What to give the special blogger in your life this Christmas

It’s that time of year again. I wonder how many blog posts have started with that opening line. It is that time of year again so I’m fucked if I’m going to deviate from tradition on this one. That’s right. When you get to spend quantity time with extended family before retreating from the trauma to cocoon yourself from the dispirited this Christmas. Time to kick back and tuck into a box-set without fear of the suggestion to watch just one more episode being rejected on the grounds of having to rise for work in the morning. When you can recline and adjust the volume levels to ensure compatibility with the symphony of your snacking; occasionally glancing at your couch companion with deep resentment as he pops open a tube of Pringles. Vital dialogue has been missed, subtle plot lines overlooked, and many a murderous thought hatched to the pneumatic chomp of them. You’ve only yourself to blame for the tortilla nights.

But you dare not complain. Apart from giving off more than a mild whiff of unreasonableness, you’ve already demonstrated your own patience-defying feats with insistence you’ll be there in just a minute. That was half an hour ago but you are up to your delete button finishing a vital blog post. Sure, aren’t they all? “Yeah. I’m coming. Just a sec”. Ah the common refrain of the blogger, Mexican waving its way through the corridors of their domestic domains with mild irritation and an implied plea for flexibility for the writer (!) at work. Between on-the-spot responses to divine inspiration, and quick reads of others, the equivalent time of one episode has already been squandered  passed.

So, top of the list of the must-haves for the blogger this Christmas…

1. A Gift Voucher

The sneered at, but secretly loved, gift that demonstrates an attempt at effort. Might I suggest a custom made one for weekday night blogging curfew until 9pm. The perfect way to introduce some passive aggressive discipline to the influence the blogger has on your life. This way they’ll be finished by 9:30pm, if you’re lucky. Enough time to catch a few requisite episodes of nightly entertainment spanning political espionage/child abduction/drug underworld violence/serial killing sprees/killer vegetables etc. (delete as appropriate) before bed. Valid for 12 months.

gift card

This voucher cannot be exchanged for sex. 

2. Inspiration

A blogger is always poised to pillage your mishaps, forage your funny ways, and sell your soul. So be a good partner, and inspire them. Make it one of your New Year resolutions to apply yourself better to this task; mindful to always stay just on the right side of endearingly OCD, clumsy, forgetful, charming, irritated, psychotic etc. (delete as appropriate).

3. Mind-reading and silence

“Did I tell you my head went septic earlier and I nearly lost an arm?” If the answer from the blogger to your attempts at initiating conversation is “Sorry?”, that’s just code for “Look I’m in the middle of a really important thought, please be quiet for at least ten minutes”. And if you have to ask the blogger if they’d like a drink and/or some tortilla chips then you really don’t know him/her at all. Periodic snacks and a variation of warm and cold drinks are mandatory.

4. Encouragement

This might seem counter-intuitive if your ultimate aim is to contain this infectious disease and curb the influence of it on your partner’s duty of care to you/themselves/the family/the household etc.; but like all bloggers, they need validation. *Bruce Forsythe voice* And what does validation equal? Fuck knows. I haven’t thought about it till now. How about.. a need for even more validation? Either way, it won’t kill you. Don’t overdo it either with excessively flattering lines about converting their writing into something more lucrative and pointing out the bottomless pit of their talent. They’ll only believe you and blame you when it never happens. And eventually cotton-on to the intensity of your delusion being consistent with your lack of interest in going out for a night. “Don’t delay, Darling. Get to work on that novel. And fetch me some Pringles on your way through”. Hmmm.

5. Cold turkey

No. We don’t mean another round of sandwiches from the interminable seasonal bird. No, I’m not talking about Julie Andrews either. If the blogger is exhibiting signs of disinterest in the chocolate you leave by the keyboard, and unkempt hair, then it may be time to stage an intervention. Either lock the blogger or the computer up, so long as you keep them separate. The first three days are known to be the worst. A straight jacket is advisable here. Much thrashing about and ranting about stats will likely ensue. This is the mind re-adjusting. Lock all doors and windows to prevent the blogger from running away to an internet cafe, and remove their phone.

6. Your own blog

Alternatively, you could just join in. That way you can arrange the forthcoming week’s parenting/shopping/snack schedule through your respective comments sections.

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What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

“Guess who’s taking over Derek Mooney’s Show?”, asked my fella in that tone that suggested he had one up on me. It’s a low point for couple competitiveness, but we work with the material we’re given and the potential opportunity to be right, so I dived right in with a few guesses.

