Friday 30 November 2007

I don't want to know...

While reading a blog* I used to frequent quite... ehh... frequently, I noticed a sitemeter icon.

Curious to see how many hits, if any, this blog would receive, I created an account, amended my template as required and slapped my hands together in satisfaction at a job well done. Not expecting an army of avid readers (I once got 5 comments on a post, exceeding my wildest expectations) I haven't really paid it any attention since. A moment ago I took a quick look and, as expected, the servers belonging to the good folk at are in no danger of overheating while trying to keep track of the traffic through here.

In addition to the number of hits received, the sitemeter account allows you to see how people get to your page. My account shows among others, links from the blogs of Sarah and Medbh and one visit from a Google search.

Clicking the link for the Google search opens the screen the visitor saw when they performed the search that returned a link to this blog - complete with search terms in the URL and text field... and here is it.

What exactly was this person searching for?

My best (clean) guess is that a female teacher (who is a grandparent) had suffered the loss of a desk which she was very fond of (but not in a weird way). Initially she was very distressed by the loss but thanks to many hours of counselling she has dealt with her grief and is now getting on with her life - hence the headline "Granny Teacher Over Desk".

Any other guesses? Answers on a postcard.

* The blog in question was - written by a once homeless, schizophrenic fighting an alcohol problem.

Hello?... Is it me you're looking for?

The phone on the desk beside me has been ringing all morning. The caller display shows the same number each time - a number which is not familiar to me. All I know for sure is that whoever this individual may be they don't seem particularly keen to admit defeat or take no for an answer. I have no idea what monumental crisis they are faced with nor do I care - I refuse to answer it. (Maybe its just as well I don't volunteer at The Samaratins) .

Were I to pick up the phone, my natural politeness would result in me explaining that the usual occupant of the desk isn't available and then asking, no matter how hard I try to resist, "Is there anything I can help you with?". While there is a substantial possibility that the caller will accept my offer, this is not the reason behind my refusal to answer the phone. I'm not particularly busy at present - just listening to Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous and reading some technical articles - I could easily spare some time to help.

Instead, I am refusing to pick up the call because they insist on letting the phone ring 20 to 30 times before they hang up. It may seem a petty reason to some but even the dullest of minds must realise that if you call somebody at their place of work and they don't answer within the first 4 or 5 rings then chances are it won't be answered. By all means call back a little later (not 20 seconds later mind) and see if they are available then but, for the benefit of those sitting in the vicinity of the phone you are calling, don't let the phone ring and ring and ring and ring and....

Its not the same as calling somebody at home - its a single storey desk so there is no need to let the phone ring in case they need to rush downstairs from their desk's first floor. Equally its not very likely that you've caught them in the shower - they will not need time to wash the Head & Shoulders out of their eyes and wrap a towel around their waist before rushing through an open plan office to answer your call. In getting to the phone they will not be required to gingerly find his way through a number of children's toys which have been strewn about the place nor will they need to rush in from weeding their desk's garden- it doesn't have one. Given that the desk is probably about 5' by 3', the phone is either within arms reach or its not.

At its simplest, the real reason I will not answer the phone is because I'm not entirely sure I could prevent my side of the conversation going like this...

Hello?.... Brian?... No, he's been here all along... he was just sitting here, looking at the phone and wondering why it was making that noise...

... and its nice to be nice.

Wouldn't I feel bad if it turns out there was a crossed line between his phone and 999?

Thursday 29 November 2007

Like a witness at the Mahon tribunal...

....I can't remember.

Last night, amidst all the gesticulating, sighing and obscenities inspired by an insipid Liverpool performance, I had half an idea for something to write about today... but now I haven't the foggiest idea what it could have been. Could be the early onset of Alzheimer's - on the plus side, soon I will be able to watch my favourite movie every day. "The gimpy lad is Kaiser Soze? Who would have thunk it?". You just have to remember what your favourite movie is.

(My apologies if you have never seen The Usual Suspects - you might also be interested in hearing my opinions on The Sixth Sense and The Crying Game)

I really should start taking notes on these little ideas when they originally make themselves known. In the past I would rigidly adhere to this practice - even going so far as to wake myself up sufficiently to write down what I, at the time, considered comedy gold. In the cold light of day however they never seemed to raise even a chuckle. In fact more often than not they left me wondering what the hell I was thinking.

I figured it was either stop writing middle-of-the-night "ideas" or start paying somebody €200 an hour for the privilege of lying on his/her couch once a week and allowing them to determine if I was still medically sane.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Anyone for water-darts?

The brains versus brawn debate has raged for many years and there appears to be no outright victor. Happily, there is one fraternity where a keen intellect and sampson-like strength are valued in equal measure - the world of chess* boxing.

* The form of chess played is "speed chess" in which each competitor has a total of twelve minutes for the whole game.

A chess-boxing contest, for the curious among you, features 11 alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Chess rounds are 4 minutes in length while boxing rounds last 2 minutes. There is a 1 minute interval between each round during which contestants change their gear (it being quite difficult to move the ickle chess pieces while wearing oafish boxing gloves). A contest is won by knockout, checkmate or, in the event of the contest going all 11 rounds with no winner, a judges decision.

I would give anything to hear the advice given to a chess boxer's by his trainers in that minute between rounds. I can only imagine it would be something along the lines of 'Keep your hands up, get in, jab, jab, get out. Watch out for his uppercut.... and his knight". Presumably in later rounds, as the contestant becomes a little punch-drunk, he will start looking for a knight in full armour (and possibly chain mail) in his opponents corner.

I strongly believe other sports should be combined in a bid to make them more interesting.

Middle distance running and rugby
Each competitor is allowed to make one rugby tackle on any opponent during the race. The element of surprise is key here - both athletes will end up on the deck but the tackler should have the advantage of being able to get up first. Imagine Paula Radcliffe's face as Catherine Ndereba hauls her uncermoniously to the ground - imagine Ndereba's face when she realises Radcliffe is suffering bowel problems again.

Snooker and Bull Fighting
The snooker table is placed within a fenced off area with an enraged bull. The compeititors, wearing red trousers and waistcoats made from some type of grain product must enter the bull pen to make their shot - while avoiding the bull's lunges. Break building could be quite dangerous here.

White-Water Rafting and Fencing
Inflatable boats and pointy swords. Points are earned by successfully scoring a hit on your opponent... or deflating their boat. Bonus points are earned if your opponent drowns or is seriously injured on jagged rocks.

Hurling and Judo
... well this would still be hurling wouldn't it?

Murder Ball
Not really a combination of any sports - its soccer with just 3 rules. Most goals wins. Only the keeper can handle the ball. If the ball goes behind the goal its a goal kick. (We used to play this one when I was younger)

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Cancer Screening again...

Fintan O'Toole has an excellent opinion piece on the the charming Ms. Harney and the current cancer screening farce in today's Irish Times.

Have a look here (subscription required).

