, please can I go home now, please?
But there is no escape. I am wedged into the crowd, and anyway, having spent the day getting here, I’m still curious.
How are they going to make me rich? Might as well stay and find out that much at least.
We go through the ingredients of mouthwash and soap, and head into shampoo and conditioner. The longer it goes on, the louder everyone becomes, until by the end, as if Jerry Springer and his audience were on Crystal Meth, the presenters are yelling at us, and everyone else is yelling back, until - ooohh aaahhh yeeeh, I’m coming - they reel out their product range, which for a small downpayment, we can buy and then sell, and make our fortune. Free training and support services will be provided, but we all understand, don’t we, that you have to speculate to accumulate; that you have to invest a little to make a lot.
“Yes yes!” cry most of the crowd, although now, thankfully, one or two others are looking as forlorn as I feel.
They cannot be serious!? They want us to buy their own products and sell them for them? Sure, I might be a Connemara feckin’ pixie at this stage, but I still have a brain.
“No no!” I cry, “Don’t do it! Don’t you see, they are taking no risk whatsoever! It’s all of you who have to take all the risk! Don’t you see? Come on, wise up!”
At which point I am promptly ejected from the so-called Seminar, gasping with relief as fresh air hits my lungs.
Whatever pressures you may be under in the present financial maelstrom, remember that we never need lose either our perspectives or self-respect.
If the job ad fails to inform you of what the job entails, proceed with caution. Oh, and stay sharp!

Friday 28 November 2008

Not as grumpy as I thought I was!

Subsequent to the last colyoom, I have been visited by a neighbour who is taking the said hotelier to court, and last night during a taxi ride into town, the cabbie volunteered to tell us how he too had clashed with the bloke, and how he had once had the pleasure to 'put him in his box!'

So I feel slightly less crazy and somewhat vindicated by my long-standing struggle to force manners, respect and any kind of consideration out of this human stone.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

I dream of turning the Beep-bip beep-bips into lovely gentle zzzeeeeees!

Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
No please no! I’m not ready to wake up yet. It’s still pitch black outside and -
Hang on. I don’t have an alarm clock. Well, I do, but I only use it when absolutely necessary, because I loath and despise alarm clocks.
There are scientists and philosophers all over the world trying to work out why western society has failed; why so many people are unhappy, bad-tempered and aggressive all the time.
Maybe it’s our diets, they wonder, or the chemicals in the water. Maybe it’s a side-effect of global warming or Cable TV.
Or maybe, like, duurrrr, just maybe it’s the fact that nobody has had enough sleep. Everyone with a job or children who need to go to school is woken up by a bleedin’ alarm. Ripped cruelly aforetime from their vital slumbers, innit.
How hard is this to grasp? If your alarm wakes you up, then you are ignoring a biological imperative. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Creationist or a Darwinian, you can’t stand there and tell me that you can live without sleep. Sleep isn’t a funny little afterthought added in by God to give him some time off. It’s not an aberrant evolutionary behavioural mutation designed to give predators an even chance of scoring their dinner.
Sleep is vital, and sleep is lovely, a time for our bodies to repair damage; a time for our subconscious brains to drip-feed us in dreams the horrific secrets of our true natures.
Sleep is snuggly and -
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
I look at my clock.
5:13 am.
Before the shape of the word ‘bastards!’ can form in my mind, I am angry. It’s not an alarm clock, but that bloody truck again. There has always been a truck that delivers to the hotel behind my bedroom window. It arrives around 7 am, and I have grown used to it, aware how very lucky I am not to have to be already up and scurrying around. But now there is this new truck, which arrives sometime around 5 every morning, making just enough noise to wake me up, with a mere 30 seconds of
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip! Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
as it reverses down into the hotel’s service area.
As I say, my first response is one of anger, because this hotel and its attendant never-ending building programme has been my nemesis ever since I moved to this house.
But equally, I am a mature adult with at least half a brain and probably two-thirds of a heart, and am well able to put matters into perspective.
The noise lasts for 30 seconds. There is no banging or crashing, not like a few months back when the recycling company used to empty and replace the mega-skips outside the site between 4 and 5 in the morning.
I still feel slightly guilty about the poor driver of those skip transporters. The young lad was only doing his job, and yet, one morning, was confronted by an insane rabid bear in a dressing gown doing an impersonation of Tony Soprano on amphetamine sulphate. As I raged shouted and screamed at this driver, he rather excellently and admirably managed to blank me completely, which believe me was no small achievement, as my roar and growl tore the summer dawn tranquility into tatters, terrifying the local wildlife into thinking that an earthquake was taking place.
Happily, that matter has now been resolved but this new truck is a different matter. A reasonable person would just smile, wrap the duvet around them and feel smug and thankful as they dozed back to sleep, aware that out there that poor trucker is catching a couple of hours of shuteye before his first drop of the day.
Trouble is, when I’ve been woken night after night after night at 5 in the morning, after having tried to concentrate all day on tiny vital editing details accompanied by the constant banging crashing and yes, beep-bipping of the building site that still continues four years later, I’m not a very reasonable person.
Not at all.
Add to that the sad fact that at the moment I am like a teenager possessed by a poltergeist, the overwhelming energy of working on the book’s final edit coursing around my blood vessels like the Severn Bor.
The second that I am awake my mind immediately fills with a thousand bookish details, and then as my natural anxiety builds, other less worthy shite strolls into my mind.
Bastards bastards. I’m going to write them a letter and get them to stop this truck delivering so early.
No, no you’re not. They’ve had scores of letters from you already and it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference. Just go back to sleep, man.
But why should I have to put up with it?
Because it’s not about you, idiot. Yer man didn’t design his hotel to piss you off. The truckie didn’t reverse down the drive to upset you. You just got angry, you sad git. Now go back to sleep.
But how dare he not reply to any of my letters? How rude is that?
Well he did call you on the phone.
Yeh, but only when I sent a copy of my third letter to the hotel’s manager, and then he only left a message on the phone, leaving no contact number. So he’s covered his arse. He can say he tried to get in touch, but he didn’t really.
Cute hoor. Is he what the Irish would call a cute hoor? He really knows how to work the planning permission system, that’s for sure.
Seems to me, in Ireland, if you want a gym and a bar, first you must apply for permission to build a wall with 50 bricks. You build a wall with only 35 bricks and then apply for permission to have another 20 bricks to add to your spares, so that you can add an extension to your wall. After the extension is built you apply to put a roof over it, and add a gym underneath it. When you’ve built the gym you ask for a bar to go over the gym and ... let it go, man. Sleep, for pity’s sake. It’ll be light in a minute. Rise above. Zen it out. All is good. Drift off, oooh, yeh, yeh, that’s it, lovely ...
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
Bugger - there’s the 7 am truck already.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Let’s love the American people - they deserve it!