For the uninitiated, Derek Mooney is a broadcaster with Irish state radio. RTÉ Radio One predates some of the earliest recorded fossils along with some of its presenters. Most people under 35 (ish) would claim it caters for the needs of an aging demographic with its mix of current affairs, endless sports programmes, the quasi sacrament of the confessional with Father Joe Duffy and the Phone-in Parishioners of Doom, and its strict observance of the Angelus.

Those over 35 (ish) strain to avoid confessing their creeping devotion to it, which usually begins with overhearing a feature on the scandalous cost of turning middle age in Ireland, and other scaremongering punctuated by a doable dinner recipe proffered by the inoffensive Neven Maguire. This is designed to take the sting out of the revelation that they’ll be working right up retirement at 91. These can be heard on The Marian Finucane Show on Saturday mornings, a gateway drug to hardcore Class As (Liveline, Sunday Morning Miscellany), accidentally discovered by folk with an aversion to music before noon. Particularly those who cannot risk being left alone with only their hungover thoughts for company. Everyone just comes clean about listening to it by the time they hit 40 when “this week’s Marian” graduates to a regular item on their conversation agenda.

Derek Mooney anchors that awkward week-day mid-afternoon slot that covers those ‘human interest’ stories such as that secret cult of farmers in Carlow who knit their own bale covers, with the odd performance from an obscure singer popular on the cruise ship cabaret circuit. So, naturally, my first guess was… Marty Whelan? Nope. Marty Morrissey? No. Michael Flatley? No (the show’s producers now kicking themselves on reading this) Mary Kennedy? An arched brow. Kathryn Thomas? He shook his head sideways. Ten minutes and a run through the catalogue of C-list celebs later I surrender to his superior knack of getting to the breaking entertainment stories first.

flatley

Michael Flatley to present new RTÉ radio show ‘Putting my foot in it’

“Ray D’arcy.”

According to the downpour of comments from those ever-eager keyboard warriors following the announcement, Ray D’arcy is one or all of the following:

Smug/whiney/negative/gobshite/up himself/past it/hypocritical/a fanatical atheist/lactose intolerant (OK I made that up, just trying to upgrade it to insult)/greedy/Ray Arsey/health evangelist etc. etc.

Apparently, the man had the temerity to present a three-hour week-day morning show on rival station, Today FM, with his own opinions and views. The cheek of him. In Ireland, having your own opinion is one thing to be sneered at for, but expressing it is akin to demanding the Nation to wonder aloud who do you think you are? Well?

To me, and the 200 odd thousand listeners that tuned in, he was the other half of a hilarious two-hander with his producer, Will Hanafin, the wittiest man in Ireland with his droll one-liners that would crack me up and out of the foulest of moods. Before that, D’arcy was childminder of the Nation as a children’s TV presenter and punchbag for Zig and Zag. It would seem that nostalgia is his only saving grace.

For a long time, himself and Will were one half of the quartet made up of Jenny Kelly and Mairead Farrell, another pair who came in for forensic scrutiny over the years. A late Jenny convert, I was disappointed when she left back in June. The subsequent departure of Farrell heralded the death-knell on the show’s dynamic that was going to be impossible to sustain. So in a way, it came as no surprise that he, and all his opinions, is making the move.

Much lamenting and fond farewells can be found among the barbed comments. For many, his show was a connection to a world temporarily abandoned and altered forever by maternity leave. The hi-jinx providing the background din to another monotonous day at work. Company for those marooned at home. A link to the homeland via the web. A platform for listeners to have their say on the nation’s talking points during this Country’s many serious days.

I type this in silence, unable to tune in to an alternative. Pat Kenny? The priesthood must be missing an angel. Sean O’Rourke? Dole inspector meets accountancy lecturer. Ryan Tubridy? The aural equivalent of a v-neck jumper.

Say what you like about Ray D’arcy, but I’d wager you never heard any of the aforementioned unapologetically calling the Church to task for its hypocrisy. Or inviting you to look around your colleagues, friends, and family and square up to the likelihood of at least one of them having had an abortion while we all talk about them like they’re not in the room. Or talk casually about his own atheism as an accepted norm in Irish society.

Whatever else he was on his show, he was also a feminist. We still badly need them in Irish broadcasting, so let’s hope whoever fills his independent broadcasting shoes will retain some of his values, if not his running evangelism that even had me running shuffling over to switch the dial on occasion.