Harney fails a basic test

'Mr Naughton is an outstanding surgeon and I have to rely on his clinical judgment in this matter." Thus Mary Harney answering a question from Áine Lawlor on Morning Ireland last Friday about the restricted scope of the review of ultrasound results at Portlaoise hospital, writes Fintan O'Toole .

She was explaining, reasonably enough, that she doesn't know about such things and that she has to trust those who do. Except, of course, when they tell her things she doesn't want to know. Like when the same consultant, Peter Naughton, told her on July 5th, 2005 that the breast cancer service at the hospital was a "shambles". His clinical judgment was that he would not want his own wife to use the services at the hospital.

Given her faith in Peter Naughton's professional judgment, we might expect Mary Harney to have been stunned by the revelation that a major hospital was incapable of providing a safe and efficient service for women threatened by a potentially deadly disease. Protecting the lives of its citizens is the most basic duty of a government.

How she responded to the information that serious and avoidable harm was being done to significant numbers of citizens was a straightforward test of Mary Harney's fitness for office. She failed it utterly.

It is almost funny that the central problem that Peter Naughton identified in his letter was "a total lack of decision-making". Ten days after Mary Harney received the letter, her officials wrote back "advising that his letter had been brought to the HSE national hospitals office for urgent examination and appropriate attention".

Nothing really changed. Naughton had complained that mammograms were being read by people who had no specialist expertise. The response was to appoint a consultant who had no specialist expertise.

The problems continued, and as far as we know, Mary Harney never made any personal inquiry about whether the threats to the lives of women attending Portlaoise were now gone.

Anyone in Mary Harney's position with any sense of shame would have resigned on August 29th this year when she learned that her inaction had contributed to the catastrophe in Portlaoise. Anyone without a sense of shame but at least a modicum of concern would have clung on to office but made this situation a personal priority.

She would have gone to Portlaoise and talked to all the senior managers involved. She would have given them her private number and told them to call her directly with any concerns. Instead, as we know, Mary Harney didn't even bother to find out what was being done by the person she should have been most anxious to hear from: Peter Naughton.

Naughton's review of ultrasound results disappeared into Donald Rumsfeld territory. It was an unknown unknown. Not only did Mary Harney not know about it, but she didn't know who else didn't know. As late as Friday morning last, she told RTÉ that "it remains to be established who knew about this parallel review". Yet she also claimed to be "very much in the loop" on the whole issue which, as she admitted, "is not something that was under the radar". Hers was not a passive failure to know some obscure fact. It was an active failure to inform herself - and therefore the public - about a key aspect of an issue that was being debated in the Dáil and dominating the media. That suggests a level, not just of political incompetence, but of moral disengagement.

And this disengagement will be re-enforced this week, when the Dáil will vote its confidence in Mary Harney. Public representatives who have no confidence in her will repeat her own failure to take personal responsibility.

Mary O'Rourke, for example, told the Dáil debate on cancer services on November 7th that on a short walk from the Dáil to Brown Thomas in Grafton Street that morning no fewer than 11 women stopped her "to describe what had happened to their relatives and neighbours [in the health service] and all had awful tales to tell".

She went on to say that "I am in despair about the health services in Ireland" and to express her utter lack of faith in Mary Harney's promises of reform: "Will Nirvana or Hy Brasil ever appear? Will we ever see the promised land in health? I do not think so."

She quite literally has no confidence in Mary Harney. But will she use her vote to speak for those women who stopped her on the way to Brown Thomas and to tell the truth as she sees it? In her own words, I don't think so.

Nobody knows anything, nobody does anything. The chain of irresponsibility passes downwards from the top to the bottom, until it reaches the general public. At that point, it's not about them anymore, it's about us.

We're left with a moral choice too. Do we ape our betters and do nothing until we or our loved ones are unfortunate enough to get sick or old or disabled? Or do we make our voices heard in the only place that's left to us - on the streets, in our tens of thousands?

And so this is....

Judging by the number of fresh-faced gardaí busily sending text messages at major junctions this morning as traffic snarled up around them, I take it that Operation Free Flow is full swing again.

Monday 26 November 2007

When your day is done and you wanna run.....

Despite pushing 30, I had never really felt like I was getting on in years until I began caring a little bit too much about the furniture that would adorn the sitting room the close personal friend and I re-decorated last year.

What I didn't realise until now was that the wheels of the ageing process were in motion long before that Saturday afternoon surrounded by La-Z-Boy recliners in Arnotts and long before we start watching Grand Designs and going for 'walks'. In fact, I can pin-point the exact moment I start getting old - it was the first time I walked through Temple Bar without being offered any drugs.

Cocaine has featured heavily in the news for the last few weeks. Most of the column inches and debate have centred around Justine Delaney-Wilson and the tape that she had, then didn't have then had but has since destroyed. Task forces and the gardaí have informed us that drug use is spiralling out of control, that lives are being destroyed and that something must be done.

In Waterford at the weekend 15 people fell ill and 2 are currently comatose after taking cocaine at a 21st birthday party. Initial speculation suggested that the drug was cut with ketamine, a horse tranquiliser, but gardaí have sinced quashed this rumour, stating that in this instance quantity as opposed to quality was the problem.

Surely they should be fuelling these rumours - don't deny them, exagerate them.

"Inspector can you confirm that the drug was mixed with horse tranquiliser?"

"Errr... yes. Yes we can Charlie.. but that's not all. It was also found to contain large quantities of oven cleaner, Domestos, anthrax, sherbert and ground up bits of Hitler and Barbara Cartland."

The gardaí have missed a perfect opportunity to frighten the bejaysus out of people. "Holy shit!" they'd think, "I could be snorting sherbert - it would all fizz out my nose, better take it handy".

Friday 23 November 2007

Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead.

The close personal friend has just informed me that Jules, our beloved goldfish, has passed on. It hasn't hit us too hard - we knew this day was coming as he had taken to floating upside down at the top of his bowl.

Initially we had two goldfish - Jules and Vincent. They had a sticker on the bowl that read Pulp Fishin'.

Vincent died tragically young - we suspect Jules may have killed him over some bizarre love triangle involving the 2 lads and the mermaid ornament at the bottom of the bowl. Owing to the absence of a murder weapon or CSI:Fish we had to give him the benefit of the doubt. (My guess is that he held his fin over Vincent's mouth and suffocated him).

Fish and chips tonight!

I think its meant to be snow but....

I have just seen a copy of today's Metro.

The front page headline is "Cocaine Abuse Hits Record High".

The front page photo features Rosanna Davidson and 8 year old Laura Brennan at the launch of Christmas on Ice covered in surrounded by (and covered in) clumps of a white powdery substance.

Mary Harney...again!

London, England: Acting in response to an information request from the National Audit Office, a low-level employee in HM Revenue and Customs copies a database of child benefit recipients to CD and, in a breach of standard protocol, sends it by unregistered internal post. The CD fails to arrive at its intended destination and there is outrage that such sensitive data may have inadvertently been made public.