Barack Obama cartoon
I love Americans! Americans are great! Yes, that’s what I said, and no, I haven’t been flown by the CIA to Singapore via Hamburg and on to Riyadh, Shannon and all points west to Guantanamo Bay. They didn’t bundle me into a gaudy orange jump-suit and torture me by playing endless video loops of Arsenal beating Chelsea.
It’s just that now, almost two weeks on, with the shock of what happened in the States finally sinking in, I am filled with admiration of and respect for the American people.
Over here in Europe we all love to write the entire US population off as ignorant rednecks with imperialist ambitions. We have all nodded, knowingly and smugly, when a story told of somebody acting foolishly, brashly and inevitably loudly, ends with
“Well, he was a Yank, wasn’t he?”
Writing off 300 million people as blind idiots is beyond crass. Sure, there are scumbags in America, but they come in as many varieties as skin types; as many guises as Galwegians and Guatemalans.
My sincere hope is that one of those scumbags doesn’t assassinate another young and charismatic American president. Beyond that, time will tell how much President Obama will have to compromise and change before he fits into the mould of World Leader.
But my excitement is less about the first black president and more concerned with the millions of people who voted for him.
Despite the culture, comfort and confidence we garner from our millennia of European history, there is no nation on our own continent close to electing a black leader. There is still much wrong with the way the US deals with its black population, leaving them to languish in vast urban project estates, the victims of economic apartheid, but also there are the black middle classes, and black people at the pinnacle of both sides of the political paradigm, with Colin Powell and Barack Obama offering the ethnic masses a chance to turn to their children and say, look, you too can aim for the top of the heap.
I’ll admit that when sat in one of our quaint tiny pubs or cute little restaurants, Americans invariably sound loud, but consider the economics of space. Over there everything is bigger: simply and straightforwardly larger in every way possible. When standing on American soil I sense in my gut a feeling of almost overwhelming immensity, (the country, stupid, not my belly!) and my European eyes feel like they have been transported to Alice’s Wonderland. The milk cartons are huge; the fruit and veg are vast (and sadly, tasteless); the fridges are small cathedrals and the countryside goes on forever; well, 3, 000 miles, but you get the point. If our national mindset ran all the way from Ireland to Istanbul, and we all had infinitely more space, we might well talk a bit louder too.
Judging people for the actions of their leaders is plain dumb. I am not Margaret Thatcher, any more than you are Bertie Ahern or the American people were guilty of being George Bush.
We in Ireland know well what it feels like to be offered an inadequate and pathetic choice of electoral candidates. Here we choose between one party’s crooked sensibilities allied to personal charm, and the other’s ineffectual lethargic honesty.
So we cannot blame Americans for their politicians, but we must congratulate them when they make brave and fantastic choices at elections.
The only downside of the entire election was Obama’s choice of slogan:
“Yes we can!” served only to make me think of Bob the Builder. ‘Can we fix it? Yes we can!’ says the little fella with the yellow hard hat. Obviously Americans don’t know the show, but when Joe the Plumber suddenly appeared on the scene alongside Alaska Barbie and Acton Man McCain with Almost Working Body Parts, the whole thing was in danger of becoming a puppet parody of that wonderful puppet parody, Team America.
Not so much: “America - Fuck yeh!”
as: “Can We Fix it? You betcha, wink wink.”
Instead of looking after each other, Americans prefer to believe they can make it on their own, as their recent ancestors did in the making of their vast nation. They believe that if you can feed, house and educate your children yourselves, why should you pay taxes to any government to help others? Even though it’s intrinsically selfish, this frontier spirit can be adapted and shaped to inspire young men like Barack Obama to think ‘they can’, and then the powerful and wonderful collective American belief in the individual allows him to be elected president.
Americans are warm, generous and intelligent people, who more than any other live in the society that defines the modern world. They and their leaders have now shown themselves to be collectively brave and open-minded, infinitely more so than their European counterparts, who shelter in the bureaucratic backrooms of Brussels, hammering out and imposing international treaties that nobody wants or voted for.
Much as I love Americans, their society’s lack of a social safety net scared me to death. After four years of living in the USA, three of which I had neither doctor nor dentist available, I was more fearful than I have ever been.
The frontier spirit that spawned the dream, the culture of the individual, is driven in no small way by a deep-seated fear of failure. The reason Americans crave success and admire celebrity with such fervour is that the alternative is instant, unthinkable and cataclysmic. One month whilst living over there I couldn’t make the rent, and had I not made an excruciatingly hand-wringingly embarrassing begging call to my parents for financial aid, we would have been homeless, on the streets, pushing our shopping carts around in the park.
While America clearly still has a long way to go, it’s high time we appreciated Americans as the inspiring and courageous people they truly are.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Irish voters should be ashamed of themselves - democracy is not a TV game show!

The only surprising thing about all these budget protests is that everyone’s acting surprised.
Well, if you’re amazed that the same politicians who gave away all that free money with the SSIA schemes have now hit up the weakest members of society, I’m just flabbergasted at your naivety.
How can the people of Ireland stare themselves in the mirror and with a clear conscience wonder why their government turned out to be so cruel and nasty? Are you truly shocked when the same bunch who oversaw the Celtic Tiger now try to save €100 measly million on medical cards for the over-70’s, out of a budget of €64 billion? How can they say there’s no money left for the health service and education system?
I’ll tell you how: because they are acting to type.
All of you giving out about how incredibly out of touch the government is with the common people should shut up and look deeper into that mirror. You voted for this heinous Fianna Fail -PD coalition (well okay, nobody actually voted for the PDs, but they came as part of a 2-for-1 deal), so what the hell do you expect?
Did you really think that a political party with a culture so rotten to the core would somehow give a damn about your grannie?
Did you really believe that after decades of scandal, fraud, lies and self-interest, Fianna Fail would metamorphose into a morally sound and socially-concerned bunch of do-gooders?
Did you really think that the PDs believed all that crap about the drip-drip-drip effect of wealth flowing from the rich toward the poor?
Well you must have, because you voted for them, or rather, you voted for the money, for the lifedecadence, greed, style and the extra holiday, and now, just when society needs a compassionate helping hand, you’re stuck with a decadent government of Bottom Line guzzlers who showed their contempt for all of you greedy money grabbers by targeting exactly and precisely those who have little or nothing to give.
The voters of Ireland should be ashamed of themselves. You voted for your SSIAs instead of your NHS. You chose your HDTVs over your MRIs, and your DVDs and PCs over CT and EKG scanners.
You just kept on voting for the money, whilst all the time well aware of who was running this national edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: the very same people whose self-serving brown envelope culture had robbed the country blind since the silk-shirted 1970’s. You knew that Mary Harney and her PD cohorts said they loved the NHS but were really hell-bent on creating a Public-Private Partnership that would remove the right of universal healthcare forever. You knew that in their hearts, this FF-PD coalition didn’t really want to build a land of caring committed well-funded public services. They just wanted to create a few billionaires, and if that meant everyone else ended up with massive credit card bills, 100%mortgages, grievous debts of all kinds, poor powerless victims of future government policy, then so be it.
Politicians are just like you and me: biped mammals with active brains, whose prime instinct is survival. They threw sweeties to us proles from their victory parades, but when times became hard, they turned their backs on us and showed their true colours: avaricious and self-serving.
And now all of you who voted for these selfish Soldiers of Destiny and their neo-Con Thatcherite spawn buddies are yelling and marching in the streets to protest. Well, instead of chewing your fingernails as you worry about your job security, consider this: if you treat democracy like a TV game show, you’ll end up being a loser. If you vote for the money every time, you end up lonely and broke, living in a vile society wherein nobody gives a damn about each other.
Of course it’s not going to be easy. (That’s what the politicians say, isn’t it? It’s not going to be easy, Brian, but I’m sure if we all pull together we can make it.) Well, I’m saying it now, too.
Come on people, it’s time to start demanding some basic rights.
Forget about the second SUV and little Eugenia’s riding lesson, and start prioritising what’s best for our society. The Irish need to stop spending millions on less-than-vital roads, sparkly new stadia, aquarian centres and pump money into the staffing of our hospitals.
The Irish need to stop giving billions in tax breaks to American and multinational companies who come and go, offering and destroying Irish jobs at the whim of a Wall Street flutter or a wobble on the Dollar, and start funding jobs for class teachers, substitute teachers, specialist language and special needs teachers, and school improvement schemes.
The Irish need to get over their post-colonial inferiority complex and start to believe in themselves. Yes, I know you all had a boom and wasn’t it just lovely? But deep in your hearts you know that it came as a result of untold billions of Structural Adjustment Funds from the EU and massive yet temporary foreign investment in a workforce that was, at the time, offering high productivity for low wage costs.
Now the wages are gone, the investment has run out, and it’s down to the Irish to solve their own crisis. The global economic tempest will continue, but here on this tiny lump of land there is enough money, intelligence, elbow grease and resolve to build a better society.
So please, would you ever stop looking up to the Fianna Fail gangsters in their flash suits? I swear, I think some of you voted for them simply because they look like they do alright for themselves. You wouldn’t want to suffer their company for a minute at your table in the pub of a night, but an auld Oirish part of you thinks that if dem yokes can live in big plush houses and drive the fancy cars, then maybe they’re worth voting for, because maybe if you do, your life will become just like theirs.
Indeed, dear voters of Ireland, it will, and in the process you will lose your compassion and sense of community. You will feel flush with the rush of profit for about ten minutes, and then you’ll be back marching in the streets again to save your grannie’s medical card.

