Wednesday 27 April 2011

'She'll be fine now' - that's why I live here!

Several weeks ago, just after the big Grand Slam rugby match in Dublin, I was at Luton Airport for the late night flight to Galway. The security guard at looked at my boarding pass.

 “Hope you're happy now, beating us at cricket and rugby!”

There was an edge of good old-fashioned English aggression in his tone, so I walked on through into the Departure Area without bothering to tell him I was English too. His tongue-lash reminded me why I prefer the lack of violence inherent in the people of the West of Ireland to the latent violence all over English attitudes.

Trouble was, after that rugby match, I'd read acres of Irish newspapers and listened to scores of Irish voices telling me how, sure, wasn't it feckin' mighty to wipe those smile off the faces of the auld enemy? The nationalist fever (yes, 'nationalist' is the word, unless you prefer 'jingoistic') that surrounded the victory made me wonder: why have I been in love with the West, ever since I arrived here 19 years ago?

The memory of a friend's voice slid through my brain. Back in London, outside a pub, he'd asked

“So what is it you love so much about living out there, Charlie? The whole country's broke and anyway, don't they hate you for being English ?”
“Dunno.” I offered eloquently in reply.
“Do you ever think of coming back to England?”
“Not a chance.”

If relationships are all about the bad times, then my love of the West of Ireland must run strong and true. As we in the West know, when economists and journalists say 'Ireland' they mean 'Dublin and the Pale'. If life in that 'Ireland' is described as tough, you can bet the price of your last pint that times are even harder in the West, yet still I'd live nowhere else.

Whereas in England people are culturally and bureaucratically punished for being poor, here in the West of Ireland a simple humanity thrives still. Despite the inescapable melancholy that pervades our daily lives; the stark hard fact that jobs this side of the Shannon are rarer than raw meat and that paying each month's rent or mortgage now presents a financial mountain to climb, we stick together and have a laugh.

It's safe to say that 'Hard Times' is the West of Ireland's default setting. Here we know how to smile when life is hard, and we're famous for the way we party. Thankfully, the people of the West of Ireland determine for themselves when times are good, and it's rarely based on our financial status. A good time might be the next 9 minutes, the next 8 hours, or it might not come for weeks and months. But from the moment she kicks off her shoes, be ready to dance!

The flight landed safely back at Galway Airport around midnight. I showed my UK passport to the Irish Immigration Officer.

“Enjoy your stay.”

For the second time that night I couldn’t be bothered to explain that while yes, I'm English, I first arrived in Galway almost  two decades ago. It's my home, has been for ages. I love it, hate it, know it backwards, inside out, up the wall and around the bend, as only an outsider can. Yet 'tis the curse of the blow-in, to answer every single day of your life “Are you on holidays?” or “Whereabouts in London are you from? I was over there in the 50s, d'y'know!”

Galway Airport has two Car Park Payment machines, each side of the Terminal entrance. That night the machine on the right had an 'Out Of Order' notice stuck on it, and there was already a long queue for the one remaining machine. The slightly harassed and hirsute American at the front of the queue put his ticket into the machine, but it didn't register.

Nothing happened.

Feeling twelve pairs of impatient eyes burning his neck from behind, he started pressing buttons like Ensign Sulu on Red Alert. As we looked on over his shoulder, the screen went German, Norwegian, all over the place.

There were grumblings in the queue. It was late. We were tired. We wanted to pay for our parking but if their equipment wasn't working then couldn't they just raise the barrier and let us go? Please?

Frustrated, the American tourist went off to speak to the folk at the Information Desk, and sure enough, a few minutes later a bloke with a bright orange plastic toolkit arrived.
At last someone was on the case. He was going to take on the machine.

Except he didn't.

Side-stepping us all, he strolled over to the other machine and peeled off the 'Out Of Order’ sign that was taped to it.

“You can use this one now!” he said, as we all gasped astonished. Facing us with not a trace of a smile, he explained

 “Sure, it was just booting up. Takes about an hour. She'll be fine now!”

While others around me made infuriated grumpy sounds and wha'th'hell perplexed explosives, I smiled as I slipped in my ticket, giggled a little as I paid my money, chuckled as I left the airport and guffawed as I drove home.