The chairman of HM Revenue and Customs, Paul Gray, was not the person responsible for ensuring successful delivery of the CD and he was not the person who breached the security protocol put in place to prevent precisely this type of thing happening - yet, as head of the organisation, he felt responsible for the calamity and resigned.

Dublin, Ireland: Mary Harney as Minister of Health, presides over an Irish Health System which has seen 9 women given false positives after mammograms were incorrectly analysed. A further 97 women have been recalled for surgical review after doubts emerged about their scans. and it is probable more women will be recalled when the results of almost 200 ultrasound tests are known. She refuses to resign, she refuses to accept any responsibility and it seems as though she refuses to do anything about it (well apart from looking as if she can't understand why people are coming to her about this and what exactly they expect her to do).

Of course, were Portloaise hospital to win some award because the staff prevented the spread of MRSA by actually washing their hands after they'd been to the toilet, Harney would clamber over her mountain of profiteroles to appear in front of RTÉ's cameras for the sake of a few political points. She would smile, nod her jowly head and take all the credit as if she has spent all her time standing in the toilets with a stack of paper towels, some juicy fruits and a selection of designer fragrances, personally squirting the soap onto the hands of the over worked and under paid employees before they left.

You can't have it both ways Mary.

Thursday 22 November 2007

Best days of your life

When I was a young ambassador coming towards the end of my primary school education we had the most beautiful teacher. My time in Miss W's class happened to coincide with the realisation that girls may not in fact be icky. We would stand in yard like wise old sages, He-men and Skeletors in hand, ruminating on the aesthetics of Miss W. At that time I don't think any of us knew if he were leg, breast of bum men but all the lads agreed - she may have been strict but she looked nice.

Of course, coming from a not-so-leafy suburb of Dublin we were a little more rough-and-ready and certainly less articulate than you might expect from self professed sages. We thought we knew about sex - older brothers had told some of the lads and they helpfully transferred that knowledge to the rest of us. Like a crazy game of Chinese whispers however, much of the actual detail was lost or misconstrued - but one thing was certain... we knew boobs were somehow important in the overall scheme of things and Miss W's certainly seemed OK.

That summer, a navy, woollen, v-neck jumper made it into the rotation from Miss W's wardrobe - and it featured heavily. She mustn't have had any blouse or t-shirt to go with it but that didn't seem to bother her because it wasn't particularly low cut. At the bottom of the V, was some kind of large anchor shaped brooch (it was the 80s). While it didn't have the splendour or mystique of the Tara brooch, we loved it due to one particular property - it obeyed the law of gravity!

Miss W. would lean over your desk to correct your homework, gravity would do its thing and the jumpers bounty would be revealed. They were only breasts in a bra - but, being the most any of us had ever seen, it was like the 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre '. I can almost remember them glistening in the sunlight like something from an Indiana Jones movie but I am sure that must be a side effect of nostalgia for I do not recall them having any kind of metallic look about them.

When Miss W. was the supervising teacher on yard, we would laugh at the boys from the other class purposely getting into trouble. They would run on the grass (strictly forbidden) or bash lumps out of each other in order to get a ticking off. Miss W. would stand in front of them, bend over (for she was far taller than us) and administer a finger-wagging tongue lashing (DON'T). It was like the ultimate teacher fantasy - only they didn't know it at that stage.

Reading through some previous posts yesterday, I was thinking again about foxy female gardaí
and my mind drew potential parallels between the rise in gangland crime and the boys in yard. I couldn't help wondering if the rise in murders, tiger kidnappings and robberies was because, on a subconscious level, the criminals want to get caught and want a ticking off from a stern female garda wearing librarian style glasses with her hair in a bin and a pencil stuck through it?

Wonder where Miss W. is now? She must be 40 or so at this stage. Would I recognise her? What does she look like now? Did she know exactly what she was doing when she wore that jumper?

Clodagh, if you're reading this - leave a comment and let us know.

By the way, why did it make you feel cool when you knew a teacher's first name... and so silly when you accidentally called her 'Mammy'?

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Mind where you're... ooomph!

Sitting, perched on a stool in the window of a small coffee shop in the centre of Dublin, the close personal friend and I, were chatting, enjoying some lunch and watching the world go by. The motorbike was parked on the path on the far side of the road.

That's the handy thing about motorbikes - its generally very easy to find parking right outside your destination, especially if the path is as wide as this one. You would easily have parked 2 cars side by side on it. I had even been considerate enough to leave the bike well out of the natural path pedestrians would take. The path narrowed considerably up ahead so I figured only OCD types who are compelled to walk only in straight lines and turn only at right angles would be inconvenienced.

Unfortunately I hadn't reckoned on blind people.

He came around the corner, tapping his 4ft long white stick back and forth, from left to right, ahead of him. I still have no idea how he missed the bike but obviously the stick never made contact with the bike, because he did. At some pace too.

It is not easy to look inconspicuous sitting in a shop front while trying to get 2 crash helmets out of sight.

Tuesday 20 November 2007

A bad start to the day...

You would love Granny Ambassador - she is a tiny, old woman with 2 false hips and arthritis spreading slowly through her 86 year old frame. With her sweet smile, head scarfs and 'gran coats' she is 'Granny' from the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons personified. To an outsider she looks like the type of granny who would conspiratorially pull you close and make a big show of discretely slipping 20c into your hand before telling you to "go and buy yourself something nice" - so naturally it comes as a shock to most people when she chooses to reveal her wicked sense of humour and filthy mind.

I paid Granny Ambassador a visit yesterday evening, bringing with me a delicious, almond-topped Foxford Lunch thingey to go with the cups of tea she would inevitably force upon me. Over the course of our conversation she asked me if I knew what had happened to Louis Walsh. Gleefully picturing a crowbar-wielding maniac knocking lumps out of the pop svengali I asked her to elaborate but alas she had only heard on the news that he had been injured and would be out until Christmas. "Well it's a start" I thought. Granny agreed.

(Granny is a self confessed X Factor addict. We suspect that, rather admirably, she watches it solely to see people cry hysterically as elimination crushes their dreams.)

So this morning, as I was enduring a frustrating game of Jenga with a wash basket which is so out of control I may have to fashion some kind of flying buttress to support it (well its either that or do some laundry), the phone rang. It was Granny Ambassador...

GA: Remember we were talking about Louis Walsh yesterday?
Me: Yes?
GA: Well I heard what was wrong with him on the news just now?
Me: Oh... ?
GA: Apparently he fell off his horse and the horse landed on him... He damaged his shoulder.
Me: Granny, are you sure that wasn't Ruby Walsh?
GA: Oh... I thought they were pronouncing Louis a bit funny alright.


