One hundred days of blogging

For two of those days, the actor, Mark Ruffalo, was referred to twice in one post as Mark Gruffalo. I guess that has been the least radioactive of my blushes here, but for someone unable to fit comfortably in to a parent-size blog, the signs of having a child will continue to give themselves away unwittingly. Our bedtime reading has since moved on to  Hugh Jackman and The Beanstalk.

Not that I embarked on carving out a parenting blog. Good luck to all those brave folk who maintain one. I salute them with the leftover gusto from cheerleading those willing to walk down an aisle in the company of more than three people.

It just happened to be an idle afternoon in my mean abode when I followed my fingers round the keyboard until they took out a mortgage with WordPress and moved into a surprisingly familiar neighbourhood.

For a woman on the perpetual hunt for escapism from where I live, one would’ve expected me to dive headlong down the portal to freedom. But instead it banged loudly on the keyboard. Northern Ireland doesn’t do touchy feely, so there won’t be an open love letter to it anytime soon, but I might go halves on top ten things about it by chipping in five eventually.

Tops fives. The cornerstone of any topic worthy of a stroked chin. Blogillions of blogs are buoyed up on them; scores more boast cheap imitations (top 7s, top 9s, top 15s.) . Given my dependency on them as a mechanism for coping with conversation, combined with the availability of an edit button to quell the corresponding OCD, they should be all over my shop. Top five reasons why they aren’t…

1. Top 5 signs that blogging is a middle-class pursuit wasn’t really going anywhere after number three

2. Ditto Top 5 kinds of parents I’d like to see start a blog but could probably never do so

3. I just thought of one now that probably won’t ever be written either  (Top 5 reasons my fears of hanging out with Irish bloggers overlap with the reasons I avoid them abroad)

4. Top 5 reasons I like hanging out with Irish bloggers would inevitably lead me to expose my favourites and I’m too Irish to risk someone not liking me for not loving them even when they couldn’t give a shite. Especially when they couldn’t give a shite.

5. It’s just so exhausting being Irish. The anxiety. The chip on my shoulder. The killjoying. The endless comparisons. And that’s just the blog themes.

I went through more theme changes in the first week than Garth Brooks’s estimated income for this year. Those sheep are authentically Donegal by the way, The Fonz of the local animal kingdom. They can been seen hanging precariously off cliffs, and playing chicken on the roads.

The photo replaced the one of my wee girl and her Da that briefly loomed large at the top of this page. It’s a lovely photo but by day three I couldn’t take their heavy presence on the screen. Even with their backs to me. I can’t swear in front of her, and I can’t be freely cheesy about him while he’s within earshot. Third cousin of your-deceased-Granny-popping-in-to-your-head-while-you’re-in-the-sack-with-someone syndrome.

Living with them is one of the few forms of exercise I actually enjoy, but we need a break from each other sometimes. Because I work occasional evenings, I tragically never get to avail of that most popular mythical method of meeting others – the night class. If I did sign up to a ten week course on how to grow your own willpower, I’d probably produce top five perfectly justifiable reasons why I should quit after two.

But waffling on the internet rarely feels a chore. So here was my chance to make it appear like one.  It’s already compatible with sitting on my generous behind, watching TV, talking shite, and enjoying the occasional slice of cheese. A blog: half-way between a hobby and a discipline with your own terms and conditions attached. The deal I made with myself: write with some regularity for 100 days and she how she goes.

So I’ve made it (buffs fingernails on lapels). 100 days today. This is the part where I get to tell you about the enjoyment I derive from writing, and the ambitions I’ve had for my little words since I was a nipper (poignant background music here).

Bollocks to that. Tonight, I want to say farewell in the style of a successful comedian who hasn’t sold out, about to announce an interval in his own show.  Like Dylan Moran, trailing off mid-majestic monologue, unsteadily raising a glass in a faux drunken gesture to his audience while imploring them to get a drink. If I have any ambitions for my words, I should at least treat their trail-offs to an occasional dress-up game where they get to inhabit the mere moment of coming up for air of someone who is a master of them. Fantasy. It’s everywhere. And I’m paying for this.

