Pre-Christmas jitters, defrosting Michael Bublé

Oh, the weather outside was… briefly not frightful, so we decided to venture into town en famille, as they say in Europe – although Dad pulled a Boris and disappeared, as he didn’t have to go shopping, get out of the house, or get his hair cut.

I had all my Christmas shopping done since the second week of December, if not the week before. I’m not trying to brag, but I’m a very efficient shopper; every last browse is done studiously, and with intent – either to purchase or reject. The Secret Santa is sorted, the friends’ presents are ticked off, and I even managed to buy a few things for myself in the process. Most of the time, my shopping is just window shopping because I don’t have the disposable income of Paris Hilton, for example. I prefer to spend money on social stuff or on my stomach, so I find the mad Christmas shopping rush a bit of a shock to the system.

Shopping for the sake of shopping is depressing; it’s like eating your greens because you were told to, because that’s what’s “good for you”, instead of being taught to appreciate the slightly nutty taste of perfectly cooked broccoli, or indeed maturing to appreciate the look on someone’s face as they unwrap something genuinely unexpected and thrilling from you. Nobody can tell me capitalism doesn’t “hit different” during these moments. Those few golden hours with family – if you are lucky enough to have them – make the whole nauseating build-up to the 25th worth it. It is really only then that consumerist xmas becomes Christmas.

My family has a tradition that involves the four of us going into town to either look at the lights or do a bit of last-minute Secret Santa shopping a day or two before Christmas Eve. This year was different, and not just because of NPHET’s/government’s shock announcement mere hours before the big red fella was due to arrive that Christmas was cancelled. I was gutted. Not Christmas! We had to cancel our family dinner on Christmas Eve afternoon in town, which was only feasible in the first place because my brother wasn’t working that day. Granted, we weren’t as badly hit by the new restrictions as some families were, but it was still bloody lousy. Critics of our dear neoliberal government were complaining that xmas wasn’t cancelled as shops were allowed to stay open, thus propagating the consumerist agenda and, god forbid, saving the economy. (Has it occurred to any of these people that we are the economy? Or at least we are what’s good about it. I wonder when will the penny drop…). Like good little slaves to the machine, Mum and I ventured into the city and the shops for one last look before Christmas. “If cases keep rising at the current rate, we’ll have everything locked down in January,” said my Mum prophetically. As I write this, shops have all closed again, so we didn’t even get to January.

As a family, we have all coped with these cyclical lockdowns in different ways over the past year. Just like everyone else, we have had no choice but to mould our lives around lockdown. My brother still works, my Dad invents pet project after pet project in the garden/farm, and my Mum has started a course and learned how to use Zoom. I have done nothing; I am the same as I was last year, no worse and no better. Hopefully, this year will be different, but hope is not a currency I am particularly rich in at the moment – not that I’m rich in any of the currencies. My MA ended abruptly, and my classmates and I were left without contact teaching hours to do our final projects. I was hoping that doing a final project on journalists and academics working through lockdown might help me on my way to becoming a journalist, but I was stuck at home for most of it, and so I’m more confused about the industry now than I ever was. My interviewees were definitely concerned too, and I had very interesting conversations with them about their work, but, looking back on it, I should have chosen a lighter topic like “Puppies!” or “If It’s Not Good News I Don’t Want to Know About It” or even something less depressing to me personally, which still would have left room for all those grisly topics journos love – like war, murder, violence, how cow farts are killing the planet, abuse, white-collar crime, Mayo losing another All-Ireland…

Or I could have copied my Dad, who has taken a recent special interest in ridding our driveway of moss using the rather unorthodox method of pouring box after box of washing powder all over the drive until it resembles a Winter Wonderland. He’s out there every day sprinkling scented snowy powder murdering moss and lichen alike as happily and ruthlessly as a culchie Pablo Escobar. The garage is full of evidence; piles of used powder boxes stacked high like cartel coffins. I don’t know why he doesn’t just let the moss live. If it survived 2020, it can surely survive Dad’s notions.