Monday 19 November 2007

Lifes Little Mysteries #2

Last week Professor John Crown, consultant medical oncologist, was dropped from a discussion panel on the Late Late Show at short notice. It would be cynical to suggest that one of Mary Harney's most scathing critics was dropped by RTÉ as a result of political pressure applied by Ms. Harney's henchmen.

According to RTÉ, Noel Curran, the station's managing director of television, reviews and approves the guest list before the show airs each Friday. In doing so, he decided that the proposed discussion panel lacked balance and required changes. Prof. Crown was dropped as a result.

Strangely this week, after reviewing the guestlist, Noel Curran thought it made sense to leave David McSavage on it.

(While I'm on the subject, he decided to leave Ian O'Doherty on it too..... and Pat Kenny)

Friday 16 November 2007

Peace Process Me Arse

Looks like we may be going back to the bad old days of Irish politics... apparently they were rallies in Stormont last night.

Oh the shame....

I know roughly in the region of 10 different languages which I can program a computer in but I am as helpless as my parents trying to set the video recorder when it comes to making my latest post appear at the top of the page - instead is below the Ronan Keating/Heathrow story for some reason.


Oh wait... the post date on the Heathrow post as 2010. Double shame!

I'll get my jacket!

Taxi for Mr. Ambassador

.. and various other shame faced sayings

Wow! It appears I lose my command of the English language after midnight. How poorly constructed is this post?

You want me to do WHAT now?

For four years I traveled from a not-so-leafy suberb in south Dublin, to DCU. In order to make 9am classes I had to be out of the house by 7am to get the bus to Westmoreland St and then on to Glasnevin. In my final year, while my classmates were planning to buy their first car, I was planning to buy a motorbike. It wasn't through any great love of motorbikes, it was purely a practical decision - 4 years of sitting in traffic for 4 hours each day was about as much as I could tolerate.

So in March 2001, I shelled out a little over 4,000 units of whatever the currency at the time was and bought a Yamaha SR 125. I won't post a picture of one as I have no desire to lower the tone of this post - suffice to say it was like a push bike with the engine from a small petrol lawnmower.

In much the same was as it is no time to go to Heathrow (is there ever a good time) March is no time to learn how to ride a motorbike. Attempting to master the mechanics of driving a motorbike should be relatively easy if you can drive a car.... in theory. That's the problem with theory and practice though - in theory they are the same, in practice they are different.

Although the basic process is the same, you use different limbs to activate the controls - which can take some time getting used to. Accelerate by twisting the throttle with your right hand, activate the clutch to with your left hand and change gears with your left foot! Couple that with the wet and cold March weather we know and love so well and within 2 weeks your intrepid hero was starting to plan how the buy and sell ad would run.

Thankfully I stuck it out - summer came and I learned to love the freedom and the fresh air. I especially learned to love how it gave me my evenings back and an extra hour in the scratcher in the morning. I could leave work in the city centre at 5 and be home in the not so leafy suburbs of south Dublin by half past. Fed and watered by 6 and my evening was my own. Rain ceased to bother me - strip off the outer layer of waterproofs and you are good to go. I've changed bikes since then - buying a 2003 Suzuki Bandit and then a 2007 Honda VFR (both of which are infinitely more respectable that the old SR).

I wouldn't be so dumb as to suggest its not without its drawback. For a start it can be a struggle to get the week's shopping home and it is a rather inelegant way to arrive at the golf course. More important though is the inherent danger. Lady luck takes your life into her petite hands on a daily basis and you just have to hope she has a good grasp on it before you lift the side stand and move away.

Ultimately everybody crashes at some stage. Some get back on... Some don’t... Some can’t. I've had some minor spills in the past and hopefully that will be my lot. In the meantime, I do everything I can to make sure that, should I ever find myself in a position where i am no longer riding rubber-side-down, I can stand up and walk away. To that end I've done a number of training courses and have read all the material I can get my hands on about safe biking and advanced riding/observation skills. Which brought me onto the topic of countersteering some time ago.

Countersteering is a technique used to ensure smooth, efficient cornering. It is very simple to execute and works as follows - to turn to the left you push the left handle bar forwards (i.e. away from you). Stop and think about this for a moment - picture yourself riding a push bike. Handle bars in front of you. In order to turn left, you push the left side of the handle bar forward so the right side of the handle bar moves towards you.

It is 100% counter intuitive and goes against everything you think you know about the laws of physics (unless you are a physics student obviously). It is impossible to picture how this could ever work - more so when traveling at 60kmh in heavy traffic. Trying to will your body to ignore its natural instincts (particularly those of the self preservation variety) and command your left arm to perform an action that is completely unnatural to your brain is a bewildering sensation. You feel insane but eventually you win the battle of wills with yourself and find that it works - and strangely when you've witnessed it working, the science behind it seems to make sense.

In fact, they say some people do it instinctively, even when cycling... and I hate to admit it, given the little internal power struggle it caused, but I think I am one of those people. I just didn't know the finer points of the process or the correct term for it. Its strange howit boggles the mind when forced to stop and think about it on a step-by-step basis.

The fact remains though, only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window.

Thursday 15 November 2007

A Heathrow Encounter

Some years ago, while working for an SAP consultancy, I found myself on a training course in the glamourous, cosmopolitan hub that is Heathrow, London. Somewhat befitting of my dour, grey, soulless environment I experienced what seemed to be the longest, most miserable week of my life.

It was March - the darkness was still setting in far too early and the weather was arctic. The course was mind mumbingly boring, filled with the type of IT nerds you think exist only in movies. The hotel was perfectly pleasant but each time I went to the dining room for breakfast or dinner I found myself sitting near an elderly American gentleman who would order a large plate of coleslaw (nothing more) and wolf it down - stopping only occasionally to make a horrendous hocking noise as he cleared his throat. I tried to vary the times I went for meals but he was always there. (I wondered if he was altering his meal times too because he found my ability to eat without hocking so repulsive). In addition, the hotels fire alarm had a distressing tendency to go off at 3am and remain ringing loudly until the sleep of all the guests was sufficiently ruined.

To top it all off, for most of the week I found myself as sick as a small hospital. Headaches, stuffed nose, sore throat, sensitivity to light and the usual aches and pains. I thought I'd never get back to Dublin to greet my own bed and reliable fire alarm.

Eventually, having made it through the week, I was sat amid hundreds of be-suited business travellers, a quivering, sniffling wreck, in a packed departure lounge in Heathrow airport waiting for the flight home. When my flight (Aer Lingus EI-EI-O) was called the Irish people, desperate to show their skill and love of queuing rushed to the gate - despite the repeated insistence of the nice Aer Lingus people that "we are only boarding row 1 to 8 for the moment".

I looked down at the boarding card in my hand which guaranteed I would be sitting in seat 22F, no matter who got on the plane before me, and stayed put until the queue died down a little. When I finally, headed for the gate there was a still a queue of people in the ramp waiting to board. So I'm leaning there at the back of the line, minding my own business and who comes down the ramp and joins the queue behind me but Ronan Keating.

