A broad in Belgium

They called it an Innovation Council Summit, but it was more like a sort of Eurovision for business people.

Except instead of latex leotards and Lordi, there was pinstripes and pencil skirts. In the end, it all seemed little more than a song and a dance.

For two days in late November 2021, several hundred of Europe’s smartest, most productive and most capable people gathered in a motoring museum (yeah, random right?) in Brussels.

And who was in the thick of it all but myself!

I wheeled up outside the rather unorthodox venue having been escorted by my aunt (more on her later, as she said she reads this blog occasionally) – I’m nothing if not well connected.

This being continental Europe, the people here were well organised, multi-lingual, mostly tall, slender and beautifully dressed. The seniors weren’t dinosaur crocks either; they had grey hair and gravitas. The youth weren’t callow and track suited – they were dressed for success. Everyone meant business moving around the area with intimidating efficiency, ignoring the cars which looked to me like glitches in the Matrix.

I didn’t know where to go. A nice man took my temperature at the door. “You’re a bit hot,” he said, concerned. “But go ahead.”

I proceeded through the main arena like Kate Moss at a cattle mart. After a stare at all the vintage cars and an unsuccessful eavesdrop for Irish accents I made my way upstairs to the stage where a beautiful man was raving about innovation.

He held a microphone and walked back and forth, commanding the stage. I’ll have whatever he’s having I thought. After some panel discussions about innovation and tech, I plucked up the courage to get a drink of water. The only problem was the damn machine was automated, and I couldn’t get the water to stop. I must have looked like Father Ted when he got lost in the bra shop. Luckily the water stopped before there was a noticeable flood.

At lunchtime I went outside to a park bench and ate the sandwich I had made that morning at the hotel. I had made it in full view of the dining room as I ate my breakfast. Over the course of my two day trip, I pilfered shamelessly from my hotel’s breakfast buffet. Sandwiches and pastries wrapped up in a napkin did me for lunch and dinner. I was determined to make the ‘all expenses paid’ thing stretch as far as humanly possible. Was this how it felt like being from Cavan?

As a rule, when the Irish go abroad they always meet other Irish. I was no different. Right before I was due to arrive at Business Eurovision I phoned my aunt after successfully ordering a decaff americano – served in a glass!! – and told her I was a short walk away from her house. Would I call in? An offer she couldn’t refuse… (or an offer she couldn’t turn down). This was my first time in her house as an adult, a beautiful townhouse typical of the Europeans. Not Irish Europeans, the Continental ones. The stylish ones, which I was seeing everywhere on the Brussels streets with their muted palettes and sharp tailoring. My aunt gave me a lift to the venue (after we bade adieu to my uncle, a retired journalist) during which she had to dodge several e-scooter riders. “These things are everywhere. People just pick them up, use them and leave them in the middle of the street,” she gestured around. Us Irish people are more for your analogue pleasures – a bike, or a simple walk. It doesn’t matter how assimilated an Irish person becomes in Europe; nothing beats a brisk walk up the Booster hill. (That’s a reference for my aunt who says she reads this blog sometimes when she’s putting off doing the hoovering.)

In the evening, I dodged the hoardes of speedy e-scooters to go back to my hotel and file some copy. Ideally, the byline would have said “by our girl in Brussels” but that might have been over-egging it. Me getting free stuff was not the story here. I made a cup of tea and went to sleep ready for an earlier start the next day.

The following morning I checked myself out of the hotel and legged it back to Business Eurovision where I was informed I would be meeting with a real-life Irish MEP. OMG! When I eventually got face to face with the MEP I tried not to stare at her like she was a sea lion doing a very impressive trick with a ball on her nose. Getting starstruck by politicians isn’t a good quality in a journalist but I can’t seem to not stare at them whenever I meet them in the flesh. I spent most of the interview internally shitting a brick, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds.

I can’t remember whether or not I shat the brick in the end, but I did decide to venture further into the city centre of Bruxelles in the hope of finding a quality waffle. My bosses said I should try a waffle and as they’d never steered me wrong before I added it to the list of ‘must dos’ – after the actual Business Eurovision which I was being paid to cover.

It being continental Europe, I was expecting sustainable, efficient public transport networks with stops all laid out in such a manner that even I, an eejit, could understand and follow. My experience with the electric buses of Brussels was… mixed. I hopped on one going right to the centre, which took around 30 minutes from where I was stationed in the thick of European society. My stop was the last one and I must have been doing a bit of gawking out the window because I was rather unceremoniously told to get off the bus by an invisible Brusseler bus driver (busseler?) who roared “Zhe Ter-min-oo!” for my benefit. That was me told. I was too shocked to say anything other than “Sorry, shite, I’m sorry,” as I poured myself and all belonging to me on the street.

Abrupt bus drivers aside, I spent a very nice few hours walking around the cobblestone streets behind the Big Palace with the Lion head statues on the pillars. I think a king lives there but I couldn’t be sure. He didn’t come out to receive one in any case. Fine by me. I declined to put my snout to the gates as there was some guards standing around waiting for something. (Anti lockdown or mask protestors I guessed). I got took some photos of funny statues and got a waffle from a man of Maghrebi extraction who offered me a choice of toppings: Nutella or caramel. Oh, the dilemma! It was Hamletian! To be or not to be… I went for caramel. For a change. It was delicious; I ate it in the street and I normally consider myself too delicate and too Patrician for such indignities. (I’m much more comfortable using automated water machines around dignitaries.)

Later on, it was touch and go getting the bloody bus to the airport to check-in for my return flight. Buses don’t all arrive on time, even on the continent. A valuable lesson learned there. As I folded myself into the plasticy seat on the Ryanair flight home I thought of all the highlights of my brief little journalist’s sojourn: my name was misspelt; I met interesting people; I ate bread; I drank coffee; I had a waffle in the winter air; I was continental; I saw my aunt; I didn’t put my hand in my pocket; everyone and everything was nice to look at.

