Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I just can’t help myself. Despite writing a feature for the Galway Now Magazine on why NOT to make New Year’s resolutions, I still find myself lying in bed with the laptop thinking about how I’m going to up my visits to the gym starting tomorrow, drink less, save money and all the usual resolutions that are only ever good for making you feel guilty in the end. My big one is the get fit lark and given that it was last years resolution too, and the year before and they year before that, I should have learnt by now that it probably won’t work. If I were to look back at what I consistently achieve year upon year I should really resolve to put on half a stone, not finish my novel and be sure to have dipped well into my overdraft by the end of the year with a drawer full of unpaid invoices to boot. And come to think of it, if next year ends like that too, it might not be a bad place to be. In fact, the more I think about it the more attractive it becomes. You see, all of those predicaments are just normal run of the mill things so it means that actually everything is going just grand, and I'm not trying to manage a crisis nor am I having trouble coping with every day life.
Besides, you can’t ‘resolve’ to make your highlights happen either, and there have been a few of those this year. I definitely didn’t make a New Years resolution to have Gerry Adams come up to me and buy my book; to sit in my living room with the fire blazing and feel that the whole world is OK because I can hear my son play guitar in the next room; to make a commitment to my beloved; to find a day job that I actually like; to see the screaming red sunset over Galway Bay without having to be on holiday.  I could go bore people with more, but my point is this: instead of beating yourself up making resolutions to be a better person why not think about all of the things this year that made it special. You’ll notice that most of them weren’t planned, or the result of resolutions, which means that next year you are bound to have similar joys thrown at you.
Of course you can choose to pick out all the bad things that happened and tell yourself that more bad stuff will come along. But the good thing is that the New Year means you are leaving all of that behind. And that also means that if anything unpleasant does happen this year that you can remind yourself that you always get over it anyway and it will, indeed pass.
So given all this optimism I still can’t figure out why I can’t stand the 10, 9, 8 lark at midnight and the Auld Langs Isle carry on. I like to hide around five minutes before midnight, normally in a toilet, and reappear once the formalities have been dealt with. But for those of you who are not adverse to the celebration of same, Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recession Conspiracy Theory

The recession is a complete conspiracy. I know, because I lived through one before. You see, it’s like this, if you think about paid employment it’s not difficult to realise that that’s all a hoax too, and that’s where it all begins. To keep people down you have to keep them busy, and to do that, you have to reward them for being busy. So someone invented the idea of jobs. You go somewhere every day and get given a few chores, and then you get rewarded for doing the chores. With the money you get, you start to build a nest, but very soon that nest is built, so you build a bigger one and when that’s built you start refurnishing it and getting new doors and windows and conservatories and all that, and then you buy a memory foam mattress and a massage chair. Soon you begin to realise that you are wasting your time and you begin to question the meaning of all this.
Then the conspiracy begins. The people at the game factory, who write the rules and design the board, decide that the game needs some new rules. So once you have passed Go enough times that you are ready to tip over the game on it’s side, they bring in a new dimension. It is this: work gone card. Suddenly you are free not to work and go start living, but the thoughts of not having a job fills you with fear and then you want to work even more, and although you don’t need to, you keep at it and you hoard the money this time, just in case you ever need to buy a topper for your memory foam mattress or a tin of beans.
This is the only way I can make sense of people who haven’t worked for years and never worked during the boom times when you needed to bring your own personal translator with you if you wanted to get served in a coffee shop, now demanding the right to work and marching to Parliament with banners and clenched fists claiming they are entitled to jobs.  The same people also claim that they never got a piece of the Celtic Tiger because they have been long term unemployed. The thing is though, even if you were unemployed during the boom, you were still benefitting from it, in that the money was there to pay for you not having a job, and even if you had a lousy job with the minimum wage, that minimum wage was a lot better than if you were working in say, rural Hungary.
One way or the other though, having had various different salaries at different times, I’ve noticed that no matter how much or little you have it always ends up with being broke at the end of the year.After all, that's the nature of money, it flows in and out like the tide, and then when the tide is way out so far that you can't see it anymore, that is when the Sales are on in the shops, which is probably not a conspiracy, but more like a streak of retail sadism. They know you have no money so they offer it for half price.
In many ways I like the recession. People are more interesting when they’re boasting about how poor they are than how rich they are, and at least this time round I can participate in the conversation. Then again, I do prefer the way terrorism goes down during a boom because the freedom fighters and idealists are too busy buying leather sofas and 50 inch TV screens. I suppose that’s why you always see war going on in poor places. So hopefully it won’t be too long before the nice people who write the rules of the game give us our boom back. After all, I still haven’t gotten round to that four wheel drive.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Is Not For Kids

Christmas is not for kids, it’s for grown ups, and I should know, because I’m a grown up who used to be a kid, so I’ve had quite a few Christmas’s at this stage.
As a kid, you spend the whole year being told that Santa’s helpers are watching you, that you’ll get a bag of soot if you’re not good and that you have to go to bed early or Santa won’t come. You write a note to Santa in the hope he’ll bring you what you want, and mostly he does, even if it is the wrong colour or a different brand to the one you asked for. The house fills up with fizzy drinks and biscuits but any time an adult sees you enjoying same, you are told that if you eat or drink any more of that stuff you’re going to get sick. And yet, those same adults who pat your head and tell you how much you’ve grown are allowed to sit around the table with your parents, playing poker and drinking whiskey until their voices get louder and louder and then one of them gets sick, and nobody even gives out to them for it.

Give me Christmas for grown ups any day. I’ve spent the past few months avoiding paying my car tax in order to buy an X-box Kinnect for the kids, and there is definitely more pleasure to be had watching their excitement and seeing them enjoy it for that half hour before taking it over myself and telling them to go play Monopoly or something.
The whole month of December is a great excuse not to write your blog, due to the time investment needed for the baking, house decorating and shopping that all goes into the big day.
Then there’s the crib that I’ve set up on the hall table. Modern child has no interest in cribs because they are not computer games and don’t come with a remote control. For me though, the nativity is the one part of the bible that I can relate to: it’s about how broke people down on their luck normally don’t get any support but are told to get lost, and although I’ve never given birth in a manger, I have been homeless, even if that homelessness was the time I slept on the beach in Greece on a backpacking holiday years ago, and granted it didn’t involve childbirth nor was there a wise man in sight, but still…
Christmas dinner is for grown ups. Most kids don’t like brussel sprouts, and a lot of adults don’t either, the difference is this: if you’re a kid you are told you have to eat them and that they’re good for you, if you’re a grown up you just say ‘no sprouts for me thanks’. And what about Christmas crackers? This year a law came out that you should be over 16 to buy them, but if you ask me, you’d want to be at least over 60 to enjoy hearing a little bang sound, wear a paper crown, read a corny joke and get a little plastic key ring.
This year has been a particularly good Christmas for me, as I didn’t get a single book, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not reading, and the hazardous weather conditions meant that I pulled out of doing my traditional Christmas swim. Given that reading and swimming constitute two of the main traditions I’ve kept with, I’m making sure not to break with any other ones, so I’ll be off now to make a cold turkey and cranberry sambo and eat it in the messy living room. Then I’ll have  a fight with the kids about how none of them appreciate anything they got for Christmas and how I’m the only person around her putting any effort into making things happen, because after all, why should they enjoy themselves when Christmas is not for kids; it’s for grown ups, and I’m loving it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Goat is for Christmas, not for Life.



