Monday, December 5, 2011

The Office Xmas Bash...


My latest article for the Galway Now Magazine... So go on out and buy the Mag as there is much better stuff in it than what I write...


While driving to work recently, I spotted something on the footpath that brought back memories. It was a crumpled up fast food bag spilling out the remains of a half eaten hamburger and about a dozen chips. The blackbirds were having it for breakfast. What evoked the memories though, was that beside these stale remnants of the night before was a stiletto-heeled shoe. Just one. Ah yes, it all came flooding back, that first office party I ever went to. It was the Christmas party and I was about 20, not long out of college and clueless as to what I should expect.  
I played safe and borrowed a classic LBD (little black dress) from a friend. OK then, the dress wasn’t all that little, but back then I was, which meant that the cleavage gaped across my breast like an open handbag, and one of the straps kept slipping down my shoulder. My feet were squeezed so tightly into my high heel shoes that I could have given lessons to Cinderella’s stepsisters in the art of wearing shoes that are at least two sizes too small. And that’s about as much as I remember.
  I do vaguely remember free drinks. There was champagne upon arrival, wine with dinner and after that either a free bar or a lot of generous people handing me whatever took my fancy – pints, shorts, cocktails and shots.
The way it should be - bring back the olden days!
Oh and singing. I remember singing along to one of the songs but as nobody was listening I decided it would be hilarious to climb  onto a table  and perform the song from there. It must have been the tight shoes that made me trip. After that all I remember is waking up the next morning to find a rip in the cleavage of the dress (yes, I was wearing it in bed), and one shoe missing. So somewhere between rolling off the table and waking up fully clothed in my own bed, I lost a shoe. And that’s why the other day when I saw that shoe beside the fast food bag, I couldn’t help but wonder if my shoe from all those years ago might have found the same fate?
I guess I’ll never know. There are gaps that I have not filled to this day. How did I get home? Where was my shoe? And why did I get funny looks from everyone in the office for the next six months?

There are some things you will never find out,  so I decided not to beat myself up over it. Instead, I would learn from my mistakes and never let something that stupid happen ever again. Especially not when it came to the professional world where you have to work with the people who you have ridiculed yourself in front of.
 I learned from these mistakes and never erred again. NOT. In fact, it got worse. Spilling drinks on colleagues and bosses, coming home   without both shoes, without my glasses, my money, my phone, my coat, or worse, not coming home at all. My most cringeworthy Christmas party  party-piece was removing my boss’s lovely white fur coat from the cloakroom and believing that it would be hysterically funny to put it on my lap and pretend it was a kitty cat. When she gave me the evil eye across the room I made a catlike claw sign with my hands, while hissing the word ‘meow’ in her direction – really funny!  After that I danced around the dance floor pretending the coat was a polar bear. It was great fun but the rest of the work crowd didn’t join in and I knew it was only because they were afraid of the boss. All the same, I think she took in good sport. I never got a chance to chat to her about it because shortly after that night I was let go due to some unexpected changes in company strategy that meant my role was no longer viable. It seemed that the business of Christmas parties wasn’t as much fun as  they were before, and that it probably isn’t a good idea to dance with coats or lose shoes.

So these days, as a Christmas Party veteran I would suggest the following advice to all those planning their Office night out.

1.     Turn up. Despite the fact that I may have been a lot better off never showing up to the office party, and also might still have that shoe and the other lost items, as a rule, it is expected that you do actually turn up. From there it’s up to you to keep it sane.
2.     Dress appropriately. Rule of thumb, if it’s too short, tight, see-through, or comes with flashing lights; don’t wear it.   
3.     Take a page out of Cinder’s book and leave the party before someone else suggests that it’s time for you to go home.
4.     Limit what you drink. Easier said than done. But do you really want to arrive home with one shoe? You can plan your drinking by starting with soft drinks and having your first alcoholic drink later in the evening.
5.     Promise nothing. I read an article recently about how an employee asked his manager for a pay rise at the Christmas party. The manager agreed that this would happen, and even though the promise was vague, when the pay rise never happened the employee left the company and sued on the grounds of constructive dismissal.
6.     Plan how you will get home. Order a taxi in advance or have a lift arranged. You do want to get home, don’t you?
7.     Careful about who you bring. Some office parties invite people to bring guests. I a friend of mine invited a guy along who she barely knew. As the night progressed her date got into a fistfight with another guy at the party. It was so bad that one of them broke his nose. Since then my friend is constantly reminded of the ‘nose incident’.  You just never know what trouble other people will get you into.
Do remember to enjoy yourself. These parties are great if you get the balance right. So go on and have a great night, just not too great!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