Friday 7 November 2008

Don’t tell me you’re tired unless you’ve run around the world!

I’m tired. I’m so tired that when I blink my eyes stay down and before you can say ‘ga ga’ I’m off with the faeries, dribbling from the mouth and snoring a passable impression of the Flying Scotsman express train steaming through a tunnel.
Nobody wants to feel tired, but there’s good tired and bad tired.
Bad tired is where you feel like the world is against you and you don’t want it with you anyway because it’s a horrible cruel place where the bad people live, and all you want to do is go to bed and sleep and hide.
Interesting: I tried to define ‘bad tired’ and came up with a description of depression!
Whichever way it defines itself, ‘bad tired’, is always accompanied by feelings of frustration or anger, often an oneself. Maybe you’ve failed to meet a personal target, or let down a loved one; whatever it is, you just don’t have the energy to drag your sad sorry arse up and out to make yourself do the necessary.
And then there’s good tired, which is where I am today. Exhausted, yes, but satisfied. However deep down my spirit slumps when I try to remember the last day on which I awoke and had absolutely nothing to do, a proper day off, and even though I know that up ahead there’s still unfinished business; indeed tomorrow I have to sit and fill out my Tax Form 11 and prove once more to the Revenue Commissioners that I have not earned enough money to contribute anything to the nation except my own PRSI contributions, and, of course, my own madness; and the day after that I head off once more to England to spend a few days with my glorious lovely Mum, and then return to start work again; despite all of the above, I know that right now, while I may be tired (I think I mentioned that, didn’t I?) I am happy.
Four days ago I finished the second draft of the novel, which should now be completed by Christmas, hastening, as Sir Alex Ferguson so poetically put it, ‘Squeaky Bum Time’ when I must turn this manuscript into a good book, and then be judged.
The day after I finished the draft I found out that my friends from Melbourne were arriving at Shannon with their two teenage children the following day; the day that was going to be my day off, but no matter, because these folk are precious souls who I have not seen since 1989, so all was good. I raced around like a mole on speed, shopping cleaning and picking up mattresses, whilst also writing what you read in this space last week, so as to free more time with my Ozzy-tralian mates.
So brilliant, emotional and wonderful was it to see them that on both nights of their visit I lay awake insomniacal, brain racing, trying to come down from the fantastically intense work that I had just done on my book; the welcome sight and stories of my lifelong friends, and generally, as ever, needing time alone and awake to process the marvellous yet messy and mixed-up monstrosity that is life.
Rising before dawn on the second morning we all headed up to Knock Airport, whence I returned yesterday, so drained as to be barely able to stand and breathe at the same time.
In that state I knew I had to just keep on keeping on until all the boring necessities of life had been executed, so I made a shepherd’s pie from yesterday’s leftovers, stumbled, did the bins and recycling, dribbled, blinked but opened my eyes just before I fell over, then rushed backwards and forwards from garden to kitchen as I tried to cook whilst simultaneously listening to the most lucid engineer who came round to service the boiler. Then I passed out on the sofa.
So tired, yes, but feeling fulfilled, having reached my goal of the second draft just in time for my mate to fulfil his lifetime goal of returning to Europe to meet the mates he made growing up in the 1970’s.
Glorious stuff indeed, and yet my paltry pathetic tiredness pales into insignificance when I look at the goals that others set themselves.
As regular colyoomistas will know, this scribbler loves a good adventurer, and recently, thanks to the Sunday Times’ Camilla Long, I read of a woman whose story left my jaw dropping so wide and long it has scarcely recovered.
The woman in question is one Rosie Swale-Pope, a 61 year-old resident of Tenby in South Wales, who tragically lost her husband to prostate cancer in 2003. In October of that year she set off to run around the world, and two months ago she made it back home, after having journeyed alone though Europe, Russia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada America, Greenland and Iceland.
Despite searing heat and sub-frozen temperatures, a breast-cancer scare, breaking five ribs and fracturing a hip, Rosie kept on running, raising awareness for Prostate Cancer Charity (, whilst dealing with her personal pain and loss.
When the sun shone she could run 30 miles a day, but when conditions deteriorated, she’d sometimes only manage 500 yards.
She explains:
“This is the scenario at -62C .... your hands freeze, and if your hands freeze you cannot undo the zips, so you cannot tend to your feet ... inside the (30 x 60 inch) rig, I would massage my feet, put some oil on them, stick them in the wet sleeping bag, and in the morning wake with eyelashes frozen shut. Every night I’d face bears and wolves ... No one else on the expedition except you, with the howling of the wolves and the blizzards and the storms. It’s extraordinary.”
No Rosie, you are the extraordinary one. She suffered frostbite, lost consciousness after eating raw spaghetti, and in Russia had to eat pasta with reindeer hair in it for days, before nearly starving to death in Alaska.
Worst of all was the business of being alone.
“Loneliness is like a knife wound.” she says,”It started out of cancer, loss, sorrow and heartache and a wish to turn something round. You can always turn things round, and if you can’t, then someone you love can do it for you.”
Nah missis, you won’t catch me whinging about feeling tired while there’s people out there like the thoroughly splendid Rosie Swale-Pope.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Never mind my ‘spasma’, what about the girl with tea on her face?

