Smorgasbord

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the day the IRA interrupted me cleaning a Danish hotel room. My best mate and I stopped whatever we were doing and stood jaw-dropped in front of the television. We looked at each other in disbelief. Oh. My. God. At last. Someone speaking English.

I don’t remember a job interview, but I recall precisely how we landed on the idea of Copenhagen. We stuck a pin in a map the previous May. That’s how fast and loose we played with earning our college keep back then. Oh yeah. Get us. Backpacking our way to one of the most expensive cities on the planet.  We didn’t bank on pints costing over a fiver a pull (a tenner in today’s dosh), and me accidently flushing my favourite trousers down the toilet on our first night in the youth hostel. Or hostel, as I called it until my eligibility to stay in these bunk-bedded communes expired. Funny how the word ‘youth’ only appears in the lexicon of folk middle-aged and beyond. I digress. How I mourned those trousers. Bought from the erstwhile second-hand shop, Flip, in Temple Bar, which did a respectable line in second-hand silk pyjama bottoms originally designed (and possibly worn by) the more refined older gentleman. I hope. The draught never bothered me anyway.

By the time the IRA was bragging about graciously laying down their arms, we had managed to shave an hour off our working day since our arrival in June.  We were contracted to be paid for twenty-two minutes per double room, eighteen for a single. For the first month, we could be seen shuffling out of the building hours after the others had left, occasionally carrying bags of empties under each arm signalling a good day for leftover bottles from departing guests. The returns on enough of those babies would guarantee us half a beer, or an ice-cream, or one-third of our relentless daily diet of pasta, veg, and sausages. A pair of Irish gombeens among a gang of Filipino women chambermaiding their way towards their respective versions of a more exciting life. Two women unaccustomed to cleaning at any speed other than at their leisure. We needed to get a move on. (Warning: don’t ever drink from a glass in a hotel room).

At some point during the stolen coffee breaks, we learned our colleagues were being exploited by our employer. Underpaid and held to ransom by expired working visas they refused to extend. Memory of the revolutionary meeting with the union is sketchy, and distance and nostalgia has inflated our cameo appearance into a starring role in the re-telling. But looking back, it was a summer of political awakenings for us both in many small but significant ways.

Shortly after Trousergate, we secured a room in the halls of a university campus on the outskirts of town. Here we collided with Somali refugees newly arrived in their host country impressively leading the charge in European immigration and integration. I never required healthcare during my visit, but that my tax bill included a specified amount towards it added up. Recycling, an informal approach to queuing, the lack of vocabulary or need for ‘excuse me’ … all (eventually) made sense.  Everything except The Little Mermaid. Squint or you’ll miss her.

mermaid

“Any chance one of you could get me a BigMac?”

Then there was Greta, a German trainee doctor working as an intern in a city hospital. What we lost in translation and the endurance test otherwise known as her boyfriend (she appeared to find him equally insufferable), we gained from her vivid accounts of life as an East Berliner where she lived her parents, both prominent figures in The Communist Party. Four years on, she still lamented the fall of The Wall, but strangely found solace in The Hoff’s sensitive performance (not really). They had looked after each other there, she sighed, unable to conceive of a lasting fair society under reunification and liberalisation. “Don’t worry”, I whispered solemnly, “Angela Merkel will see yiz right”. (not re..what do you think?)

What they thought of us was anyone’s business but ours. Everyone displayed an interest in knowing more about Northern Ireland. Except us. We found the easiest way to scratch heads and move the chat along was to explain we hailed from the South, but from the most northerly county on the island. In the middle but really on the edge. Neither with them nor against them. Sounding like them but speaking a different language. Sharing a geographical hinterland but not a currency or culture. Shopping in the same places but only we were obliged to hide ours under the car-seat going through customs. A sort of smorgasbord of bits and bobs from one and the other.  A take it or leave it.

The remainder of that day twenty years ago was given over to raising a beer (maybe two) to the most significant event of the day – my best mate’s birthday.

Happy Birthday M xx

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Together in electric dreams

Three days without a shower, queuing for a piss in a dark dank Portaloo, getting my hair washed twice daily ‘neath another downpour. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather to be doing this weekend but alas the Electric Picnic wellies must stay mud-clad in the corner for the second year in a row.

Just to torture myself even further, I’ve compiled a list of top five acts for my ultimate fantasy line-up applying the following criteria:

– they must be alive (this often helps when playing live)

– have not played EP before (so that rules out the top 5 best performances to date: New Order, Patti Smith, Bjork, PiL, Passion Pit)

1. Kate Bush

Woman of the moment, but soundtrack to the pivotal moments of some of our lives.

Stage: Body & Soul

Extras: Dancers trapeze off the trees, Liam O’Maonlai dances like an irritating loon at the front of the stage.

