Sunday 25 December 2011

The day that Christmas stopped the killing.

Thanks to Allan Cavanagh for the perfect illustration.

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 as a child was a big affair in my Jewish home. 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 is a Pagan tradition 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 (rather then tolerance, even though many 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 lots of ye Irish folk, I actually like the “Happy Holidays!” thing.
Many of you believe 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 ours. 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 Irish newspaper 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 decades. I love Ireland and the Irish, and I even pay my taxes. 
At what point does this country become my country too? Clearly, as far as some of you are concerned, never, 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.”
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.





Saturday 24 December 2011

'Bertie Potter and the Lost Memories of Erin' - a fairytale of Christmas Eve.

(This 6th of the 7 colyooms I’m posting this week was first published in December 2002.)

It was the night before Christmas, and snow lay all over the fields of Erin. Out in the garden shed, Bertie Potter was shivering in the cold, wondering why oh why he couldn’t sleep inside the na Fianna family house.
There was a terrible curse upon the na Fianna family. Old cousin Charlie had strangled himself on the sleeve of his silk shirt, and Bertie’s father Albert had choked to death on a beef bone. Bertie Potter was sent to live with his nasty Auntie Mary Harniggan, and his horrible Uncle Charlie McCrevil.
Auntie Mary was a huge woman with a short temper, who loved her own children much more than she loved Bertie Potter. She gave Bertie old clothes to wear, and just enough food scraps to keep him alive.
Uncle Charlie was a dirty smelly old man, with bad teeth and too much drink inside him. He went on and on about never having enough money, but Bertie Potter didn’t understand why he couldn’t have any Christmas presents, because he remembered the time when Auntie Mary wanted to buy a bottle of wine in a faraway county. Uncle Charlie suddenly found the money to pay for a private plane for her, which must have cost a pretty penny.
Bertie Potter knew that as soon as he was able, he was going to leave home and live on his own. Somewhere deep inside, he knew he was not the same as them. He felt special, somehow different, but he didn’t yet know why.
Wrapping himself up in his tatty old blanket, Bertie Potter finally drifted off to sleep, but an hour later he woke up with a shock. The door of the shed suddenly crashed open, and two men burst in, falling over each other.
Bertie couldn’t believe his eyes! It was the ghosts of Grandad Eamonn and his Great Uncle Michael, who’d both been dead many a long year. Bertie Potter could smell the drink on them, so he understood how they were able to fight and laugh and hug each other, all at the same time.
“On yer boike, ye pat’et’ic two-faced weasel!” shouted Great Uncle Michael at Grandad Eamonn.
“Never moind my bike, ye great hulkin’ Cork fool, you watch yer back - oh sorry, too late, har har har!” cried Grandad Eamonn, at which the two men fell over, giggling like a couple of teenagers on Buckfast.
Eventually they calmed down, and turned to Bertie Potter, who was sitting with his blanket wrapped around his knees, his eyes bulging with surprise.
“Howya, Bertie Potter!” said Grandad Eamonn. “Sorry to wake ye up, but the time has come for ye to know the truth! Bertie, you are a wizard, and you have a very important job to do!”
Nothing could prepare Bertie Potter for what happened next. Before you could say ‘Ryanair extra charges’, Great Uncle Michael scooped Bertie into his arms, and the two men flew out of the shed, and up high, into the Christmas Eve sky. It felt good, being held by that strong giant of a man, and as they flew over Erin, Great Uncle Michael explained everything to Bertie Potter.
“Look below and see the Erin that your Grandad and I built, after we kicked the English out of the place - ”
“Well, most of the place!” interrupted Grandad Eamonn.
“Oh for god’s sake, wouldja ever get over that!” shouted Great Uncle Michael. “Anyway, Free Erin was the envy of the world. Sure, we weren’t rich, but your Uncle Buck and Auntie Dollares came to visit from far away, and loved us so much, they opened lots of shops and factories here.
"Then Uncle Mark from Germany and Auntie Franc from France sent Erin lots of money, so that we could build new roads and houses, and everything was looking good. Everyone could buy new cars, take holidays, and last Summer, your Uncle Charlie gave everyone free money for their piggy banks.
“But then something terrible happened. Your Auntie and Uncle sent out hundreds of magic brown envelopes, and anyone who opened them fell immediately under a spell. All over Erin, people lost their memories ... and their money.
“Everyone in the Tribunals forgot everything ever!
“The Gardai even forgot what each other looked like!
“Aer Rianta forgot to forget about £5,000 of cigars and brandy that Seamus Brennan never had.
“Mad Cows forgot they had BSE.
“Mothers forgot they had Hepatitis C.
“British soldiers in Derry forgot they shot people on Bloody Sunday.
“Both sides in the North forgot they had promised to make peace.
“The FAI invited everyone in Europe to come and play football here, but forgot that they had no pitches to play on!
“Some people in Erin even forgot that millions of us were once refugees, fleeing persecution and famine, and suddenly started being racist against asylum seekers here.
“Politicians forgot how important medical cards and hospitals and FAS Courses are to the poor. And tonight, there are many very poor children all over Erin who will not wake up to a pile of Christmas presents at the end of their beds.”
After their long flight, Great Uncle Michael and Grandad Eamonn landed on the top of Athlone Cathedral.
“So who am I?” asked Bertie Potter, “And what can I do to help?”
“You are 'The Boy Who Remembered’. It is your destiny to save Erin, Bertie Potter!” exclaimed Great Uncle Michael.
“When you get home, you must cast a powerful magic spell on your Auntie and Uncle, making them prisoners inside the na Fianna house. You must make sure that your evil Auntie Mary and your wicked Uncle Charlie never ever leave that house again. They must never be seen, never have one of their words heard, and never ever send a brown envelope in the post. If you do that, Bertie Potter, you will save your Erin!”
‘I can do it!’ thought brave Bertie Potter to himself, ‘And without those nasty na Fiannas, everyone will have their memories back, and remember the numbers of their Cayman
Island accounts. We’ll all have enough money for a very Merry Christmas!’