My weak end

One of the benefits of being married to a man with an inscrutable face, is the freedom to share certain questionable thoughts without fear of facial reprisal. There wouldn’t be much difference in his responses to say “can I get you a cuppa?” and “I think I’m dying. No, seriously. Help me.”, while adopting a semi-keeling over position in the case of the latter.  His expression would remain blank. And he would doubtless insist on completing both tasks himself.

As it happened, my self-diagnosis was slightly off-beam. Rather than suffering a heart attack brought on by the hedonistic lifestyle of my 20s that finally boomeranged to wipe me out after surrendering to sobriety (frequently overheard at my funeral: “And she had just given up carbs and bitterness”. Insert head-shaking and hand-wringing here), the tremors were palpitations and random muscle twitching. A death-scare detonated by excessive caffeine in-take in rapid time. And it hadn’t yet struck ten on a weekend morning, which was more likely the probable cause of my temporary organ failure.

More often than not, it is to his credit that he refrains from erupting into eye-rolls, grimaces and tears. Here is a sample of some of the things I declared with a dead straight face over the weekend that merited one or all:

“I’ve decided I’m going to become a Humanist celebrant”

I truly believed it in that moment. For anything is possible when you’ve had a dire week at work. You can simultaneously punch yourself with one fist for minor failings while caressing your cheek with delusions of grandeur clutched in the other, plucked when listening to a radio documentary on folk who marry and bury folk with such skillful professionalism they make it look easy.

Other recent instances of job envy:

Toll road booth collectors: Some of the happiest people on the planet. Doubtful there’d be enough material there for a documentary, but whatever it is that keeps their bearable cheeriness on show, I’m game.

Postwoman: Recession-proof. Minimal interaction with the public. Uniform. Postman Pat for a role model. Getting paid to exercise and lose weight. What’s not to love?

“I’m going to give that 5:2 diet a go”

Potential perfect get-out clause for those of us not arsed with cooking on a Monday and Tuesday. And there would be no need to waste valuable Sunday evening time preparing dinner for the following day. Time that could be better spent sitting on the sofa running my fingers through the mane of The Fear in dreaded anticipation of Monday coming round. And wondering how I’m going to fill the empty TV void in the wake of The Fall finishing.

“That new David Gray song isn’t bad”

In fairness, I waited an entire week before admitting it. Then backed it up later by reading aloud an article that confirmed he had broken off his under-the-table hand-holding with Telestar and was back plumbing the depths of his remaining credibility.

I tend to pull that reading aloud tactic whenever I stumble on scientific proof the world agrees with me (i.e. one columnist. A blogger will do. What do you mean they’re both writers? Ha). “Listen to this”.. a sure sign there is some righteousness afoot along with unbearable self-satisfaction. Both mine.

“I’m just the annex of your life”

There might have been a cameo appearance from a few hormones, and an invasion of the ridiculous that even I was aware of, but I wasn’t going to back down from a non-argument with anything other than a flourish of excessive melodrama that required me to turn away and conceal my own laugh. I’ve an awful feeling I’m going to blurt that one out accidentally again, the new recurring motif in my irrational line of defense for behaving like a wanker. At least it beats “you’re so remote” that had long passed its expiry date.

“You’ll never guess. I was mistaken for a homeless person”

At an ATM in Dublin of all places. Maybe it’s the heightened level of concern and consciousness following the devastating death of a young man in a doorway close to government headquarters last week, but I couldn’t help but think it was down to my poverty chic. It must’ve been because the bloke just dived in in front of me in the queue then did a double-take and apologised on failing to locate a polystyrene cup about my person. I like to fashion myself on those put-upon, impoverished, rural pensioners and strive to emulate the best with my daring season defining shawl.

It was my opening anecdote when I met my mate five minutes later in the cafe opposite. And was demolished moments after by the contents of a private message she’d just received on Facebook from a guy she was half-trying to work up some chemistry with to see where it would lead them.

“I suppose a shag with you in a strap-on is still out of the question?”

I’m so robbing that one.

Peig Sayers

“How do you spell that again, Peig?”

“S..t..r..a..p..o..n”

.

I’m Weird Too.

I couldn’t not reblog. Love it.

The Dad Letters

Sons,

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s rare that the three of you are serious. When one of you becomes serious, the others drown out your sobriety by elevating their levels of strange until you have no choice but to join in. If there’s anything that the three of you jointly hold dear, it’s weirdness.

I’m jealous.