My best ever Christmas present came from my kid brother back in the 80’s. I had taken him Christmas shopping which meant waiting impatiently outside some shop while he insisted on running off to buy me something with his life savings of 74p. Eventually he emerged  with a big grin and a brown bag. “You’re going to love it” he said, “it cost all of my money”. I was raging. I imagined he’d just been done by some crook who’d sold him a stick of incense in return for his life savings. I said nothing though, after all, it was the season to be merry and all that, so I paid no more attention to the brown bag which by now had been replaced by gift wrap. Then, on Christmas morning I opened it to find a beautiful brown wooden jewellery box. I knew those boxes; I’d had my eye on one for a while, so I also knew that at the time they cost about £2 each. The little rip, I thought, he probably nicked it, or worse, stole money somewhere to buy it. I was wrong on both accounts though. It turned out that he too, had seen the £2 tag and had suggested to the shop assistant that if she put it behind the counter, he might save up and buy it for his sister’s birthday. She asked him how much he had, and when he told her, she replied “well fancy that, that one there in your hand has actually just been reduced to exactly 74p!” We all know the story. It was a small shop, the proprietor was probably a mother or a big sister herself, he was a little boy and it was Christmas. 
I still have that box, and like the few other material things that have survived my journey into middle age, when somebody admires it I can say ‘it was a gift’, which translates as ‘this is something of sentimental value’. To me, that’s what presents are all about. They’re about surprising people with nice things that they’d like to own and perhaps would not have bought for themselves for whatever reason. What I like most about giving someone a gift is watching their face when they open it: especially if it’s a kid. And as for receiving, despite knowing how impractical it is to give somebody something they don’t really like or want, to me, even the most hideous ornament will have a certain sense of sentimentality, even if it spends most of the year hidden in the attic.
Of course I know all the arguments against. First of all, the one that you can really only select things for people you know, and that come Christmas you end up buying things for vague in-laws and cousins who you really don’t know much about other than that they’ll be calling over for mince pies, mulled wine and hand over the Christmas gift please. So surely it’s more realistic to give them a voucher or money in a card, maybe even a hamper? Well the thing is, of course they would prefer it, but that’s not really what gifts are all about. To me giving money or vouchers doesn’t feel like a present. It feels like paying compensation money for the fact that we all know so little about each other that we just can’t rack our brains to think of something to buy. It also feels a bit materialistic. If I invited somebody out for dinner and a drink, I wouldn’t expect them to say ‘would you mind giving me the price of the early bird menu and a bottle of wine instead? Because then I can cook a nicer dinner at home and use the money for something more practical.’

Then there’s the argument that it’s a waste and that we, the consumers, are all being ripped off when we spend our money on stupid gifts that people don’t want anyways. Certainly, there’s a point to be had here. Believe me, the best place to buy gift sets of body lotion and bath salts along with scented candles, is in the Charity Shops shortly after Christmas and also at the end of June, when every primary school teacher in the country has received enough of them to fill a wheelie bin. But the counter argument to that one is that we just have to use a bit more creativity when setting off on the task of buying gifts, and if you don’t know the person well enough to come up with one thing they might like, then you have to ask yourself the question if it’s really appropriate to be buying them anything at all?
A few years ago I made a deal with some friends. We agreed that because we were all broke to varying degrees, that we’d put a cap on the cost of the Christmas presents to each other. We set it at €10 with the rule being that it was a competition to see just how well you could do on a low budget gift. I was convinced I’d win, having bought one friend a brand new Aran Sweater (label still on and all) in the Charity Shop for €7 and then extravagantly spending the other €3 wrapping it, while another was given a collage of photos from our student days that cost very little to make, along with three books and a CD, all second hand. First prize went to the friend though, who had hauled her unwanted wedding gifts from the attic and presented me with a set of Waterford Crystal glasses, all still in the box. I would be lying to say that I’m a great fan of Waterford glass, but like I said earlier, they’re of sentimental value and I like the story behind their journey.
The worst Christmas present I ever got was also from my kid brother. He grew up and became a lot wealthier than his 74p. But this particular year there were no fancy jewellery boxes, what I got were three goats.
They were delivered in the form of a card that more or less explained that rather than buy me a gift this year, he would use the money to donate three goats to an African Charity. My heart sank. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking, how could I ever, in all conscience,  suggest it to be more fitting that I receive the latest version of the iphone, when truly, the three goats in Africa are paramount to saving lives? But that wasn’t the point. Sending goats to Africa is hugely important, and I myself have been involved in similar projects. I do feel, however, that when one wishes to make generous and altruistic contributions towards improving the world we live in, that it just doesn’t sit right to say ‘I’m making a donation, not out of my own pocket money though, I’m using the money for your gift to do it.’ It means that the person making the charitable donation isn’t out of pocket, but you might be out of a pressie.
So this year I’m giving goats for Christmas. Knitted goats with button eyes, made by my good self, in Ireland. Because after all, a goat is for Christmas, not just for life.



Monday, November 15, 2010

The Money Will Come

It’s always annoyed me the way rich people often preach about how you should just do what you love doing and the money will come. It’s just that the ones who say things like that normally spent about twenty years working their asses off on an oil rig or working as an engineer or a nurse in Saudi Arabia
Then, when they had a load of money, they invested it into something really risky but cutesy, like starting up an organic chocolate cake café where you can come and stay for the weekend and do courses in the art of combining yoga and seaweed. Somehow, the whole thing ends up as a huge success (nothing to do with the millions they stashed in it to set it up) and they talk on some TV documentary about how they walked away from working their weary jobs to follow the thing they love, and that now, signs on it, it was all worth following your dream.
Of course, someone suggesting you follow your dreams instead of hating your boss is paramount to offering a child ice cream instead of cabbage, or an adult come to think of it. And unlike a lot of my former colleagues, I actually have dreams. So I decided the very best option I had was to pack in the job. Because after all: life really is too short to spend it sitting around oval tables at terribly important meetings.
 Of course, the money didn’t come, but I’m damn near close to finishing the novel, and I got to spend quality time driving kids to school and back from school and to the shops and hockey and even driving teenage boys 200 yards up the road to the gym. I was starting to do things like fold tea towels and sort socks, so I decided that maybe life wasn’t too short to sit around oval tables and scribbling in a diary. After all, there were free biscuits and pens and little boxes of mints with the company’s name on them.
Still though, I had developed an acute allergy, bordering on psychosis whenever I looked at my colleagues, the computer or any documentation connected to the job in question, along with a nervous rash that broke out whenever the phone rang, so there was no going back. Then I had an idea. I applied for a job in a call centre: one of those places that I’m always threatening my kids they’ll end up in if they don’t study harder. But because I didn’t particularly want it, I was able to tell them I could only work up until lunch time or forget the job thank you very much. That’s fine, I was told, whatever suits and do you fancy going for a few jars later?
 Without realising what I was doing, I was walking myself into the life that those phoney people with their little organic cafes and cottages in the south of France do – I was actually doing what I love to do: being a bit busy in the morning with a bunch of mad call centre people who actually have lives and wear runners, not suits, while also having time to write and spend time bossing the kids around instead of driving them around.
So I got home this evening and plonked myself on the couch to open the post. The bulky envelope was a copy of an anthology of poems that I have a piece in. As I flapped the cover open, out fell a cheque for €20. I mean hello: money for poems?
I’ve taken it as a sign that it’s really true. Do what you love doing, and the money will come. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lesbian Sex, the Movies & Blocked Noses

The missus took me to a movie last night. (It seems we’ve all started calling ‘fillums’ movies.) It was that new one ‘The Kids are All Right’, and yes, we went to it because it’s about a pair of lesbians with two kids who are dealing with a sperm donor. Now let me just say one thing, we ourselves might be a pair of lesbians, but we do not  have two kids and a sperm donor to deal with. In our case it’s seven kids and two ex husbands.
Still, though, it was a film we could relate to and  I couldn’t help trying to work out which of the lesbians I was most like in the movie. First of all I thought I was like the one with short hair, because she was unappreciative and grumpy and she drank too much. But then the other one had an affair and was always starting up businesses that didn’t work, so I thought I was a bit more like her. In the end I thought I was a bit more like the sperm donor, because he’s this mixed up guy who ends up losing everything.   