All in all? Douze points.

All to play for

A recent conversation between my Dad and his brother-in-law turned to the GAA, as conversations involving my Dad often do.  

My uncle had come to our house for one or two beers before he headed off to the UK for work. 

And Dad, who has been spending the early part of lockdown mostly in the company of me, Mum, and his cattle, unleashed GAA anecdote after GAA anecdote on his brother in law who, in fairness, seemed interested. 

Dad has such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the GAA that he will tailor his anecdotes depending on where the person he’s talking to is from. Throw any random local club name at him and he’ll talk the hind legs off you about some local lad who used to play for them and then made it to county before doing his hamstring in an All-Ireland semi-final in 1989.  

Not for my Dad the tragedies of Shakespeare; to him, a tragedy is the scenario I just described. A talent wasted. “He almost made it.”  

On the night my uncle, who is from Charlestown in Co. Mayo called over, Dad was on fine form talking about Mayo GAA. Sometimes when he got too bogged down in sundry detail, my Mum would half-heartedly tell him to give us all a break, but he was unstoppable.  

Names of players who hadn’t seen the inside of a club hall in donkey’s years were mentioned. Webb brothers from Charlestown. So-and-so did his cruciate and Dad had advised him not to play county but he did and Dad received a phone call from him the next day to say he would be out for six months due to injury.  

There was more, and a lot more, but I must admit I rarely listen to my Dad when he talks about GAA, or his other love, farming. Some details in the above hastily related anecdotes might be incorrect. So-and-so might have been off for six weeks instead of six months and the Webb brothers might have been from Corofin, or Killererin, or some other GAA stronghold. 

How am I supposed to know; I can’t stand the bloody GAA.  

The reason I endured it at all was that I am old enough to appreciate it when somebody speaks passionately about something that interests them. And my Dad is passionate about GAA. One might even say he’s cracked for it.  

All of my Dad’s teachable moments were communicated to his children via GAA metaphors. This used to make my brother and me roll our eyes and my Mum to say “Ah for god’s sake…” like an editor willing Dad to reconsider his audience.  

But while we rolled our eyes at his mawkish metaphors Dad always got his point across. I might not have liked it but the GAA is quite conducive to teaching teenagers values. (Please, nobody tell him I said that; like all sports fans he has a tendency to gloat).  

The most thing I learned from Dad’s GAA sermons over the years is that you can love and respect somebody even if you don’t have any interests in common with them.  

When I was a teenager, I used to say to Dad, “Why can’t you be a musician or something; if you were any good, we might have money and connections.” 

He only laughed at me and I deserved it. Another thing I learned from my Dad is to be yourself and don’t change for anyone – especially not a snotty teenager.  

In my defence, this outburst was probably a response to him telling me I should be more disciplined in my studies like whatever star mid-fielder he was training at the time.  

I was never going to be disciplined any more than he was going to suddenly join The Rolling Stones. It has taken a few years and a few rows but we have both come around to the idea that neither of us will change.  

He has, of course, missed the GAA terribly this Summer and he is delighted at the news it will resume in July sometime. I’m bracing myself for the Sunday afternoon I’ll walk into the kitchen for my breakfast and a quiet read of the papers only to find Dad stretched out in front of the TV blaring The Sunday Game. He always has it on optimum volume partly because he’s a bit deaf and partly because he loves subjecting everyone else in the house to the not-so-dulcet tones of Joe Brolly.  

I have PTSD-like flashbacks every time I hear the now-retired Kerry man Micheal O Muircheartaigh on the airwaves. (Then again, I’ve never been good with Munster’s more, shall we say, regional accents…)  

Over the years we’ve learned to filter the noise out. We’re happy to see him sitting down for longer than it takes him to eat a few sandwiches; the amount of farming he does – even on the weekends – would make one feel quite slovenly for spending Sunday mostly on the sofa with the papers and coffee. 

A few years ago, after he had his heart attack, or cardiac arrest, as he pompously – okay, accurately – calls it, he got a defibrillator fitted to minimise the effect of any future “arrests” should they happen. Dad put the thing to the test one day at a particularly exciting hurling match in Pearce Stadium. Galway was playing Kilkenny or Tipp or one of those teams and it might have been the Connaught final or something. Dad came home with a big, red head on him and told us his defibrillator was activated at a crucial moment in the game. He felt like he’d been “kicked in the chest by a horse.” We were concerned. Mum said he might have to give the matches a miss for a while. “Ah, but it was an exhibition of hurling,” he said, eyes glowing like two hot coals. 

He isn’t just a spectator; he’s a trainer as well – an All-Ireland winning trainer, as he might like me to point out here. In 2008 he brought his parish’s intermediate team to victory in Croke Park, where they beat Dublin’s Fingal Ravens team. Don’t ask me what the score was; I was 13 and habitually mortified at being from Moycullen. I played on my Nintendo DS for the whole match, although I do remember bursting with pride and love when Dad ran out on to the pitch after the final whistle was blown. He was leaping like a child. Perhaps he was crying tears of joy. (Mario wasn’t jumping on mushrooms anymore.) 

And of course, I didn’t fully comprehend what this victory meant to him then but I think I get it now. He loves the game and he cared about the lads who played the game. They won the final, not him or any of the selectors or the physio. Dad cared about the lads who played for him, even if it didn’t sound like he did when he’d ring them up in the evenings and give out to them. I used to hear him sometimes almost roaring down the phone at lads who let him down on the training pitch. Beer, laziness, and college lifestyles were usually to blame for lads missing training sessions or not being match-fit. Dad’s policy was he wouldn’t play them if they didn’t put the hours in at training, no matter how good they were. He’d do anything for the “good lads” – the sound lads who worked hard, had a bit of respect and were honest both on the field and off it. He is a fair man. 