I’m off now to fill up my glass with some holidays, and other stuff. Hope to see you after the interval in another 100 days or so.

Thank you all very much for coming.

Now go get a drink.


The waltz continues

Amid the daily news “packages” on the recurrent onslaught of murder in Gaza, sits the regulation feature on the rising role of social media in modern conflict. The civilian on the street doubling as handheld eye-witness circumnavigating sponsored camera crews and editorial policies to give the world in-our-face, access-all-areas updates in real time.

The social media’s attack on sophisticated propaganda and news management is undoubtedly a phenomenon that tears up the rule book on war reporting. Even so, the experiences of those recruited for combat remain off-limits. The access-all-emotional-areas of those young men conscripted into forces defending their lands be it in a uniform or headscarf.

Most of us are veterans of watching war reports and war films, but few war veterans are reporters or filmmakers. Ari Folman is one. Conscripted into the Israeli Army, he fought as a 19 year-old soldier in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. His 2008 documentary film Waltz With Bashir recounts the experiences of his young military self and the rest of his squad on that shared front-line.


What sets the film apart from other talking head documentaries is the animation format through which these are captured. It enables the film to accommodate the hallucinatory and fractured quality of the memories of men from a time when they had barely crossed the threshold of adulthood. The wooziness, and the tricks memories play, plays on the power of the viewer’s interpretation. We’re kept guessing throughout. That the film was applauded by both the Israeli government and supporters of Palestinian liberation leaves sufficient ambiguity for choice.

But it’s not all detached reconstruction. The sudden shift to real film footage in the closing minutes reveals the final, inescapable, confrontation between the soldier and his memory. Like the daily feeds down cables and phone cameras today, the footage speaks for itself: the pile-up of dead Palestinians, wailing widows, and Bashir just out-of-sight.

It took a long time to rise from the seat and exit the cinema.

Buoys of summer

“Hi there everybody, we’re The Modern Lovers, and we’re gonna sing about the ice-cream man for you”

Who the fuck is this? My opening thought on this opening line of a song that sneaked its way on to a compilation made for me by my best mate. It’s 1995. Cassette tapes are barely clinging on, but quality control standards are upheld. The production is built on a fragile combination of reverence, timing, phantom-crescendo before-dropping-the-tempo-a-gear-before-finishing-with-the-show-stopping-finale rules of compilation assembly. A delicate art form. Alchemy in the hands of a human emotional tuning fork. Excuse me while I have a moment to stare into the middle distance for some spontaneous nostalgia…

(20 seconds later)

If you haven’t clicked on the link for a listen, then do so now. It’ll open in a separate page so read on while you listen to some seasonal greetings from our friend Jonathan Richman. Imagine this flanked by Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy and Nick Cave’s The Ship Song. What better place to parachute a throw-away tickle of a tune into a compilation than between two self-consciously serious classics. Ambush the unsuspecting listener neither half way up nor down with a commercial break for happiness to pave the way for contemplation at the piano.

That’s one of my most vivid sounds of summer. A few others that trigger a rapid flick through the cartoon sketchbook of flashbacks.

Streets of Your Town – The Go-Betweens

The flint for firing up the fryers in the chippie and the smell of stale grease on ill-fitting polyester uniforms. Dreading the response from my folks to the impending Leaving Cert results but not giving a fuck about them one way or another. Nothing mattered except piling into the delivery van after the late-night shift and all back to whoever’s till dawn. Round and round, up and down, through the streets of our town. The rain was on its way – the results arrived.