I’m 30, and the oddities, eccentricities, and immaturities inside me often feel like candles burning at the end of their wicks. By the time you read this- who knows? Maybe you won’t be able to believe that I was once like you. Maybe stories of my mischief won’t break throughout the vivid images you have of me lecturing you about grades, finances, common sense and that shit about how we’re not the same as your friends’ free-wheeling…

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My unsolicited parental advice

Go placidly amid the white noise and bodily waste, and remember what temporary peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without wearing suspenders be on good terms with most parents.

Speak your truth quietly and internally; even when sensationalist headlines and paranoid articles claim you’re part of the mythical conspiracy that hides it from other parents. And avoid listening to others too much, especially the dull and the ignorant; because unfortunately they like to overshare their story.

Avoid loud, aggressive, smug, overbearing, self-sanctified and over-earnest parents, they are vexatious to the spirit and mind-numbingly boring. If you compare yourself with others, you may become a pain or bitter, like me; for always there will be greater and lesser parents than yourself.  According to them anyway, though they’d never admit it directly.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your ridiculously futile plans like having an uninterrupted lie-in. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; even if it is a ‘menial’ job that you would one day like to graduate from into a ‘proper’ career accompanied by an entitlement to hang on to it, it is a real and valid aspiration in the unchanging fortunes of inequality.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of treat or trickery and you’ll probably run out of sweets by tea-time if you didn’t get enough or have eaten them all. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of unnecessary heroism. Like baby-led weaning and cup-cake baking.

Be yourself. Especially on-line, do not feign affection or over photoshop your pictures. We’ll know. Neither be cynical about parental love; for in the face of all this acidity and the ever-changing commandments, it is as perennial as the grass stains on the arse of your children’s best clothes.

Take mildly the counsel of your peers, reluctantly surrendering to the universal ‘truth’.  Whatever one they happen to be talking about this week.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  Such as your child breaking free to terrorise everyone through the aisles in Tesco. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings like leaving her there. Many potential blog posts are born of fatigue and loneliness. Sometimes boredom.  And occasionally the need to avoid the fridge, and the urge to hear the sound of my own voice.

Beyond a lack of physical discipline, be gentle with yourself. Yours is a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to expect the ‘village’ to present itself sometime soon to dig in and help look after it. Preferably on Friday nights.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt one of those universal truths is unfolding as it should: Justin from CBeebies really is disturbingly creepy.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Her to be (the childminder), and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep pace with your sole determination to write it all down. With all its sham, drudgery, vanities and fantasies, it is still a beautiful world wide web. Don’t be cheerless. Strive to be reasonably happy. Ah gwan. It’ll not kill you.

The accidental tourist

Two requests are guaranteed from visitors to our humble hovel:

1. Their insistence on doing the dishes

2. A look around the ‘local area’

Both are issued with the same level of overbearing enthusiasm, and greeted by the same underwhelming level of exhilaration. Interrupting the chat every five seconds with “where does this go?” while holding a plate aloft makes me forget what I was giving out about; and fearful our manky cutlery tray will be exposed and I’ll have to explain the presence of dead sweetcorn beneath the tin-opener. Or something more sinister.

Mention of the ‘local area’ is the surest way to unleash misplaced pride in the native I’d blame for the debris in the drawer. Nothing detonates my fella’s latent historian tendencies like a vague reference to the town’s Neolithic site. By which I mean “that hill thing”. Site of many a battle between various big cheeses from Irish mythology. No wonder they turned on each other. There’s fuck all else to do.

Once in a while, a Norn Iron virgin crosses our threshold, wide-eyed with impossible eagerness to hit the biggest battlefield of them all: Belfast. When I say once, I mean once. On Friday evening our guest cheerfully bounded in handing a box of chocolates to the youngest resident to share with the group. I was none the better after the fitful sleep that followed an abandoned, cremated, dinner brought on by the unprecedented meltdown brought on by the unfettered access to sweets she’d no notion of sharing. The next visitor that pulls this stunt will be frogmarched to that hill thing in the rain after washing every dish in the house. So, it was with a willingness to escape the residual trauma I carried out a quick spot check of the car to ensure there was nothing growing in it before inviting my companion in for our drive to the city.

These days, my rare visits to Belfast are dictated by necessity, if you count Ikea a necessity. The malnourished streets of my studenthood have long been replaced by a city busy showing off its retail mid-riff and toned cultural abs. It had been an age since my friend and I had time to catch up. Years, in fact. So we eschewed suggestions of bus tours and taxi trips in favour of pounding the streets on foot, which turned into a hop on hop off tour of our feelings. In stoical, hands-firmly-in-its pockets Belfast, where smiling is a sign of weakness.

