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. 

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.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Bread & Circuses

Yesterday was a great news day for the subset of the population that likes to comment “HOW IS THIS NEWS?” underneath lifestyle articles on everything from endometriosis to what Mariah Carey wore to the toilet on a cold night. (There’s definitely a gendered slant to their sneers. I never see them doing complaining about the new-worthiness of whatever it is MMA fighters do to justify their existence).

I can’t be sure how this social grouping of discerning, angry news junkies came into being, but I think it might have been around the time The Guardian joined Facebook. They are happiest, after all, in the Guardian’s Facebook comments section playing games of whataboutery and excoriating the news media in the vain hope that someday they’ll be listened to.

Yesterday was not that day, however. The Guardian gamely posted a puff piece about celebrities documenting their personal pandemic rockbottoms, and, it’s safe to say the HOW IS THIS NEWS? people’s generally fairly prominent forehead veins were busting out of their brows by noon.

Spare a thought for Gwyneth Paltrow, though. The offending article’s lede told of Gwyneth’s terrible admission she ate bread during lockdown, which, she said was her personal low-point. Understandable. I eat two pieces of bread for breakfast every day and look how deviantly disgusting I am. (In an interview, Margaret Thatcher famously admitted to denying herself her favourite ‘guilty’ pleasure: marmalade, toast and butter; and look how wonderful she was.)

Like most of the HOW IS THIS NEWS? people, I didn’t read the article and I’m not letting that stop me from commenting. I might also point out (like my HOW IS THIS NEWS? friends would do) that the violence taking place in Palestine should take precedence over literally anything former actress and current businesswoman Paltrow says, but I’d be missing the point. It might be possible that Gwyneth was joking or being ironic; people do that, still. And it might be possible that The Guardian, knowing what sells, and wanting people to pay for journalism, simply report what they think we want to read. Poorly informed outrage is the best kind of outrage – and that ain’t news, baby.

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.

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.

5 Ways to prevent early-onset madness in lockdown

Here’s a few things I did to cope with lockdown over the past year…

Learn how to insult your loved ones in several languages

Some blog writers might recommend you be productive with your time spent in lockdown. They might say: “Get up at 8 am and do thirty minutes of Spanish on Duolingo every day because learning new skills is a great way to prepare yourself for the job market.”

I say b******s to that. Especially the getting up at 8 am bit. What kind of nutter gets up that early unless they’re being paid to? I’m currently unemployed – despite my best efforts to secure a job, any job – and I’m having a great time learning how to slag my family members off in an array of exotic tongues.

So, instead of relying on a needy green owl to teach me how to ask for directions to the train station in French, I’m learning skills I actually need for the kind of life I lead at the moment – i.e a life lived at home with my family, who occasionally get on my nerves.

I use the notoriously unreliable and inaccurate Google Translate because it’s all free, and there are no “daily reminders” – perfect for those of us with commitment issues who want to call their brother a smelly poo in German.

Teach your dog the safe cross-code

What do you mean your dog doesn’t know the safe cross-code? If you have a dog and you’re in lockdown, you’re most likely bored out of your skull at least one day a week… Go and walk your dog; you have no excuse not to. My dog’s legs are being worn to butts she’s being taken out so often these days – not that she minds the extra bonding time with her humans. And she’d certainly never let a bit of rain stop her. Since the winter set, in we’ve both gotten absolutely drenched together more times than I can count as we wander the quiet country roads near our house. Ruby empties her bowels, and I empty my head.

Neither of us particularly like the dog-lead – one of us resents having her freedom to sniff curtailed; the other prefers her arm in its socket, thank you very much. We both accept that leads are a necessary evil for roads with cars and dangerous bends, though. It took one of us, in particular, a very long time to get used to not acting like a complete thick whenever a car ambushes us. In my defence, Ruby doesn’t respect me or my authority very much, so if we do find ourselves crossing the road when it’s busy it becomes a power struggle in which the biggest bitch wins. But only just about.

After one too many near-brushes with doggy death by Skoda Octavia, I decided I needed to get a bit stricter, for both our sakes. We’ll start working on the safe cross code any of these weeks now.

Don’t be mindful™

Is there anything more boring than mindfulness? Somebody talking about mindfulness, perhaps. There’s an app you can download on your phone that tells you how to meditate. It’s called Headspace, and it sounds very stressful – what if I wasn’t good at mindfulness? Would I be able to handle the shame? I’d rather remain a head-case than find out I’m bad at something else.

Whenever we as a society go through a traumatising period, someone inevitably writes a smug newspaper column or blog post about mindfulness and how important it is “to be present in our suffering” – or some shite like that. Go and iron your yoga pants, you silly sausage.

Nine times out of ten, the rest of us are too busy getting on with it to be mindful of anything except what’s for dinner. (It’s beans on toast again because what’s the point?).

Purchase exercise equipment for ornamental purposes

At the start of Ireland’s second lockdown, which was six weeks ago at the time of writing, I got a sudden notion to start circuit training. I thought it would be a nice way to increase my woeful upper body strength as well as keep me occupied in the evenings.

