Monday 31 December 2012

Roll Up! Roll Up! It’s time for the 2012 DV Awards!


It’s with great pleasure and a swollen sense of self-importance that I welcome you once again to the prestigious annual DV Awards. At a time of year when you the viewers at home vote for gordknows how many ‘Best Of’ listings for 2012, the DV Awards offer a unique opportunity.

You don’t have to call in, email or ‘like’ anything on Facebook. In fact you’re not allowed to participate at all. Prestigious and highly-prized, the DVs are the least democratic awards in the world. Thoroughly unsatisfactory, far from comprehensive and only occasionally comprehensible, DVs are awarded by a biased and subjective jury of one.

So sit back and relax. Your vote doesn’t count and it never will!

First lucky winner this year is Michael Noonan, whose rant about Ireland’s relationship with the Greeks wins the Bertie Ahern DV for Treating People With Utter Contempt. By explaining that we didn’t really need Greece in the EU, because all we got was feta cheese and summer holidays, he treated us to a display that revealed the depths of his ignorance and ineptitude. I was cringing with embarrassment, and I’m not even Irish!

The impressive winner of the Mitt Romney DV for Excellence In The Field Of Doublespeak works at the Galway Transportation Unit. Responding to questions posed by this noble rag’s most excellent Dara Bradley about the late completion of the traffic light conversion at the Font Road roundabout, he explained that there was a

 “… difference between delays and not making deadlines.”

The Charlie McCreevy DV for Excellence In Mathematics goes to the crack team in Galway City Council who failed to count the number of exits on the Menlo roundabout, before planning to replace it with a roundabout. 5. Pretty big number. Not surprised they got confused.

Loaded with more chutzpah than New York City, this year’s winner of the Alex Ferguson DV for Having Some Bloomin’ Nerve Saying That is the Ulster Bank. Having screwed up monumentally by failing to remember that bit about backing up your computers, they left their clients (me) unable to access their accounts. We had no idea whether we were still paying out Direct Debits while not receiving incoming payments. It felt like a complete mess, but then they made it a mire, trying to score good PR by issuing a ‘guarantee’ that no customers would be out of pocket as a result of their technical problems.

WOW!! Thanks guys! My bank is guaranteeing not to rob me. How generous of them.

Now’s the time our DV Awards move away from the national and international, to concentrate on the local. Quite possibly you’ll disagree with my choices, but the beauty of it is I don’t care.

First and foremost comes the most important meal of the day. The Fat Bastard Colyoomist DV for Best Breakfast in Galway goes to Lohans pub in Salthill. My once-a-week treat is embarrassingly important to me, and when I sit at a table in Lohans, looking out of the window across the bay to the Burren, all I have to do is ask for a full Irish with tea. Unlike so many other places, Lohans’ Full comes with 2 eggs, vital for combining all the other ingredients. They bring the tea and toast out to you pronto. There’s already sugar, milk, butter, marmalade, ketchup and black pepper on the table, so I have to ask for nothing. The Boat Inn in Oughterrard comes a close 2nd, because it opens early, feels calm and their waitresses are so friendly, even if there’s only one egg in their Full and no marmalade in sight.

The big shock of the year comes in the shape of Le Petit Delice on Mainguard Street, who win the Low Carb No Carb We All Love Sugary Carbs DV for Best Bakery, because their grub is totally yummy. Being a soft git from wayback though, it’s impossible to ignore Griffins Bakery, so they pick up the More Rare Than An Honest Banker Lifetime Achievement DV for decades of consistently superb bread, the best sausage rolls ever and several inches on my waistline.

The Osama bin Laden Best Daytime Hideaway DV goes to Monroe’s, where the chilled atmosphere and smell of woodsmoke is conducive to hours of newspaper reading, with a pot of tea (she runs the mug under the hot tap - class!) and an excellent cheese and ham toasty for just over fiver.