There wasn’t an awful lot of sex in the movie, but it did make clear that a sex life was actually happening, even if the one of them did go off and shag that donor in the end, and I was thinking well why not at the start and save your money, but it turns out he only got 60 quid a pop anyway.
I suppose any Hollywood movie needs a bit of cock, because after all, most of the audience will probably be straight, but at least we didn’t feel like freaks anymore, now that middle aged sexually active lesbians with kids are in a mainstream movie, so we ended up having a bit of a romantic night, which transcended itself into a bit of a romantic morning too, and then everyone was late for school and I never got to finish my coffee.
You see, the problem with lesbian sex is this: it’s hard to know when it’s over. The one thing I envy about men, well let’s say the ones I’ve been with, is that they can do the business and that’s it. Into the jocks, out of the bed and don’t call me, I’ll call you.
It’s different with women. You see if I do anything to her, I get turned on, and then she does things to me, and then I need to touch her again, and then that gets me going again, and that goes on for a few hours and then there’s all the touchy feely stuff, and then because of all the touchy feely stuff we both get going again. Then because we’ve both gotten going again, well, I won’t bore you with the details.
I did notice one thing this morning though. My nose was totally blocked up from the heat being on, but after all the middle aged rumblings of ‘stop, no don’t stop, is the immersion on, do that again, are the kids up yet, etc…’ I noticed that my head was totally clear and I could feel the Connemara wind through both nostrils.
I bet if the nasal spray companies knew about this they’d try to ban sex. Well come to think of it, a lot of people have been trying to ban lesbian sex. I bet it’s all a big conspiracy from the pharmaceutical industry. Now I’m wondering what else it might cure? Maybe if we went back to bed it might help my bad hip, but we can’t, she’s gone to work and I have to put the bins out. There’s always tonight. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Gifted is That?

There was a programme on the other night about gifted kids. I tried hard not to watch it, but in the end I watched bits of it and started to get mad, as I knew I would. The worst part was watching a lone parent mother drag the three kids off on the bus and hang out on a university campus all day in order for the kid to do something relevant to his brain. It hit a nerve with me as I remember doing all of that a few years ago. The TV cameras didn't show the bits where one of the kids gets sick on the bus, or of losing a coat somewhere or a child, or having to change busses because of a breakdown.
By the time the next two kids were assessed I had gotten fed up with the whole dragging up to Dublin lark, and besides, these courses; the only ones available for gifted kids, are elitist. They cost a small fortune, which I don't understand, as surely there is no reason for them to cost way more than any other extra curricular activities for kids? So it means that really, it's only middle class kids and up who are getting the stimulation they need in order to balance their other, quite ordinary attributes.
You get it all wrong with the first kid anyway. I sent him to a 'child centred' Educate Together school, where the focus is upon the child's individual needs. It didn't take long for me to be told that there is no funding for kids like mine, and at the lowest point of trying to explain his needs to a teacher was when I was asked 'do you not think you're being selfish asking for support for your child when we have so many kids here who really have special needs?'
Maybe that was the high point though, because it was also the moment that I realised I was banging my head against a brick wall. If anything, the school were adverse to my kid being gifted and I always got this underlying feeling that deep down they wanted to prove that academic ability is way less important than social development and I also realised that the so called 'special needs' tend to have a 'top of the pops' trend to them. When my son was in primary school there was definitely a leaning towards spending all the support money on socialising kids with autism into the classroom.
Now don't get me wrong, I've seen some great and important work happen on this area and I've experienced it with peers of my children, I just don't see why it should be so top heavy when it comes to funding. All I'm pointing out here is that it's by a long shot not the only need going on, even if it might be the one that produces the best tangible results for the teachers involved, because you can really see the changes, and it looks good.
Gifted kids don't make great statistics, and during my son's time in primary school the little bit of funding that had previously been there was removed. 'Gifted' is also a very unfortunate word for kids with a high I.Q. It sounds as if they are lucky or talented. It conjures up the image of a bright and happy child who is already set up for a wonderful and happy career. In fact, 'gifted' in a child, means to me an imbalance between I.Q. and emotional intelligence. In assessments, the word 'gifted' is used to describe a child whose I.Q. is in the top 5% of the population. So that means that if you were to go on the law of averages, a school with 200 kids in it will have about ten gifted kids and no resources to do anything to support them.
Trying to balance a high I.Q. with an average emotional intelligence has a huge impact upon a child's development and is, indeed, a special need. I should know, I've lived through the tantrums.
In my son's case he just about made it through primary school by skipping a class and with a huge amount of absences. The school had no resources and no interest in teaching him what I thought should be the basics for any child, and that is: how to learn. His mind was never really stimulated, and this was a total disaster when he entered second level education. He didn't have a clue about how to apply himself, and also, having skipped a class, he was younger than most of his peers.
Of course, the social needs are huge, but you can't really separate them, can you? Having worked in training myself for many years, I've become aware of how the interest in emotional intelligence has grown, and let's face it, you don't need a high I.Q to manage Ryanair, but you sure won't be accepted into pilot school with an I.Q. of 80 either. I just don't believe that you have to square a circle, and I don't see why it's such a big deal not to have great social skills if you are happy enough within yourself. After all, if Bill Gates hadn't been a bit nerdy, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog right now. The bottom line is this: we need every type of person in our society, and we need to support some more than others. Practically, though, it seems that 'support' doesn't mean helping a child to get comfortable with who they are, but rather, helping to mould a child to fit in with what the average is, and what 'looks right'. And ultimately, supporting gifted children within the system can be a dangerous job. They might just be insightful enough to question the value of it all...