He doesn’t train teams anymore because it’s too time-consuming to do on top of the farming he does. There are no more hour-long gossip sessions with his selectors or notebooks with formation diagrams scribbled inside them lying around the house. But the Sunday Game is still a ritual and all the many, many friends he has made over the years through football still remember him. I used to hate going into the village with him when he was training the parish team because he’d be forever getting stopped by people talking football at him. “That was so and so’s mother”, he might say when she eventually left him alone after talking about her sons for twenty minutes in the middle of SuperValu. He knows everyone and everyone knows him.  

He still measures time in the most abstract way. Every major event in his life is recalled alongside a parallel universe where only GAA exists. His wedding, the births of his children, the time he had the flu in 2014 – all can be traced back to whatever was going on in the GAA at the time. You’d wonder if he would forget everything that ever happened to him without it. It’s pathetic but somehow remarkable. He is indeed blessed and obsessed to paraphrase the title of an autobiography one Christmas. He doesn’t read fiction but he did read Mick O’Dwyer’s autobiography. 

To an outsider, the GAA is a brotherhood of bad shorts, a sisterhood of bruised shins. It is its own unique kind of theatre, featuring the kinds of “characters” Spike Milligan himself couldn’t dream up. It has its own decades of iconography; the flask of tea and the sandwiches eaten in the stand, the bottle of Lucozade sport, the proud matriarch screaming dog’s abuse at an oblivious referee. All these things we associate with the GAA.  

It’s a part of our country and a part of our country’s people just as Ulysses and Guinness and rain are. You can’t call yourself an Irish nerd until you’ve been whacked in the skull with one of those distinctive white footballs. I’ll never forget the first time I was hit in the face with a ball by Dad when he’d taken my brother and me out to the garden for a kickabout. I don’t think he meant the ball to hit my face; he was never a very skilful player. Once, I asked him if he was disappointed that I gave up training when I was eleven. “Ah, no,” he said without looking up from the sports section of the paper, “Sure, you were shite anyway.” 

Ah, ref. 

What the dogs in the street already know about this government

Question: Who knew that Katharine Zappone was a shoo-in to get the job of Special Envoy for Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Answer: They knew, we knew, everyone and his mother and the dogs in the street and their mothers too knew. Piglet, Pooh (more on them later) and the animals in Dublin Zoo knew.

Recap for those of us who have no idea what’s going on: Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney got themselves in more trouble than they thought they deserved after it was revealed Coveney brazenly bypassed normal procedures to appoint his chosen candidate Katharine Zappone to the aforementioned special envoy job. Not content with leaving the cronyism at that, Zappone had a posh outdoor soiree for 50 chums at the Merrion Hotel (where a room could set us back a month’s rent for one lousy night) and invited Leo, Simon and lots of others. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach allegedly didn’t know about her new job until it was raised at cabinet which is fishy because don’t you think Coveney would have briefed him beforehand – even though he is from a different party? (N.B: party is not the same as soiree, though both can get you in trouble if you’re not au fait with the right ones…) Leo alleged that he didn’t know about Zappone’s job either but he has form when it comes to fibs and lots of people on Twitter who don’t like him called for his resignation. To add yet another layer to this sad, sorry tale of cronyism, didn’t the Attorney General get involved to tell us all that, actually, Simon, Katharine et. al were not in the wrong and we should just forget about it all and here’s an idea: now we can have up to 200 people at outdoor events so aren’t we all fair and square again now?

How stupid do all these party people think the likes of us are??? Answers on the back of a monogrammed napkin, please. They are clearly making it up as they fuck it up. It is not a joy to behold.

The Covid rules didn’t apply to them, and not just because they are so too-faced it wouldn’t matter whether they wore a mask or not. This was about entitlement and cute hoorism. As usual, the party poopers from the opposition benches started yelling about how great they were that they didn’t go, probably because they weren’t even invited. Would they have gone if they were invited though? Was there an open bar? What kind of person would refuse an open bar on principal? A Sinn Féin TD? Like the rest of us, politician and plebeian alike, they’d take a free drink from the Taliban itself if it was offering, like.

But to go back to the initial question, the one that was finally, definitively, without reasonable doubt answered for us today: who knew about this.

Short answer: everyone.

Leo Varadkar maintained all along that he did not know about Coveney appointing Zappone, and today he posted the pics to prove it. Yes, an actual government minister put out screenshots of a text message conversation he had with Zappone about the party. All they proved, however, is that he is one of these people who (a) doesn’t use emojis and (b) texts sentence by sentence instead of just getting it all out in a nice paragraph. In other words, his texts are rather leaky…

At least Katharine texts in full, coherent paragraphs. Had she not been sort of forced to refuse the special envoy job in the end she would have made a fine example to all those bad people who text like Leo. That should be something the next envoy of freedom of opinion and expression bans outright. If you’re going to text it, get it out in one go or forever hold your piece.

I wonder if Leo asked Katharine if she minded him posting those screenshots of their conversation in an effort to save his bacon, because, at first glance it looked as if she referred to herself as “Piglet.” In a bizarre, but easily explainable twist, Zappone greeted Leo with a text that read “Hi, Leo from the Piglet!” She meant the Dublin restaurant, but the Great Unwasheds’ minds went straight to Pooh, as they do. Who was Tigger, Eeyore etc in this scenario, they wondered, eager to lean into the ridiculousness of it all.