He has Mum adding “washing powder x 3” to her shopping lists, and she goes out into the big, bad, pandemic-ridden world to source it for him, a dangerous mission but she is a good mule. Her car even has tinted windows. I went along with her on one of these powder-buying trips recently – it was before the Christmas but still well into xmas, so town was mad busy. We agreed we’d split for a while so she could go incognito for culchie Pablo. I met up with her again in a second-hand clothes shop down the town. Mission abandoned, she was ferreting in the shop’s far corner by the time I eventually fought my way through crowds of cheerful shoppers to get to her. I was in, by my own admission, a bit of a fouler, thanks to xmas. Grumpily, I put on my mask, and my glasses fucking fogged up the minute I entered the shop. “I’ll wait for you out here, I can’t see a thing,” I told her and made for the door, but it was too late; she had ferreted something out and wanted my opinion. “For you maybe?” she said, and I looked through the one bit of fog-free lens I had at what she had in her hand, to humour her, like. It was a bit meh – a grey pinafore thing that a geography teacher might wear.

“Mmm,” said my mother, thinking aloud, “Might be a bit slim for you… No, I’ll put it back.” I snorted my disapproval underneath my mask. “You don’t like it?” she said innocently, turning to follow me out of the shop. Well, not anymore I thought, this time adding to my initial appraisal that not only was it the sort of garment a geography teacher might wear, it was also the sort of garment that a geography teacher who never ate carbohydrates after 6pm unless she was “being naughty” would wear. I couldn’t be doing with that. We went home; somehow, she managed the drive with her foot in her mouth. The backseat was laden with boxes of washing powder, and the two of us, xmas’d out of it, were probably wondering how on earth the four of us would get through the covid-Christmas.

We are through the other side now, ready to face into 2021 in lockdown. Our driveway will be moss-less, but at least my wardrobe is thankfully pinaforeless. It’s time to stick Micheal Bublé back in the freezer until next xmas and declare a nationwide moratorium on Dry January. Happy New Year, I think…

Look out, Joe. They’re coming for you from Mayo.

Ah, it’s a disgrace, Joe.

They can’t win their own race, so they claim victory in another halfway across the globe. It’s desperate altogether.

Typical Mé Féiners in Mayo, making everything about themselves; well, they’re worse than the Orange Fella.

While the rest of the world was out celebrating Biden’s victory over Trump and Kamala Harris’s historic appointment as Vice President of the United States, Mayo was out celebrating itself.

Mayo’s tenuous claim to fame on the new American President is his ancestry. Hasn’t he cousins in Ballina.

Any excuse, sure. Ballina put on such a display of triumphant gombeenism that would have put any Yankee Redneck to shame – and perhaps a few former Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, too.

Ballina town centre was hopping; Buck’s Fizz corks popping, as Mayomen paraded their genes up and down the town whooping like Yahoos.

Not one of the locals seemed to recognise the larger reason to celebrate the Biden Harris result. They didn’t care a damn that Kamala Harris is the first woman and the first person of colour to be elected Vice President of the United States.

All they care about below in Mayo is winning. And since victory in the All-Ireland Championship has proved elusive for, oh, about a hundred years, the poor eejits are making do with having a distant cousin in the White House. (It will probably be painted green and red now.)

It’s Cultural Appropriation, I tell you. Ballina is stealing the victory of the American people and repackaging it as their own. This kind of identity pilfering is unique to Mayo; you’d never catch a Dub or a Kerryman at that type of thing. Do you know why? They’ve won All Irelands, so they know what victory feels like.

The most Joe would get in Kerry might be a Healy-Rae throwing his hat in the air in jubilation. Well, Joe, as long as he doesn’t throw it into the ring, you’ll be sound, says you.

And these Mayo (distant) cousins of Biden are angling for a trip to the soon-to-be Green & Red House. They couldn’t make it any more obvious. Sure, didn’t they openly admit it on RTE news last night? Distant cousin after distant cousin queued up to talk to the roving reporters, each one frothing at the mouth with glee.

Like most tribes, they have a leader, and his name is Joe too. We’ll call him Joe Two to distinguish him from America’s newest First Man, Joe One. His kingdom in Mayo might not be the size of Joe One’s, but Joe Two has a slogan too – “Joe Biden for the White House; Joe Blewitt for your house.” Joe Two is a handyman. I think his talents also lie in slogans, especially when compared to his distant American relative’s weak effort: “Build back better.” Blah blah blah.

Joe Blewitt image by Paul Faith/AFP via Getty images.

