Monday 26 August 2013

Let's head off to La la Land!

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge
 Sometimes an ill wind blows bringing sad news, but then the clouds part and an opportunity to grasp life emerges.

Sometimes I grasp those opportunities just a little too firmly, which is why I’m now lying in a bath, laughing out loud to myself as I look over at a wall-length mirror covered with a million drops of water.

A couple of weeks ago the Snapper's parents called from England to say that they had to cancel their trip to Ireland, as her mum was not well. We were gutted, mostly because her mum was not well, but also because we’d been looking forward to their visit.

She has 8 days booked off work, and I’m ahead of my deadlines. What will we do? It’s the middle of August, the airports are crammed, southern Europe is way too hot and anyway, we haven’t the dosh for a trip abroad.

Time to return to La La Land: not so much a place as a state of mind. Over the years we’ve perfected the art of cramming the maximum relaxation into 3 days. Staying in luxurious country house hotels, we work together as a tight-knit team against the forces of sensible thinking, financial responsibility and any kind of moderation.

We’re not in denial. We know we can’t afford it, yet rather than worrying about the bills, we embrace two or three days with a mutual enthusiasm that allows us to enjoy every exquisite second.

From her glass of bubbles before dinner to the Remy Martin that eases yet another gargantuan dinner down my inner tubes, we go for it large.

Liberated from Ryanair baggage restrictions, we get completely carried away with the packing, laughing smugly as we look forward to the trip ahead. Much as it felt fun at the time, I later regret this packing madness, because I book hotel rooms on the top floor. 

You see, many years ago, I lived in a flat below a German woman who had an enthusiastic way with her kitchen knife. Sitting underneath her kitchen, I felt under bombardment as she chopped veggies for what felt like hours on end. Years later, I still dread noise from above.
So this bull-headed overweight scribbler is lugging ridiculously heavy suitcases up steep elegant staircases, designed long ago for gracious ladies to glide down.

But I don’t care. La La land is worth it. Usually we experience La La Land at Mark Foyle’s wonderful Rosleague Manor Hotel, near Letterfrack, but we decide to wait until her parents are able to join us there.

Instead, we head south to Echo Lodge in Co. Limerick. After Dan Mullane’s ‘Mustard Seed’ restaurant proved such a success in nearby Adare, he relocated down the road to this beautiful country house, where his love of growing vegetables and supreme chefly skills combine with his warmth, style and professionalism, in a small hotel that perfectly reflects his charming personality.

The Snapper says her concrete overcoat is starting to crack. I’m know I’m on holiday, as it’s becoming difficult to finish sentences. I start to say something and then trail off. Can't be bothered. Is it siesta time yet?

Two splendidly relaxing days later, we’re driving our over-indulged bellies off the Tarbert ferry, returning to the rolling hills of Co. Clare. Stopping in Milltown Malbay, I sate my need for a pub and a pint of Guinness. Much as I appreciate the fancy accoutrements of La La Land, I’ll always love most the simple pleasures.

All over Lisdoonvarna banners advertise their world-famous Matchmaking Festival, which this year is launched by what they’re calling ‘The Outing’, an LGBT Matchmaking Weekend, running from August 30th-September 1st. We both laugh at the morphed ‘Little Britain’ tagline:

‘You’ll Not Be The Only Gay In This Village!’

Fantastic! Never mind that they’re evidently unaware that ‘Outing’ has an aggressive inference within the Gay community. In a marriage of strong marketing and modern thinking that would have been impossible when I arrived in Ireland in 1992, these Clare people are trying to make a living by welcoming the Pink Economy. (Straight or Gay, enjoy Ireland’s longest-running Pride Festival in Galway this week. The parade starts on Saturday August 24th at 2.30 in Eyre Square.)

Checking into Sheedy’s Hotel in Lisdoonvarna is a delight. Martina and her staff are incredibly welcoming. Our relaxation levels have hit critical mass. Muscles no longer work. Brains gone bye-byes.The Snapper collapses onto the luxurious bed. I aim for a steaming hot bath.