The Jack Taylor DV for Gently Grumpy Daytime Drinking goes to O’Connells legendary bar on Eyre Square, where whiskey and peace and quiet mingle with the murmuring of middle aged men.

The Cuban Missile Crisis DV for Terrifying Periods of Time goes to the five days in 2012 which harboured 3 tragic Irish fiascos: an illegal referendum was passed, followed by thousands of students being forced to leave college due to an administrative failure, followed by the crushing loss of Savita Halappanavar due to weak and unclear abortion law.

Five days. I do love this country, but sometimes...

… which brings me rather smoothly to the last two inseparable DVs. The Would You Ever Stop Giving Out About Us Every Week In The Paper If You Don’t Like It Here Go And Live Somewhere Else DV for Worst People in the World goes to the Irish, for swallowing all the lies about debt, being ridiculously subservient and keeping your bums on your seats while handing over your money to keep the Troika happy and the rich rich.

Finally and oh-so appropriately in this land of paradox, the From Mary Robinson To Michael D Higgins There’s Hope for Us All DV for The Best People In The World goes also to … the Irish, for being compassionate, witty, wonderful and smiling as soon as the sun comes out.

See you in 2013!

Monday 24 December 2012

I wish you all a Merry Mammalian Christmas!

Have I run out of cling film? No, I haven’t. There’s a spare roll in the cupboard under the sink, next to the spare roll of aluminium foil, the packet of sandwich bags and the ice cube bags.

The wine is sorted, no thanks to Michael Noonan. A good bottle of Chablis for the Snapper and an ancient Bordeaux for the cook. Oh, and a few lesser bottles as back-up, for that stage of proceedings when the thirst has fled upriver with the tastebuds.

There’s a bottle of Port for the stinky creamy Stilton, which I like on digestive biscuits. Must remember to get those digies. They can slip through the shopping net if you’re not careful.

A strong nutty Cheddar from Cheddar and a gooey ripe Normandy Brie, along with the brandy to flambé the pudding, make the brandy butter and provide a healthy slurp of winter warmth to the cook.

He seems to crop up quite a lot, that cook, especially when there’s a slurp in the sentence.

Talking of slurp, in the fridge is the bottle of champagne that kicks off proceedings, consumed whilst opening presents in front of the fire on Christmas morning. By that time the turkey’s in the oven and the cook is feeling pretty chilled. In this house we choose sausage rolls as an accompaniment. Champagne and sausage rolls, representing exactly what my much-missed Dad taught me as a child: enjoy the fine things in life while really appreciating the simple ones.

Sausage rolls. Blimey. Haven’t got them yet.
What else have I forgotten?

Well there’s a small perfectly-formed tree in our living room, so I didn't forget that. Cards are strewn around the planet, my presents long since sent off to England, while a little pile of promises for the Snapper are sitting under the tree. They look fantastically raggedy and boy-wrapped, next to her perfectly pretty ribbon and bow creations.

At this time of year I’m driven by strong primal forces. Oooerrr, Matron! My natural propensity for list writing goes into overdrive, alongside an overpowering impulse to stockpile everything.

Maybe it’s because I was raised by Blitz generation parents, or maybe it’s because my father was raised by Holocaust refugees. In Jewish circles, the hoarding of toilet paper, over-cramming of fridges and cupboards is called ‘Holocaust mentality’, driven by a terror that I thankfully do not suffer.

No, I’m just a hairy mammal like you, and we’re all responding to our animal instincts to prepare our caves for hibernation. As mammals, we need to be warm, feast on high fat foods and feel safe enough to sleep until Spring. Yet instead we rush around in the cold and dark, becoming stressed out at the least apt time of year.

When we turn our backs on mammalian ways, we start to behave slightly crazily. Hence my own list-ticking neuroses, nurtured through many rural West of Ireland Winters. To be safe, warm and feasted you have to be prepared. The power might go out, so I need loads of candles, and matches, a spare cylinder of gas and a small continent of briquettes.