She'll be fine now. That's what the man said, and that's why I love living here. The sign might say 'Out Of Order', but that's not the truth of it. Life's absurdities are relied upon and respected in the West of Ireland, and after travelling around the planet a couple of times, I found out that I belong here.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Galway is the filling in Life’s sandwich!

Born 15 minutes apart and raised a few front doors from each other, the two fiftysomething friends each wrap an arm around my shoulders and we move as one body, away from the midnight cab, towards my front door, in a man-huggy drunken lope.

The relationship enjoyed by these two men might be called brotherly, but that would be unfair. I can recognise their bond, because I’m lucky enough to share similar ones in my life.

They are as close as brothers, but as friends they are unencumbered by the limitations of sibling rivalry and family obligation. Safely in the front door and ensconsed, sipping whiskey in my living room, I sit back and laugh as they cruelly slag each other off with the skill of decades practice.

It’s been a long night, so I head off to bed, leaving the life-long friends to their own company. In front of me they were behaving like men: neither sensible nor sober men, but grown-ups nonetheless. Now that I am above, lying in bed, their slagging has stopped. They have no audience any more, so they don’t need to display their wit; their repartee. From the room below rises the wonderful sound of two grown men giggling and chuckling like the eight year-old boys they once were, together.

I’m drifting off into sleep, awash with their distant laughter. My last waking thoughts of the night make my heart sing for Galway City. Earlier, as we had clambered leggy and locked out of that cab, my good friend who was down from the old village in Co. Mayo stretched his arms out wide, announcing

“I love being in Galway! It’s great to be in the city!”
His friend from Dublin stretched his arms wide, declaring in response
“I love being in Galway! It’s great to be out of the city!”
Naturally I had to seal the deal, stretching my arms and saying
“I love Galway! It’s a little bit of what you want, whatever that is!”

We three laughed smugly, they each taking one of my outstretched arms, sandwiching me as if I was Galway, in the middle of their rural urban sandwich.

Monday 18 April 2011

I'll have the Early Bird menu without the sexist assumptions, please!

The Snapper’s splendid parents are back in Galway City, so last night we had a lovely meal at one of the many Quay Street restaurants offering recession-busting Early Bird menus

The food was cooked simply and to great effect, while the service was friendly and prompt.
On three separate occasions whilst in the restaurant I felt so very male, which, surprising as it might seem to many of you, was not a terrible phenomenon.

The first time my testicles affected my brainbox was when my mother-in-law told the waitress that she didn’t want a starter and proceeded to order her main course from the Early Bird menu. The waitress (who was friendly and German) suddenly interrupted her, telling her that she couldn’t order from the Early Bird menu any more, because it was a three course menu. If she wanted that dish without a starter she’d have to go to the á la carte menu.

Had she said ‘Madam might find ordering á la carte more reasonable if she requires only two
courses’ I might have understood, but she didn’t.

My testosterone took the Spinal Chord Expressway to my binary male brain, and I had to bite my lip to stop myself intervening. My in-laws were in my home town, so I felt protective, but in a trice the Snapper applied her charm and a lifetime of restaurant management experience to the situation, explaining to the waitress that her mother would have this dish on the á la carte menu, without that but with this, so that when it turned up, exactly as it appeared on the Early Bird menu, it was exactly what her mother wanted.

As I sit here and write this, I still cannot for the life of male logic understand why wanting to eat less disqualified my mother-in-law from the €25 euro Early Bird menu. Had she been a difficult customer, asking to insert something that wasn’t on the set menu into it, I would have understood, but she didn’t. She simply wanted two courses of a three course menu, but was told that she couldn’t have it, which also meant that she had to order dessert separately from the group, and generally might have felt unnecessarily marginalised, had she not been such a good sport.

By the time her rhubarb crumble arrived we three had already finished our Early Bird desserts (no manners, some people!) so her husband took a spoon to help himself to a taste. When the waitress returned she noticed the two spoons on her plate and joked about how my mother-in-law must have been using one spoon to eat with and the other, to fend off us dessert vultures. Then she went and spoiled it all by spouting well-worn nonsense about how she could manage that, because as a woman, she could multi-task.

Sitting there I felt for the umpteenth time aware that even though I have dangly bits where girls have not, I am very able to multi-task. Not for the first time this colyoom stands up for men, because we have to be subjected to sexist ridicule as a matter of course, each and every day.