Whatever about Zappone as Piglet, Leo as Pooh and sad-eyed Micheal as Eeyore, Simon Coveney is definitely Tigger. Silly ol’ Tigger, you couldn’t trust him as far as you’d throw him. He said the other day before some government committee or other that he didn’t tell anyone in cabinet about Zappone. She didn’t lobby him for the role either, and everything was above board and everyone should just let him away with a spring in his… spring, like the beloved cartoon tiger.

Unfortunately for politicians, they tend to be held accountable for more things than goofy talking tigers are so Simon couldn’t spring his way out of this one quite as easily as he might have liked. Earlier today, he told reporters that he had deleted all of his correspondences with Zappone so they couldn’t see if he was telling porkies about her or not.

Unwisely he said he deleted his texts because his phone was hacked and deleting texts is apparently something he does the whole time in case hackers get to them. Yeah. Sell us another sausage. This was starting to look less Winnie the Pooh and more Animal Farm. Not a peep from the Attorney General btw. And that, comrades, is when Varadkar decided to wade in to the pigpen and prove how pure he was by publishing his texts, thereby stabbing his fellow party member in the back. What a godawful mess.

I don’t know about you, but I do know this: everyone now knows, thanks to Varadkar, that everyone in government – except possible poor ol’ Eeyore Martin himself – that Zappone’s appointment was a fix. And here’s another thing I know: this government has got to go. The Irish people don’t deserve its horseshit.

To lighten the mood somewhat and to leave you feeling less like Eeyore and more happy and wonderful like Tigger, I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting Orwell’s seven Animal Farm commandments for the #MerrionGate era.

“The Seven Commandments After #MerrionGate:
Whatever goes upon two legs, wears a Blueshirt and publishes your private text messages to save his skin is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs in a scramble to recover your legitimacy is a friend/ Attorney General.
No Merrion attendee shall face consequences.
No politician shall sleep with a free conscience.
No TD shall drink alcohol without first performing thorough damage limitations.
No Minister shall kill a story because it makes them look like a hypocrite.
All animals are equal, some are less equal depending on what they know or don’t know.”

Did that work? Any issues just complain to the relevant envoy. They’ll probably be inventing that any day now.

Terms & Conditions

I’ve a few conditions. I won’t list them today as then I would have to get into terms and I don’t want to be writing about terms and conditions.

But anyway one of the conditions I have is very bad. Absolutely chronic and although it’s not terminal for me, it can make other people around me feel as though something terminal is imminent for them.

I suppose, in a way, it’s quite a handy condition. There’s worse.

I’m not the only one who has RBF – it’s been written about before – but I’m not sure if it’s ever been pointed out by fellow sufferers that it’s a sneaky syndrome because it tends to interact with other afflictions. (RBF – that’s Resting Bitch Face, btw, is a chronic condition that flares up in me when I’m feeling a bit shite)

Unlike RBF, there is a clinical name for “feeling a bit shite” but I don’t care to use such terms when describing MY conditions.

There’s too many labels around these days I think. I go to bed for a while and shut up.

Usually, when I emerge from the bed and re-enter society I can be a bit green around the gills for a few days afterwards. In other words, I have a fierce bad case of RBF and if you didn’t know who I was and you passed me on the street you might say: “Jesus yer one looks miserable.”

You’d be half right.

Sometimes people cross the road my RBF is so bad. I can’t help it mostly.

Yesterday I went into town after a few days of Ts&Cs and I hit for the bookshop for a bit of retail therapy. It was a fine afternoon spent in one of my favourite shops browsing quietly and ignoring absolutely everybody except the books whose blurbs called to me. Trouble was too many of them started calling to me and I have only a finite bank balance so I went to pay before I let myself get tempted by yet another rogue tome.

Even in full health, I wouldn’t be known for my quick reflexes so when the nice man behind the till called “next please” I hesitated for a few seconds and a woman darted in front of me with a great welcome for herself.

And what a welcome. She was a loud type and I might have looked at her askance on account of it. Ok, I probably glared at her (accidentally) and she possibly felt the burn of my stare (even with the mask) like the branding of two hot coals on her back, because it suddenly dawned on her that she had skipped the queue.

“Oh dear I skipped the queue I think,” she breathed, all clammily chummily at the nice man behind the desk, “I can feel I’m getting daggers here!”

Well, I can tell you the RBF ramped up by about 500% when she came out with that. We RBF sufferers cannot stand passive aggression in any form.

The nice man told her she was “entitled” and, of course, she agreed. He meant it positively.

Not two metres away, I stabbed my PIN 1-2-3-4 on the cash machine, purchased my books, and left without looking at her purchase pile – probably self-help books; she looked the type.

I’ve no doubt she got a receipt.

One can never be too careful of the Ts&Cs.

Country roads, take me home

Another dawn, another day waiting for whatever emails I sent the day before to bear fruit. Somewhere between 2 pm and 3 pm I decided I wasn’t going to hear back from The Guardian about the pitch I’d sent them so I checked my emails again – only to find this time a rejection from the HR department of a shoe-shop I’d applied to.

“Well, feck them!” I said to myself in that good-natured way people who are used to such rejection emails do in order to conserve their sanity. Some of us don’t have a lot to spare in the first place. In case you’re wondering why I, an entry-level nobody, pitch to such illustrious outlets like The Guardian, it is because that’s what I do instead of playing the lotto. I like to write and I don’t have much shame – ergo, I pitch to lots of editors routinely (BUT NEVER AT THE SAME TIME because they don’t like that). Most have been very constructive and kind in their “thanks but I’ll pass on this” emails which gives me heart that someday my pitch will land.