He's wearing cowboy boots, torn jeans, a white t-shirt and a black leather jacket. He looks smaller in "real life" but, strangely, he also looks more worthy of ire and derision. He has a bag slung over his shoulder and he's reading the latest edition of Hello magazine. Obviously looking to see what he was having done to his kitchen or something.

Make no mistake, I detest him as much as the next person. I hope he dies in screaming agony in 10 different hospitals... but not wanting to seem like a complete scumbag in front of all the other passengers, I let the opportunity to tell him in no uncertain terms what I think of him pass.

After a while he started singing - not serenading the entire plane or anything like that. Just singing to himself- but loud enough for me to hear him. Well that changes everything doesn't it? So I turned around to him and ever so politely said

Howrya! Listen, I've had a very tough week. I've been sick as a dog and I've a thumping headache. Normally when you are on the radio its very easy to turn it off or change the station but obviously I can't do that now so could would you mind giving it a rest? That'd be great. Thanks.

I don't think I have ever been called more abusive names by anybody in my life. It was magic - he told me how he earned more in a month than I would in a year (true). How he currently had more money in the bank than would ever pass through my hands - even if I lived to 200 (probably also true). He told me how he was a serious artist and how he deserved more credit for his work (delving into the realms of fantasy here Keating). He called me a prick and a bollox and God knows what else (all not without some grain of truth in all fairness) .... but I didn't care, the anger and disbelief in his face and the fact that I was the cause was more than enough reward.

Plus, its a good story to tell in a pub - or a blog.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Please note...

...there will be no blog entry today as my country needs me. Our benevolent leader is in abject poverty.

I have no idea how we let this happen - but that's not important now. All that matters is that Bertie earns a measly €310,000 euro per annum (just slightly less than 10 times the Irish average industrial wage) and WE, scoundrels that we are, expect him to somehow live on it. The poor man can't afford to pay the tax, insurance, petrol and general maintenance costs on the car he doesn't need as he has a car and driver paid for by the state. He can't put any money aside to contribute to the handsome, non-contributary, index linked pension he will pick up when he retires. It is nothing short of disgraceful - and at a time when so many people in this country have it so good too.... So I will be out doing my duty, braving the howling wind and the biting rain, with my bucket, having a bit of a whip round to give him another dig out.

I will be collecting from the pensioners who surely don't need the €200 a week they get for nothing each week. After all they don't have to pay for their TV license or public transport - what else could they need money for?

I will be collecting from full time carers - who are given a more than generous allowance so they can forego any kind of reasonable wage in order to stay at home and care for their incapacitated loved ones. Sure they are freeing a place in the a long term care facility and relieving the strain on the already creaking health service - but in return they get to stay home every day, watch Oprah and old Cheers reruns and they don't have the grind of a daily commute. They should be giving us money for the privilege!

I will be collecting from others living close to the poverty line - think you really need that second pair of shoes or the warm winter coat? I don't think so my friend - just how exactly do you expect Bertie to get over to that corporate box in Old Trafford.

I will be collecting from people who can't afford private health insurance - with the level of care you can expect in our not-very-clean-at-all-actually hospitals (if you happen to make it that far up the waiting list) you won't be with us much longer and everybody knows you can't take it with you when you go. May as well hand it over now for the good of the country.

Finally, I will be colleting from Mary Murray, wife of volunteer firefighter Brian Murray who died while on duty in Bray earlier this year. She certainly doesn't need the €40 from her husband's last pay packet. The money was docked from his pay by Wicklow County Council as he didn't complete the full shift. What does she expect - that Wicklow County Council should pay her for time her husband spent acting the eejit being burned alive? I also doubt she needs the insurance money they are holding back from her at the moment.

You've never had it so good folks - dig deep and give generously.

You know, I'd swear Bertie is convinced that John F. Kennedy meant to say "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you."

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Comedy -v- Music

Neither myself or the close personal friend drink a great deal. Sitting in a pub, skulling pints and chewing the cud is all well and good but it's not something we're interested in doing each and every weekend. Instead we go to see the occasional play and a lot of gigs - music and comedy. Frequently, when leaving a music gig at which the band in question has lifted the roof, I find myself mulling over the pros and cons of performing stand up comedy and music, wondering which has more benfits (or which is easier). The thought process generally goes something like this....

  1. You "die" a lot more obviously (and painfully) when performing comedy. People will clap politely at the end of a song they don't really like but they will not laugh politely at something they don't find funny.
  2. As a musician the sight of a crowd of people deliriously leaping up and down to a song must be an incredible feeling - people rarely jump up and down at comedy gigs (and if they do it probably indicates that you are playing a benefit gig for tourettes sufferers). On the flip side of the coin, there is a certain buzz that comes from making a room full of people laugh - particulary if it's a particularly well crafted or clever gag. I think I'd prefer the jumping though.
  3. As a comedian you need a much higher turnover of material. People singing your songs with you is a sign that you are doing something right... as a comedian, if they know the story you are telling it's a sign that you need some new material. Nobody has ever shouted at Bono -"Hey Bono, you did New Year's Day last time - got anything new?".
  4. In addition, it is possible, as a musician to release albums and DVDs -you can still perform these songs in concert because that's what people came to see. In fact, its what they expect to see - how many times have you left a concert disappointed that the band didn't play a certain song? As a comedian, you can make money releasing a DVD but you may as well perform a cermonial burning of the material as you can't really use it any more.
All in all, I think maybe that performing in a band just about shades it - if you call 4-0 shading it. What I think is easier to do, and what I can do however are two different things - mostly because I haven't got a note in my head. I can occasionally think of something mildly funny and write it down in a way that makes some people laugh. (That is to say that what i write, as opposed to the physical act of writing it, is a source of laughter).

Apart from that I'm not entirely sure where this post is going or where it was meant to go (if anywhere). It should probably be scrapped as pointless at this stage, but having spent the time typing it, I think I'll inflict it on the world anyway.

Lifes Little Mysteries #1

Why does sliced banana taste nicer than unsliced banana?

Monday 12 November 2007

Won't somebody please think of the publicans?

According to today's Irish times...

Rural pubs are going out of business faster than ever, figures from the Revenue Commissioners show. With almost 450 fewer pub licences issued or renewed last year compared with 2005, vintners have called for subsidised rural transport schemes and a relaxation of gambling restrictions to help stem the trend of pub closures.

In total, almost 1,000 pubs have gone out of business in the past three years, most of them in rural areas. Urban bars are faring better while the off-licence sector continues to boom....