Monday, November 8, 2010

Age Matters


If you didn’t know what age you are, what age would you think you are? It’s a question I can’t answer myself. In my head I’m around late twenties. Emotionally I’m not sure if I’m three or a doting geriatric. Intellectually I’m stuck: on the one hand I’m a grown up and have an M.A., so I could pick out a mature age for that one, but on a practical level I find myself asking my kids to help me with simple maths.
As for the physical part of it, I look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘wow, not bad, I still look twenty.’ The problem is though, that I don’t, and not even the mirror thinks that I’m the fairest of them all. But to hell with wrinkles and sagging boobs and surplus weight, I still just see me, and I just am. So let others put me at 30 or 40 or 50 or more, I see the same face every day, and I’m fine with it.
The one thing that really gets to me though, is the issue around date of birth. Once I hit my mid forties I decided that I’d have to just give up age, because whenever I assessed my lifestyle with regard to my age, it just didn’t seem right. I mean, would you really expect to see a woman hitting her late forties climb out of a tent at the electric picnic? Or should a woman of my age really select Converse runners as her preferred choice of footwear?
I went through a stage where I decided to act my age and not my shoe size (which is a frisky 39 if you’re a member of the European Union). So I bought some drab grey pants, started watching the soaps and exchanged recipes with people around my own age.
Then I got the blues. I realised I was in my mid forties and decided that I may as well give up thinking that I’ll ever achieve any of my dreams now that life has passed me by. I questioned my sanity for preferring Lady GaGa to Bob Dylan and quit my diet, because what did it matter anyway, now that I’ll always look like an aul wan no matter how fat or thin I am. I bought sensible shoes and felt that silly hats were not for my generation. I planned taking up golf, but didn’t go that far as I still had an active sex life. I did still manage to became dowdy and uninteresting though.
Then a great thing happened. I was another year older and I was pure fed up with it. So I decided to give up age. The first thing I decided not to be was a pillar of society. I bought a new silly hat and routed out the old runners. I packed in my day job because I decided it’s a much better idea to finish my novel than to work at something that doesn’t light my fire ( which probably puts me somewhere between 17 and 23 if I’m to go back to that ‘how old are you?’ question.)
Of course it’s difficult to give up age. Most days I feel some age or other, but it’s always a different one, so luckily, if I’m pushing 70 on a Monday, I might just be 20 by Wednesday.
I’m not sure what age I am today. I’m heading off to Dublin to read one poem at the launch of an anthology in some bar, and considering that I’m skint and the whole outing will cost me about 150 quid if I’m to pay for travel and a room somewhere. So that kind of behaviour would probably make me a young 30 year old travelling minstrel. Thing is though, I didn’t sleep very well last night and I feel exhausted. I need my 7 hours and I didn’t get them. My bad hip isn’t liking this wet weather and the doctor reckons its arthritis.
So it’s going to be a long evening. My heart is in it but the bones are creaking. It must be my age.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Free Education? Yes, but Pay for Schooling

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a bit of a laugh really, unless you believe that some time Utopia really will happen. Some of the things seem basic, but they make me think. Article 25 (1) declares that Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…’
What I want to know is this, exactly who is it provides you with these rights? And the other thing that I’m puzzled about is where you rank the various rights. Personally I think that free food is much more important than free education. Well I’ll correct that actually, education is free, it’s schooling that isn’t.
Given that 20,000 students marched to Dail Eireann in Dublin protesting the cost of education, I wonder are they educated enough to know what ‘free’ really means? Because free doesn’t mean that it costs nothing. If you don’t pay yourself, somebody else does.
I do think that people who want to enter third level education should have every possible chance to do so, and I’m all for means testing, but given that anything that’s free is not really free, it’s paid by the so called ‘taxpayer’, I just wonder why it seems more important to pay for schooling than it is to pay for food. And bottom line, where do you decide what’s more important?
Of course there’s the argument that we should be a ‘smart economy’. Does smart mean people with college degrees? Do you have to have a piece of paper and some letters to your name in order to get the country back on its feet again? These days people have started believing that college degrees are almighty, the way they used to believe in the Church and the politicians and the banks before they discovered they’d been taken for a ride. Smart? Beats me. So I thought about marching to the Dail to demand the setting up of free soup kitchens as part of one of my basic human rights. But I’ve always been more the practical type than the revolutionary and seeing that ‘Dail’ is an anagram for ‘Aldi’ I may as well go there instead. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What it's like to be Broke

  
I grew up in a middle class family, one that was poor enough not to have a second car or fancy holidays abroad, yet comfortable enough that we were never left wanting for any of the essentials such as good practical shoes, school books or hideous padded polyester anoraks. We did go on holidays, ones spent visiting some remote rellies in an even remoter part of the world, like the outback of Donegal. We were never disappointed at Christmas and birthdays meant a spread of egg sandwiches, TK red lemonade and butterfly cakes sprinkled with hundreds & thousands.
What we didn’t have was the  sense of community that they had in the council estate up the road. On our road most people were snooty and although my mother had to work around a tight budget, she pretended that she didn’t, and let’s face it, she never had to pull a rabbit out of a hat or try to glue a shoe back together.
Of course we couldn’t keep up with the Jones’s in the detached houses with the sea views. They went to Spain and their kids came back with sombreros, sun burn and stories of swimming pools that we hated hearing about. They went horse riding and took ballet lessons while we did the free things like the girl guides and playing hopscotch until the rain washed away our game. We were jealous of the well off kids and made great plans for when we’d grow up. But we were never poor.
Then, during my teens my father died suddenly, so by the time I turned 18, I found myself in a new situation. I was in college and living away from home. I had to earn enough money to support myself and I did this by working in a bar two nights a week. The pay covered the rent and I lived off the tips. Somebody gave me a present of an old bike, and although I couldn’t afford clothes or books or anything really other than the basics, I was young, my peers were broke too and there was something romantic about being a struggling student with a waif like appearance.
It was the 80’s, so after college I did what everyone else was doing and left the country. I had a spattering of German so decided to follow a friend who had started teaching English there. Within a fortnight I was working for a language school and within a year I had saved enough money to go and check out the fancy swimming pools and sombreros that I’d heard so much talk of years before.
Five years later I was running my own language school, driving a fancy two seater sports car and dating a handsome German doctor who shared my taste in exotic travel and good champagne. Even after we got married and had three kids, things weren’t all that difficult when you had a live-in nanny and a housekeeper. It seemed that life was looking good everywhere, so when I was offered the challenge of starting up a training business in Ireland it seemed like a great idea. We filled a removal truck and trailer, our camper van and Mercedes Benz and headed back to the Emerald Isle with the plan to continue generating bounty and opulence.
When my business challenge failed miserably, I decided that having to let the home help and nanny go wouldn’t be all that bad; after all, I’d have more time with the kids and I could be a better moral support to my husband who at this stage found himself homesick, hating Irish pub culture and started to develop an emerging allergy to living in a climate of mostly rain
The pressure of living on less and feeling like a total failure didn’t help the atmosphere in our new life of intermittent rainfall and gale force warnings from Mizen to Malin. Eventually he got fed up with Ireland, packed his bags, took one of the cars and headed back to Germany leaving me with a cleaned out bank account and the three kids. It was almost Christmas and I realised that there was no way Santa would even manage to get a pair of shoes down the chimney, let alone an X-box, two mobile phones, a drum kit and whatever you’re having yourself. Of course I was too proud to ask for help, and besides, the St. Vincent de Paul knew me, I had given them generous donations up to now, so how could I call in all of a sudden with my hand out?
I managed to juggle money around a bit and get a loan from the Credit Union.
Eventually I had to go to the Social Welfare Office and apply for the One Parent Family Allowance. In all my life I had never been in such a predicament, I didn’t even know who or what to apply for, I thought it was still called the ‘deserted wives pension’, which I like the sound of, I imagined myself queuing up at a barred window with a shawl around my shoulders and a child on my arm with a few more pulling out of the bottom of the shawl. But no, it was all very civil; the only thing that was bizarre was the amount of money I was expected to live off. Now I understand now why it’s called the ‘breadline’. It is exactly that. You can afford bread, or to make bread, but if you filled your trolley at the supermarket you’d have the whole budget for the week gone already.
So what happened? Well first of all I learned how to cook a healthy dinner for four for under a fiver and that Charity shops are not places that sell grubby cast offs, but that you can get a designer blouse, bag or shoes all for under a tenner. I learned that when you’re kids grow out of their clothes, you iron them neatly and pack them into black refuse bags and pass them on to other peoples kids, and that if you do that, the same thing will happen to you. A whole seasons worth of clothes will land on your door, all in black refuse sacks just like the ones you gave away.
I realised that asking for help makes you humble, and that you make better friends when you have nothing, because it is you that they like, not the trimmings. I found out that the cheap bubbly in Aldi really doesn’t taste all that different to the real McCoy and that growing your own potatoes isn’t cheaper, but they taste better from your own garden and growing them brings you closer to the earth.
Inevitably, most people who find themselves stripped of cash will find that they have more time on their hands. I began writing, something I’d always wanted to do, and I found a fulfilment in this that I’d never felt with any other of my successes. The poet Robert Graves once wrote ‘There’s no money in poetry, but then, there’s no poetry in money.’ My values were changing dramatically, and in many ways I became happier than I had ever been before. I tried to be as positive as I could and I would tell myself that I lived near the sea, we were all healthy, and we had a roof over our heads.
Don’t get me wrong though, there’s no romance to being broke. Try explaining to your child that you just can’t afford the €120 for hockey because that is more than half of what you are trying to get through the week on, and think about the trials of constantly saying no to groups of friends suggesting a meal out, or even a few drinks. The cinema or the swimming pool on a wet Sunday afternoon was out of the question. Then there was the constant fear of something unexpected. I remember thinking to myself when driving once ‘if I get a puncture, I’m just going to have to abandon the car.’ And when my son lost his school jumper, they cost about €50 a pop; I knew that he’d just have to get through the rest of the year without another one. Thing is though, we always got through, something always turned up. I remember having about €12 one Friday that had to get me to Tuesday, when I knew the children’s allowance would be in. That morning a letter arrived to say I had won second prize in a poetry competition. There was a cheque enclosed for €50. That money meant more to me than few grand might have done in previous years, and yes, I blew half of it taking the kids for a swim.
In my case I got back on my feet again. The remorseful ex husband began to pay generous maintenance payments (possibly something to do with being chased by the department of Justice and Law enforcement for the recovery of maintenance from abroad), the kids got older and I started up my writing and consultancy business again. This time round though, I don’t have the assumption that once you reach a certain plane you will always stay on it. In fact, now that I’ve experienced both poverty and wealth, money doesn’t mean what it used to, because I know that without it, life isn’t much different, and these days I buy the cheap sparkly because I like it and not because it’s cheap. I’ll never go back to spuds that didn’t come from my garden and I’m convinced that walking the prom is more fulfilling than the gym. But I’ve also learned this: nothing is set in stone and life is as unpredictable as the Irish weather, so you should always be prepared that sometime you might need to pull a rabbit from a hat. Don’t ask me how it’s done, because I can’t work that one out myself, but believe me, I’ve done it more than once, and should  you ever end up where I was, believe me, you’ll do it too, and you’ll come out on top in the end. Cheers!