My mate Angel is bemoaning the arrival of a table cloth on his living room coffee table.
“Don’t know what she was thinking of. Now there’s even less room to put down my mug of tea.”
”She probably thinks it looks pretty!” I suggest, to which he hrrrummphes grumpily.
Then my arm flies out in front of me, causing my fingers to slap the full mug of tea he has just bought me.
No longer is the table draped with a cloth: it is now covered by my tea, which has spread dynamically, drenching the entire cloth, the television remote control and Angel’s rolling baccy.
As he tries to rescue his remote and mops and soaks up the ugly mess, I apologise, explaining that it is down to what I call my ‘spasma’.
“Your what?”
Oh dear, how do I describe my spasma? The root of the trouble clearly lies in a spasm, and I have added the final ‘a’ to make it sound kinda cutesey, all innocent and harmless, because the trouble with my spasma is that to the unsympathetic eye, it often looks very deliberate.
Shrinks the world over would look at the anecdote above and conclude that I destroyed the table cloth in a subconscious effort to please my friend.
Unfortunately, my spasma doesn’t work like that.
Most of the time, it appears at the most undesirable and awkward of moments.
Back in May, the day before our collective families and friends all arrived in Galway for our big wedding party, the Snapper excitedly laid upon our kitchen table a beautiful blue table cloth, instantly transforming a slightly shabby piece of furniture into an eye-catcher.
I, however, was less than impressed, and mutter and grumble about having to keep it clean until everyone arrives, and where am I going to eat, and blah blah -
Yep, tea rushing and flooding forth, spilling from the cup that I had appeared to deliberately flip into the air and serve as Raffa Nadal looking for a killer ace against Federer.
Thankfully my beloved woman is familiar with my spasma, and knows that however much it might look like I just behaved like a spoilt belligerent arsehole, I was in fact innocent of all charges.
Nevertheless, it was hard to hear the sadness and exasperation in her sigh.
The worst part of my spasma is the way it looks so utterly deliberate. With appropriate acknowledgement to all sufferers of real the syndrome, my spasma can best be described as a Tourette of the arm. Even though the broad sweep of movement looks impossible to perform without volition, it happens completely spontaneously and almost always at the least appropriate moments.
Many years ago I was out on a first date with a gentle soul. We arrived at the restaurant, both excited at the prospect of a pleasant evening ahead. After handing us the menus, the waiter lit the candle on the table, and retired gracefully.
I looked over at her. She looked back at me and smiled.
Under its own steam my arm rose from its resting position on my lap, raised itself high above the table, moving towards the lit candle. As this elaborately spasmodic movement came to its impressive conclusion, my fingers dipped toward the candle, where they somehow proceeded to flick the pool of hot molten wax right across the table, scoring a bullseye as it splattered right onto the left shoulder of her pretty blue blouse.
My mouth alternately gaped open and clammed shut like a guppy on speed, as she quite wonderfully made little of my inexplicable attack.
Indeed, the dear soul sat for a while with her hand clasped over her freshly-decorated shoulder.
“Why are you sitting like that?” I enquired. “Did the wax burn you?”
“Oh no!” she replied, “I’m just covering it up because I don't want to spoil our evening with you worrying about how the stain looks.”
How do I find such beautiful people with which to populate my life? I am not worthy, but neither am I guilty of these noxious twitches.
Funnily enough, despite this natural talent for muscular disaster, the faux pas that earns pole position on my personal league table was not down to this treacherous independence of my arm muscles, but rather, an unfortunate response to my own gag reflex.
For this sorry tale we must travel back to the late 1970’s,when the Guru and I were leather jacket-clad bikers, bubbling with youthful exuberance, energy and enthusiasm, lacking only the knowledge of our own limits and any notion of self-control.
We had been invited to sunday afternoon tea at our friend Lucy’s house. She had a good friend of hers visiting that she wanted us to meet, and it all sounded rather lovely.
And lovely it was: genteel and traditional, until we arrived.
Inevitably late, rather intoxicated, and finding ourselves suddenly sitting around the tea table with these proper young ladies, Lucy’s parents, bone china teapot, scones and jam, we found ourselves unable to suppress a fit of the giggles. The more we tried to stop laughing the more funny and ridiculous it all seemed. When he saw that Lucy was becoming understandably impatient and upset, the Guru, to his credit, managed to control his laughter, and I too did my best to calm down.
Finally, having attained a modicum of what I thought was reasonable behaviour, I felt ready to take a sip of tea.
As I raised the delicate cup to my lips, taking a good swig, I looked across the table to see the Guru looking back at me with beetroots that were once his eyes.
Feeling something bad coming, I managed to replace my cup onto its saucer, before the muscles in my throat took it upon themselves to reject the tea in favour of what they thought was going to be more laughter.
Instead, and most impressively, there shot out of my mouth a long perfectly-formed projectile stream of partially-ingested tea, which flew clean across the table, hitting Lucy’s friend full square, wet and nasty in the face.
With myself and the Guru now helpless, hysterical and beyond social repair, we ejected ourselves from proceedings offering neither apology nor excuse.
My spasma may be beyond my control, but even now, 30 years later, I still think of that poor girl, her wet tea-stained face, and wonder just what she thought of me.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Am I older and wiser or crumbling and madder? Whichever, it’s great not be young!

Still strutting their stuff in their dotage, I wonder if the Rolling Stones might want to change the lyrics of their song ‘Mother’s Little Helper’:
‘What a drag it is getting old!’
might easily be replaced by:
‘What a drag it was being young!’
As a precocious teenager, already an irrepressible scribbler, I kept a diary from the age of 15 to 21. Being even then a heinous control freak, I created around this last-thing-at-night ritual a rigid rule: the entire space of each day must be filled; with what and of how low a standard did not matter, as long as every line was filled with words of some description.
Occasionally I dip in and out of this turbulent collection, and recently revisited the years 1977 and 1978, taking a long sad look at the painfully insecure and wretched teenager that I was then. With unequivocal conviction I can now tell you that I don’t mind being older.
When I was a teenager I felt the need to prove my truths to everyone, and insisted that I was right. The rest of the world was wrong, and I was making sense. As an older man, I believe in exactly the same truths, but harbour no desire whatsoever to change the world to mirror my ideals.
Just ain’t worth it, guv’nor.
In fact, far from wanting to transform the world into a happy fluffy place, I focus simply on my own happiness (which necessarily includes the happiness of several others, lest I sound even more egocentric than usual). Essential to that pursuit is the need to understand the world a little, in all its tawdry glory.
The pure black and white ideals of my youth now live a settled married life with my own elaborate cynicism.
I know what I think is right, and I try to live as close to it as I can.
But our species is insane, and therefore I must limit my expectations to assure my ambition of happiness can be realised.
Of course there’s the obvious downside to getting old. My neck hurts, my belly is explosive; my tooth hurts and where in the past I could happily put all these ailments and as many others as I could dream up into a bag marked ‘Classic Neurotic Jewish Hypochondria’ I now have no choice but to see them as symptoms of my own mortality.
So I’m going to die sooner rather than later. Well, if age has taught me anything, it’s not to worry about what I can’t control, so I’ll let that one go. Discovered years ago that exercise and good eating is more about healthily enjoying the life you’re living, rather than staving off your death for a few more years, months, days.
Age also tempers how much advice you can take. Walking the Prom is my physical and spiritual lifeline, and now somebody’s saying that it’s lethal to walk on flat surfaces, and that we should wear special shoes that make your plates of meat feel like they’re treading on jungle floor.
Yeh but no but no thanks. Been around the block and know now that if it works for me, I’ll stick with it. There doesn’t have to be a right or wrong. There is no absolute.
Why should I listen to this week’s experts when last week they were calling the collapse of Capitalism a ‘Credit Crunch’? Now that I’m older I know that there is absolutely no point in making sense out of the absurdities of this world.
I’m never going to understand a world where ‘genocide’ has become ‘ethnic cleansing’. How did the extermination of entire populations end up sounding like a mango-scented bathroom scrub?
Ah, if only somebody could have told that idealistic and fervent teenager that he’d still believe the same things 30 years on. All that parents and relations ever said was that I would grow out of it, I’d see, ho ho yes; but I didn’t.
I just realised that these were my truths, and the rest of the world was way beyond my control.
It’s all upside down. They euphemise the global financial collapse into an ice cream flavour, and hyperbolise the new comedy show on TV.
You tell me which sounds more important: ‘Credit Crunch’. ‘All New Must See Major Event’.
Given the choice, would I want to be a child now?
Well, I wouldn’t want to be a child in the United States, where a new law allows parents and legal guardians to leave any child up to the age of 19 at hospitals.
The idea of the law was to decriminalise parents who had dumped their children after having their own lives put at risk through violent behaviour. But, as reported by The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, nobody expected such a massive response. On September 13th an 11 year-old was handed over by his grandmother to a hospital in Omaha, because he was, she said, ‘destructive’. On the same day in the same State, a 15 year-old boy was left with authorities in Lincoln, because he was disobedient and a possible gang member. As she explained to the Omaha World Herald:
“I didn’t abandon him. I wanted help for him so when he hits 18 he’s not a menace to society.”
Over the next three days, four more children (a girl of 12, three boys aged 11,15 and 18) were handed over, and the following day Gary Station turned up at Creighton Medical Centre with 9 of his 10 children, saying he could only look after the one since his wife had died in childbirth.
My fellow columnist in Nebraska’s Papillon Times wrote:
“Birth Certificates aren’t receipts. This isn’t a store refund.”
So no thanks. I don’t want to be an abandoned teenager, any more than I want to be an insecure under-experienced youth. Of course I yearn for youthfully robust health, and sometimes I do wish that the first snooze on the sofa of an evening hit a little later than 9.30 (“It’s the fire! It’s the fire!” I exclaim, knowing of course it’s pure age).
And yes, I do feel sorry for you Colyoomistas, who have to suffer grumpy crotchety old geezer rants, but at least they’re honest, which is a lot more than I can say for the often-exaggerated and occasionally entirely fictional sex life I found in those diaries!