The report goes on to say that " Publicans blame stricter drink driving laws and a lack of public transport options in rural areas for their falling trade". Bollox! I blame the fact that 2 vokas, a coke, a white wine and a long neck bottle of bulmers at Vicar Street on Friday night cost a little over €23. A quick trip over to, and the following can be bought for a grand total of €27.43

Smirnoff Red Label Vodka 35cl........... €11.38
Coca Cola Contour 1.5 Ltrs..................... €1.61
Jacobs Creek Chardonnay 75cl.............. €6.99
Bulmers Light 4 Btsx 330ml.................. €7.45

Even allowing for ever more generous measures of vodka as the drink starts to flow and your motor neuron skills suffer as a result, that is at least 4 rounds for a little more than the price of 1 round in Vicar Street. For an extra fiver or so you can pick up a packet of pringles, some peanuts and Walker's Sweet Chilli Crips (the big bag) and still save about €60 over 4 rounds. €60 which could help cover, oh I don't know, the impending TV license hike maybe, health insurance (because you wouldn't take your chances with public health care at the minute), the imminent motor tax hike, the... well you get the jist.

I appreciate that publicans have costs to cover so a certain price difference is to be expected. I am also aware that they are in business to make money so they have to add a little something on top so they can keep living. But um (and I hate to be the one to point this out) Tesco also have certain overheads and are also in business to make a profit so the price differences shouldn't be that great... and don't forget kids, the poor, shabbily dressed publicans can buy their bottle of Smirnoff Red Label Vodka at wholesale prices....AND then claim the VAT back!

Now, the other thing is this: where do the publican's get off calling for the government to step in and help them out of their little predicament. Cheeky bastards - its a problem of your own making so, when you've finished rubbing your eyes in disbelief at that little home truth, why not sit down, pour yourself a large brandy and figure out what YOU can do about it.

I know a number of people who run their own businesses and are starting to feel the pinch as the economy slows down and people are a little more careful with their money. They aren't running to the government, cap in hand pleading "nobody is using our service, can't you do something to artifically inflate demand". They are dealing with it themselves by applying sound business principles and making their products or services more attractive or better value for money.

Maybe thats the problem - publican's don't seem to have any principles.

Why do I bother?

I managed to get my hands on a couple of tickets to see Dara Ó Briain at Vicar Street on Friday evening. It was thoroughly depressing -he is far too good. Ó Briain may not be universally regarded as THE best comedian in the world* but he steps into a league of his own when it comes to audience banter. He seems to have this incredible ability to conjure endless laughs from an innocent audience member's answers to a couple of mundane questions - like what they do for a living - and all without being offensive or condescending.

I go to a lot of comedy gigs and it is a pure pleasure to see top guys like Ó Briain, Tiernan and Rich Hall ply their trade. You can learn a lot that can improve your material or delivery. You notice little "tricks of the trade" that can improve a joke (like Wibbly Wobbly Wonder is an inherently funnier name for an ice cream than Choc-ice). It also makes you wonder why you bother trying to craft 15 minutes of material that is consistently funny and loosely linked when these guys make it seem so effortless. I'm sure its not effortless. I know a lot of work goes into it behind the scenes - hours spent writing, standing in front of a mirror rehearsing the delivery over and over.

I guess it just makes me aware of how huge the learning curve is and how much room there is for improvement.

* The title of World's Best Comedian is, of course, a matter of opinion and will continue to remain so until some "boffin" (for it will surely be The Sun who break the news) develops a method of scientifically measuring an indiviual's level of funniness. For what it's worth, having mulled it over for the past few minutes, I haven't been able
to decide who I think is deserving of the accolade but I have decided that if such a measuring system is devised it should use the Milligan Scale and each unit of measurement should be called a Goon.

Friday 9 November 2007

Ban Gardaí

When I was a nipper, I thought Ban Gardaí was an Irish anarchist movement. In actual fact it was once the official term for female gardaí. It has since, thanks to this era of political correctness and sexual equality, gone the same way as terms like chairman and spokesman.

Back in the good old days, an attractive ban garda was as much a feature of Irish life as young, attractive nuns - you never saw either. Sure you saw young, attractive nuns in movies (Sound of Music and Nuns on the Run - but not Sister Act) and on TV (The Father Dowling mysteries) but never in real life.

Women who applied to join the gardaí were freckly, curly haired, thick-ankled country girls with names like Gráinne and Bridgit. Women who looked like they grew up on farms and when asked to move the cattle into the top field they did so two-at-a-time with one startled fresian over each shoulder. You got the impression that if exfoliation was part of their beauty regime a pebble-dashed wall was somehow involved.

Lately I have noticed female Gardaí these days are cuter and sexier. They have more normal hair in chic, cosmopolitan styles and the uniform seems to suit them a bit better too. It has, I'm sure, lead to many fantasies involving handcuffs and the word naughty being said repeatedly. Maybe they are all ex-strippograms who liked the uniform so much they decided they wanted to wear it every day until retirement.

Still no foxy nuns though.

Thursday 8 November 2007

For what its worth...

Yesterday, when ranting about cancer screening in Portlaoise, I mentioned the resignation of a Norwegian Minister on the grounds that she had paid her childminder under the table.

I must confess that, at the time, I was trying my best to remember the content of an article I read some time ago. I didn't know her name. I wasn't sure what the ministry was. I was pretty sure Norway was the correct county although I was aware there was a chance it could be Sweden.

Well my best was clearly nowhere near good enough. The politician in question was Mona Shalin - she is Swedish and the current leader of the Social Democratic Party. She did find herself in a spot of bother over the childminder issue but it did not result in her resignation.

Instead she resigned, as Deputy Prime Minister, over improper use of a charge card which was intended for working expenses only. In her own words, "Jag köpte två Toblerone, blöjor och cigaretter". (I bought two Toblerone, diapers and cigarettes).

Quite the colourful character it would seem. According to wikipedia: In 2002 Sahlin's car was prohibited from being driven, yet received a number of parking tickets during this time. Sahlin has in fact received numerous parking tickets (98 in just one year) .....Eventually the government gave her a reserved parking space to solve the matter.

Its OK....he comes from a broken home.

From time to time, the local newspaper finds its way into our newspaper rack. It sits there in a little pile with The Sunday Tribune, an Irish Times or two, Village magazine and the Irish Mail on Sunday's TV guide. It has become something of a Sunday morning ritual for me to stop outside the local shop, with the Tribune and the Mail on Sunday under my arm, extract the MOS TV guide and bin the rest of the paper without a second glance. Sometimes I feel a brief pang of guilt that the people who publish such sensationalist tripe are getting my hard-earned cash but that feeling soon passes - mainly because I would happily shell out €2 each week for the TV guide if they published it without the rest of the paper. I look on the main part of the Mail on Sunday the way most people look on the ALDI and DELL flyers that find their way into everything.

Like most local papers, ours contains a healthy mix of articles covering local news & sport and community events. The most entertaining section each week are the 2 pages of coverage devoted to the goings on at the local district courts. There are the usual range of cases from minor things like calling a garda a bollox to the more serious offences like assault, burglary, theft and fraud.