Yes, I know it’s a patriarchal society, and that if women ruled the world we’d have no nuclear weapons, but that is not my personal fault. I’m a socially-aware sensitive New Man who is oh-so very tired of hearing my gender freely and openly slagged off on TV, radio, in print and in real life.

Quite possibly women are better multi-taskers that men, but that doesn’t mean that all men are unable to multitask, any more than it means all women are unable to comprehend the workings of the internal combustion engine, or that all gay men are great dancers, or lesbians wear pork pie hats.

It’s a nonsensical sexist assumption, but for some reason women are allowed to publicly proffer those, while we verbally-battered men are way too scared to say anything of the sort.

The third time I felt fantastically male last night was wholly down to me being a clumsy oaf.  Our table in the restaurant was tucked into the eave of the attic space, and as I slid around to settle into my seat, I brushed a candle lantern that was hanging in the window, spilling candle wax down my jacket, over my jeans and onto the floor.

In retrospect I could have been a complete pain and complained that a restaurant having something loaded with hot wax swinging at head height from the ceiling might not be a very good idea, blah blah blah, Health and Safety, blah blah blah, but I didn’t. Nevertheless I was admonished  by my wife and felt pretty badly myself about the mess on the floor.

Later, as I returned from the restaurant loo, I thought it would be polite to apologise to our waitress about the mess, so I went over to her and said sorry, at which she unleashed a good-natured yet lengthy and preachy lecture about how I must stay behind and clean up the mess; how my wife would have a nightmare ironing the wax out of my clothes; my poor wife this and my poor wife that.

Of course it was my fault I knocked into the lantern, but beyond that, it was not my fault that it was hung so low, right by the table, and it was certainly not my fault that in this waitresses’ eyes I had caused all sorts of problems for my wife.

I decided to let her spill her venom, resisting the strong temptation to point out that actually, it was my jacket and my jeans that had been damaged, and that I (and therefore she and her restaurant as a whole) was pretty lucky I hadn’t been burned by hot wax hitting my neck or other bare-fleshy parts.

God forbid I had said something along the lines of ‘ow the little woman was goin’ to ‘ave an ‘eck of a job gettin’ that crap off've me clothes.

But I didn’t. She was the one making sexist assumptions, not me.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Mea Culpa- the emails arrived!

A qualified apology to Eudora - the emails that Eudora decided might cause me offense (see post below) appeared in my Inbox this morning. Sitting beside them were a few warning red chilli peppers, but after several days spent wanderin' the protocol prairies of internet and corporate ethics (oxymoron?), they made it through and free speech lives another day.

I will never appreciate being preached at by my own software, either with chilli peppers, highlighted texts or erroneous warning messages. The exercise is flawed anyway, as I don't suppose the world will benefit from baccy-chewin' bigots and rocking chair racists being told by their own computers that using the word 'fag' might cause offense. They want to use it because it will cause offense.

Anyway, I jumped to conclusions and was only partially right, which is a cowardly way of saying I was wrong. Time for software manufacturers to update their international abusive term databases and more to the point, time for this colyoom to move on!

Friday 8 April 2011

I’m being censored by my own email!

I’ve always used Eudora Light for my email. It’s a freebie no-frills application that does exactly what I want, in a lean no pop-ups or ads type of way. Every now and then a dialogue box appears after its launch, asking if I want to upgrade and register for the full Eudora shebang. I click Not Yet and life goes on.

Well, it did, until a week ago, when I was multi-tasking as only a man can, and accidentally clicked on the Ohh Yes Please Let Me Enjoy All Those Features button.

Poopers. What happens now? Will I have to pay? Will there be all sorts of clunky features I neither want nor need?

But no, it’s fine. There are no ads, but then again I haven’t registered with them yet. I write an email to my man JB about how my life is pootling along, about struggles giving up fags, and when I go to send it I’m presented with a dialogue box on screen:

“Your message may cause offense. Your message to ‘person’ regarding ‘subject’ has language highly likely to be found offensive.

The little blue button on my screen asks me if I want to Send Anyway?, so I click on it, but the message doesn’t go. Instead it sits in my Outbox, with a hefty censorial criss-cross in its margin, and three red chilli pepper icons stuck beside it.