Monday, November 1, 2010

How Not To Be President



They’re at it again. There are a group of fanatical Christians from Castlebar known as the  Castlebarbarians, and called so as they do not represent the opinion of the regular Castlebarians, they are, like most fanatics, a tiny minority with big mouths. Well anyways, they have set up a website called something like ‘David Norris 4 President’, but actually when you read it, it’s full of the usual insinuations that being gay equals being a pervert and paedophile. I’m purposely not linking to the site just in case the right wing Christians who created it think that anyone would want to read such crap.
The thing that always amuses me though is the claim that being gay goes against being Christian as the bible, and we’re talking Leviticus here, claims that that sort of gay carry on is an abomination. Of course, if you were to read everything in the book of Leviticus, you’d discover that it’s also an abomination to eat a prawn and that you’ll burn in hell if you work on the Sabbath.
Now the problem is this, I’ve read all the ins and outs of homosexuality from various aspects in the bible and it looks like the bottom line is this: it’s fine to be gay. But the problem is the prawns. Eating shellfish is an abomination, and I think I once saw David Norris eat a prawn at the opening of some gay thing in Dublin. They were little crackers with prawn salad, and indeed I had one myself but I’m allowed to commit abominations as I’ve already worked out that I’m condemned anyway, because Leviticus also states that it’s an abomination for a woman to wear a man’s garment. Well I once wore a pair of grey pin striped pants to work, so that’s me out of God’s good books.
So there you go. Eat prawns, be gay, work on the Sabbath or talk to a woman who has her period and there’s no way you should be president. In fact, there’s no way you should be anything. But the good news is, if you are a heterosexual misogynist with zero charisma who hates shell fish, you may well be in line to run the country. In fact, you may well be running it already. 
The only problem now though, is who the hell should be elected as President? Given that the president is someone who represents Ireland at home and abroad, they would definitely need a proven track record in being dedicated to justice, have tons of charisma and be open minded and inclusive towards all the diverse people living on the island. How about a civil rights campaigner and independent politician who is compassionate and intelligent? Throw in being one of the worlds’ leading Joycean scholars and a sense of humour, and there you have it, perfect President.
I was thinking that David Norris might fit the bill perfectly; I’ll just have to rectify the issue of the prawns. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Baffled

  
One of the desperate things that poets do to earn a crust is enter competitions. In my case, this normally incurs costs rather than accumulating cash. Despite being well aware of the strength of the competition and the meagreness of my unedited rants, I still tend to chance my arm, reminding myself that Bukowski got nowhere until he was well into middle age and Maeve Binchy was something like 44 when her first novel was published.
So I decided that despite having to miss the X Factor, I’d enter the Baffle Bard Poetry Competition in the great metropolis of Loughrea, Co. Galway (population about 4,000).
I’d entered a couple of times before, so I knew the score. There’s a qualifier on the Saturday and if you get through, you perform in the final on the Sunday. It’s a local bash and the prize is anybody’s (as long as you come from Loughrea, are related to somebody on the committee and write in rhyming couplets). But still, I thought, you never know, and in fairness, a friend of mine won it a few years ago and he’s from two townlands away. Besides, it’s a great night out. You get to hear poems from the brilliant to the bizarre. You even get to hear poems that are not poems if you know what I mean. For some, it’s their first ever time to read a poem, and then there are the pure brilliant, like myself (in a few years).
Of course, lots of petrol and drink money later, the results are announced, and I’m not in the top three cash prize winning poems. The two judges go through each poem like school teachers might before they announce the winners. Then the man whose wife is on the committee goes up and gets first prize for his ditty about the locals and the theme of the competition and a few more rhyming couplets thrown in for good measure. We all smile and clap and talk about how great his poem is and about isn’t it great that there's always poetry to fall back on when the rest of the country is falling apart, what with all the corrupt politicians and bankers and clergymen and all that.
Co-incidentally, second prize goes to a local girl but the third prize goes to the mate of mine from a few townlands away who won it a few years ago.
Then something strange happened. My name got called out as the winner of the ‘peoples choice’ award. All of the members of the audience get to vote for their favourite, and this year they went foreign and picked me!
So now, despite being a lot more broke than I was at the start of the weekend, I do have an empty vase with ‘Baffle 2010 – Peoples Choice’ engraved on it, and when you think of it, this vase will be worth a small fortune when I’m a famous writer (in a few years).
Besides, considering that I write for people, surely getting the peoples voice is better than what the judges think. After all, didn’t Jedward do great on X Factor even though Simon Cowell hated them? Not that I'm sour grapes or anything, God no.
There was just one thing though, that didn’t figure. One of the judges, Maureen Gallagher, sparked local controversy a few years ago in a letter to the Galway Advertiser suggesting that ‘Slam poetry is a tired art form’ while also stating that her vote on poetry goes with Todd Swift, who claims it to be 'the last resort of the failed comedian.' I decided that seeing as the theme for this year was ‘Off The Rails’, might it have been possible that the committee had hired this lady to judge the competition in fitting with the theme, was there someone who felt that judging bardic poetry slams was the last resort of a failed poet?
That said though, there were two judges, the other one being Martin Dyar, an award winning poet who’s grandfather was the local doctor in the town for years. So there you go.
Well, bottom line is that the judges did nae like me but the people did. It leaves me wondering whose opinion is to be trusted: probably only my own at the end of the day. So for what it’s worth, make your own judgements folks and if you like it, don’t forget to support poetry by throwing me a few coins via the ‘donate’ button.