Lately though it has served as more of an irritatant because each individual case seems to mention a plea for leniency made by the defendant's counsel before sentencing. I'm not a student of law but from what I can gather each individual plea must comprise 2 constituent parts - there's the excuse and then the (apparent) mitigating circumstances.

Valid excuses appear to include (but are probably not limited to) he comes from a broken home, he is struggling to cope with the recent death of his best friend/mother/budgie, he had "drink taken" and the voices made him do it. The appropriate mitigating circumstances may include facts like he has 2 young children, he has given up drink, he comes from a good family, he has a good character, he is seeking counselling or he makes a nice cup of tea.

What a crock of shit! They are not valid excuses in my book. If your parents aren't on speaking terms its not a valid reason for you to mug a granny. It might however be a valid reason to have the social skills of a mountain goat or to have a string of failed relationships behind you. A fondness for a few pints is not a license to attack non nationals - but you can slur your words a little and stumble along, weaving from side to side if you like. The death of your best friend means people will put up with you if you are a bit of a grumpy fucker - but you can't steal cars or break into houses with impunity. Equally, having a "good character" doesn't make everything square with the world. If it did Mother Theresa would have had a criminal record as long as your arm.

That said however, no matter how much I may believe that your home life is no excuse for any of the offences above, I will still, upon seeing a very young child with two wasters for parents, think "poor thing doesn't stand a chance". I'm not sure how I can reconcile these 2 opinions or if they can be reconciled at all. Maybe its just one of life's great mysteries.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Could you not just use a sock your Majesty?

I chanced upon the first few minutes of The Tudors on TV3 last night.

It caught my attention because Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII was masturbating furiously into some kind of towel held by a (male) servant kneeling before him with his eyes averted (naturally).

It led me to wonder how do you get a job like that? How much does it pay? And Just how averse would you have to be towards your own semen that you are willing to pay somebody to collect and dispose of it for you?

In any case, despite what the scene suggested, I suspect that the only thing wooden was JRM's acting.

What does it take...

In Britain, David Blunkett resigned because he gave taxpayer-funded railway tickets worth £179 to his girlfriend when the tickets were reserved for spouses only. He had already repaid the money yet he still resigned. A Minister in Norway resigned after 10 days in office because it emerged that she had paid her childminder under the table. In Holland, a Minister recently resigned because he forgot his wife's birthday (this one may not be true).

What does it take for an Irish government minister to admit that the buck stops with them? They don't even have to resign or admit they made an almighty cock up, just reassure us, the voters, that they know they are expected to be responsible for what goes on in their particular department in return for all that money they receive each month, .

On Prime Time last night, while being questioned about the latest cancer screening farce, Minister for Health, Mary Harney, tried to apportion blame on everybody but herself. She pointed her pudgy digits at the radiographer, said she didn't know if the machine was faulty or not and stopped just short of calling for the public lynching of an individual who turned down a second radiographer position in Portlaoise hospital.

It may not have been Mary Harney who incorrectly analysed the mammograms but as Minister for Health she should be on top of what is happening in her department - or the major issues at least. Nobody expects her to know that the stock of blue pens is running low in Tallaght Hospital anymore than she would be expected to whizz down to Tralee General Hospital in the goverment jet when a lightbulb needs changing. She should however, be expected to keep on top of the bigger issues. She should know that:

  • the machine used to perform mammograms has an expected shelf life of 10 years.
  • the machine in use in Portlaoise is 15 years old.
  • the radiography department in Portlaoise had expressed concerns about the reliability of the machine to the hospital's board of management.
  • there was no double reading of mammograms at the hospital because there was only one radiographer (damn that individual who turned the job down).
Doesn't that make her somewhat responsible? Yes, yes Mary - we know you have created a nice, comfy, HSE-shaped buffer to take most of the flack. We know you were hoping to bury your head in the sand and wait until this blows over but we would have more respect for you if you got up off your arse and actually took some real action - i.e. something other than commissioning a report or internal investigation.

Mary Harney stated that the circumstances which led to the death of Susie Long were "unacceptable" to her. Did she not know about Susie Long's situation or did she know and just decide she didn't care?

Does she not feel even a teeny-weeny bit of responsibility for any of this?

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Self Loathing

The past few days have been pretty miserable. My asthma seems to be staging a heroic comeback after several years in the wilderness, I have a head cold I have been unable to shift and I can't walk 5 steps without expelling a bone-trembling, body shaking sneeze which rattles the wind chimes above the kitchen window (and probably those in some neighbouring houses too).

Of course, being an Irish male, this didn't stop me going to play indoor football last night. For 60 minutes, I ran and ran and ran and then, when I thought I couldn't run another step, I ran a bit more. It was a thoroughly enjoyable hour - but one which added a nice throaty cough and a wheeze, reminiscent of the ancient bank official at the end of Mary Poppins, to my list of ailments. All of this resulted in myself and the close personal friend (who is also suffering with a head cold) sitting up in bed at ten o'clock, surrounded by discarded tissues, reading and sipping lemsip. I imagine it must have been quite the sorry sight.

Given the blocked nose, wheezing, coughing and sneezing it was fairly obvious that a good night's sleep was not on the agenda. Throw a couple of nightmares into the mix and the result is a rather grumpy ambassador this morning.

I can't remember the exact dream but it was of the "being chased by somebody nasty" variety. You know the kind, somebody is chasing you. You are runnning like crazy, desperately looking for a place to hide (lets face it you've just played indoor football for an hour when you could hardly breath as it was, you can't run much longer - its your only hope). You turn a corner and spy a rickety old shed. You burst in, crouching down deep in the shadows all the while looking at the door thinking "as long as that doesn't blow open I'll be ok". And what happens just as your pursuer walks by? The door blows open and he/she/it steps inside. "But its ok", you think, "I'm here in the dark shadowy corner as long he can't see me it will be fine". Just then an overhead lightbulb, which wasn't bloody there when you first stepped into the shed, blinks on illuminating your position. So you are off running again - only the same pattern repeats over and over again.

  • You find temporary refuge.
  • You think as long X doesn't happen I'm home free.
  • X happens.

I'm not big on dream interpretation but I do know that dreams are driven by your subconscious so I can only come to the conclusion that my subconscious hates me. Why else would it torment me in this manner? Why can't it let me just hide, let my would be attacker call off the search and then let me go about my business in peace? Instead it teases me, gives a false sense of security and then rips it out from under me. I think its trying to kill me - trying to scare me to death by the looks of things. And the worst thing is we are most likely going to be stuck together for another 40 to 50 years (unless his plan works of course).

Anybody else ever have similar dreams?

Monday 5 November 2007

A Politically Correct Christmas

In a large-ish chain store yesterday, I noticed a sign encouraging customers to donate childrens' toys to a charity drive they are running in the lead up to Christmas. The toys will be redistributed to children in the third world and in less well off Irish families.

If you are considering spending a few quid on a toy for this undoubtedly worthy cause, you should be aware that there are some restrictions governing the toys that can be donated.