A few years ago I was teaching 
literacy skills to various adults who, for whatever reason, hadn’t gotten around to learning how to read or write. It didn’t take long for me to realize that you actually have to be extra clever as an adult if you need to navigate the world without literacy. One guy who I taught was a publican another worked in a factory. There was a dressmaker, a deliveryman, a taxi driver and various other occupations. They all had two things in common: they were experts in working around not having literacy, and they all kept their lack of literacy skills a secret.At first I had this na├»ve idea that actually they were managing fine and didn’t need to read and write seeing as they could manage perfectly well without it thank you. Of course, I soon found out otherwise. The taxi driver told me that although he knew all the streets of the city by memory, he was brought to utter embarrassment when the local school asked him to fill out a form for his son’s swimming lessons. In fact, when we started out, his goal was to learn how to spell the names of his four children. The dressmaker told me that although she loved health and fitness, she could never join a gym because she wouldn’t have the confidence to fill out the application form. But what really brought it home to me when the publican asked me what all the writing on a cereal box was about.
It made me think about how much writing hits you from the time you get up in the morning – is this one shampoo or shower gel? What kind of milk is it? What are these flyers about that come in the letterbox? Well for those of us who can read, we know that most of it is a lot of irrelevant advertising, but when you can’t, you’re left with a feeling that you’re missing out on what’s really going on in the world. And that’s when you begin to doubt yourself and from there you lose your confidence and then it’s all a big slippery slope.
The one thing that really got to me with all of my students was that they would consistently talk about ‘not having an education’.
I might be playing around with words, because I know what they meant, but I always went to lengths to point out that they had indeed received an education, most of them, no, all of them, a richer education than my own, but that they may have been missing out on ‘a schooling’. That said, most of them had been to school until about the age of 12, so they did in fact have enough schooling to learn how to read and write, hence one does have to wonder why school lets so many people down (but I’ll elaborate on that one later).
So what then, is education? Well the dictionary tells us that it’s ‘the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.’
And if you agree with that just make sure that you don’t ever send your children to school. School is a place where you get detention if you’re not wearing the right anorak with the school crest on it. It’s a place where you learn to jump through hoops like a little circus dog, and it’s a place where you pick your subjects not at all based on acquiring general knowledge or developing the powers of reasoning and judgment. You pick the subjects that will get you the most points for the least amount of effort. So even though one of my teenage sons is mad for history, he dropped it at school because ‘I have really bad hand writing and there’s so much writing in the test and they take away points if it’s messy.’ His six subjects are: English, Irish (because you have to), Maths, Physics, Accounting, Economics and German. So there goes acquiring ‘general’ knowledge for a start. But hang on a minute, what about the powers of reasoning and judgement and all that preparing for ‘mature’ life? Well you see, here’s the thing. Last week I asked my teenage daughter to share the joke when she was laughing out loud at some home video. It was one taken at lunchtime in school. Two boys from the class were having a rap competition. One, an African kid, shit hot and brilliant, rapping away with his own words, his own work, and a bunch of kids dancing to it. Then the other kid, a little small Irish guy who decided he was up for the challenge, and a whole pile of kids high on the word-off competition, jiving at the locker rooms. And even though I knew that the people I worked with who never went to school in their teens probably got a better education and became successful in what they did, I also had a moment of enlightenment, where I realized that sometimes school really does give people an education: an amazing, great experience of talent, teamwork, expression and creativity. In the end it really is all about reading, but only between the lines. School does educate people. But only at break time and in between the lessons. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Infidelity of the Music Collection