I went on Amazon to look at exercise equipment, and then I bought what I thought I needed on an Irish website. I got two 4kg dumbbells and an ab-roller, which I tested out straight away. The ab roller was so easy to use I thought, ‘I must be doing something wrong here,’ so I haven’t used it since because I don’t trust it. It lies forlornly on my bedroom floor, and I keep meaning to have another go, but I’m afraid that if I do use it correctly, it will hurt ferociously. It’s just easier to think I don’t need it because my abs are already so obviously shredded. Not.

I’m having a bit more success with the dumbbells, but they are so heavy I can only use one at a time, like a kettle-ball. I tried to do an exercise called a bent-over row, and I nearly broke both my arms off. So, the dumbbells are lying on my bedroom floor also, and I take it in turns to use them so they don’t get jealous of each other. My advice to anyone thinking of taking up circuit training in lockdown is: don’t. And if you do buy exercise equipment, make sure it matches your curtains.

Treat lockdown like Lent

I’m pretty sure every religion has something like the Catholic tradition of Lent, a period during which people deny themselves of basic pleasures like biscuits to prove to their God that they are worthy of salvation.

Practicing Catholics observe Lent for six weeks every single year until they eventually die, and, one would hope, after all that self-denial, get their Heavenly reward.

Hopefully, we won’t have to do lockdown for six weeks every year – or twice a year – until we die, but it mightn’t do some of us more materialistic folk any harm to go without for a while. I’ve been treating lockdown like Lent – which I’d never do ordinarily – and it’s been working out fairly well for me. That might just be because as I write this, Ireland is about to open up most of its pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops. I’m aware that I sound smug to people in countries still dealing with restrictions and lockdown, but this last tip has genuinely helped me survive the past few weeks.

Bear in mind, too, that Lent doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy; it can be an opportunity to take up new hobbies and adopt better habits too. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. I’ve swapped my nightly Netflix binge, which was getting out of hand before lockdown, for reading. I’ve just finished reading a brilliant book called ‘Shantaram‘, which is set in 1980s Bombay. It’s as far from Ireland lockdown 2020 as possible and a welcome change from 1990s American sitcoms, too. It’s a hefty tome at over 900 pages, but it was so enthralling I found it wasn’t half long enough. Perhaps I’ll end up feeling the same way about lockdown…

Costa del Penneys, hun

I’ve forgotten what phase of lifting coronavirus restrictions we are meant to be in – is it two or three? – but I know that shops and businesses have begun to open again. There are more people out and about and the town is almost back to its old self, which is heartening to see.

The only indication that we haven’t fully emerged from the corona-Matrix is the abundance of mask-wearing folk queueing carefully, if slightly impatiently, outside shop premises. That and the amount of hand sanitiser stations businesses have hastily erected to comply with the government’s orders. If capitalism is to survive corona it must be a capitalism that is caring and compliant – and clean. Squeaky clean.

Penneys (aka Primark) kept everyone waiting for its reopening, which happened late last week – once again I don’t know the exact date because all the days are bleeding into one at the moment.

It might have been a Friday. Whenever it was it was a momentous occasion and one that will certainly go down in Irish consumer affairs history. For those who don’t know Penneys, it is a shopping institution for Irish people – young and old. It’s cheap and does nice clothes, shoes, home decor-type stuff, and cosmetics. And we love it. Penneys is dependable, affordable, and, for many people, including myself, it allows us to access high street fashion on a low budget.

Forget your Chanels, your Guccis, your Dolce & Gabbanas; Penneys can always be relied upon to stock cheap rip-offs of the trends we lust after on the catwalks. It has democratised fashion in a sense by making it so easily accessible, and we didn’t realise we had a good thing going until it closed all its branches when coronavirus came calling.

Now that the popular franchise has reopened all its stores people are flocking to them in, perhaps unsafe, numbers. With that in mind, the Irish Times despatched consumer affairs correspondent, Conor Pope, to vox pop those brave first few hundred Penneys customers.

His vox pops which were done outside one of the franchise’s many Dublin shops formed an article that was an amusing portrayal of Irish consumers. Most of the people Pope spoke to were women, and, unsurprisingly, they were all hardcore Penneys fans.

To Pope’s dismay, most had been queueing outside the shop since the small hours that morning. (The article is available on the Irish Times website – you’ll have to go through the paywall – but, fear not, you’ll be charged less than the cost of a pair of socks from Penneys to read it, and others.)

I got the sense – and I could be wrong – that Pope isn’t a hardcore Penneys fan. If one could measure such a thing as love for Penneys, I’d say Pope might be a 2 or a 3. He’s ambivalent. The people he interviewed would be all 10s or 11s. I’m a five; I like the place and I buy most of my clothes and other “bits” from it but would I drag myself out of bed at 5am in the middle of a pandemic to queue for it to open? Not a chance.

From the looks of things, most people agree that anyone who did queue the first day was a bit bonkers. By “the looks of things,” I mean Twitter, of course, which is where I read all the takes on Penneys reopening.

The computer-bound commentariat was saying all manner of things about the crazy queuers, most of which revealed its own craziness. Some people were getting mad about the classist tone to some of the comments; others were castigating the shoppers for their “selfishness” and lack of adherence to social distancing rules. Most people were simply taking the piss.