Sheedy’s cover every detail with care. There are fluffy towels the size of small continents, two basins, posh soaps and oh blast and dammit! I’ve dropped my whole box of Q-tips all over the floor. Groaning and moaning like an old elephant, I lower my exhausted aching body to the floor, but in my ├╝ber-relaxed mental state, my fingers completely fail me. Fumbling like a useless eedjit, it takes me ages to grasp all the little buggers off the shiny surface. Struggling to my feet, I turn on the bathwater.

Unfortunately I’m unaware it’s switched to shower mode, and stumble backwards in horror as the shower hand-piece rises from its resting place like a demented cobra, dancing and swaying several feet in the air, delivering a high-powered soaking of hot water all over me, the bathroom floor and walls.

The bathroom at Sheedy's - scene of drenching behaviour....
Naked, crazed and bemused, I laugh out loud at my pathetic failure to simply have a bath.
After wiping down the mess, I finally slide into the hot water ... oooh luvverleee ... and am just about to doze off when I look over to the wall-length mirror.

It is a splattered mosaic; a drenched Jackson Pollock of water droplets. Clearly this scribbler is a disaster zone on legs right now, but who cares? On this last night of my tiny holiday, all I have to do is drink whiskey, wine and eat an absolutely spectacular dinner at Sheedy’s Hotel.

La La Land: it's not about feeling smug - just enjoying the absurdity of life. I start to giggle out loud to myself, and then find it hard to stop.  

Sunday 18 August 2013

Look at Wayne Rooney! Oh no, do I have to?

My good friend The Body takes much pleasure in trying to wind me up about the Irish names of English celebrities.

“Take a look at your so-called English Rock‘n’Roll heroes. What about Lennon and McCartney. Do they sound English? Or the Gallagher brothers?”

Then I annoy him by pointing out that all of the above chose to define themselves as English rather than Irish, and doesn’t that somewhat diminish his argument?

Being a true friend, he naturally completely ignores what I’m saying and moves onto the world of sport.

“Look at Rooney. Now, does that sound like an English name to you?”
To which I reply,
“Look at Rooney? Oh no, do I have to?”

Thing is, when I do look at Wayne Rooney’s mashed-up face, it feels as if I’m looking into English history. My mind goes back to the field of Agincourt, where the English army faced the French. 

Zooming in to see the faces of those English soldiers, squashed in behind a row of huge pointed wooden stakes, my mind’s eye focuses on a short stocky man, English through and through, proud, stubborn, occasionally violent and a formidable enemy.
That soldier I see has the same face as Wayne Rooney: ready for battle; impatient to fight.

Even though he’s got an Irish name, Rooney personifies for me a certain type of Englishman, whose character is best illustrated by the time he stamped on Ricardo Carvalho’s nuts.

England were playing Portugal in the 2006 World Cup Quarter Final, when Rooney finally succumbed to the constant harassment he’d been getting from the opposition, by thumping his studded boot down into the groin of the Portuguese defender.

The incident is best remembered for the way that Cristiano Ronaldo then encouraged the referee to send off Rooney, his Manchester United team mate at the time. When Rooney was finally shown the red card, Ronaldo fired an infamous wink towards his team’s bench, implying ‘Mission Accomplished’. However to me the encounter symbolised something primal; something quintessentially English.

It felt like Rooney was saying
“There you go mate, that’s for all your funny foreign ways, your tanned skin and your head full of flowing dark hair. That’s for all your fancy frilly football skills, all your tricky step-overs and nutmegs. Here’s an English boot in your bollocks, and how do you like them onions?”

Far from impressed at the time, I raged and roared at Rooney via my telebox. He’d done exactly what Portugal wanted him to do. He’d got himself sent off, leaving England with only ten men to fight the foreign foe.

Wayne Rooney is an unreconstructed medieval English warrior. Yes, he has some moments of sublime skill, such as his soaring butterfly goal, and he runs around after the ball like a terrier after a bitch on heat.