Next day reviews: Local radio station in Portlaoise receive calls from concerned residents reporting strange banshee sounds during the night. Crowd unhappy with O’Maonlai antics.

Standout track: This Woman’s Work

2. Talking Heads

“Hi, I’ve got a tape I want to play”. If you recognise that line then you deserve to be in the front row. David Byrne popping in with St. Vincent last year doesn’t count so don’t be awkward by bringing it up.

Stage: Electric Arena. Taking no chances with the wind swaying Tina Weymouth’s bass to the other side of the audience. No fucking way.

Extras: Standing lamp for old time’s sake.

Standout track: Born Under Punches

Next day reviews: Clichéd references to David Byrne’s shock of white hair, and mention of the two other female bass guitarists in the world.

3. Neil Young

He has just announced his divorce so prepare for a few 45 minute guitar solos. Head-butt anyone who fears they will be “turgid”. They haven’t a fuck’s notion what they’re on about. And they just like using the word turgid.

Stage: Main. I don’t mind five or ten minutes of the solos getting blown to the other side of the audience to enable us discuss what to eat next: Pieminister or burritos?

Extras: I suppose a ‘hello’ would be out of the question, Neil?

Standout track: Like a Hurricane. Preferably as the heavens crack open.

Next day reviews: Why didn’t he play Old Man? Boo hoo etc.. Accusations of turgid guitar solos.

4. Cathal Coughlan

Who?

Stage: Cosby. Probably at an inappropriately peppy 3pm knowing the talent the organisers have for fucking up the schedule

Extras: Consensus-smashing wry observations on the state of the nation during an appearance later on the sofa in Minefield.

Standout Track: Officer Material/cover of Big Star’s Thank You

Next day reviews: Oh ja. I love all his work. Notable tensions between himself and McWilliams.

5. ABBA

It’s OK. No-one needs to know you just had a hard/wide-on at the thought of it.

Have fun, if you’re going. (fucker)

“Just the one”

There’s no such thing really, is there?

What starts off as a benign statement full of good intention usually collapses before the one pint is polished off. It’s only manners the other person gets their round in. Another one for my good friend here.

What starts off as a meaningless comment in response to conversational calculations of children among parents, usually converts into an arrow slung at the heart of a strain of sensitivity you wish to fuck you could shed.

You’ve just the one.

I have? Oh thanks. I’ll put that with my other information.

No, I just made that up. I actually have eight others I hide in the attic at home.

That’s right, I have one.

The one in a million.

Stowin’ away the time

We went on holidays last week.  We’re very this season that way. Self-catering in a holiday house by the sea. By self-catering, I mean dining out every night; by holiday house, I mean an early introduction to retirement-home living where the furniture is designed more with orthopaedic support in mind than extravagant lounging. All right-angled austerity with Mary Kennedy appearing as her disturbingly inoffensive self on every available television channel.

I took one look around and made a mental inventory of the various irritations I was determined to complain about (lack of WiFi, filth on the curtains, lack of WiFi, dirty bathroom, lack of WiFi). No free shower caps, mini shampoos, or sewing kits to gleefully stash, so I had to fill the instant gratification vacuum somehow. I may have deployed that term so beloved of wimps  (“mark my words”), which had deflated to a crumpled up shadow of its former self by the week’s end. I waved goodbye to the owner in manner of lowly lickarse to departing dignitary on pulling out.

I mistakenly typed “pulling off” there initially. That’d be the sleep deprivation from the ward bed talking, and the snoring from my brother who we invited along for a few nights and had us re-negotiating our marriage vows at 4am. I returned embarrassingly overdrawn on my husband’s flexibility. I’m still doing the pitiful forgive-me face; often confused with the equally pitiful I’m-a-fucking-idiot face. Sure, you’ll have that.

Bleary-eyed and idle, I mooched around till the beachside café coolly flip-flopped its way into the breach with free WiFi, forcing me to abandon my habit of  avoiding surfer hipster types (not indigenous to where I live), and the news black-out I was banking on and bragging about before we left.

The grimness cascaded down daily. Caesarean Section at 26 weeks. James Foley. Suspected Ebola Case. Pat Kenny set to return to our TV Screen. Cliff Richard fans vow to get their man back in the charts. Where will it end? Morph reveals dark world of Tony Hart?

One of the other thousands of ways I like to test the limits of my husband’s patience is to engage him in a game of guess the potential song the producers of Reelin’ In the Years will marry with a moment from the here and now. The soundtrack must be released from the featured year and fit the footage.

‘Mr. Sun, Sun, Mister Golden Sun’ was automatically disqualified for failing to meet the first part of those criteria.  I made a unilateral decision and settled on visualising scenes of the follow-up protests of women on loudspeakers segueing into follow-up news clips of politicians clogging the silence with cowardice and back again to the strains of Seasons by Future Islands.