While I wait for my pitch to land/prince to come, I’ve been trying to get a regular retail job to keep me going until something else comes along, but that’s not going so hot either. On the day I got the rejection from the shoe-shop I didn’t react like I sometimes do – take to the bed – instead, I didn’t let it faze me and I went for a long walk through the country-side accompanied by the dog, who wouldn’t reject a wretch like me.

I’d made the mistake of taking what my phone’s forecast app said verbatim and I went out dressed in long-sleeves and a rain-jacket. Despite it being 14 degrees and sunny out, my phone said it would rain soon, and sure enough, the sky was boiling for showers, as they say. By the time I’d reached the end of one road still dry I insisted to the dog we’d go down the next one. She was having none of it. She froze on the spot and wouldn’t respond to my pleas; I felt like the husband of a sherry-drunk wife making a scene at an English dinner party. I picked her up and hefted her a metre or two across the road. She got the message; “There, I’m stubborner than you,” I panted.

We walked on until we met a man we’d seen before on another day when he’d glared at us from his garden after one of us made his dog bark. On this occasion he was on neutral territory, walking on the lane-way. In my best diplomatic tone I stated: “Howya doin'” as we passed him – this has become my standard countryside greeting over the past few months. It’s obviously inspired by Joey Tribbiani, and a smather of Miley from the Riordans. The man clearly didn’t appreciate that because he just grunted “uh” at me for having the temerity to walk past his farmland. I knew then looking at him that he’d be the type that wouldn’t think twice about putting a bullet in my head or the dog’s head, either, for that matter. (And she didn’t even say anything to him.)

We walked on, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit dejected, like I’d been rejected by HR all over again – only this time HR was one contrary ‘aul lad wearing filthy clothes and the disgruntled expression (and huge swollen stomach) of someone with a seriously advanced case of GERD. Either that or he was in the final days of trying to beat the record set by the Malian woman who’d given birth to nine kids in one go.

My fruitless encounter with the unfriendly farmer got me thinking about the importance of first impressions. Clearly he was impervious to the standard “Howya doin” which works on everyone else I meet when I’m out walking. The trick is, I think, to state it rather than say it; country people have no respect for a pushover or a mumbler. You have to say your chosen greeting out loud and proud and then move on quickly lest you make a fool of yourself. If it’s your neighbour you might stop and have a word about the weather, a subject of endless fascination.

I haven’t fully gotten the hang of first impressions in a professional interview setting yet. When the dog and I eventually reached home, I pondered that as I tucked ice under my armpits and checked my hide for bullets. Maybe it’s my glasses, I thought to myself; maybe they think I’m an intellectual who’s hopelessly unsuited to customer service. (Only the second part of that sentence is true). If they gave me a job I’d be able to save for laser eye surgery, or at least a less pretentious pair of specs. I like the ones I have but they do make me look as if I’m about to define postmodernism at any second. I swear to god I barely even know what postmodernism is and I wrote a thesis on it; I just want to make a living wage. Ironically, when I apply to customer service jobs I lie about my education, because having two Master’s degrees and no job makes you seem like a mad scientist on paper. At my lowest I’ve thought of leaning in to the way my face looks and doing a PhD, but I’ve decided it’s slightly less mad endeavouring to get work in my area while also trying to make a quick buck or two working for people who think my lack of enthusiasm for serving customers means I’m secretly fantasising about postmodernism. I’m not, I’m thinking about a holiday in France just like everyone else. At this stage though, I’d settle for a by-line or even a howya from the peevish country-man with the quintuplets in his belly.

5 Simple pleasures to look forward to when hope returns

Hope is returning.

– Micheál Martin AKA Taoiseach

Only a politician could manage to make the words “Hope is returning” and “Summer is coming” sound like a threat and a promise at the same time.

Already, I see some ninnies complaining that today’s announcement by Martin is too hasty, too optimistic and that we should all stay indoors getting madder and more institutionalised by the day. But let the ninnies complain from behind their double-layered masks. I’ve got a life to live, and so do you, dear reader/my mother.

Over the past few months – is it twelve or thirteen? – I’ve been depressed, angry, bored, sad, and unfulfilled. Not all of the time, but more than usual. I suspect this is the same for most people. I’m not optimistic by nature, but the promise of re-opening and the thought of getting back to doing my favourite things with my favourite people is keeping me somewhat positive. Here’s a list of simple pleasures I’m looking forward to indulging in very soon…

1. Drinking coffee from a cup in a café, watching the world go by

There’s no real pleasure to be had from drinking a clandestine takeaway coffee in your car or on a bench freezing your particulars off, but this is what we caffeine addicts have had to endure during lockdown. I don’t smoke, but I’d imagine it’s the difference between having a fag standing in the pissing rain in wet shoes versus having one while lounging on a verandah in a warm, midge-less country watching the sunset. Good coffee, too, is contingent on a good atmosphere, and cafés are some of the most relaxing places on earth for me. My favourite café has all my favourite things about café culture – that’s good coffee, nice staff, late opening hours, relaxed vibe – and I am counting the days until I can seek refuge in its rickety chairs once more.

2. Eavesdropping

If you’re as nosy as I am, you’d miss listening to people’s conversations – a luxury greatly diminished in pandemic times because nobody is gossiping with their friends/family/FWB anymore. Well, they are, but they’re not doing it where I can hear them. Hopefully, that’s about to change, and I’ll soon be hanging around corners, empty gin glass in hand listening for juicy tidbits of gossip pouring from the mouths of strangers.

3. Bookshops

I love and miss independent bookshops so much and I am not alone. Amazon is not the same; indie bookshops are so beloved because they allow us bookworms to immerse ourselves in the lovely rituals (see above) we associate with browsing bookshelves for the next great bargain, bestseller, or whatever you’re having yourself.