There’s a full tank of heating oil and 6 x 5 litre bottles of water for when the big freeze hits and the taps dry up. There are torches beside beds, loaded with batteries that work and spare batteries in the drawer. There are batteries in the radio, because when the power goes out, radio can be great company.

The greatest comfort for this hairy scribbler is knowing that it’s all done. Everything is safe. I can let go and enjoy myself.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe the power supply is more secure than it was years ago. Right, but the ESB can’t stop a tree falling on a power line in a storm.

Whatever happens, we’ll be lit, warm, able to eat and drink. 
Sipping whiskey by candlelight; how bad?

I want to go out right now and buy everything, but I have to wait. First thing on Sunday morning, I’ll appear in Marks and Spencer, where two aberations will remind me its Christmas: I’ll take a trolley instead of a basket and I’ll pay with plastic. Many use their credit cards to pay for groceries each week, but I daren't because when I’m not using cash, the horizon disappears from my economic eye: I believe I can afford everything. Once a year though I really enjoy allowing myself to go consumer crazy.  

So what do we still need? Well, the turkey, vegetables, fruit salad and ...
… and is that it? Do I really already have everything else? There’s the cake and mince pies, cream and custard. There’s the posh box of Belgian chocolate biscuits and that naff little tray of dates. Every Christmas I have to buy dates and a bowl of nuts, which sit on the table paying homage to lost childhood.

Sausage rolls! Haven’t bought them yet. Mustn’t forget those little blighters. That'd be a disaster. Oh, I’d better check and make sure that we have HP sauce to go with them. Nothing else will do.

But I don't really need to check, because I know that there’s a bottle in the fridge and a spare bottle in the cupboard, next to the spare ketchup, mayonnaise and Salad Cream. They’re right next to the spare teas, coffee and hot chocolate.

Time to fish out those clunky old Christmas CDs. Put on a bit of Bing Crosby, sit down and inhale the smoke and peat rising from the whiskey in my glass.

What time are the guests arriving?

Guests? Who said anything about guests? This year it’s just us two, so we’re very ready and extremely willing to have an exceedingly happy Mammalian Christmas, which is exactly what I wish for all my colyoomistas.

Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Solstice and Diwali. May your God be with you.

Monday 17 December 2012

Enrol in an ASIST course and save a life!

When the news broke about the tragic death of the nurse involved in the Royal Radio Phone Hoax, I found myself annoyed about how the tragedy was reported.

“She was found dead.” said the BBC News, but everyone knew what had happened. This poor woman had killed herself and the euphemistic way this glaring yet dark truth was presented bugged the hell out of me.

Doubtless the Beeb wanted to respect the bereaved family by awaiting confirmation from a post-mortem, but I wondered if in England there still lurks a trace of the suicide taboo that thrives in Ireland.

 ‘Tis the season to be jolly, yet here I am going on about suicide. I’m not going to apologise for my failure to be all bouncy and festive this week, because if I ignored this issue I’d be behaving the same as so many Irish people.

When I first found out many years ago that suicide is far and away the biggest killer of young men in this country, I lifted my eyebrows and exclaimed “Durrr!”  The reason for this terrible and unnecessary loss of life was immediately clear to me, but still now I feel the frustration I felt then, that nobody else sees the same glaring truth.

Having had countless homes in three continents, I’ve never lived anywhere with so few openly gay men as Ireland. Yes, this country has made progress in its attitude towards homosexuality in the last 20 years, but you’re a heck of a long way from getting there.

It was just the same when a few black faces appeared on the streets of Galway. Everyone suddenly decided that they now lived in a multi-ethnic society, while I tried to point out that while you were still ‘spotting them’ you had a million miles to go before you became relaxedly accepting.

Most Irish people think that this country is pretty tolerant towards the LGBT community. All of them would be wrong. But what about that gay presidential candidate and that gay hurler? Pure tokenism at work, if anything highlighting the way gay Irish men are treated as exceptions, rather than as part of the norm.