Friday 23 December 2011

No room at the Irish inn?

This 5th of 7 Christmas colyooms I’m posting this week was written in December 2004, just after the Irish, (a nation of people who more than any other have seen - and still see! - economic migration as their birthright) voted in a referendum to deny children born in Ireland the right of automatic citizenship. 

Christmas is a cosy time of year, isn’t it? Roaring fires, full bellies and a movie before tea. Comfortable, happy and safe. Yes, feeling safe, that’s what it’s all about. 

You close your eyes and drift off into a little snooze, but your mind brings you nightmares.

You’re walking into your home, but it feels empty. Silent. Where is your wife and where are your children?

You walk into the kids’ bedroom and see a few clothes thrown around. You see that their small suitcase is missing, and then you run, crazed, into your own bedroom, where you see your wife’s bag gone too. 

You don’t know what to do. 
You call your friends and find nobody knows anything. 
All you can do is sit and wait and hope they return.

Two days later, you receive a call from the police. Your wife went to a government office to pick up some forms, was suddenly arrested, handcuffed, and driven immediately across town to pick up some clothes for the children. Then she and your children were rushed to the airport and thrown out of the country, flown off to the very place you spent your life trying to escape.

What a terrible country that must be to live in. To lose your wife and kids, without so much as a kiss goodbye. To think of the shame your wife felt being walked handcuffed through an airport. To feel the fear and confusion of your children who might wonder what terrible thing they had done to deserve this.

To wonder if you will ever see your family again. 

Kingsley Igbojionu may well have seen his wife Rachel, and their two Irish-born children again, as months after his wife was humiliated and deported, he too was sent back to Nigeria.

As you recline safely in your Christmas armchairs, ponder for a second about Ireland, and how it behaves towards refugees.

Over 80% of you voted ‘Yes’ in the referendum this year. Over 400 people have been sent out of this country since then, and more than 11,000 parents of Irish-born children could be deported. 

The kids can stay, but what parents would abandon their children to the care of a State that has enforced such a separation?

No room at the Inn. Happy Christmas to you.