Thursday 16 October 2008

I loved my first year in Galway so much, I bought the process!


I am truly sorry for Galwegians, because you never experience arriving in Galway as a blow-in. Your first year in Galway City is one of the finest of your life. I liked it so much I bought the process!

I’ve left and returned to Galway three times, and each time, suitably signposted by attendance at different pubs, my new ‘First Year in Galway’ was embraced as fully and respectfully as it deserved.

When I first arrived, back in 1992, I was living in Lenaboy Avenue. In those pre-Tiger days, the road was far from the gentrified modernised place it is now.

There were three houses in the small street crammed with blow-ins, and we all socialised and drank en masse, falling into what was then Eamonn O’Reilly’s pub, not only because it was the first one we came to, but also because Eamonn was pretty relaxed about his clientele’s hairstyles.

Legendary ‘king for a day’ afternoons spilled into Salt’n’Pepper, and then onto Vaggies, or another of the nightclubs that pumped bass beat into late night Salthill.

When I required escape, I’d flee all the way to Lower Salthill for a late one at the Cottage, back then a cosy stony-walled cavern with a raging fire.

Indeed, there was something special about the Cottage, with Ruth and Bernie making music, Collie and crew enjoying the craic, and although its transformation is a wondrous thing, there was a particular collection of faces and smiles lurking in the old Cottage that you’d not seen since, well, probably since the last time you went there!

But I didn’t leave England to hang around with English blow-ins in Ireland, and so I am to this day eternally grateful to the trio of local Salthill lads, (now Gentlemen all, from toupée to the toenail tip) who took it upon themselves to perform my induction into real Galway life. 

Himself The Body, the Whispering Blue and young Blitz hauled my greenhorn Brit backside into an Tobar, which back then was a wonderful place to be. 

Well, it was, but there were a few characters, cautiously suspicious of this wide-eyed Londoner, who put the fear of god into me.

They didn’t know because I wasn’t about to let them see any weakness, and they never will, because I’ll not identify them.

Suffice to say that many have now mellowed (some even pickled slightly) and each would laugh heartily to think that this harmless auld dribbling scribbler ever held them in such regard.

It felt great to be a part of that period of time in there. During the height of summer, there was a strict ‘no tourist’ rule on the door manned by the late, much-loved and legendary Frank McCarthy.

As a fresh-faced ingenue, I valued my inside track to local life as precious.

The second time I had a ‘First Year in Galway’ came seven years later, after I had lived in Connemara, San Francisco and Sonoma County.

Heartbroken after the failure of my life in America, I embraced my return with a dangerously euphoric enthusiasm.

Years before, Taylor’s Bar had always been one of the Stations of the Crawl from an Tobar towards the clubs of Salthill, but after the States, I settled into Taylor’s as a snail to his shell.

Dangerously close to my room in Claddagh, I drank far too much way too often and revelled in the feeling of being back home.

Taylor’s was really three pubs in one: the back bar was where you might find some music, perchance Dalooney and Robbie and others jigging and reeling up a storm. Tourists always ended up at the back bar, so the vibe was relaxed and for its day, fairly cosmopolitan.

The middle bar was reserved for a hardcore regulars and hardcore drinkers. Certain stools would be sat on by the same backsides day in and day out, and on those nights when you needed your brain bent and twisted out of shape, there was ample opportunity for crazed Middle Bar Philosophical Debate with a Bulmer's twist.

But on a good night, the heart and soul of Taylor’s floated around the front bar, where a wonderful cross-section of the population mixed it up with wit, flirting and fluttering mischievous mayhem.

Over all the above, the omnipresent eye of one Seamus Mulligan endowed the pub with a singular presence, predictably unpredictable and ever ready to step out and take control with great theatre.

There were many good nights in Taylor’s, just as there were restful afternoons at the counter, nursing a mug of coffee for hours, struggling with the crossword and chatting to Una, whose smile somehow made life better every time it appeared.

But also, before the sepia hue of nostalgia completely rewrites history, there were nights in Taylor’s Bar, when the wind howled naturally outside and gutturally inside the pub, where three and half humans skulked at the bar and the place felt like the waiting room for hell. 

At its best it was perfect.

At its worst, Taylor's was a miserable and wretched place to spend an hour.

By the time I returned from north Mayo, ready to enjoy my third ‘First Year in Galway’, Taylors was a lap dancing club, the cottage was ‘funky’, its regulars some ten years too young for it to be once more my local. An Tobar had become part of the Dew Drop, and I was publess.

Well, no. Joining forces with Grumpy Chef, who just happened to have returned at the same time, we drank the backside off Neachtain’s, somehow managing to dredge up the same joy that we had felt each and every other time we’d returned to the City of the Tribes.

Since the demise of Taylor’s I have failed to find another pub that distinguishes itself as my ‘local’. Despite its definition, your ‘local’ does not need to be the nearest pub to your house (but oh the bliss when it is), but more a place where you feel as at home as you do when you’re at home.

I still enjoy a daytime pint in Neachtain’s, and will always like the Quay’s front bar. Now also I add Sheridan’s at the Docks to my circuit, and over the bridge sup happily at the Blue Note.