‘Tolerance’ is a long and unhealthy way from ‘acceptance’. There are right now several men in Connacht who have privately and nervously come out to me, on the strict understanding that I will never reveal their identities.

Hearing their painful tales of loneliness and utter isolation, I wondered again why nobody makes the obvious link between young male Irish suicides and the challenge of coming out in Ireland.

A few years ago I sat on a local committee for Suicide Prevention. There had been a rash of young male suicides in the area, and I listened patiently while the other committee members talked at length about alcohol, drugs, unemployment and poverty, all vital contributory factors in the field of mental health. I was holding my breath, as ever aware that my London accent might sound intrusive and abrasive around this table of well-meaning locals, but eventually I had to speak out. I asked how many gay men they each knew.

There was a sudden torrent of tutting and a few “Well now I don’t see what that has to do with anything” type of remarks. When I pushed them further, a few of them said they knew a couple of lads who might be gay, but, well, really, isn’t that normal?

I explained that no, it wasn’t normal to meet so few gay men in the course of an average day. Looking around I counted 23 people, and announced that in this room there were 2 gay men, 2 lesbians and at least 4 bisexuals. Everyone laughed and looked at me as if I were a pure trouble maker, but I wasn’t for budging.

We weren’t there to feel do-goody. We were trying to save lives.

So I asked if they could think of anything more terrible than living in a small rural Irish community, where every day of your short young teenage and adult life you have to pretend to be somebody else?

Wouldn't that possibly make you suicidal?

They eventually accepted that I might have a point, but I knew I was wasting my time. Within the context of Irish society, these were enlightened intellectual liberals, yet still they resisted what I see every day to be true.

Admittedly, by moving from Northern California to the West of Ireland I’ve gone from one extreme to another. In my job at the University of San Francisco I was the only straight male under the age of 50 in the entire division. Here, I count not one single openly gay man as a friend. As I said before, far too many as secrets.

So I was absolutely delighted to read in The Sentinel last week that funding has been found for an ASIST course to be run at NUIG next February. I’ve done a whole lot of training courses over the years, but none has affected me so profound, positively and practically as the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)  course.

Over 2 days we were taught how to identify potential suicides, spot requests for help that come in many disguises, as well as how to actually intervene both before or during an attempted suicide.

It was a fantastic experience, which replaced the frustration I was feeling with realistic and powerful new skills. Indeed, a colleague who attended the course with me had the opportunity to use his new skills a few days later.

He saved a life.

Now that’s something to celebrate, isn’t it? So if you want me to get festive this Christmas, find out how to get on ASIST course yourself, and help release those who live in emotional and behavioural prisons, for no other reason than the prejudice of others.

To enrol in an ASIST course, call National Office for Suicide Prevention on 01-6352139 or E-mail:

Monday 10 December 2012

How does an economic boost leave unpaid bills?

Each time there’s a build-up of hype about how much an event will contribute to the local economy, I start to feel nervous and resistant. I’d prefer to greet news of imminent prosperity with gushes of enthusiasm, but the way these events are sold to us makes me want to stand with my back to the wall, cynical and suspicious.

Most of my scepticism is a reaction to the promotion of the notion of ‘The Economy’. An abstract concept at the best of times, ‘The Economy’ has become to the likes of ye and me an emotional tipping point, because we’re consistently told that its needs are more important than our own.

We have started to feel like the krill that feed the whale. Clearly the krill can survive without the whale, but to keep the vast beast alive, new taxes are invented. Despite the fact that every red cent paid in benefits is immediately returned through spending into ‘The Economy’, welfare is cut.

Then there’s this huge headline proclaiming the arrival of a Major All-New Must-See Event that will bring a multi-million euro boost to the local economy, and we’re all meant to celebrate, participate and reap rich rewards.

But we don’t, because we feel so incredibly detached from ‘The Economy’. As mere fodder, we dare not hope to share in the harvest.

For years before the Olympics, my friends and family over in London couldn’t have been more negative about the Games. Proud of their massive and majestic city, they simply didn’t understand why Lord Coe was rambling on about how the Olympic Games would put London on the map.