Christmas is supposedly a celebration of birth, love and delivery from fear. This year, if you will excuse my chutzpah, this Atheist Jew implores you all to behave like true Christians. 

Love thy neighbour.

Celebrate the fact that others want to live here. They want to share their cultures, to love their children, and to worship their own gods.

Pray in your churches this Christmas that all the people living in this land might feel as safe as you do.
Oh, and have a most excellent and jubilant Christmas holiday!

Thursday 22 December 2011

...and then there was the Christmas we burned the banker’s lawn!

Although old enough to know better, we were a bunch of friends clinging collectively to a mischievous hedonism, a desire to have just two too many, because we could, and then someone found a bottle of Tequila, and we did that too, d’ya know the kind o’way?

The Croaker’s dad was some kind of bigwig at Lloyd’s Bank, and his friend had a timeshare cottage down in Somerset. So we decided we'd all go off to do Christmas in a Merchant Banker’s holiday home in the picturesque village of Porlock.

Oh, and we were very, very lucky, or so everyone told us.

Far from being the biscuit tin picture Tudor oak-beamed thatch of our dreams, the ‘cottage’ turned out to be a crushingly unremarkable house, at the end of a suburban-style cul-de-sac.

Well, dwaaarling, to be dreadfully honest, it was simply awful. Bland. Pure 100% unadulterated boring dull and taste-free, decorated throughout in white this, grey wall-to-wall that, nothing of note, character, history or colour.

But boy, had we been warned! Daddy’s little gal drummed into us that his place was to be respected. Nothing was going to happen to this place, okay? Rilly, because one just doesn’t go around damaging other people’s homes, okay yah? And the garden too, okay, yah? Daddy loves his lawn, okay? Super!

She handed us the keys. Young, loaded with disposable income, drink and doubtless, in those days, a wide range of potent and nefarious ‘recreationals’, we headed off to the West Country.

Christmas morning arrives, and domestic bliss descends on the ‘cottage’.

Everyone, except for Lucy, is draped over chairs, sofas and each other. Every eye is trained on the TV screen, where Dumbo’s mother is locked up in a cage. They think she’s a mad dangerous animal. We know, of course, that she is nothing but a pure sweetheart of a beast, and our emotions are gently twitching, peaking and troughing, sailing blissfully on the waters of mass mind-altering consumption.

Little Dumbo is losing his mum. He puts his trunk through the bars of the cage, which if I recall correctly was on a train, and Mummy Dumbo and little Dumbo link trunks.

Lucy’s smiling face appears around the door.

"Er guys - the kitchen’s on fire."

I asked her later why she said it so calmly. She explained that in her shock, she incorrectly assumed we would react like responsible adult human beings, so she decided it best not to create unnecessary panic.

As it was, we were so far gone in the cerebrals we completely ignored her, as one.

"Oh cool!"

"Nice, nice!"

"Poor lickel nellyphant gonna loose his mumma. That’s so sad!"

"Yeh - but it’ll be alright in the-"

", the KITCHEN is on FIRE!"

"No, really? Be with you in a tick, love! Luce, chill, we just wanna watch this!"

Confronted with such overwhelmingly abject apathy, Lucy finally lost it.

"Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire in the kitchen! Turn off the bloody video you morons, there’s a FIRE IN THE KITCHEN!"

I heard a distant Rasta voice emerge from under a cushion, bravely offering in a whispering song

 “...there’s a fire in my kitchen, what am I gonna do!”

By the time we actually got off our arses and made it into the kitchen, Lucy had rushed upstairs and was, rather superbly, dunking bath towels in water. Flames were licking out of the oven, smoke billowing all over the place. It was dramatic and confusing, our feeble heads no longer lolling on oceans of calm, instead now tossed about on stormy seas of impending disaster.

We felt collectively unsure about opening the oven door.

Didn’t opening doors make fires get worse?

Maybe if we all stood at odd angles, and chewed our cuticles frantically for a few more minutes, maybe it might go away.

Anyway, the fire didn’t look structurally threatening. Not yet.

Still, it was pretty exciting, and we generally ooo-ed, errr-ed, yelled ‘Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring’, and giggled like infants eating cake-mix behind Mummy’s back.