12 ” Version of First Picture of You – The Lotus Eaters

Datsun Stanza. Toyota Carina. Volvo. Petrol. Diesel. Four-door. Five-door. Hatch-back. Cassette player. CD player. All that changes is the model of my folks’ car, my hairstyles, and the pixel quality of the memory of bringing that 12″ to the local disco (as they were called then) and the floor emptying when the DJ played it. Devil may care. It’s still belt on, shades down, volume up, and playing the shit out of it along the quickest crooked coastline I can get to. 3:59 – 4:35: my heart overspilleth.

Got a favourite summer sound to share? Take it away there…

“Viewers may find some of the images in the footage disturbing”

The ultimate give-away line of first world war reportage.

Does the delicacy of our viewing habits need protecting?

Presumably anyone choosing to tune-in to world news should expect something a tad unpleasant. It’s not as if black clouds smouldering from the wreckage of collapsed buildings can be mistaken for Come Dine With Me.

I’d appreciate the same warnings being issued in advance of all programmes featuring Stephen Fry or Bono.

Little boxes on the hillside

Our girl and the little boy next door are conducting a friendship through the gaps in the wooden fence that divides us. It’s cheap brown, the basic of garden dividers; a relic from when the development first went up. Others around have traded theirs in for something higher, fancier, sturdier.

In a flag-free estate with a mix of owners, renters, religious affiliations, political persuasions, cheese tastes, star-signs, careers, incomes, ambitions, dreams, and guilty pleasures – neighbours coexist in the maintenance of atomised lives.

Round after round of clothes are hung on the line and the weather is the only dependable chat-up line to spring on a neighbour hanging up hers. From across that fence, I’ve learned she had another baby recently, got hitched, and hopes her new husband gets a better-paying job soon. They are new residents, young; and like their predecessors, will move on from their impractical two-bed house first chance they get.

Our neighbourliness didn’t penetrate anything beyond the surface of small-talk but we retreated into our caves with the other half-stuffed in a box we guessed by the paltry number of cues unconsciously gleaned. Our names. The names of the children. It doesn’t take much. Welcome to Northern Ireland.

We are a little too high octane in our promises to reunite our little’uns on one side of the fence. They’re the same age with the same taste in fence-climbing and finger-pointing. It’ll happen, (Dastardly voice) if it’s the last thing I do.

I don’t want our child surrounded only by peers with twenty fadas in their name. Partly why I didn’t give her one. At two years of age the scene seems already set by the crèche. A prelude to conformity, the foundation of the status quo.

I would move from this impractical two-bed country the first chance I got, but that chance is increasingly elusive so we are sobering up to a future with an integrated school as our only viable option. It accommodates all religions and ‘none’. The none being the ‘other’ on the fringes of the two traditional shows in town.

We’re ‘no’ religion. And we’re no to discrimination based on it or carried out in its name. But we’re yes to integration and responsible education. We’re yes to not imposing a faith on children through formal education; by teachers who don’t subscribe to the faith they promote at the expense of precious learning time and parental responsibility. We’re yes to our children learning about religion in its wider existence and origins but not state school authorities monopolising religion to engender the formation of singular ideas on faith. We’re yes to our children learning to think critically and philosophically.  We’re yes to the right of families to celebrate ritualistic celebrations at pivotal moments in their school-lives but not all exclusively directed and sanctioned by priests and bishops. We’re yes to our children learning alongside their neighbours rather than snatching glimpses of them through gaps in fences.

The concept of non-denominational education remains light years away. Enlightened education policy makers belong to the next generation, if they will ever be permitted to participate in a political structure that protects the permanence of sectarianism.

The others just have to put up or shut up. To a system that builds flimsy, cheap wooden fences of segregation. That confers ownership of the Irish language on one group of people. A language they will learn not to be able to speak with any great proficiency. A system that elevates the pageantry of Irish dancing among groups of people who’d laugh at the banging of a lambeg drum. Insularity is based on continuous assessment so the pass rate is always high.

The yellow registration form has been lying on the shelf since she was a month old. You could say I was a little anxious. I can’t seem to ever shake the feeling.