Do what? You’re ‘avin’ a laugh mate! London was, is and will always be very much on the map. Not one person alive today is marvelling at how, if it wasn’t for those Olympic Games, they’d never have discovered London.

Instead of the promised torrent of visitors, tourists stayed away from the Olympic City in their droves. London’s small businesses went through a summer from hell, as those who went to the Games ignored the rest of the city and country. Hosting the Olympics proved an economic disaster for London, but Team GB medal euphoria saved the day.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Volvo Ocean Race ever since it was the Whitbread Race, decades ago. Yet I feel a sharp stab of anger when I read about the financial mess it left behind. How on earth can anyone be talking about how much it boosted the local economy when workers, suppliers and performers are still owed money?

I’ve seen many small businesses go broke in Galway, leaving in their wake a sad trail of broken promises and unpaid bills. When a restaurant suddenly stops trading without notice, the tiny businesses that supply it with their locally-sourced produce are left drowning in debt.

What can be more representative of the local economy than the bloke you see on Quay Street delivering his own-grown organic veg to that restaurant? But he’s the one who’s going to get screwed when the place goes broke.

So who does profit from these supposedly massive boosts to the local economy? When Festivals hit town and the shops, restaurants and hotels are taking a fortune, it’s not the kitchen porters or waitresses who benefit. They just have to work even longer hours. It’s not the restaurant or shop managers who earn more, because they’re on a salary, and have to work as long as the business stays open.

As ever, it’s those further up the economic pyramid who fill their pockets with the elusive profits from these economic boosts. To the rest of us, the festivals are either a bit of a buzz or simply something that’s going to snarl up the traffic and make us late getting home from work.

Take the Ironman. Go on take it. No seriously folks, I truly admire the incredible athleticism of the competitors and marvel at how many sane people are willing to jump into the Atlantic on a stormy Sunday morning. When I was living in Salthill though, I was far from enthralled to be woken up at 5.30 am on my day off by the tannoy blasting off the Prom.

“Oh get over yourself!” I hear you cry, “Get your fat arse out of bed and go and cheer those poor feckers running all that way in the lashing rain and howling gale!”

Yeh right. That would be a great boost to my local economy. The same boost I felt when I tried to drive to the supermarket later that morning and found I couldn’t, because of the race.

I know it was just one day, and am very much in favour of these events. I love the fact that Galway is such an attractive place to host them, but don’t be selling them to me by telling me that we are going to be financially better off in any way. 

Of course there are magic moments, like the night of the first Volvo Stopover, when the sailors were completely blown away to find thousands of mad ecstatic Galwegians in the docks to greet them at silly o’clock in the morning

But now that it’s all gone horribly wrong, the Chamber of Commerce is worried about how media coverage of the event’s outstanding debts might affect Galway's good image.
Galway’s image? How very dare they?

My image of Galway will be much improved when I see the smiling faces of paid workers, suppliers and performers.

Until the last debt is finally paid to the last struggling small business, I don’t want to read any cloying newspaper copy about how a report says it was really a great success. Reports find the answers that their questions are designed to seek. When the word ‘bailout’ is used in conjunction with an event, rather than a boat or country, it’s hard to believe in any boost to our local economy.

Monday 3 December 2012

Please keep your horror stories to yourselves!

 Yesterday I was in hospital having what these days they euphemistically refer to as ‘a procedure’. I’ve had the same thing done a few years ago so I wasn’t worried about it in the least.

Well, I wasn’t, until I started to talk to my friends and loved ones, who saw it as their urgent duty to fill my tiny brain full of tales of woe.

What is it that possess us when it comes to spreading bad news? Why do we eagerly launch in and upset both strangers and our closest with stories we heard that happened to people we know that were just terrible?

In my tiny personal experience of being in Irish hospitals, the staff have been uniformly kind, patient, cheerful and expert. There’s a good reason why Irish nurses are so revered in England: it’s because they’re wonderful.