The piece is dedicated to all those beautiful, skinny rich women who I aspire to be like, and is called: ‘You Bitches.’

You Bitches  

You bitches: smug on the road in your off the road SUV.
Four wheel drive obscenities – for what?
To glide you across tar macadam smooth as your paralysed Botox smiles,
Caged-in behind electric gates and cobbled miles
Of suburban slavery as you drown
In Prada, Gucci, Dior town.

This is the greasy till revisited.
You’re a stainless steel double door fridge,  
Full of food you never eat, with your size zero brain
 And your holocaust waist.
The dyed blonde hair on a spray-on face.
You’re Hitler’s very dream of the perfect race.

Coffee Morning, Gym, Charity event.
Walk the Prom, run the Prom.  “This place has gone off the rails!.”
Talk to Joe ‘the country’s gone mad Joe. It’s the African taxi drivers,
And scangers, and the head shops and the state of those foreigners in their mini skirts.
That’s what’s wrong with this country Joe. So take it from them Joe.
Take it from the queers and the priests and NAMA and the blacks,
And from Michael Ring Joe, for using a swear word in Dail Eireann.
But don’t take away my SUV, don’t take anything from me.

Hey you bitches, why don’t you Buy the Prom?
Extend the Prom. Cordon off the Prom.
Privatise the Prom. Members only. Members only, please.
Because come to think of it, I want to be you.
I want the bliss of no more sleepless nights
Wondering what happened to the homeless girl in Egypt
Who sold me that bracelet on the street.
And how the dried mud on her bare feet was prettier
Than the orange glow of factory tan that surrounds me.

 So bring on that neo-Georgian mansion with
A bottle of gin and a glossy magazine.
I want to know which celebrity’s ass looks best
In some god awful designer dress.
I want my tragedies to be about broken fingernails.
I want to believe that the Dali Lama
Is a restaurant, where you get free poppadums. 

And that the money I spend on cosmetics:
Enough to feed an African village, is not a sin:
‘It’s because I’m worth it’.
I want my wisdom to be thick as this:
‘If refugees don’t like their lot, they should go home.’
Because that would mean they’d have homes to go to.
I’d have a home to go to, and I could walk
The Prom. Run the Prom. Buy the Prom.
Privatise the Prom.
I’ve got Dior, I’ve got Prada, I’ve got Gucci
Who could ask for anything more?
I could. I could ask for a pink veloura track suit
In the autumn sales, and be just like you bitches
Gone well off the rails.








Saturday, September 25, 2010

Town or City?


I live in a sleepy little town that qualifies as a city. There are certain criteria you have to meet in order to be a city, and Galway’s status as a city has always been debatable. Nevertheless, it is historically known as ‘the City of the Tribes’, and if you happen to be around Eyre Square, in the heart of the city, at around say 3a.m, you may spot various tribes engage in combat outside Supermacs ( a Galwegian fast food outlet specialising in contemporary Irish culinary delights). 
But city or nay, most people have heard about Galway. There’s the races, who hasn’t been to the races? Then there’s the Arts Festival; there’s Cuirt, the international festival of literature; Baboro is a festival for kids; there are at least two Oyster festivals with a film Fleadh thrown in somewhere in the middle.
More recently there was the Volvo Ocean Race and on foot of that there have been a good few boat festivals attracting polo shirted men in deck shoes accompanied by leggy blondes with an attitude. And there doesn’t even have to be a festival for the place to fill up in the summer months. You always know the tourists: sensible raincoats, aran sweaters, expensive cameras and a stressed out frown brought on by the price of Guinness and a bowl of chowder. They call Galway ‘Gallaway’ if they’re European, whilst Americans pronounce the ‘gal’ in Galway as if it was the Galway gal and not gal as in gallstones.
So in other words, I live in a so called city that has been taken over by festivals or tourists for most of the year. The thing is, though, this place really only comes to life around late September, when the rest of the world goes home and Galway turns back into a little town again. The rain doesn’t get any worse than it is during the summer months, but you don’t feel cheated anymore, because although the weather is more or less shit all year round, the calendar is telling you that it’s ok to light the fire and order pizza. You can watch telly without having that guilty feeling that you should be at the launch of some book or play or film and if you do go out the pubs start offering alternatives to Irish dancing, Irish music and traditional Irish shows that traditional Irish people wouldn’t ever set foot in.
That’s why today was a good day in Galway. It was pissing rain and not a raincoat in sight, there wasn’t a queue for the ATM, everyone was in bad form and the general consensus was that really, what else could our leader have done here last week but get pissed and make an eejit of himself on national radio?  It just made me ask that question again, are we a town or a city?  Then I remembered that KFC recently opened in Galway and that it costs €2.50 an hour to park in town. There’s a place near the docks that sells Japanese food and a transvestite works in the hairdressers on the main street. So yeah, that’s it really, isn’t it? City. Definitely a city.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Man and Bird Flu

I’m sick. It’s not all that surprising considering that I’ve spent the past week living with two sick teen boys. The kind of teen boys who think that the coffee table is the bin for germ filled tissues and that the place to send a sneeze is across the room, especially when I’m in the firing range. But despite all that, I just didn’t expect to get sick because after all, I’m the one who has to mind all the sickies, so who the hell can run to the chemist and get overpriced paracetemol, a forest worth of tissues and a few dozen movies except my good self?
But damn, it looks like I too have gotten the ‘man flu’. I call it that because I understand man flu as meaning you have a bit of the sniffles and you’re going over the top about it. Well truth is, women can get the man flu too, and I’m one of them. I’ve coughed and  sneezed a few times, my throat is a bit sore and I do have a certain amount of aches and pains, but I’m so precious about myself and such a man when it comes to illness that I definitely feel ‘man flu’ is a feminist issue, and I’m a feminist who’s suffering from it. I’ve crawled off the sofa to write this blog though, cos after all, I’m so sick, it might be my last ever piece of writing. I’ve had a few hot whiskeys and whatever combination of over the counter drugs you can combine without actually dying, and I do feel a bit woozy, but that has nothing to do with the medication and alcohol, it’s because I’m seriously ill, and as if that’s not bad enough, nobody cares.
The main difference between women and men when they have the man flu is that women still make the dinner and throw on a wash and have a bit of a wobbler before they collapse onto the sofa, whereas men only collapse onto the sofa.
So the teen boys are better now. You know that teen boys are better when they start saying that they’re still really really sick, but they say it whilst tucking into a large steak and chips and fighting with each other. But me, I’m still sick. O.K., I did have a bit of steak but the chocolate was just comfort food to help my illness and the whiskey is, of course, for my throat or something.
So I’ll lie here on the sofa until the ambulance comes and hopefully, I’ll pull through. After all, we women need to get better quicker than men as we have things to attend to, like having babies and periods and stuff like that, which, come to think of it, gives us all the more reason to get sick as it reminds us of our other sickly duties.
Granted, I do manage to work full time and still make the dinner whilst doing all this moaning, but in fairness, the boys managed to walk down to the shops and do some ice cream shopping for their poor sore throats when they had it, so after all that it just goes to show that man flu or bird flu, we’re all equals…