Taking a glance up my Outbox, I spotted a few other emails with one and two red chilli pepper icons attached, all sent since I’d left the freedom of Eudora Light. Opening these peppered emails, I find other mentions of ‘fags’, as there would very likely be, in England and Ireland, if you’re talking about cigarettes.

Outrage starts to build within me. I’m a writer and I need the freedom to send emails containing whatever text necessary. More to the point, I am a human being who does not want, need or expect to be judged by his email application. Had I been spreading vile racist abuse or sexist vitriol I might have felt different, but probably not, because there’s this thing called Freedom of Speech.

From that outrage fresh anger grows, at the sad inaccuracy of this misplaced censorship. If you're going to offer a truly international product, make sure your software is sufficiently sophisticated.

Then I wonder: if Eudora won’t let me use ‘fag’ because of the way the word is used in America, will it let me use words that will actually cause offense in Europe? I send an email to myself with the single word ‘poof’ in it, and it goes without any warning. I send myself emails with the words ‘queer’, bender’ and ‘gay’, and they all go too. Then I try one with ‘fuck’ and it won’t go. Apparently, sending myself that email is highly likely to be found offensive - by me.

My blood runs cold. Get me out of big Eudora and do it now. There are times when I really need to send pieces that have swear words and curses in them, because I’m a freelance writer living in Ireland, where the Fs and C’s flow as freely as the craic. It’s just Ireland’s way of adopting English, with all the scrungy cocktails of its Anglo-Saxon and Latin glories intact.

Nobody here will be offended by the use of the word ‘fag’ for ‘cigarette’. Yet I am offended. I am deeply offended and affronted. By simply clicking on the wrong button, my freedom of speech has been curtailed.

I’m sending a copy of this to the folks at Eudora, who will hopefully reply with an explanation of how I can simply change my settings and stop this happening. If however they say this is the way it has to be, I’m out of Eudora faster than peppered fag.

Monday 4 April 2011

Everything a writer does - except writing!

Back from a night in the countryside last week, I sat at this computer fully intending to do some work, but first made the mistake of checking my email.

The first message came from my Israeli friend and writing teacher, who wants me to do some research for her novel. I try to explain that I don't know any better than she does who her character might be hanging out with in London in 2004, because at that time I was living in a field by a river in Co. Mayo, writing about birds and donkeys for the Irish Examiner. I could not have had my finger further from the urban pulse, but I agree to help, because she is my teacher, my friend and in some bizarre way it's an honour to help out; a mitzvah, noch.

Another email awaits in my inbox, from a lifetime friend in London who has just started a blog which is feeling lost and unvisited. 'What should he do to encourage traffic?' he asks, so I try to concentrate on reading his material, while casting my eye to my mobile phone, which has just peeped after receiving a text.

Another friend, this one in Galway, has written some splendid poems over the years, and now he's texting me to ask if I would like to proof-read them when I have the time. I told him weeks ago that I'd love to, it'd be a privilege, but now I’m not sure when I can get round to it. Ah well, any time, really.

Another email awaits, this time from Ryan who works for Lonely Planet guide books. Two years ago he contacted me after finding this colyoom online, to say he was coming to Galway to work on the new Ireland edition. We had a great day out, divilment and debauchery aplenty while I showed him around Galway, and then I basked in the glow of all the newspaper reports that said Galway had received such good reviews in the new Lonely Planet Ireland book.

'All my own work!' I thought quietly to myself.

Sometimes I do just think quietly to myself. Hard to believe, but I’m not all blog and bluster.

Anyway, Ryan's email is letting me know he’s coming back to town and wants to hook up and see what's changed in Galway. I tell him I'll get back to him after sorting out my teacher's novel, my mate's blog, my friend's poems and - hang on, wasn't I meant to be doing some writing of my own?

I adore being a scribbler, and love helping others, but sometimes it becomes difficult to know when to draw the line. Ah Pooey McShooey, to be honest, there are no lines. There’s just humanity, and the old ‘what goes around comes around’ maxim. I am lucky that people come to me for advice, and know that when I need help, there will be somebody there for me.

Now, I think I’ll do some work. Ah sure well, first I need to pop into town to get some A4 white envelopes, and then...maybe tea and buns at me old mate Dalooney's...