Joe Two and his merry band of Mayo cousins will be piling into his van to drive all the way from Ballina to Pennsylvania Avenue any day now. They’ll be a bit watery when they land, but they’ll still start painting the White House green and red before Joe One can say “Howdy.”

Typical Cultural Appropriation. Joe Two and his Mayo cowboys will play all nice in the beginning, but they’ll eventually steal the states from right under the Americans’ noses. They’ll let on to Joe One that they’re doing a Fixer-Upper job on his new gaff, but they’ll leave him high and dry the minute anything goes wrong. Mayo cowboys only want one thing, and that’s victory. They don’t care about family or decency; they’d give their Granny for Sam. ‘Cousin Joe’ is all a front, a neat way of appropriating American success. You’d never see a Mayo man in a Native American headdress on Halloween. We all know what became of the Native Americans, and it was a lot worse than losing a good few All Irelands. No, the Mayo man only wants a little taste of victory, for now. And he knows he’ll be allowed a share in Generous Joe’s. But like most of history’s victors, Mayo will eventually get greedy, and it will all end in a trail of tears. Will those tears be green and red or star-spangled red, blue, and white? That all depends on whether or not Joe “Two” Blewitt blows it.

(Editor’s Note: If there’s any room in that van, Mr. Blewitt, I’ll book it. I have Mayo heritage myself, you know.)

Going Viral: The difference a century makes

So far, 2020 is terrifying. 

Amid the near-constant talk of coronavirus since the year marking a new decade began, it is perhaps a small comfort to know that our ancestors endured another pandemic in 1918-1919 – and in much more difficult circumstances.  

In May 1918, shortly after the end of World War One, the ‘Spanish Flu’ hit Ireland and devastated us. By then it was already devastating other countries; to say nobody was prepared is an understatement – many of these countries were only beginning to recover from a major war.  

Ireland, while neutral during the war, was perhaps even less prepared for such a public emergency. We were a backward country still trying desperately to be fully rid of British rule – albeit with little success. Our location in the middle of the Atlantic – right beside the UK – left us vulnerable and isolated away from our European friends on the continent.  

Unsurprisingly, the 1918 pandemic killed over 20,000 people in Ireland alone. Worldwide, the figure was closer to 100 million.  

One of my grandfathers was born in 1919. He died just after the new millennium in 2000 aged 81, having lived through what was arguably Ireland’s greatest period of transformation.  

He was a toddler when the Irish Civil War began; a young man during World War Two; a middle-aged man with a large family to support when Ireland finally began to modernise during the 50s and 60s; and an old man by the time the tech boom arrived here in the 1990s.  

His wife – my grandmother – lives in a nursing home not far from the house they spent their lives in. She is in a high-risk category for coronavirus; residents of nursing homes and over-70s account for something like 90% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Ireland.  

‘Nanny’ – for that is her name to me and all her many other grandchildren – has had no visitors for weeks on end now.  

My aunties bought her a very basic mobile phone so they could call her and talk to her remotely. Nanny is almost 90, and while she is as smart and sharp as she was when she was younger, she will never be one of these ‘tech’ people.  

The internet came too late for my grandparents; they didn’t and they don’t understand it. Nor do they wish to. “Everyone has one of them phone-ens,” Nanny often says if she catches one of us furtively checking it in her company. Although she has been forced to admit our phones are useful when we Google the time her favourite programme is on TV.  

Her children all have smartphones; my Dad is in his early 60s and would not be without his. He uses it for work emails, Facebook, and WhatsApp. He’s a demon for funny videos, which he watches on full volume without earphones.  

I have had a smartphone since the age of about 15, but the age parents are willing to give children internet access is getting younger and younger.  

Most parents of small children will probably think nothing of their little ones playing on i-Pads or playing other console games to keep them quiet during the lockdown.  

It is remarkable the difference a generation makes. 

Compare the present lockdown to the response of Irish people over one-hundred years ago. Not many people knew about viruses in 1918; hygiene standards were poor and medics didn’t have any of the resources we have today.  

It is a testament to our ancestors and their strength and forbearance that they managed to survive the 1918 pandemic and have children that continue to live through this pandemic. Their children will survive it, too, if we treat our elderly with the respect they deserve.