There’s no doubt that he’s a great footballer, but while some argue that he’s past his best, nobody can deny that he’s petulant, argumentative, fickle and arrogant.

He’s also the star of the summertime soap opera that is the transfer window. With no European Championships or World Cup to occupy the massive market for football news, the media catch a snag of a story, and clamp onto it as a barnacle hugs a hull.

Will he leave Manchester United or won’t he? More importantly, do we care? It would be most odd if many of you gave a monkeys cuss, but as a Chelsea fan I declare an interest, because apparently he wants to join my club.

After more than 40 years of being a True Blue, I’m pretty sanguine about the idea. While just about every Chelsea fan I’ve met protests that they don’t want ‘Shrek’ to join us, I know that if he were to put on the blue shirt and score a vital goal for us, all those begrudging voices would immediately become adoring.

I’m never shocked to hear that somebody feels no love for football. The modern game has become nothing more than a whorehouse, filled with owners and agents who behave like pimps and footballers who are nothing more than prostitutes, selling their bodies to the highest bidder.

The modern prima donna footballer falls over if his opponent blinks too forcefully and is paid in a week quite possibly more than you or I will earn in a decade.
There’s not much that appears attractive about the Premiership, but here I am once again, chomping at the bit, excited at the prospect of nine months of high drama, hype and inevitably, as a Chelsea fan, horror.

As a predatory mammal, I enjoy belonging to a tribe as much as the thrill of the hunt. My late father introduced me to Chelsea FC, and it is partly out of my love for and loyalty to him that I am and will always remain a Chelsea fan. Wherever I’ve lived around the world, I’ve found Chelsea fans who mirror my outlook on life, great characters all, loaded with as many eccentricities as both myself and our football club.

Nobody knows what will happen in the coming season, but of one thing I am sure. As my mate Whispering Blue pointed out, the Rooney soap opera will continue to run right into the second week of the season. Even though United have before sold their star players to their closest rivals (Tevez to City), there is no way on this good earth that they will sell Wayne Rooney to Chelsea before their brand new manager’s first home game, because it’s against Chelsea. It is unthinkable that Rooney might line up to face his old team for David Moyes’s managerial home debut wearing a Chelsea shirt, and potentially score a winning goal against Manchester United.

If a deal is to be done, it will be signed and sealed the day after that game. Then, as a proud Chelsea fan and an Englishman, I’ll welcome the fact that we have another Englishman in our team, even if he does have an Irish name!

Friday 16 August 2013

Out of touch and offline in the summer rain!

“...and that way you can be sure you’re safe!”

… and so ends an advert on the tele for some kind of computer safety software, or was it a device, or an app that I can download? No idea. Blimey. I’ve no idea at all. It has finally come to this. I’m too old and too out of touch to understand the bloomin’ adverts on the tele.

There’s no pride in this feeling. I’ve been using computers for decades, and have owned a long line of now-legendary Apple Macs.

I’m loathe to say ‘iconic’, because the word has become worthless, but that beautiful  blueberry iMac I had in 1999 was and remains exactly that.

Anyway, the point is that I prefer to understand the entire universe that has become available through cyber technology. I’m not one of those grumpy luddites who say they have no need of the modern world.

Once I was. When I moved from west Connemara to San Francisco in 1995, I inwardly mocked people who talked of sending emails. With a 14.4bps external modem hanging off my computer, the world on the web was far from wide. It was slow, tiny and tedious. People celebrated for their vision dreamt of and created what is now not so much a cable into the wall, as a doorway into an entire way of life, beyond the wildest dreams of that scornful scribbler.

My generation was the last to be born without the internet. My nieces have grown up in a world where all information is available universally. All truths are out there, just as are all untruths, parked alongside, camouflaged by legitimacy in your browser window.

So what was that advert about? What kind of security don’t I have on my computer that I should? Somehow I suspect that if I watched the advert again and again I’d still be none the wiser.
Anyway, good luck to anyone who tries to cyber-scam me. You see, the leaves are out on Terry’s trees, and when the wind blows from the south west, as it tends to do in these parts, I can’t get a connection for love nor money.