Galway has no shortage of good pubs, but however sad and pathetic it sounds, so many years after it closed down, I still miss my local.

Maybe I need to step out and back in again. And then again, maybe not.

My liver could not take a fourth ‘First Year in Galway.’

Saturday 11 October 2008

Patience is a virtue.

Loyal colyoomistas and bloggeristas will have to wait another week for the next Double Vision, as the high-up honchos of the Connacht and City Tribunes have voiced concerns that people might be reading this colyoom online, instead of buying the newspaper.

Naturally, I was just the teensiest bit pleased that they believe this colyoom is selling the paper for them. As soon as this week is past, we will return to weekly postings once more. Until then, keep sending the emails, or posting comments.


Saturday 4 October 2008

Sweet Gene Bin-Cent - he’s the Mallorcan King of the Road!

Weary and bleary-eyed, I’m having my breakfast at the Hotel Mar-i-Vent, in the Mallorcan village of Banyalbufar.
Outside the window the landscape tumbles down steep terraces, past a few small ochre stone houses to the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea.
The German man at the table behind me is talking to the gentle patient waiter in English.
“Zis noise last night? All night the music! So loud all the night long!“
“Yes, and tonight and tomorrow, much big more bang! Much more noise! It is our festival.”
The night before, as the Snapper and I had wandered the length of this charming spotless and welcoming village, we passed lengthy trestle tables adorned with linen cloths, endless bottles, glasses, and locals sat carousing.
Blissful in our ignorance we mentioned how great it was to see locals out, doing their own thing. Unbeknownst to us, they were just getting in the mood to party.
At midnight, the music started, shaking every ancient brick that latched the village to the cliff side. For 5 hours I lay awake listening to a bad covers band playing hits from the 80’s, but I didn’t care, because I was on holiday.
Now that I know the party is going on for the next two nights, I breathe a sigh of relief that today we head east, to take charge of a rented house, wherein we will indulge in some serious chilling.
Much to the Snapper’s bemusement, when on holiday I suddenly become all gregarious and chatty, talking to strangers and sometimes even forging that most heinous of beasts, the holiday friendship. With just such a rush of bonhomie, I turn to console my fellow tourist, but -oops- the geezer behind me is not a geezer at all, but a tall and thin woman, whose heavily made up grease-painted face looks like it has stepped out of a 1930’s Berlin cabaret.
Somewhat shocked, my words stumble as they fall out of my mouth.
“Oh, sorry, I er, he said that the noise will be another two nights, hmm? We are going today. Are you going to stay or coming to go?”
She looks at me with utter contempt, and then, with a really deep bloke’s voice, says
“Going? You are lucky.”
Smiling, I turn back to my lovely view, feeling doubly fortunate. Not only are we leaving today, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but also my voice sounds like it has a willy attached somewhere below, and the Snapper’s doesn’t. Hoorah!
Our honeymoon has started really well, after the initial shock of being caught up in the Great Escapes collapse. Lucky again, I suppose, in a weird way, because they cancelled our holiday in Crete and refunded us mere days before going completely bust.
Reminds me of a conversation I heard many years ago in a Connemara pub, involving three auld boy farmers who were debating whether Packie had been lucky.
“Sure and washn’t he lucky to have his heart attack right there, in da hoshpital?“
“And aren’t ye talkin’ bollocks ye gobshite. How can it be lucky to have a heart attack?”
“Sure and aren’t you talkin’ bollocks, because you know very well what I’m saying. I’m saying that he was lucky to have da heart attack while he was visiting da hoshpital, while he was in da place, d’ya’know?”
But I digress.
So far we have been on familiar ground, flying and renting a car, and pootling off to find family-run 3-star hotels away from the resorts. In Portugal and on the Costa Brava we succeeded in finding what we have in the Mar-I-Vent. An old hotel run to modern standards by a family who have worked it for generations and therefore really give a damn. For the price of an Irish B&B, we have the pool, the view, a suite of rooms with balcony, and sheltered betwixt the mountains and the sea, Banyalbufar itself, charming and (before midnight!) quiet as a whisper.
Somewhat trepidatious, we head across the island and settle into our holiday home, which is perfect. Calm descends. I go two whole weeks without checking email and 12 unbelievable days without a newspaper.
At night we drive off to Santanyi, a lovely Mallorcan town with some tourists, rather than a tourist town, which reminds us of Galway, with its medieval streets. Sitting in the plaça, sipping a beer, I finally hit bliss.
Just down the road from our wee house is an excellent cafe-bar, where we eat on the nights when I have partaken of alcohol during the day. Here we find the apocryphal prices of yesteryear, enjoying a pint of beer, two glasses of wine, an escalope of veal with salad and potatoes, herbed chicken breast with salad and chips, almond cake, chocolate cake and two liqueurs, for the staggering total of €26.00.
But not even this fine feast marks the high point of our trip. That award goes to the local bin men, whose whacking great garbage truck zooms past the bar each night, flying around the silent residential streets at ridiculous speeds, with the two lads hanging off the back with their rolled-up fags, looking cool and handsome, like latterday pirates upon the high seas.
Indeed, as the truck reverses at mad velocity down the hill beside the cafe, one of these lads finds the time to wink and smile salaciously at the Snapper, in a way that makes us both roar with laughter.
As a fan of the BBC’s excellent ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ series, I christen the truck driver ‘Sweet Gene Bin-cent’, in honour of anti-hero Gene Hunt.
Nobody else seems to give a damn, but each night we want to stand and cheer with raised arms and loud voices as they roar around the corner and try to beat their own best times.
The only downer on the whole trip came in the shape of Sol Mar car rental, who prey on exhausted and hurried tourists, using extremely high pressure sales tactics to flog hundreds of euros’ extra insurance, and then rip off every customer by insisting that you bring the car back empty (impossible!?), having charged you their price for a non-refundable full fuel tank. As I understand it, the EU is investigating this scam, but take a tip, please, and avoid Sol Mar like the plague.
But don’t avoid Mallorca: just stay away from the resorts, explore and find hidden pirate treasures!

Saturday 27 September 2008

Are conspiracy theorists the new ‘Them’?