It’s easy to take the piss out of the Penneys huns, but where will these piss-takers be when its the weekend before they’re finally allowed to return en masse to their offices? Why, in Penneys, of course. They’ll be eyeing up the shirts; they’ll be stocking up on hosiery, and they’ll have that dazed look on their face – a look that says I don’t remember the last time I felt so ordinary.

Perhaps then it might dawn on them that they have been taking Penneys for granted all these years pre-corona. For some, Penneys is just a useful one-stop-shop kind of place to pick up socks and jocks, but for others, it is an enjoyable place to spend time in. They wander around looking and rifling through crowded rails for a bargain or they make a beeline for that black t-shirt that they need for work, perhaps stopping to pick up some extra bits on the way to the checkout where an automated voice calls “Cashier number four,” and so on, ad nauseam until the queue is gone.

I suppose our enduring love of – and reliance on – Penneys is a laughing matter to some. You might call them classist snobs, or, perhaps, Dad. I certainly smiled more than once at the jokes being made at the expense of all the people queueing outside Penneys shops around the country last week, but some took the jibes too far.

We are all looking forward to different once-familiar experiences on emerging from lockdown, and, to a lot of people, Penneys is one of these experiences. So, yeah, Penneys is a franchise that relies on cheap labour from poorer parts of the world to supply stock to us greedy consumers but it is not the only franchise that does this – and one can hardly place the blame for this on the shoulders of the several thousand queuers last Friday (or whenever it was).

They were just ordinary people excited to be excited about something normal for the first time in the months since the pandemic changed their lives. Who would begrudge anyone the chance, now a privilege, of picking up “a few bits” in town now we’re doing better? Nobody’s going anywhere else this Summer, after all.

See youse in Costa del Penneys – the panacea for what ails us.

Summer is ruined but at least we’re living through history

The one way of making people hang together is to give ’em a spell of the plague.”

Albert Camus – ‘The Plague’

Before coronavirus changed everything, my friend and I had made tentative plans to go inter-railing around Europe for the Summer. We had agreed on a route; Prague to Krakow to Budapest – and we had agreed on all the locations and sites we absolutely had to visit in each city.  

I remember the evening we spent planning it in our favourite French-style café, which we were both regulars at pre-corona.  

How lucky I am that the only things I mourn in this lockdown are my holiday that never was and sitting in my café drinking strong coffee and listening to other people’s conversations.  

The streets are quieter these days and everybody keeps their distance, because nobody knows when this will end – or if it will.  

As doctors, nurses, politicians, emergency responders, police, supermarket workers – ie. the select few the government has decided are “essential workers” – try and keep going, the vast majority of people are grateful enough, and smart enough, to do our part and stay the fuck inside.  

My housemates fled back to their parents and I, too, returned home after a few days of going slowly mad by myself in my rented house in Galway city.  

It’s better at home; I walk the dog in the countryside, I do housework and I don’t clean my room. Every day at 9pm I watch the news with my parents.  

One day I was talking to my Mother, telling her about my aborted holiday plans. “I suppose I’ll go next year,” I said, because I not optimistic or stupid enough to believe I’ll be leaving Ireland any time soon.  

Mum shrugged her shoulders and said “You are living through history.” 

She was right. She’s always right – I am living through history. We all are. 

The people who lived through the 1918 pandemic started popping up in our family’s discussions about coronavirus. We can read about the 1918 pandemic online; we can read as much or as little as we please.  

History never looks like history when you are living through it.”

John W. Gardner

We might be living through history, but with the internet and all the other technology available to us, we have the benefit of hindsight. There is a lot of grumbling about technology and how it is destroying us and making us less sociable, but I think that even its doubters have begun to come around to the idea that in times like these our screens can act as windows to a world we cannot move freely in any more.  

It is a small mercy, too, that even though we are on lockdown and we cannot see friends and family or go to work, we have this incredible resource at our disposal to record our experiences.  

In a hundred years’ time, let the record show what we did and how we lived – and survived – this pandemic.  

There’s the sourdough bread baking crack of dawn risers doing yoga in their front rooms. There’s the cereal for dinner at 1am Netflix bingeing head shavers. There are the Leaving Cert students waiting for an answer on when their exams will be. There are people in nursing homes who can’t see their families. There are bored children driving their addled parents up the walls. And there are heartbroken people who can’t grieve properly for their loved ones dying from this virus. 

None of us know when this will all be over; all we can do is wait and hope and do what they tell us.  

By “they” I mean the people we find ourselves reliant on to keep us safe. From the security guard in your local supermarket who enforces social distancing, to the nurses run off their feet in hospitals all over the world, we must respect and appreciate the sacrifices they are making for us.  

Many frontline workers have already paid with their lives, and yet there are some incredible dumbasses out there who shout abuse and spit at these men and women who are only doing their best in a bad situation. And believe me, their best is good enough. I hope they don’t let the bastards get them down.  

History won’t look on the bastards too kindly.  

As for the rest of us? We’ll have a pint and an ice-cream when it’s all over..