Thankfully, there are internet cafes and newspaper newsrooms that I can visit when I’m in town, to deal with the internet. Even for a duffer like me, these days that includes banking, bill paying, sending and receiving work, socialising and the very local very long-term weather forecast, to find out when it’ll stop raining long enough to allow me to mow the lawn (October 23rd’s looking a bit drier).

It’s not an easy task for this native Londoner to stand in front of his septuagenarian Aunt and explain to her that no, I can’t FaceTime her, because the leaves are out on Terry’s trees. Standing in 21st century London, my excuse sounded beyond absurd, but to be honest, between you and me, I don’t mind.

Of course I find my seasonal lack of internet frustrating, and yearn to be able to work and research and engage the modern world as much as any city dweller, but equally, I love living here.
In a few weeks the leaves will fall off Terry’s trees and with a favourable wind and a puff of love from the Faeries my internet connection will be functioning once again. I’d rather be here, rural and offline in the Summer rain, than have 100 meg fibre-powered broadband shooting into a city flat, in a noisy sweaty street.

Each to their own, and although I’ve had my credit card skimmed this year, I don’t think I’ll go looking to buy that whatever-it-was on the advert for my computer.

We used to let everyone look at our name, address and phone number, in what was known as the Telephone Directory. Then, each time we used our credit cards, we’d give away a sample signature and the card number to the merchant using the zip-zap. We’d write checks that had on them yet another sample signature, our bank account number and our bank’s branch sort code.

It’s not the internet that has created risks. It’s identity theft that has grown, and yes, of course there’s a link, but where crime is concerned, maybe the common factor is simply technology. Skimming credit cards is big business, because once you’ve got the pin number, you’re away to play. Security technology has just made it easier to rob us.
Don’t think the advert said that.

Anyway, computers are old hat. Microsoft put a Windows PC in every home, but failed to notice when everyone stopped using them. Your phone is your personal computer now. Apple beat Microsoft to that game, and now Samsung are outselling Apple. Spotify and iTunes created a new musical world, while Amazon’s Kindle destroyed and recreated the book industry, as e-books now outsell p-books.

That’s how the industry now refers to the items we used to just call books.

So forwards, hand in hand, science and capitalism march on together.

But not around here. The leaves are out on Terry’s trees.

Thankfully, also born out of this online universe was a brave, exciting and independent way of thinking. The unique way in which the internet can harness the collective power of millions of individuals led to the Occupy Movement. WikiLeaks opened the door to whistleblowers. Lurking in the freedom of the web, as latterday Robin Hoods in Sherwood Forest, these new folk heroes have arisen to fight for social justice. They alert us to the underhand methods and subversive greed of the twin towers of State and Corporate. All power to you, whistleblowers of the world, who dare to take on the CIA and IBM alike. Thanks for your courage.

Now Twitter has become the microphone of choice for major world leaders, while Facebook and You Tube host live revolutions. But not here.

Here the rain falls, the wind blows, the branches sway and ripple the leaves on Terry's trees.

Monday 5 August 2013

The Galway Races: immoral and magnificent!

What’s a fella to do, as the song says. The thunder clouds roll in and it’s sweaty and the flies are out and it’s been another Race Week. To be honest, I’ve no idea what the weather’s like as you read. I just took a punt. A gamble. Sunshine, showers, humid and bit on the shtinky side, d’y’know. Race Week weather.

Siobhan in Claregalway spent hours in front of her long cupboard mirror on Thursday morning, checking her accessories. Tommy from Salthill, well, nobody’s seen hide nor hair of him for days, but that’s the way it is in Race Week. He’ll get himself into a card game and you won’t see him ‘til he’s done. Used to be a problem back in the day when the kids were young, but now, well, to be honest, it frees up his long-suffering missis for a few days. So everyone’s happy.

Everyone's happy because it’s Race Week. Himself from Ballybrit is happy because he gets a bit of work at the Owners and Trainers Bar. He’s on the door, watching the good money coming in and the bad money going out. He’s grinning to himself at the pittance he’s being paid compared to these Fianna Fail gombeens. He’s watching it all and lapping up the scenery. It’s like a human Noah’s Ark so it is, coming and going. 