Jeepers, there’s a lot of scared people out there. A few weeks ago this colyoom was a-ranting and a-raving about some of the less attractive side-effects of mobile phones, Hardly ground-breaking stuff, but enough to attract an army of conspiracists to my email in-box.
They stuffed my computer with dire warnings about microwaves and phone masts and cancer and and and ... and indeed, yes, the list is endless, because fear has no bounds.
Despite their best efforts, I learned nothing new, because over the years, my much-loved friend Yoda has lucidly and intelligently explained just about every known conspiracy theory to me.
Gradually I realised that far from burying conspiracy theorists, I should be praising them; not because I agree with all their theories, but because they are out there, asking the questions, obstinately and wonderfully refusing to believe what they are told is the Official Truth.
Thanks to their efforts, I don’t have to. In fact, I’m in cushty-cushty land, happy to try to massage and suckle the Establishment in order to enjoy a happy life with lots of free time, whist also equally delighted and appalled by the ‘Truths’ being produced by these Warriors of the Internet.
It was Yoda who told me how four ringing mobile phones in a circle can make popcorn; about the carcinogenic dangers of phone masts; that these masts emit a low-vibration wave pattern that affects our mood. In the same way that a high vibration or a major key makes us feel elated, so too apparently a low vibration can sedate and depress us.
He explained the theory of Chemtrails, those powdery expanding exhausts that fall from the jet engines of planes, that started, for some reason, to spread across the sky and fall slowly to ground, spreading or spraying goodness knows what.
Conspiracy theorists believe 'They' use Chemtrails to immunise some populations against diseases that 'They' are spreading in other areas. Some think that 'They' want to wipe out everybody in Sub-Saharan Africa, because 'They' just aren’t cost-effective, while others think the Chemtrails are a sterilising agent for genetic codes that can neutralise certain sectors of any given population.
I rather like the way that 'They' go for the basic elements. Through the air that we breathe come these terrible microwaves and dumped chemicals, and in the water, we are fed Fluoride, which, ironically, appears to a conspiracy theorist as pure gold dust.
Fluoride is, so 'They' say, a terrible chemical, harmful in a number of physical and mood-altering ways. By infiltrating our water supply, 'They' are able to mess with our minds, bodies and resilience to subjugation.
Of course governments around the world have at times acted to harm their own populations. I think that Cable TV was nothing but an underhand SOMA injection to dummify the Proles of America.
But seriously, it makes perfect and even reasonable sense for those in power to keep their masses a little scared, a little weak and thus totally reliant on their masters.
What I can’t quite grasp is why, beyond these simple aims, 'They' might want to wreak havoc, in so many different ways, over so many seemingly randomly-chosen millions of disparate and indefinite populations.
I think that conspiracy theorists overestimate what 'They' can do. There is, of course, the argument that 'They' can do so much more than 'They' ever show us, but even if 'They' can, what will they do with it?
Take a look at the conspiracy theorists biggest chestnut: 9/11, the trashing of the Twin Towers, and, of course, Building 7, the third and most-studied edifice to fall to the ground that day.
Entire industries are now devoted to the singular task of proving that 'They', in the shape of the U.S. Government, toppled the World Trade Centre towers, in an effort to kick-start the War on Terror and invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
Most of these conspiracy theories are centred around the way the buildings fell, and backed by expert opinion, 'They' make a cogent and credible case for the use of demolition explosives in all three cases.
Err, hang on a mo. I just lost track of which ‘They’ was ‘They’.
Maybe the theorists are looking as weird as the other ‘They’, whoever they may be.
But if 'They' had laden the building with enough explosives to bring them down, if 'They' could have just blown up the buildings and blamed whoever 'They' wanted, why on earth did 'They' go to the ridiculous trouble of flying two planes into them?
Quite apart from the fact that it is pointless to destroy three buildings twice in one day, my major bone of contention with the entire 9/11 conspiracy theory is this:
Why would 'They' want to do it?
It’s not about an American fear of bombing other sovereign territory. President Clinton had bombed Al-Qaeeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990’s, and anyway, we all know that the US Military go exactly wherever their Commander-in-Chief decides that American interests are at risk.
They don’t ask permission. They don’t wait to be attacked first. If the Americans wanted to invade Afghanistan, they would have. If they wanted an excuse to invade Iraq, they would have produced WMDs when they went looking, but they knew it was immaterial. They were going to invade anyway.
Maybe all the theories are wholly correct, and equally, maybe the converse is entirely true. My desire is to know all the possibilities; to understand as much as I can; and to live, as I said, a happy life.
Because if you become burdened by the fear of conspiracy and live governed by your fears, 'They' have won.
Just the other day I was checking the statistics of the online version of this colyoom, when I noticed one visitor who showed no information at all. Who were 'They'? Why were 'They' being so secretive? Maybe the CIA were checking out why there had been so many hits on the blog looking for “George Bush Terrorist.”
Mind you, I don’t know why I’m worried. If 'They' are the CIA, 'They' are surrounded by nutters. The preceding visitor found the colyoom by searching for: “Silly, George, Bush, Penises, Are, For, Girls”.
The one after hit my site by looking for: “Big Fat Pig In Wheelie Bin.”
Good luck to them all, whatever they hoped to find. In comparison to these modern freaks, the good old CIA, in the shape of ‘They’, look barely scary.

Monday 22 September 2008

Now over to Amy Winehouse, who thinks Sir Alex should play Wayne Rooney less deep!

Even though we’re getting all autumnal, my poor old noodle-bonce is still troubled by horrific and deeply disturbing images that infected me one midsummer’s evening.
Channel-surfing I was, as is my testicular right, when I came upon dear old Amy Winehouse singing at Glastonbury Festival.
As we all know, the tabloids have gone into a feeding frenzy over the extraordinary singer’s generally decadent lifestyle, but when I first heard her album, ‘Back to Black’, I was blown away by her talent, style and loved the music she made.
So I let my finger slip from the Channel Up button, and sat back to watch her set.
Oh dear.
The wee lass was completely off her tits, and although the overall effect was melodic and pleasant, it was painful to watch her trying to dribble out the lyrics:
“Sheeez sooorrrrrrhadda balloooobby bubdeesha essha eesha hayyyyy!”
Nevertheless, the crowd loved it, and then Amy went crazy, jumping falling down off the stage to handclasp the crushed sweaty fans leaning over the first rows of the barrier.
“Kushha bubba dededed-deerryyyyeeeeeeeee!”
“Yeh Amy! Over here Amy! I love you, Amy!”
Despite the spaghetti of security men running around her in circles, one of the crowd threw something at her, to which she responded by throwing what looked like a pretty useful left hook in somebody’s face.
Pained to watch such a great talent disappearing down the twinned plug holes of instant gratification and addiction, slightly offended by her dribbling masquerading as singing, I returned to my channel surfing, hoping to find safer waters.
Instead I dropped the remote control, as my jaw fell and stayed open in shock. There was Eamon Dunphy, standing on a stage, singing ‘Stardust’ to Miriam O’Callaghan on her rather dodgy chat show.
As a football pundit and journalist, Dunpho is everything he should be: outspoken annoying, controversial for the sake of it and enormously entertaining. I rarely agree with what he says, but by god, he makes you listen and laugh and better still, he winds up Liam Brady, forcing the pompous droning Gooner to show some signs of life, which is no mean feat.
But here, on my telebox, all hell was appearing before me. Oh, please mumma, help me. This was Car Crash TV at its worst. From being confronted by a tripped-out screwed up young star, I’ve now been ram-raided by a sad old man who should know better.
The only pitch Dunpho has ever known was the one at Milwall.
Thank god, he’s finally stopped, and is soaking up the applause like it’s his first drink of the day, which plainly it is not. God forbid I libel the man, but looking at his stretched smile, I’d venture that Dunpho’s first sup of the day came a very long time ago, quite possibly before the sun rose after the night before yesterday, if you’re with me.
But lo, what new horror is this? Why oh why has Eamon passed the microphone to Johnny Giles? Oh sweet Jesus, is this car crash going to turn into a multiple pile-up?
With Dunpho swaying like an over-excited five year-old on the sofa opposite him, and Miriam trying to look like the show is going so well, (please Mister RTE Producer man, I can do this, honest I can! Please don’t send me back to responsible straight journalism, please! Please!) Johnny Giles says he’ll sing two verses of Nat King Cole’s ‘The very heart of you’.
Wish I wasn’t alone in the house. I’m scared, but equally gripped.
Yet such is life, so strange and wondrous a thing, it turns out that Gilesy can actually hold a tune.
Eschewing the stage and the chance to hog a moment under the spotlight that Dunpho could not resist, the ex-Leeds United man sat relaxed and sang well, wobbling a little but overall holding it all together better than either Amy and Eamon.
Who knew?
If Johhny Giles can sing so well, seems to me that, instead of hounding Ms. Winehouse for details of her druggy and drinkie lifestyle, the British tabloids would do better to ask her if Robbie Keane was right to move to Liverpool, or if she thinks Big Phil can cut the mustard over the long haul of the Premiership season.
Our household loves to shop at Marks and Sparks whenever it can afford to. You like to believe that their ingredients will be good, their sources trustworthy and their products chemical free.
But last night I took a look at some of its labelling and was left mightily unimpressed.
This isn’t any lemon mousse. This is a Marks and Spencer’s ‘Count On Us’ lemon mousse. You can count on it because each wee 70 gram pot has only 80 calories, and is less than 3% fat.
‘Dieting never tasted so good!’ says the smily wording on the lid, and why might that be? Could it possibly be something to do with the fact that 18.9% of the tasty treat is made up of sugar?
You’re right. Dieting was never like that, ever.
Meanwhile, there’s a rain forest of information on my ethical-sounding M&S ‘Fair-trade Lightly Roasted and Salted Cashews.’
“Guarantees a better deal for Third World producers” declares the Fair-trade logo on the packet. Sounds great. More, there are no artificial colours, flavours or MSG, and no hydrogenated oils. Oh, and it’s suitable for vegetarians.
Now though we go through the Chicane of Absurdity, in which we are informed that this bag of nuts ‘may contain traces of nuts....’; and out the other side into a mad bad place, where further inspection of the overloaded over-worded over-labelled packet reveals that it was prepared in a factory where sesame seeds are used (useful to the three people who have sesame allergies); that small children might choke on nuts (depending on how you shove them down their throats); that the package itself is ‘currently non-recyclable, which is completely unbelievable, utterly reprehensible and somewhat nullifies the fair-trade benefits; and finally, that this well-meaning healthy-sounding profit sharing lethal-dose-bearing packet of nuts came to Galway having been produced in India, then for some reason packed in Italy, then transported to Chester, in England, and then finally, brought to Galway.
Even as they dare to suggest that these cashews might benefit the world, they work on them in 4 different countries You tell me what’s nuts?