Lucy appeared with soaking towels, opened the oven door, and threw a towel over the flames in the roasting tin.

Gone. Wow, fire gone bye-byes! We all stood and stared, while Lucy tried to come to terms with saving the day.

Suddenly, for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever, Neil was spurred into action.

"Got to get that pan out of there!” he said, and before any of us could stop him, he picked up the other towel, and lifted the smouldering disaster of a dinner out of the oven, yelling

“Open the front door!"

Like a man possessed, he stormed out into the garden, and carefully lowered the smoking dish down onto the velvet turf.

We all looked at it, and we 'knew’, as it says in the Bible. We knew that it was not good.

Never mind the smoke-stained kitchen. Black can be made white again. We could clean the fire damage, no problem.

But right now, somebody had to go and move that dish. As soon as possible. Pronto. Like, er, yesterday, dude...

It was, as it had to be, Neil who went back to the scene of his crime. Once more, as neighbour’s net curtains twitched all around, in true British Bourgeois fashion, we stood and giggled as Neil bent over the now-cooled tray.

As he lifted it, so he also lifted a clump of verdant bliss the size of - well, the exact size and shape of a large roasting tin.

"Daddy loves his lawn!" offered some bright spark.

"Drink!" Lucy was inspired. “Drink! We need drink, lads! It’s Christmas Day! We need a drink!"

This time we all heard her, and I have to admit, from that moment on I can’t remember anything - not a wall-cleaning, oven-scrubbing moment, but a fine time was had by all, and that, my patient readers, is what I wish for you.

May this season of Christmas, Diwhali and Hanukkah bring you, and your families, Shalom peace.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

There really is no such thing as free beer!

The 3rd of the 7 Christmas colyooms I'm posting each day this week is a tale of broken bones, beer, pantomime and Archimedes' Principle of Displacement!

More than any other time of the year, when we sit around our dinner tables on Christmas Day, we are aware of who is there and who is not.
At the age of 17, having performed impressive acrobatics with my Yamaha 250, a saloon car, a ditch and a barbed wire fence, I spent six weeks in hospital over Christmas and New Year. My femur was snapped in two, which is no mean feat with thighs like mine, and my tibia had a crack or two as well. Bed-bound, with my leg in traction, I developed a bronchial chest infection after an emergency operation.
Every two seconds for six weeks I coughed in hacking spasms, thus shaking my smashed leg, which was hung in a sling, supported by a metal pole they had driven through me, just below the knee.
Suffice to say I came to terms with pain.
In our part of the ward, there were four beds and three bikers with broken bones.
There was Kev, who had fallen off his sleek and mean Suzuki GT750 (a two stroke 3-into-1, since you ask), and opposite us two was brick shithouse Yorkshireman Gary, ex-SAS, and mighty embarrassed, having survived several covert tours of duty in Northern Ireland, to have to admit to falling off a Honda 125.
Compared to the other patients in the hospital the three of us were well off.
We were not sick. We'd had our operations, and apart from antibiotics for wounds, and pain killers for broken bones, we needed very little medical attention.
We were young, male, bored, and allowed to drink beer. Naturally, we tried to attract the attention of the student nurses as much as possible, and equally, they were happy to have a bit of a laugh with lads who were not ill, physically, at least!
By the time Christmas came around, the three of us were well aquainted with all the student nurses, and then we were told we would be allowed to drink spirits during the Christmas period.
So we did.
We got plastered, if you’ll pardon the pun, and so did the student nurses. We persuaded them that by having a tipple or three with us they were really doing their jobs, because they were helping us through a difficult time.
On Christmas morning, the Consultant Surgeons came around the wards, carving the turkeys at our besides, and general merriment was had by all.
Karen, my favourite student nurse, had had a lickle ickle bit too much to drink. She pulled the curtains around my bed, produced a half bottle of vodka from under her skirt, and taking some lemonade and a clean specimen bottle from my bedside cabinet, mixed us up a festive cocktail, after which she gave me a lovely snog, and left me feeling a million dollars.
Looking back now, I can only think how wonderful she was, because not only was I away from my family Christmas table, but so was she.
After the Christmas pud, we were all wheeled out of the ward in our beds, and taken to a large and crowded area, where the staff were putting on a Panto for the patients.
Gary’s wife, (a woman of such substantial proportions and brooding menace that she clearly put the fear of god into our man of iron) had turned up with several cases of brown ale, and so we sat up in our beds, enjoying the show, drinking frothing foaming pints of beer from plastic glasses.
Half way through the performance, I realised I needed to pee. I’d done precious little but drink all day, and now I really really needed to go, all of a sudden, with the fiercely demanding urgency of someone who knows that he cannot go.
There was no way I could ask anybody to wheel me to the loo. To get me and my bed out of that area would have meant interrupting the show, and causing a kerfuffle that would spoil everything for everybody.
So I did all I could do.
I drained my pint glass of beer, and, errr, then I refilled it!
In my drunken state, I decided it made perfect Archimidean mathematical sense.
Reaching out of my bed, I placed the foaming frothing pint onto a shelf, and watched the rest of the show, making a mental note to remember to pick it up afterwards and dispose of it myself.
Trouble was, when the lights went up, it was no longer there, and to this day I do not know whether some unfortunate alcoholic scrumper thought his luck was in.
Free beer! Whoopee!
Best not think about that too long.
But on Christmas Day, please, let’s all for a minute think of those who have given up their day to work: to serve us with safety in our homes, at sea and overseas; those who  comfort and care, and those who volunteer to help others without a home to go to.
If you spare them a thought and give thanks, you won’t be far off pleasing whichever God you might worship!
Happy Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah and Solstice, and may your god go with you.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