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Fear Does

A few weeks ago when I heard noises downstairs at 5 o’clock in the morning, the kind of noises that didn’t sound like that of a child getting a drink of water or the wind blowing through the rafters, but more the kind of noises you hear when someone is in the process of packing your valuables into a bag and making away with them; I froze to the spot.
Well that was the first thing I did. Then I ran downstairs in my pyjamas hoping to take on whatever number of strung out junkies might have been ransacking the place. As I don’t have a great track record in speed, I only managed to get a glimpse of them drive away with anything of value that I ever owned. It was only afterwards that I wondered what the hell I would have done with them, or what they might have done with me, had we had a face to face confrontation. It's a bit like a dog chasing a car. I mean, what would it do if it got it?
So I’ve been thinking about fear, and the fight or flight instinct and what makes people afraid of different things. I didn’t manage to do my Sheela-na-Gigs number (read old blog on that by scrolling through the archives), but if I did learn one thing, it was that now I know the feeling of fear. It’s a bit like the dreads and sweats and dry mouth that I get before going on stage, multiplied by infinity to include your bones melting while you run at full speed towards the danger that is causing all of this to happen.
I imagine fear is easier to deal with when you can see the demon: in this case a bunch of strung out scangers in shell suits. But what when you’re afraid of something that doesn’t have a face, like the fear of death, poverty, failure and all the things that have people tossing and turning at night. Why is it that one person gets into knots about things that another person doesn’t give two hoots about?
I had this friend once who had sleepless nights worrying about not having enough money. He and his wife both had great jobs. They had two cars, two houses, two children and a boat. They weren’t at risk of losing their jobs or anything; it was just the thought of it that kept him awake. The thought that it may sometime actually happen was the worry, not the actual situation. And that man made me realise that most of the things we fear or not things at all, they are notions, the ‘what if’ notion of how everything might fall apart. So at the end of the day, real freedom is about not being afraid, isn’t it?
I began to be proud of the fact that I’ve had the guts to do things a lot of people fear, like not having a real job (I’m a wroiter loike), being openly in a same sex relationship, getting through the week with 200 quid to feed four of us, not owning my house. Ah, I could go on about all the adventures travelling across the globe and shaky money exchanges in Asian countries and all that lark.
I was starting to get cocky about not being afraid of so many things,but then I realised that it's actually all just random. One person fears one thing and another something else, so I started thinking about the things that terrify me. Not burglars.I’ll run downstairs in my 'Hello Kitty' pyjamas to ward off armed masked men any day of the week. But then I remembered the time that there was an intruder in the house that had me bricking it. I remember screaming, sweating, shaking and being stuck to my bed. And I knew that if he ever came back I'd be the very same. Funny thing is, it wasn't one of those crazed burglars, just a little fella: a mouse! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Jedward Thing

Fortunately for me, I am one of those altruistic, non-judgemental, non-opinionated people who see other peoples spin on life as an interesting and enriching complement to ones own beliefs and values. Not.
So I’m trying to come to grips with living under the same roof as a pre-teen who is a Jedicated Jedwardian. Now, if you have not yet come across Jedward, let me explain in brief: identical twins who are famous for singing out of tune and acting and looking about 12 years old when they are, in fact, about to turn 19 next month. If I were to use one of my pre-teens favourite derogatory comments to describe them it would be ‘so gay’, but apparently they are neither so gay nor even gay, well at least not in the eyes of my pubescent daughter.
When they first appeared on X Factor, they cited one of their reasons for entering the competition was that they wanted to meet lots of girls who'd be their fans (they said it in between saying the word 'like' repeatedly), and indeed that has become a reality. I know all about their fans because I recently had the pleasure of seeing them in concert. Now not that I'd go to a Jedward concert or anything, of course it was all a big coincidence, I swear. I dropped my daughter outside the venue and even though she had long gone into the hall to do a bit of screaming and fainting, I decided to lurk around the place to get some fresh air, and would you believe it, I just happened to bump into a friend who worked as a roadie for the show. He insisted on pushing a few free tickets into my hand, and, well what could I do? Yes, that's right, I went to the gig on a fact finding mission to see what sort of people worship them other than my daughter, and true it was; Jedward have a huge female following, only thing is that most of them are aged between 8 and 11 with a gap up to the next bunch who, like myself, were the mammies.
But seriously, there’s something about them. They sing, dance and say stupid things, and you just can’t help laughing. It’s not even a mockery thing, but whenever I see them I can’t help having a giggle. Let's face it: they epitomize the Ireland that kids that age have grown up in. This is the new Irish teen. This is what happens when you give up piling turf into baskets on a donkeys back, it's what happens when we stop dancing at the crossroads and start living in a world of making SIMS characters. Because c'mon, if Jedward aren't avatars themselves, they've at least modeled themselves on avatars, after all, there are no real human beings who look anything like them.
But they redeemed themselves on stage. They sang an old Bay City Rollers number which reminded me of my own tartan past, so I did have to shut up when my daughter swore she’d always love them, because I remembered swearing similar about the Rollers once upon a time.Oh God, the Rollers, but then I ditched them for Gary Glitter and then Showaddy Waddy and David Cassidy and Donny Osmond and all of those people who are just proof that history does repeat itself. I went home humming the Rollers song, grinning and wondering what's going to replace Jedward next year. After all, it could be worse, they could have been triplets.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What To Wear?