I blame the side-by-side exchanges of the car journey where thoughts are unrestricted by the absence of another’s eyeball looking directly in, leaving feelings unguarded and free flowing. As the façade of City Hospital crossed our eye-line, I had already owned up to my ostensible impatience with the place being the loudest expression of my affection for it. My passenger surveyed the urban sprawl and reflected on her reliance on city life for comfort and anonymity; as well as her fear at the prospect of giving it up at the age of 42 to satisfy her urgent need to acquire a mortgage after half a lifetime’s nomadic existence.  She concluded it was a consequence of her brush with death earlier this year.

By the time we reached the car-park, we were reconciling the mistakes made in our twenties with our resistance to taking responsibility for engineering opportunities for happiness throughout most of our 30s. The twenty minute delay in securing a parking space was not our responsibility, but time well-spent squaring up to ourselves and trading a dose of me toos.

Standing at the pedestrian lights opposite The Crown Bar, we were too distracted by talk of our respective parents to notice the crowd. How is it that the older we get, the more we become increasingly obsessed with our parents’ relationship with one another? And all their failings – though more visible now – become more forgivable. Sometimes.

We shrugged our way across into the pub to investigate the beautiful interior, pausing briefly at an empty snug to speculate on the damage we could’ve done in it once upon a time. A time that has now passed and ushered us onwards along the road to self-acceptance, and the Christmas Market at City Hall we couldn’t be bothered queuing for.  To George’s Market instead, with the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes peeping in between the soulless corporate monolithic structures now dominating the eastern dockside. Appropriate background to our thoughts on the criteria we adopt to judge our successes in work. We traced the overlaps in the confidence diminishing effect of short-term working in disparate sectors that aren’t so different after all.  Roles with a defined life-cycle we complete with mixed success that haunt us as we recycle our respective bullshit to the next interview panel in a bid to win another.

Carols rang out behind us as we deliberated over what to have for lunch. The plethora of multicultural food stalls another healthy reminder of the City’s willingness to move on from the proverbial chips or salad. Against high calorie harmonies, my friend spoke of her regret at not having a family of her own, and her determination to convert her singlehood into something satisfying.  There’s a certain freedom derived from being in the company of rare honesty from another so I found myself answering her questions on motherhood that I had only barely attempted to ask myself. I spoke with what sounded like a lucidity I had been afraid of. Of months spent obsessively reading blog posts on only children, the halting desire to pre-empt what that experience will be like for our one before reaching the understanding that it is not mine to direct or second guess, or really my right or business to know.  It will be her experience alone to interpret; to undoubtedly change her mind about as her life unfolds.

Bellies full, we dusted ourselves off and snooped through the handmade trinkets, holding up earrings and necklaces to speculate on what they would best be worn with before being carried through the commercial heartland by throngs of festive shoppers. We took a right angled turn down a capillary lined with pubs and the type of restaurants we were reared far from.  I shook my hair in the mirror in the lift in the MAC to revive the curls that collapse with overgrowth; my friend took advantage of the unflattering light to top-up her lipstick. We emerged in the third floor to rotate the exhibits, and smile at the two children that skipped through the space between their parents.  My friend spoke enthusiastically of her plans to start up a blog on contemporary Irish art, and implored me to write “something”. I confessed to the trips I’ve been taking here with a keyboard. I promised to send her “something”.  “Something you’re proud of”, she demanded. I couldn’t explain that the only possible source of pride was hidden in the notion of starting it at all.

I was sure my youthful ambition was down one of these streets

Sitting motionless on a bench in the dark, we watched the interactions of a random group of occupants of a high rise building in a video installation. The camera zoomed in to capture the grainy expressionless face of an office worker before it slid across to catch another brushing her hair at her desk before she put on her coat to leave. Neither of us had ever done this in our lifetime. Brushed our hair in the office, that is. Do women still do this?, we wondered aloud. The camera panned away to reveal the ant-like industriousness of humans from a distance as they went about their business. The voyeurism oddly hypnotic. “I love that there are no clues about where this is filmed”, observed my friend. “The mix of ethnicities, the banal office set-up, the urban structure of the building. It could be anywhere”, she added.

It could even be Belfast. We took our leave, and I vowed not to leave it so long till next time.