There’s the ones who should be coming and going, and they’d tend to be yer trainers and owners, and then there’s all these other yokes who are looking for nothing but a little bit of information, d’y’see? Just a nod or a wink from the bloke who owns a fetlock and Colm from Roscommon is on to his phone to do the betting on t’internet faster than the Heineken floods cold nectar into his glass from the tap in front of him.

Then there’s the players. He sees them, because he knows how people can hide in plain sight. The really good ones are the ones that most people miss, but he sees them, what with his training and all that. Hiding in plain sight, relaxed, happy, calm, but sucking up the hottest angles, placing the biggest bundles on the nose.
They’re not yer each way betters. He smiles as he thinks of it. No, these aren’t yer each wayers. These are the players.

The work is good, he’s happy for it, but the watching, listening and learning, that’s better than a banker’s bonus. Well, no, not better than a banker’s bonus, but great craic. Rather be doing it than not, safe to say.

Siobhan’s met up with her friends in Eyre Square, and heading up to the course on the bus. They were going to get a taxi, do it Full-On Girl Style, but there was a bus right there, so wha’the.

Her mates all look great and it’s just a kickin’ day out. She’ll get the first round in. That’s it, she’ll get the first bottle of bubbles for the girls, that way everybody’ll remember and nobody’ll notice that she doesn’t do much betting. The bus had been a Godsend. Thank you God, she says to herself as she listens to Anne-Marie’s story about Bulmers and an English lad called Brian.

She’d budgeted for her share of a taxi, but now, as long as the bubbles weren’t too crazy expensive, she might even have a bit left to bet with, too. Now that’d be a bit of a laugh alright. She’s working part-time in a supermarket and hitching to lectures at NUIG. Loans and rent and life’s not all fun, but you have to sometimes.
Sometimes you just have to, and it’s Ladies Day.

Then it’s Family Day, at the weekend, and another buzz, relaxed and bouncy castles and still the streets of the city are buzzing and fussing with eaters and drinkers, Gardai and men in gold and silver standing still on top of boxes.

After his stint working the bar door, Himself is back in town, sitting outside Coili’s, watching a fire juggler across the way.

Turning to the grey-haired boho next to him he says
“He’s alright, s’pose, but not good enough for Johnny Massacre Corner!”

The man replies,
“I am sorry. Vot? Who is John ze Masterpiece, pliz?”

Himself smiles, moves his head forwards and backwards like a wading bird and
“S’alright mate, no bother.”

What was he thinking? Like yeh, really, the guy’s gonna be a Galwegian, tonight, in Race Week!

Race Week, the concentrated essence of the city of Galway, attracting the rest of the country like no other single national Irish event. Cork’s got its jazz and Kilkenny makes comedy and well as hurlers. There’s the All Ireland Finals at Croker, but that’s a couple of hours sport with a day and night’s drinking. They come to Galway for a week, but it’s not the length of days. This is not merely some pathetic endurance test. Back when Wednesday was the big day, Plate Day, and the meeting ran only a few days, the Galway Races were no less significant; important; immoral; magnificent.

There’s a depravity, corruption and decadence to the affair that cannot be ignored, but putting aside the traffic and the pavement pizzas for a moment, the best part of Race Week is the spirit of the city. Galway soaks up the farmers, politicians, insurance brokers and hairdressers. They are all welcome to have their own parties, to gamble and screw each other, or gently sip tea and suck Galway oysters from the half shell.

Siobhan’s mascara is a disaster by the time she’s back on Quay Street. The cobbled streets are a total mare to her now, ouch, those bleedin’ heels, exhausted, too much to drink, but nobody noticed about the money. Now they want to go for a drink. She’s enough for one and the bus home.

“Coili’s for the music?” asks Roisin.

So they head up High Street, and in the distance, Himself spots Siobhan, and she kinda catches his eye.

What’s a fella to do?