Friday 12 September 2008

The most dangerous thing in Galway City? A coffee on Monday at 4 o'clock!

Neachtains Bar
Weekend nights have never figured much on my social map of Galway. Everywhere is packed, and many of my friends are busy working, keeping the city pumping with great food and foaming pints.
So by Monday this scribbler is in need of some kind of human interaction. I'm not looking for a major session. I just want to sit and watch the people go up and down Quay Street. A cup of coffee, maybe even one pint, and then back home for a quiet evening, to be followed by a productive day's work unhampered by heinous hangover.
Pretty soon after moving to Galway I discovered that there is nothing more dangerous than arranging to meet a friend for coffee at 4 o'clock.
By five the second coffee is kicking in and then a wee whiskey appears, and the next thing you know you're waking up at 10:30 the next morning on a sofa in a strange house, wondering who you are, why you're not dead if you feel like this, and maybe you are dead and this is hell.
These days I am more careful. The auld fella jus' can't take it like he used to, d'ya'know?
That's not to say I don't occasionally take the risk of enjoying myself.
A couple of weeks ago I wandered innocent into Neachtain's at 4 o'clock, and was as surprised and delighted as an ingenue to find the place packed with eclectic bunches of friends, from all strands of my life.
Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with my strange head, I couldn't handle it, standing there frozen like a Fianna Fail minister in the dock suffering from Memory Loss Syndrome.
How am I?
She only asked how I am. For god's sake Charlie, get your act together,
Sorry love, can you start with the easy ones, please. I don't know how I am, and believe me, if I try to explain how I might be, you will truly regret ever asking.
Even though I still l consider myself a non-smoker, I carry a pack of fags. Not only can a sly smoke make me feel wonderfully and instantly sick and jangly, but going outside for a ciggy can make for a pretty handy escape.
So I turn and make to flee, when I suddenly hear a voice calling my name from the cubby hole. Ignoring it, I press on, but the voice calls again, with the unmistakable Northern brogue of my esteemed colleague and talented artist Allan Cavanagh: he wot herein visually makes me look like a complete twerp each week.
Excellent! Allan I can deal with, and dive into that wonderful little snug square at the front of the pub. Whiskeys, pints, and gentle craic flow as steadily the soft rain outside.
The Snapper arrives. More whiskey and oh my goodness what a surprise - I now find myself well able to go and talk to the crew with whom I abjectly failed to communicate earlier. Now we are all operating on the same level of intoxication, and my oh my, how could I ever have felt alienated?
I love it!
I love you and you and you!
Allan, the Snapper and I dive out and head to Dominick Street to avail ourselves of the excellent Spanish food available at Cava. Obviously it's not like the Spanish food you eat in Spain, any more than bacon and cabbage in Lanzarote is the real deal, but it is as delicious and authentic as might be possible in Galway. The service is excellent, the company witty and acerbic, and by the time my belly is full of chorizo marinated in sherry, the world looks fluffy and cute.
Then I decide to have a second espresso with my cartoonist colleague, which tips me over the edge and leaves me babbling like an asinine idiot on steroids. Thankfully, my company find it amusing, but I should have known better. A half hour later my head is splitting with a caffeine comedown, while the alcohol is still pumping merrily around my bloodlines, unable to be processed by my poor old overtaxed liver.
I hate it when somebody doesn't know their own limits, especially when it's me. By the time you make 'adult' you're meant to know what is enough for you. Of course we all need to fall off our controlled perches of responsibility once in a while, but what on earth was all that throwing up for when you were a teenager, if you learned nothing about where to draw the alcoholic line? Caffeine I underestimate, and even though I am unable to stop my mouth blah blah blabbering at the restaurant, deep inside I sincerely wish I would shut the fuck up and stop being such a prat.
Now is the time to say "Well Done!" to Alan Williams, the chef-proprietor of Abalone, who had the balls to open his restaurant on Dominick Street a few years back, when that end of the road was dying on its feet.
Since Abalone's arrival, and subsequent deserved success, the entire block has come back to life with a vengeance: Hehir's have opened a branch of their bakery/cafe; Arabica have opened next to them; Cava has opened next to Abalone, and just up from a recently-opened Mocha Beans cafe; E Brun's excellent pub has opened on the other side of Abalone and Galway Taxis have moved their base to a few doors up.
Cava is a welcome addition to Galway City, as indeed is all that inner-city regeneration off Quay Street.
What time did we get home? I don't know, but those 4 o'clock coffees, man, they're lethal.
The day after that night's excesses, I met a friend for lunch at the Racing Lodge in Doughiska, and took the opportunity to do my shopping at the new-(ish!) Dunnes in Briarhill. So great was my alertness and well-being that I drove all the way back to Salthill before I realised that I'd left half my shopping in the bloody supermarket. Having trudged through the rain and endless traffic back to Briarhill, I was delighted to be greeted by smiling caring Dunnes staff.
The Dunnes girls had put my bags to one side for safekeeping, and even thought to store my dairy items in the fridge. Ladies, thanks so much for your smiles, and for giving a damn. You made my recovery much less painful!