What’s so terrible about Christmas on your own?

(Day 2 of the 7 Christmas colyooms I'm posting this week! This one was written in 2002, when I lived in a farmhouse near Killala, Co. Mayo, and felt very happy to be spending Christmas on my own...)

It’s the look in their eyes that gets me. They’ve asked you what you’re going to do for Christmas, and you’ve said you don’t know. You might go to friends, but you might just stay in and do it on your own.

Then there’s the look. The staring-down-the-nose dewey-eyed you-don’t really-know-what you’re-saying-do-you-you-poor-sad-lonely-little-loser look. 

Drives me crazy every time.

Of course it is tragic that some people will be lonely and alone on Christmas Day.
But the time has come for me to stand up and be counted, on behalf of the multitude out here who will be alone and doing just fine, thanks very much.
Well, I wanted to be counted but there’s just me, so I’ll do it myself: one.

One person who will wake up when he wants to on Christmas morning. It’s a special day, so I’ll make sure to leave a few cards and pressies to open, at my leisure, whilst lying in bed.

Then I’ll take a wonderfully peaceful walk along a deserted beach and return home to build a massive fire. Once the coal is crackling and hissing in the hearth, I’ll phone my family back in London, and chat to my nieces, sister, brother and parents as the phone is passed around their living room. Once again, I’ll reassure my folks that I am fine and happy.

Time to have a little snifter. Crack open the Jameson 12, feel the dark chewy whiskey flowing all over my far-flung bodily extremities, warming my heart while cheering my soul.

Now it really feels like Christmas: time to play some music. I’m partial to the Vienna Boys Choir on Christmas morning (and they speak very highly of me too!), but I might just be tempted by my very dodgy ‘The Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin’ Christmas album.

Shocking behaviour.

I’ll play my music as loud as I want to, very probably do a silly little dance and nobody will complain or mock my natural sense of rhythm.

Time to warm up the oven, but what does a man cook to eat on his own for Christmas dinner? Well, exactly whatever he feels like,to be eaten whenever he wants.
All I know for sure at this moment is that the meal will consist solely of the most magnificently self-indulgent ingredients. Possibly a roast fillet of lamb, larded with garlic, wrapped in rosemary and honey; crispy roast shpuds; steamed carrots and leeks; a braised onion and a sweet roasted parsnip.

Sound good? Oh, you don’t care for lamb? 
I don’t care. I’m cooking for one.

Such a feast requires a splendid bottle of French red, perchance a Grand Cru of velvet depth and sublime body - much like myself!