4. Lovely pints, pub crawls, the craic

While I’m not a Guinness lover, I feel very sorry for those who are. It’s impossible to recreate a proper pint at home without the charming ambience of a dusty, old pub that hasn’t had its interior changed in any way since 1999. We’ll have to make do with table service and beer gardens for now, but the Irish pub as we know and love it will return because, after all, ’tis hard to kill a bad thing. Sláinte.

5. A haircut

Before we begin going out and about and enjoying the Summer – weather permitting – it is absolutely essential that every single one of us gets a good haircut. A follicular deforestation, if you will. I was one of the unwise people who didn’t get my hair cut last time the hairdressers opened, so my head is currently a mess of split ends and negative thoughts. It won’t be long now, though.

No more sports ban; good for man, but not for Fran.

With a still stubbornly plague-ridden Ireland set to implement a phased re-opening, whatever that is, in the coming weeks, we’ve all been sitting in our homes speculating as to what that might look like.

And now we know.

Ireland’s April re-opening will feature a lot of balls in the air, only instead of metaphorical balls in the form of county-by-county case numbers and vaccination rollout statistics, NPHET has decided to introduce footballs into the mix of things it is juggling by allowing people to play sport outdoors.

This is great news for people who like sport, but for everyone else, it’s business as usual. Not even the promise of a haircut or a pair of new shoes for the childer.

Writer and broadcaster Barbara Scully raised the point that the new measures appeared to be a little sexist.

Now, I know that in this enlightened age women love sport just as much as men and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t, and neither does New York’s best sit-down comedian and essayist, Fran Lebowitz, who is delightfully abrasive about the male-centred world of sports:

The reason sports are so central is because men are in charge… if women were in charge of the world do you think there would be professional hopscotch?

Fran Lebowitz

I would prefer there be more women in congress and fewer playing football

F.L.

Fran somehow blagged a ticket to one of the (alleged) greatest fights in history, Muhammed Ali versus Joe Frazier, (yawn). She said “It was a very wonderful fashion and cultural event; unfortunately there was a fight in the middle of it.” What a scream. Imagine her at a Junior B semi-final in the pouring rain in Roscommon…

I’ve hated sport with a passion ever since primary school when I had the misfortune to be in the same class as a gang of girls who played sport with the boys every single lunchtime while I wandered the perimeter of the football pitch with my hands in my pockets and my head in the clouds.

I was very good at social-distancing when I was a youngster, and my experience as a playground loner stand to me these days because I’m used to endless waiting — I was always picked last for P.E teams.

This is one of the reasons I’m glad I’m not a girl now because when I was in school girls didn’t have to play football because girls didn’t have to play sports and that was the upside of being a girl

Fran, again

Indeed. Fran sounds like someone I would have gladly shared my scented gel-pens with in primary school — not that I want to go back to the ’50s.

Like my fellow ladies of leisure, I’m waiting patiently for the hair salons to open in late Summer. Hopefully. In the meantime, I’m very happy for all of Ireland’s bald GAA fans who will have a great April if the weather holds up.

United Ireland: are you mad? Not as mad as I am.

I’m just after half-watching a programme aired by our national broadcaster, here in the South of Ireland.

(I threw in that last bit to piss people off. You’ll have to excuse me if you are one of these people who gets pissed off by the phrase “South of Ireland” — it’s just that I don’t get out much these days so pissing people like your good selves off is one of my few social outlets. Anyway. I digress… Digressions, by the way, are another unfortunate by-product of my lockdown isolation, but I’ll try to keep those to a minimum too… Count yourselves lucky you don’t have to live with me. In my home in the South of Ireland.)

The reason I only half-watched the programme was I don’t really care about a United Ireland. This is because I am still relatively sane. The kind of people who want a united Ireland above all else are the kind of hopeless romantics who still watch Disney princess movies into adulthood. They are to be pitied and even feared. They are young and old, right-wing and left-wing, rich and poor. The only thing they have in common is they are all deluded by some kind of romantic notion of Irishness that never existed. As someone pointed out, the only time Ireland was ever united was when it was under British rule. Hah! I do love irony. Ever since we got the Brits half out, some of us have been obsessed with a naive, fairytale, W.B Yeats-style, Gaelic-speaking, tribal Ireland that is about as realistic as Tír na nOg.

I have other things to care about, such as whether I will ever get a job or whether I will ever be able to afford to rent a house/apartment. At the moment, I am unemployed — and believe me, it is not for lack of trying to get a job. A united Ireland is about as much use to me as a bicycle is to a fish. The lockdown really put a spanner in any of my attempts to get on the career ladder. Had I not done a Master’s, I might have qualified for the pandemic unemployment payment by now, and then I’d be raking in €350 a week for watching sitcoms on Netflix. But unfortunately, this pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time, and my Master’s was cut short, and my career, or any semblance of it, was plunged into obscurity. I think the likelihood of me becoming financially independent might be possible by the time I’m thirty. It all depends on what the virus does — and, more importantly, what the government does. They ain’t doing a whole pile so far. They can either capitulate to the atavistic fringe element of romantic looney Gaels or they can pull their heads out of their arses and start implementing policies that serve Irish people. I’m sick of the political discourse in this country being dominated by Gerry Adams’s balaclava’d “antifa” — yeah, right; pull the other one — fanboys on one side, and neo-liberal shills who care only about maintaining the status quo and massaging each others’ egos on the other. The latter, by the way, are the reason our health and housing systems are fucked. We haven’t had a decent government in my lifetime, certainly.