Having decided to take my progress as a writer seriously, I recently returned to the day job. It takes a bit of getting used to, but most jobs are the same really. You have stuff to do and you have to do parts of it with people who are neither family nor friends. In some cases they become one or the other or both, but mostly they just get on your nerves and you end up spending more time with them than you do with your own family and friends anyways.
The thing that’s been bothering me though, is this: what to wear?
I just can’t help it, but whenever I wear formal work clothes it throws me back about thirty years to when I had to wear a school uniform. It’s the same principle really, you’re made wear uncomfortable clothes that look stupid but send out the message that you belong to some organisation or other. Well it’s not exactly a uniform in this job; I’d actually like it if I had to wear a peaked cap and a traffic warden’s outfit. There’s something sexy about those kinds of uniforms, and if I didn’t take an allergic reaction to entering hospitals I may even have considered becoming a nurse just for the sake of the uniform. After all, nurses get to have a lot of sex and it all boils down to the nurse’s outfit. I know this firsthand, as I’ve seen porn movies and there are lots of nurses in them, bold ones who haven’t even taken off the uniforms before filming.
In my case, I headed down to the fatty shop and bought a few pairs of grey pants and some hideous pin striped blouses. I dug out two old pairs of shoes with a heel on them and unearthed a bottle of foundation somewhere. I put on the stuff I’d bought and remembered my green and yellow school uniform and how wrong it felt not to be wearing real clothes. I applied the war paint, to include plum coloured lipstick. I felt a lump in my throat leaving my Converse runners and blue jeans at the end of the bed, but I reminded myself of the looming pay check and how much better that is than avoiding debt collectors and writing bad poetry.
I wouldn’t mind what I call ‘real work clothes’. Painters, for example, wearing protective clothing, or a farmer wearing his wellies and big anorak, but I just can’t get my head around why you have to put on a new persona and wear itchy, dorky, power monger garb just because you’re sitting at a desk putting information into a computer.
Maybe it’s to send out the image that people who wear Converse are not real people. After all, how could they have jobs if they wear runners? Indeed, it’s probably only poets and people with half written novels who wear Converse.
Next week we’re all meeting for a so called ‘social’ and I’m beginning to get that feeling that I had as a teenager when we went to the first school discos. I’m excited about meeting up after work when we’re allowed to wear our real clothes, the ones that reflect upon our real selves. Then again, perhaps I’ll be disappointed. The others might turn up in that sort of proscribed leisure gear. The kind of really tame striped tops and cream pants. After all, it is dinner we’re planning. But I don’t care. I’m going to be a real rebel and wear my Converse. So hmmph. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

First Day Of School

 My little boy just started school last week, so I’ve been through the usual: going all mushy about how tiny he looks in his school uniform, standing at the school gate in tears, worrying about him being bullied, lonely, upset or overlooked by some crabby teacher. Will he get lost in the big school building and will other kids talk to him at break times? So I made some excuse to go into the school on day two, said I wanted to pay for some scheme or other that isn’t really due until Christmas, and I managed to catch hold of the school principal in the corridor. She knows me, I already have a child in the school, so I just mentioned that she should keep an eye on my little fella and be nice to him and all that.
I did feel a tad upset when she more or less told me to get over myself, but I suppose she has a point considering that this is his first day of secondary school, and he is thirteen after all. Thing is though, I never really had a cry when any of them started primary. They were four years old, which meant that my life had become preoccupied with an animated train engine, a loopy purple dinosaur surrounded by a bunch of very clean and Christian looking kids with big smiles and great singing voices, jigsaw puzzles, Lego, sturdily built books that could be thrown at you to read over again and again and again, and endless nursery rhymes about ten bloody sausages sizzling on a pan. The toilet always had a poo in it and every room in the house was destroyed with scribbly writing and strewn with toys. Yes, at age four I was damn happy to see those kids off to school. I think I stayed just long enough to shove him into the teacher’s arms and assure her he would stop screaming once I left. Then I went for coffee with real grown ups, watched a movie with real people doing grown up things and looked at the clean toilet a few times before going back to the school at 2pm to pick him up, pretending that I didn’t realise they got off at noon during the first week.

But secondary school, well its serious isn’t it? This is about your kid growing up, and the scary thing is that when they stop leaving poo in the toilet they also stop crying and telling you what’s wrong. Secondary school will determine their attitude towards the grown up world. Other grown ups will influence them and so will other kids.
What do you do when you’re sending your child to a place where all the things you’ve protected him from will be on offer? From religion classes to drug dealing, school can be a dangerous place.
I decided that the principal was right though, I’d have to get over myself, after all, isn’t this what I wanted, for my kid to grow up? On the way out I almost ran into a brand new VW Golf racing into the school grounds. The driver was wearing a school uniform and didn’t look much older than my son. I wondered should I go back into the school and tell him to be careful with his driving in case any of the first years are out in the car park, but I decided it mightn’t look great and I’d been warned by my little fella to behave myself so I went home instead and reminisced about the good old days of nursery rhymes and dinosaurs and poo, and yeah, I did, I had a little cry. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belfast For Me

When I was a kid in the 70’s there was a place in Ireland we used to hear about on the news, in black and white of course, called Belfast, and back then I thought it must have been Africa or Israel or somewhere, because wherever it was, it was one of those far away countries in the throes of war. But Belfast really was in Ireland and what was going on there were ‘the troubles’, which is a word the Irish use for war when it’s happening in their own country.
By the 80’s I knew a bit more, and I did take a trip to Belfast, not on a political mission or anything, it was to buy a telly and condoms. When we headed down the main shopping streets we were frisked by armed soldiers and I vaguely remember a lot of barbed wire and wasteland.
Two years ago, I was invited back there to represent Connacht in the BBC4 All Island poetry slam. ‘All Island’ is the new word for ‘Ireland including Northern Ireland.’ It was a riot, but not like the riots back in the day. The audience were a bit rowdy, but they were great, and after the event there was a mad open mic. session where people just grabbed the mic. and recited their own poetry or other peoples poetry or  sang a song or just ranted on about something or other. Some Arts organisation put us up in an apartment near town, and even though there were only two beds for about ten of us, the beds weren’t really that necessary because most people didn’t get to bed at all. It wasn’t until last year that I managed to get to see Belfast by day: a mix between steamy chip shops, trendy European Boulevards and the odd bit of wasteland here and there. I gave a reading in some pub and I didn’t dare ask what part of town I was in, I just pretended to be really cool about the whole thing.
But it was only last week that I really saw Belfast, and that’s when I fell in love with the place. Pulling into the bus station brought back all the nostalgia of travelling through Siberia twenty years ago, and it’s great when you start to get to know a place. I was able to tell a few tourists on the bus that the Hotel Europa at the station is the most bombed hotel in the world. Belfast just started feeling like home.


Later that day, a taxi drove me to the West Club on the Falls Road. Housing estates, the famous Divis flats and mural upon mural (Derry eat your heart out) For some reason I love this place. I love the betting shops, the chippers, the cheap hairdressers and the net curtains on houses. You really don’t need the Bobby Sands memorials or the half peeled away ‘join Sinn Fein’ posters to know you’re in Catholic Belfast. Even the yelping dogs on the street have a catholic look about them, and the virgin Mary gives you the eye that only a catholic virgin knows. The West Club on the Falls Road is full of middle aged working class men and women and all of them know how to dress well. The women are actually able to walk in their heels and there’s enough jewellery flashing to give the place the feel of Christmas.
And this is why I love Belfast. Where else in the world do ordinary every day people fill a place in the middle of the day to listen to poets? In a way I feel small, because every piece I read could surely only be a shadow on what some of these people could write about if they weren’t busy doing real life things. There are no hecklers, drunks or smart wannabe poets like me, and I’m glad I’ve downed two gins for my nerves when I spot Gerry Adams in the audience. They’re a great audience and I’m loving it, but still, I do want to be on the right side of them.
It ends on a high when Gerry Adams buys my book and asks me to sign it. I mean, Gerry Adams asking for MY signature. Leaving the West Club was a total anti-climax. I didn’t want West Belfast to be over for me, but it was.
I left early next morning with a rotten hangover and an appointment in Budapest. Arriving in Budapest at dusk and greeted by illuminated castles and bridges was an experience. But my heart was still in Belfast. Who cares about castles when you could be booking into a wee room in the Europa Hotel?