As the smells of the roasting meat inveigle their way around the house, I’ll make a few more phone calls, spreading love and good wishes to my friends, scattered around the globe.

Then it’s out the door, and up to visit the landlord farmer and his wife, drop off a bottle of whiskey and a message of thanks to them for housing me in such a happy home.

Oh, and donkeys celebrate Christmas too, so the usual carrots are out, and today it’s nothing but choccy biccies and Golden Delicious apples for my closest ‘neigh-bours’, Kitty and her foal Molly.

Even an atheist Jew such as myself can be a hoary old Christmas traditionalist, so I put the Christmas pud on the steamer and glaze my home-made mince pies, to be snarfed later with brandy butter and burps.

Most important of all, I take the cheese out of the fridge, and let it breathe. I am a self-avowed pathetic slave to cheese, and this year I have had to cut it from my diet at home, in an effort to cut down on the cholesterol. 

But hey, it’s Christmas, so it’s got to be stinky creamy Stilton on digestive biscuits, and a pungent nutty cheddar on oatcakes, washed down with a healthy dose of vintage port, of which I will purchase a half bottle for my own consumption. 

After the meal, a stroll down by the river, enjoying the utter tranquility of the day that’s in it, and back home to watch a movie. As a child in England, there was comfort to be found in the Christmas morning Beatles film on the box, and in the afternoon the Beeb always used to run ‘Bridge Over The River Kwai’. Some traditions are best left unwrapped, so to be on the safe side I’ll make sure to rent a couple of vids - one new release and one old fave ,something epic like Goodfellas or ‘Dr. Zhivago’.

By the time darkness has fallen on my solitary Christmas Day, I will have exercised twice, been well fed and over-watered, ready to snooze a while in front of the fire. I will not be woken up by any upsetting family rows, or Uncle George needing urgent medical attention after overdoing the brandy.

After my snooze, there’ll be an energetic walk to the bathroom, followed by a disgustingly long soak, and then a bit of a wash and brush up to see if I feel like visiting friends, or prefer simply to stare at the goggle box and drift off into my own private Yuletide nirvana.

How bad does that sound?

To be completely honest, I’m not even sure that I really will spend Christmas Day alone this year. I have two friends in Galway City who are also planning to spend the day alone, so I made a suggestion that if they felt the urge, so to speak, they might come up and share a country Christmas with me.

If they come I will be delighted to see them, certain in the knowledge that we will still have exactly the day we all want, under no pressure to do, be or say anything that crosses the border from our Happy World of Indulgence into the dark dreary land of Duty.

Either way, alone or with my fellow Lost Boys, I will be spending money I don’t have; eating and drinking as if I were immortal; enjoying my own company, and equally eager to step into the pub at noon on Stephen’s Day and quaff pints of black, whilst listening to the horrific tales of woe emanating from all those poor sad souls who had to endure the Christmas that everyone else wanted.

Whether on your own or in the company of others, enjoy a peaceful happy Christmas, and whatever your faith, may your god go with you.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Will the last simple sandwich to leave Ireland please put the ciabatta under the grill?

The tattered remains of the Celtic Tiger are scattered all over Ireland.
It’s easy to spot the empty rotting ghost estates that stand as headstones for the grave of another failed construction boom.
It’s fun to count the traffic jams of ‘00’ and ’99’ reg cars that cram Ireland’s roads.
It’s sad to see the frail, old, young and poor yet again take the hit for the failures of the rich.

Far from these deep and depressing issues, there’s another much more trivial yet still irritating legacy of those boom days occupying Galway City.

From High Street to Spanish Arch it’s nigh on impossible to sit in a pub and order a simple sandwich. Off the beaten tracks there are thankfully pubs that knock out that classic Irish standard, Shoopandsandgidgeforafiver, but from Sea Road to Eyre Square you’re more likely to be offered a menu crawling with gourmet offerings of organic Mongolian yak’s cheese, with sun-dried beetroot husks on a bed of 85 day-aged wolf navels on a wood oven reheated ciabatta, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil sourced exclusively from a 60,000 year-old tree on a long-lost Ionian island.