Also please understand that I’m scribbling here solely about a quirky tick of human nature and not of the recent tragedy at Galway Regional Hospital. Nurses and doctors aren’t responsible for the law. This colyoom’s venue is irrelevant. It just so happens that I was going in to hospital, which was enough for my mechanic to set the ball rolling:

“Jeeze Charlie, good luck with that. Did I ever tell you about my knees? Well I was told I’d have to wait years for an operation, you know how it is, and then sure didn’t I get a letter saying that I was due in for the op on Saturday in two week’s time. Fantastic!

“So there I was telling a friend of mine who’s a doctor himself, about my knee op coming in so quickly, and he asks if I’m sure it’s on a Saturday, and I says yes, and he says well that's a bit funny because that orthopaedic surgeon is a friend of his, and he knows the fella never works on a Saturday.

“So this doctor friend of mine goes and calls the hospital and says he’s checking up for a patient who’s having his knees done on that day and they say to him that no, I’m not having my bloody knees done. I’m having an operation on a gastric ulcer. A gastric feckin’ ulcer?

“So he tells ‘em that no, I’m not having an operation on a gastric ulcer because I don’t have a gastric ulcer and whoever the person is who should be having an operation on his gastric ulcer had better not be having a knee replacement instead!

“So just make sure you read that consent form, eh Charlie? That’s all I’m saying.”

Thanking him for his sanguine advice, I wander off, remembering a similarly terrifying incident that happened a couple of years ago.

The Snapper was meant to have a procedure, but after fasting and waiting all day in the clinic, she was sent home as there were no beds. Some days later I was having a blood test taken at the same hospital, when the nurse asked me if I’d like to visit my wife.

“Do what?” I asked
“Well, she’s on the ward around the corner.”

We then entered one of the most bizarre dialogues I’ve ever experienced, during which I tried to convince her that my wife was absolutely most definitely at home in bed and not on the ward at all.

For a reason I’ve never been able to ascertain, she insisted for several minutes that the Snapper was definitely in a bed on the ward.

Finally I blew a gasket, suggesting to her in strong terms that if I were her I’d already be zooming into the ward to check out who the poor woman is who isn’t and has never been my wife. Surgery, blood groups, drugs … it was all too horrible to contemplate.

Trying to purge these terrifying tales my from mind, I was waiting my turn in the hospital ward yesterday, when they wheeled in a man who was coming out of anaesthetic.

A few minutes later a nurse came in, picked up his chart and said

“Did they put you out? I have no idea, no idea at all? Come on, let’s get you off all those tubes.”

She then encouraged the man to get out of bed, which he was clearly not ready for, and then she was gone.

I suggested that he take his time. He smiled, agreed, leaned back on the bed, and we started to chat. He was an old school country gent, who wouldn’t let me say a bad word about the nurse.

“Sure but she only meant well!” he said, “Few years back wasn’t I in here for a hip replacement. Just as they’re about to give me the anaesthetic, I look down and see they’ve only gone and put a huge black cross on my right hip. ‘Twas the wrong hip altogether. ‘Twas the left hip needed replacin’. At first I didn’t want to say nothing, but in the end I did speak up, and hoh my, y’shoulda seen ‘em! Running around in circles they were! Only about to take out my good hip and leave me with the bad one, weren’t they!”

I let rip a stream of juicy expletives and felt yet more trepidation about my upcoming visit to the operating theatre. I’d read the consent form, knew they were on the case, but these were not urban myths I was being told. These were real memories coming directly from the people who went through them.

For reassurance, I wandered down the corridor to visit the Snapper, who had her head buried in a book as she waited diligently for my release.

Asking her why it was that people found the need to relate such nasty anecdotes to someone about to undergo medical unpleasantry, she said:

“I don’t know my love. I do remember though, a woman I know went in to have an infected ovary removed, only for them to take out the wrong one and leave her sterile!”

“Thanks sweetheart. I feel much better now.”