Our country contains a multitude of people and perspectives — and not all of them are good. See above. Why the hell would we add the DUP into the mix for (Protestant) god’s sake? I think the Shinners sometimes forget that a so-called united Ireland would involve, by geographical necessity, the most ardent loyalists and Queen fans. (No, I’m not talking about the band here, sadly). The DUP have already told us they’re not a big fan of the whole united Ireland idea — probably because they are British, as they say. Why don’t we leave them to it? They have a right to be British if they really want to be — although someone should tell them that Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack mini-dress has not been considered remotely fashionable by anyone since, well, the day before she wore it.

To amalgamate, or “unite” two dysfunctional, disparate Irelands would be to undo all the progress that has been made since 1994. (Nothing to do with my being born, by the way. There was a ceasefire). Sinn Fein’s rhetoric of a united Ireland for the Irish people of tomorrow is nonsense; if I manage to retain what’s left of my marbles until the end of this lockdown I will be one of the Irish people of tomorrow, and what I want is a job, a house, good healthcare, to be able to provide for myself and my family, and go on a few adventures now and then. It seems like a lot to ask for when I see places stricken by famine, war, and poverty, but, Jesus, as Brian Lenihan once said, “We all partied.”

Tell that to the people living in hotels and on the streets in what is supposed to be a good country. As for me, it’s been so long since I was let out I don’t remember partying at all. Perhaps I’m coming down with the same type of amnesia as the United Irelanders. Ah well, the lucidity was nice while it lasted.

St. Patrick’s Day: after a year in lockdown Ireland celebrates its national day stiff, sober(ish), and socially distanced

The sight of Professor Philip Nolan sat in front of a large bottle of hand sanitiser as he ruefully warned the nation’s assembled TV cameras that people were not to engage in customary St. Patrick’s Day behaviours such as “drinking,” or worse, “gathering” was enough to send me into a spiral of cognitive dissonance.

Then I remembered that Prof. Nolan could have a swig of sanitiser if he felt the need — as most good sanitisers like the ones used by Professors would certainly contain a lot of alcohol. Delicious. That was reassuring, both for Philip and for myself too as I hate to see anyone deprived. I can only assume the good professor is similarly pissed off that we have managed to mark our second St. Patrick’s Day in lockdown.

And it’s not even that I really care about missing out on St. Patrick’s Day; it’s no big deal really — although try telling that to the anti-lockdown patriot protestors… Although it is their right to protest, the snakey, not-so silent minority.

But even on a regular, non-pandemic March 17th, I wouldn’t be disgracing myself around the town, parading green-faced into a sea of fellow green-attired people all up to no-good glugging Guinnesses. I don’t even like Guinness!

Ireland sober is Ireland stiff

James Joyce

I do, however, enjoy St. Patrick’s Day because it represents the start of the long Summer evenings. My friends and I usually gather in a little group around St. Patrick’s Day to shed off our winter cobwebs and embrace the nicer weather we sometimes get, and, yes, sometimes we have a beverage or seven. Alas, not last year and not this year either. What harm.

The reason we are disappointed and fed up this St. Patrick’s Day is because some of the more significant things in our lives have been put on hold for the past year or more, and that sense of apathy and disquiet has had a cumulative effect, and on some more than others — as we’ve seen in action on the streets recently.

This year I will walk the dog (again) and send some emails (again) and try not to lose hope (again). It will feel like every other day in lockdown, except slightly greener on social media, that famous arbiter of normality.

In the gulf of time that has passed between this March 17th and last March 17th a lot has happened and nothing has happened. My career didn’t take off like I’d hoped as getting jobs is hard during a pandemic, would you believe, and I have moved back in with my parents in the countryside.

I’m looking back on a few notes I jotted down for a Patrick’s Day blog post I was too dispirited to make last year and the gulf between that and March 17th of two years ago is actually far greater. Apparently two years ago today, I was dancing and drinking and gathering with close contacts all over the shop. It was orgiastic by comparison to this year, no offence to the dog.

Talking of dogs, they were the only ones out last year when, avoiding then Taoiseach Varadkar’s first lockdown speech, I went out for a night time walk around Galway city. Shout out to the fluffy Pomeranian who cheered me briefly as I crossed the Wolfe Tone bridge. The rest of the city was deserted, holding its breath I now realise — or listening to Leo. Some silly string and shaving foam daubed all over Shop Street was the only evidence of the usual St. Patrick’s Day scoundrelry. One restaurant remained open; most others had shut in accordance with what were then only recommendations.

Mannequins standing in shop windows were for the most part my only company. Thankfully, these days our streets are more populated — with actual humans — and we have adapted to “the new normal.” (Hey, New Normal, if you’re reading this go home, you’re drunk and nobody likes you). I suppose for this year we might as well just soldier on, alone together until we can actually go back to the old normal, which, all things considered was pretty great — puke-filled streets not included. I’m quite sure we’ll be back in high spirits again soon. On last year’s lonely walk I spotted a man whistling ‘Wrap the Green Flag ‘Round Me Boys’ and a tourist couple gamely making the most of their predicament, both of them festooned with tri-colours down by Jury’s Inn under the beginnings of soft rain. I’m sure the likes of them are somewhere to be found this year too.

I’m not going to a distant world. I’m of Ireland, and I’ll stay in Ireland until I die.

Tom Cruise as Joseph Donnelly in ‘Far and Away’ (1992)

I doubt very much that Cruise’s character would have been content in a boring, romantically sterile, pandemic Ireland with its restrictions and 5k rules. Nary an ounce of craic in sight. Even NPHET are sickened. Nothing to be done really only stick a straw in the hand sanitiser and go to town…

Running Bores

Every hoor and his mother is out running these days. I don’t know whether it’s a passing lockdown fad or the continuation of the extremist health culture that has waged a fruitless – for fructose is the devil – war on slobs like the rest of us for years. It is a global war, hastened by capitalism, although its origins in Ireland can be traced back to the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004 that set a precedent for the health obsession which has since gripped our nation.