Yours for only €7.95, served with 6 blue seaweed leaved foraged from the local beach and 2.5 game chips

Very lovely; doubtless scrumptious; but all you really want is a sandwich.
A cup of tea washing down a couple of slices of wholemeal pan filled with ample ham and mustard, cheese and pickle or excuse me, fellow travellers, but egg mayonnaise.
Yes, I am that simple, and if you can’t stand the smell, don’t fly Adley Airways.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm delighted that Irish cuisine has come up in the world. There has been a foodie revolution in Ireland over the last 10 years, and we’re all the better for it. But just as I am so happy still to be able to start my Galway nights out with PJ McDonagh’s excellent cod and mushy peas, so too I fear Irish pubs are flushing out the basic bready baby with the Tiger’s bath water.

Why does a pub have to hand over its entire menu to sumptuous ├╝ber-bites? Why can’t they also offer us plebs a simple cheap lunch on square bread? While we’re on the subject, is it just me that has always had trouble with the term ‘gastropub’?

I’ve never been able to get past the fact that the first two syllables allude less to having a good old chow down, and more to do with the prefix of a series of vile stomach illnesses.

I don’t watch films at a cancercinema or shop in a poxmall, so why would I want to eat in a Gastropub?

Love that. I’m there.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Where have all my comments gone?

There used to be a healthy discourse on my blog. People left comments to which I’d reply, then others might join in, helping to brew up a cauldron of exchanged ideas.

Then I started to use facebook as a portal to the blog and overnight the comments disappeared. Being a scribbler and a wordy old hoor, I still enjoy using just as many words as I deem necessary. Not too many and never too few: just enough; the right amount.

Yet today the world of words is shrinking. Not sufficient that text messaging and tweets allow only 140 characters with which to express yourself, facebook has now reduced the comments on my blog to a single mouse click.

Of course I’m delighted that people on facebook click to say they ‘like’ a link to the blog, but I miss those expressions of anger, joy and general bloody-mindedly opinionated thought that used to grace the bottom of my blog posts.

Ah well, maybe I should be grateful that in a world where ‘more’ rules the roost and ‘excess’ is a dream to be sought after, this need for fewer words is a good thing.

No, can’t buy that. I want to know what you’re thinking, and ‘like’ clicks representing approval or an absence of clicks to show dissent just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Sunday 4 December 2011

What’s worse than a bus driver talking on his mobile phone? I found out on Saturday!

As I stepped onto the bus I handed the driver the correct fare.
He waved his hand at me, urging me to take my ticket.
He couldn’t actually speak to me because he was on his mobile phone.

‘Charming!’I thought.

I took my seat and fumed to see him continue to talk into his phone as we pulled out into the main road. Admittedly Salthill on a wet cold Saturday morning is not a hotbed of high speed driving, but we had all paid to be driven by him, and not only was he breaking the law, but doing so in a way that could risk both his job and our lives.

By the time I reached my destination I had worked out what I wanted to say to him. There was no point in being aggressive, as that would only get his back up. For all I knew he might have been on the phone to a sick wife, or an ailing parent in an Emergency Room, so I was loathe to judge him too harshly.

Before I walked off the bus I turned to him and calmly said:

“Hi. You know, when we step onto this bus we’re putting our lives in your hands, so it’s a bit scary for us too see you driving while you’re talking on your mobile.”

As I spoke to him my eyes looked over to see that in his lap he was balancing his football pools sheet, while in his other hand he had a pen with which he was doing the pools, leaving, errrr, no hand at all with which to drive the bus.

He then contemptuously snorted wind from his nose, and in my direction exclaimed slowly, impatiently, emphatically:

“Oh. Sweet. God.”

Evidently he felt he had the absolute right to endanger not only us, but other drivers and pedestrians, by driving a bus whilst talking on the phone whilst doing his football pools.

Part of me wanted to report him, but I didn’t, as he’d lose his job, bringing untold suffering upon his family who were, unlike him, innocent.

Instead I gently said:

“When you hit a child in the road, saving your job will be the least of your worries.”