Seasons change, and I tried hard just to soften you
The seasons change, but I’ve grown tired of tryin’ to change for you
Because I’ve been waiting on you
I’ve been waiting on you
Because I’ve been waiting on you
I’ve been waiting on you

As it breaks, the summer awaits
But the winter washed what’s left of the taste
As it breaks, the summer awaits
But the winter craved what’s lost
Crave what’s all gone away

People change, even though some people never do
You know when people change
They gain a piece but they lose one too
Because I’ve been hanging on you
I’ve been waiting on you
Because I’ve been waiting on you
I’ve been hanging on you

As it breaks, the summer awaits
But the winter washed what’s left of the taste
As it breaks, the summer awaits
But the winter craved what’s lost
Crave what’s all
Crave what’s all gone away
‘Cause I’ve been waiting on you

All other suggestions welcome.

Top 5 ways The Rose of Tralee competition is like Irish abortion laws

1. The women are forced to go through a rigorous process of scrutiny before presenting for adjudication in front of an expert panel

2. The two-dimensional portrayal of women as a homogenous group devoid of all complexities in a bid to uphold the official pageantry

3. There’s usually an irrepressible man dressed in black and white dominating the airwaves with displays of parochial idiocy

4. Frequent cries about the need to “protect our values and our culture” , and the incurable propensity towards propping up long-expired representations of the past

5. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world

Ms. Fit Tingin

Growing up, Sunday lunch was always a cacophony of cutlery, chat, and calls from my Mother to one of our guests to be quiet. A guest that could only be heard, but who regularly commanded the atmosphere. Any one of the commentators, columnists, and politicians squabbling over who interrupted the other. That’s the beauty of radio – the power to convert ordinary dining tables into live studio audiences with everyone brave enough to release their inner heckler.

A love of radio is a habit I inherited from home along with checking out other people’s plates in restaurants to see who got the biggest portion, and rapidly flicking over from sex scenes on TV when my Dad walks into the room.

There’s welcome relief in reaching middle age when you can freely discuss age-appropriate activities such as talk radio without fear of ridicule. It’s the background to Saturday morning pottering around until the pottering becomes the background to an eavesdrop on an engaging guest, or exploration of a subject that lassoes me with the presenter’s incredulous tone.

Last Saturday’s Marian Finucane Show discussion on empathy with philosopher, Roman Krznaricon, zigzagged through the Dublin traffic I was poorly negotiating. He shared personal accounts on his relationship with his Dad growing up before meandering down the role of philosophy in brokering world and personal peace.

The hunt for a parking space was suddenly overtaken by his quietly posed question: In what ways would you like to be more courageous? A classic radio moment when the listener’s thoughts are halted by hearing something put in a way they’ve never thought about before. I drew a blank.

Until yesterday morning after coming off the phone from my boss who granted my last-minute request for a day’s annual leave. I had my answer: I would like to be able to tell the truth about myself a little more.

There will be at least one, possibly two, more such calls made before the end of the year. Yesterday’s was the second so far. Those who arrive straight to the point would call it anxiety or depression or some other shorthand. Others, like myself, would take a detour through descriptions of paralysis and glue-wading, combining it with a social form of agoraphobia when the confines of the bathroom take on an irresistible appeal. That’s if we ever managed to get our coherent speech into gear, or had the inclination to do so. Annual Leave is my shorthand for occasionally being unable to make it past my front door.

I can’t decide how much of my reluctance to tell the truth in that moment waiting for the boss to pick-up relates to a fear of stigma, my naturally neurotic privacy, my resistance to over-sharing, or the fact that I’m so casually matter-of-fact about it in umpteen other ways that seems plain to see. Like the way I see it in the demeanour of others, in the same way I know they hear it in my self-deprecating humour dripping with more clues than a psychiatrist’s filing cabinet.

It’s an aspect of living that’s not quite ‘on’ top of me; it’s just ‘of’ me. A legacy from a more distressed period of clinical depression; preceded by uncharted emotional kaleidoscopes that fused together leaving undetonated landmines I risk treading on. Not a diagnosis that can be neatly packaged, or one that needs curing.

Not a condition from which award-winning articles are written, or that fuels reactionary anger to a myopic commentator’s insensitive remarks, or something that could potentially contribute to the prevailing, and often limiting, public discourse on depression as being exclusively episodic in nature.

Not something comprised of episodes of such debilitating intensity that form the basis of personal accounts, which form the foundation of awareness campaigns, that in turn are beginning to fulfil a public service function that never fully resonates, and at times feels uncomfortably uniform in terms of sources and outcomes.

It’s just an aspect of my moderately functioning, modern life. Not particularly temporary, not particularly curable. An occasional tap on the shoulder that forces me to turn around to have an encounter with the more unsteady part of me.

That’s about the length of the truth of it, and I suspect of a great many people.

My boss only had a few seconds.