  • The toy must be new. None of your second hand rubbish if you don't mind.
  • It should not have been manufactured using child/slave labour.
  • It should not require batteries.
  • It should not have been manfactured in a country ruled by an oppressive regime.
  • It should not have any religous connections. (That's John the Baptist dolls off the list).
  • It should not be related to warfare of any kind. (GI Joe, guns, toy soldiers, tanks and so on).
Politically, morally and ethically correct it may be, but it also goes to show that beggars can in fact be choosers.

Sunday 4 November 2007

I'm not a doctor but....

I'm not a doctor. I do have a degree in Computer Science and I toyed with the idea of going on to do a Masters and then a Doctorate in the same discipline. But wanting to respond to a plea of "Is anybody here a Doctor?" by dramatically bursting through a crowd of concerned onlookers, looking down upon a woman, urgently in need to a tracheotemy, and declaring, while shaking my head in disgust, "this woman's not a computer, my skills are useless here" probably wasn't the right motivation so I decided against it.

I do however, have access to dictionaries and the internet and through such mediums I have been able to discern the definition for the word syndrome. It refers to the association of several clinically recognisable features, signs, symptoms or characteristics which often occur together.

The postmortem is likely to return a verdict of Sudden Adult Death syndrome which, in my opinion, is little more than a cop out by the medical community. Its not a syndrome as described above - there are no clinically recognisable features (well apart from the fact that the subject died suddenly, for no apparent reason and is lying on a hospital gurney waiting to be sliced open). We are unable to highlight those at risk of suffering Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (well apart from adults who are currently alive). And for the most part, it seems impossible to point to something that all victims had in common (apart from dying suddenly obviously). It stinks very much of "we're not quite sure exactly what this is, what causes it, how to detect it or how to stop it" so we'll call it this for now".

I don't doubt that doctors and academics everywhere are taking this very seriously, putting millions of dollars and thousands of hours into study and research but to label it as a syndrome is, in my opinion at least, a misnomer. AIDS is a proper syndrome as is Stockholm Syndrome and Asperger Syndrome. I appreciate it may be handy to group similar cases together - to provide a focal point for study and research but drop the word Syndrome.

Or else introduce the following syndromes...

  • Flattened By A Car Syndrome
  • Bullet Through The Head Syndrome
  • Parachute Didn't Open Syndrome
  • Water Filled Lungs Syndrome
  • Plane-Mountain Collision Syndrome

And since I coined these phrases I expect at least one of these to be commonly referred to as Bad Ambassador Syndrome. (Maybe that would be one where you talk and write complete shite about subjects you know nothing about).

Friday 2 November 2007

I'm driving the bus...

I have just returned from a funeral. A 13 year old in apparent perfect health suddenly stopped living.

As a devout athiest, Catholic ceremonies rarely appeal to me. This ceremony however, was different - religion stayed in the background as memories and annecdotes took the limelight. Instead of Prayers of the Faithful, six of his friends spoke of their favourite memories and the things they'd do for "divilment". Their words came from the heart - there was no editing to make them more appropriate for the stiff church environment. Colloquial phrases like "wrecking me head" and "fancy the arse off her" were used with ease and without a second thought. Instead of saying Amen they each finished with a farewell - "see ya mate". There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The priest celebrating the mass was African - he did a wonderful job. Celebrating his short life but consoling the family. At one point he sang "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis. The lyrics were perfect for the occasion - adding to an already steady stream of tears. And what a voice - he sang without the aid of a mic, his steady, clear voice filling the church with ease....

... and all the while, the only thing I could think as he was singing was "I'd say he does a great 'Old Man River'". (Now that I think about it 'Mammy' would be a good one too.)

Probably a good job I don't believe in Heaven or Hell because I think I know which one I would be destined for after that.

Thursday 1 November 2007


My long-term, long-suffering close personal friend is a little jumpy to say the least. It doesn't take a great deal to frighten her - spiders, rising interest rates and the resurgance of 80's fashion trends all have pretty much the same effect.

I frighten her too - not because I am grotesque and creepy (because she is used to that by now). I seem to frighten her just by... being. For example, by being stood behind her when she is doing her hair in the mirror, lost in her own thoughts and unaware that I have come into the room. Her reaction is the same each and every time - she raises her arms defensively, emits the meekest of screams and then, realising its me, slaps me.

Given that we have been sharing the same house and bed for some years now, I foolishly thought she might be used to seeing me about the place at this stage. My somewhat laissez-faire attitude to life has wreaked havoc on her slight OCD tendencies so she is definitely aware of my presence. The whole situation of my simply "being" frightening her used to leave me feeling like somehow I didn't belong in my own home, that I should pad quietly about so as not to disturb her life. Sadly this quiet padding didn't really help, resulting, as it did, in me getting closer behind her, more quietly, when she wasn't expecting it.

Now it provides a source of much merriment, mostly derived from my belief that her meek screams wouldn't really attract attention if she were actually in great peril. It would be akin to shouting "Help.... but only if you're not too busy and it's not too much of an intrusion". Now, I actively try to frighten her. (Childish I know!) I move about the house with the stealth and guile of a (slightly clumsy) ninja. I stand outside rooms she is in, my face pressed against the door so, when she opens it, I'm unexpectedly standing there. I take the biggest knife in the kitchen and sneak into the bathroom when she is showering, pull back the curtain and shout "Eek! Eek! Eek!" while making vicious stabbing motions a la "Psycho". (Unfortunately, the close personal friend has never seen "Psycho").

Halloween was my flawed masterpiece. We were locking the house up for the night. I had some stuff to do in the back garden, she had to go out to the drive to lock her car. I tinkered about in the garden, peeking through the window watching, waiting for her to head for the front door - then i made my move. I crept down the side of the house, pressed myself against the wall and when she stepped into the garden, leaving the sanctuary of the house behind, sprang out from her left hand side going "Ooooooooohhhhhhhh!" (like a ghost who's just not putting the same amount of effort into his haunting as he used to). She turned, raised her hands defensively, gave a proper scream and looked horrified. I received the usual clatters about the chest and head when she realised it was me. I gave her the usual great big hug because her reaction, when she realises its me and looks angry and amused all at the same time, is so cute.

I thought is was hilarious, she thought it was hilarious. What type of attacker will come at you going "Ooooooooohhhhhhhh!"? (One with no tongue maybe?) We hugged tightly and laughed lots. Then all I could see in my mind was how horrified she looked. Then I realised that it hadn't just been a normal case of "I didn't realise you were there" - it was pure, genuine and absolute terror. That was when it stopped being funny. That was when I hugged her tighter and tighter and apologised repeatedly.

The thing is, on any given day a woman somewhere will turn as a man unexpectedly comes at her. She will raise her arms in an effort to protect herself and she will scream. And she will continue to scream because it won't be her childish boyfriend who will later hug her tightly and laugh with her.

I still feel suitably ashamed.