Like most people with big appetites and guilty consciences, I’ve dabbled in healthy stuff. I’ve modified my diet to include less junk, coffee, and alcohol (sometimes) – but I draw the line at veganism. To me, that is as extreme as heroin, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum entirely. Both would ruin your life, but at least you’d get a thrill with one. No, I couldn’t be a vegan.

Recently it occurred to me that I might start running. Do you ever get these kinds of notions? I saw everyone talking about how amazing running is for their mental and physical health, particularly since we went into lockdown – and I thought to myself, I want a piece of that.

I tried it – the running – one day when I was out for my daily walk. I just did it – as the good people at Nike say. But I wasn’t very good at it. So I stopped, and I walked instead. I tried it again once or twice, but it was too hard and not one bit enjoyable, so I gave up. I have since come to terms with the fact that I am not, nor will I ever be, a runner.

I have to blame someone for this – it’s a pattern I’ve fallen into over the years, which helps me sleep at night and late into the following afternoon. So, I blame my Dad. More specifically, his genes. If I hadn’t inherited his broad shoulders and height, I could be a wonderful runner.

Running hurts 😦

I’m too tall to run. My legs are long and skinny and not very muscular; they can’t possibly support the top half of me, which is quite burly by comparison. I don’t have the ‘under-standing’ that running requires, and I’m always concerned I’ll injure my knees or my hips if I run more than a few hundred yards. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Sure, I could do a load of squats and get strong legs and a dump-truck backside, as is the fashion nowadays thanks to Kim Kardashian and other Fat-Bottomed Girls, but I am not convinced that would make me any better at running. It also sounds like an awful lot of hard work to do in order to do even more hard work, and I can’t be arsed – literally. I’ll only squat for a barstool.

I maintain those born runners are either wiry, bottom-heavy, or small. The closer to the ground, the better the under-standing is my thinking. I’m none of those things. Then again, neither is the fastest man alive, Usain Bolt – an anomaly so irritating I wish he would just retire or come out as what we all know him to be: 150 super-fast hamsters in a man-shaped trench coat.

Hamsters theory aside, Bolt’s phenomenal success as a very tall, muscular runner is probably his sex. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with perseverance or hard work. I might as well just say this plainly; it is difficult to run when you have boobs – and I mean anything over an ungenerous B-cup. Alas, I cannot blame my poor Dad’s genes for my own two appendages, which are just big enough to be an inconvenience – or an excuse, depending on how you look at it. Usain Bolt does not have boobs, but if he did, he would be a lot slower. I guarantee it. If he does have boobs, we all need to know what sports bra he wears…

There is still something in me that would like to be able to run, despite both my loathing for it and my lack of physical suitability. So much so that whenever I see someone out running, I am often overcome by jealousy, which I disguise by making scornful remarks like “Would they not be as fast walking?” I’m filled with envy whenever some young wan has the audacity to overtake me. I have that very human desire to exact revenge on anyone younger, fitter, and better looking than me – a considerable portion of the population; feel free to disagree – and I am not afraid to admit it.

I hate runners. And I shouldn’t say it because I know lovely people who run. But for the hour or so that they are running, I hate them. What I hate most of all are the people like myself, the non-runners, who praise them as though they are little sweaty gods and goddesses. “Oh, fair play to you, I don’t know how you do it!” and “You’re so fit, I wish I could do that.” The runners love to hear that kind of thing; their smug, sweat-stained faces just light up. I’d never praise a runner; I just couldn’t give them the satisfaction.

For as long as the pursuit of running evades me, I will always maintain that nobody, in truth, actually enjoys it. Its disciples say things like, “It’s so good for your mental health.” To which I say, ever heard of Prozac? Seeing runners is actually bad for my mental health, as they inspire such raging feelings of inadequacy in me. Others talk gush about endorphins and how good exercise makes them feel. They do actual marathons for fun.

Marathons? For fun? I do not understand it. That’s the definition of mental illness. The time I tried running, I did not have fun at all; there was no endorphin buzz or feeling of euphoria or any of the other reasons runners give for their bizarre behaviour. Instead, I got sweaty, breathless, and dizzy. Black spots appeared in front of my eyes as I walked home, slower than I normally would.

If golf is a good walk interrupted, then running is a good walk forfeited for the sake of vanity. While not a fan of running, and that’s putting it mildly, I do love walking. A fast walk is a tonic for both body and soul; it’s a rare day I don’t go for a walk these days, and I feel wonderful when I’m outside looking around me. There are exceptions, I’m sure, but the runners I see on my walks never look as if they are enjoying the fresh air, or indeed the exercise. Some go so fast they see nothing of their surroundings; others labour so much they look like they’re re-creating the Passion of Christ – only they’ve got sweatbands instead of a crown of thorns.

This cultural obsession with running only appeared relatively recently. Did anyone run in Ireland in the 1990s? Sonia O’Sullivan, the sole Irish runner of the pre-smartphone era, has a lot to answer for. She made it look easy, and she won stuff – like medals and international acclaim. Thirty years later, Ireland is full of runners who seem to be chasing a variation of O’Sullivan’s dream. They may say they’re doing it for their “mental health,” but then they go and post their run times on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – i.e “Today’s run: I did 10 miles in 90 minutes. Managed to successfully outrun my self-loathing, fear of death, and fear of putting on weight! Until tomorrow…” You get the idea.

I will try not to be led astray by such ostentatious lycra-clad displays of rude health in the future. My resolve was shaken during lockdown, sure, but I know now that running is never a trend I’ll embrace – and not just because I’m embarrassingly terrible at it – but because it’s just so bloody boring.