The first record I ever bought was 'Power to All our Friends' by Cliff Richard.  Ah come on now, you can't blame me, I mean what else would you be spending your First Holy Communion money on? Well ok, there was also the pink nightdress case (that I still have) and a gold watch with a black face that I don't still have. My Mammy is still minding the rest of the money until I'm big.
It was a single, in a sleeve, and even if I can't remember what the song on the B side was, I do know that I played both sides over and over until it was too scratched to get any sound out of at all. But by then I had two records. The next one was Gary Glitter 'I love, you love.' And I did. I loved Gary Glitter so much that come Christmas I even got the Gary Glitter 1974 Annual. If I'd only known at that tender age that he might even have loved me back had I played my cards right...
Skip a few years to the Boomtown Rats, and the Moving Hearts. Blame the hormones for the Clash, the Sex Pistols, anything Punk or Bowie with a secret few bits of Abba and the Carpenters.
But my point is this - they were records, and as one of the obnoxious teenagers asked me when he was but a child: 'what are those black circle things in the thin covers?' Whatever they were, they are gone. Replaced by the cassette tapes that ended up tangled on trees. Followed by the CD collection that ended up as a collection of empty boxes with the CD's piled into the glove compartments of cars or stacked on top of sad domestic ghetto blasters that you could never turn higher than half it's potential because of neighbours or babies or just because it's loud.
So along came electronic media. It seemed like a good idea at the time. All your music on your laptop and you put it on to your ipod and you do a back up too, just in case, but you actually don't, and then the laptop gets stolen and the ipod falls down the toilet, so you start all over again. Then you plug in your ipod and the whole laptop goes into meltdown, or sometimes you don't do anything but you just lose all your music anyways and your kids smirk at you because you actually paid for music so it must be your own fault really.
Much worse though, is having about 64 of whatever those giga yokes are called, jam packed with every song in the universe that you ever listened to, but you still can't find a song you like and you spend most of your time clicking on to the next song. Then you hear a song on the radio that you think you can't live without having on your ipod but when you go to download it, it tells you that your ipod is full. So you delete some other song but a week later you miss that song and want it back. But you have to be cruel to be kind.
Music collections are just unfaithful. I could sing about it...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

God Loves the Atheist

One thing that annoys me about God is that he (and there's no point in even considering calling him she, or he/she or it, because let's face it, there is no religion with a lady God, is there?) Well, he seems to prefer atheists. I mean, I don't believe in him and he makes good things happen to me all the time. And he seems to pick good godfearing believers to make bad things happen to, maybe he wants to test them or something.

But in another way you can't blame him. Atheists solve their own problems without asking God to do it for them. They leave God alone and don't expect him to solve all of their problems like they were kids who need to ask a parent for everything. And atheists don't go to war with other atheists because they believe that their way of being an atheist is better than someone else's way of being an atheist.

And atheists don't go around to peoples houses when they're just about to sit down for dinner and start talking about the lion lying with the lamb or ringing bells and singing hare hare krishna. And because of that, God loves them.

I suppose God is being clever. He loves atheists so that they'll love him back for being so good to them. And we do. So remember, before you knock them: atheists do love God. And remember the thing about how it's easier for a rich man to get through the eye of a needle? Well Churches are rich and atheists are not. So guess who's going to heaven first? Thing is, I'll probably hate it, it'll be full of bible thumping do-gooders and tame lions.
Ah well....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Money

I was on this training course there the past few days. It was hard to keep my mouth shut really, because I sometimes teach courses like the one I was on, and I just had so much to contradict and when I wasn't contradicting I was shouting up the answers before everyone else, because after all, I've heard all of this at least 100 times before. Well actually, I didn't keep my mouth shut, so I suppose I can't say that it was difficult as it didn't actually happen.
Well the old question came up on motivation: does money motivate people?
You had to write your answer on a post-it note and stick it on the wall, when it would later be revisited. I knew that the clever answer would be no, because the next part of the exercise would be writing down all the things that motivate and/or de-motivate you, and of course nobody was writing down money (except me of course, just to annoy the trainer as I knew that the next part of the exercise was going to be him pointing out that none of us had listed money as a motivator).
Well actually, I do think that money is a motivator. Even if you are loaded, what you get paid to do your job is symbolic of how you are valued. And even though it's the root of all evil and all that, it still is the axis upon which our world turns.
Money - the reason that people, countries, continents, can starve to death. The reason that a small bunch of arseholes can rule the world, the reason that I haven't gotten to see as much of the world as I'd like to, and the reason that we eat pancakes shortly before pay day.
I'd like to go into more detail, but because of money I'm doing a day job these days and am too tired to write much or do or say anything creative. Because of money I can't work full time as a writer, not even as a bad writer. But that said, working for the man is good writing material. Well it will be, eventually, when I get the gold watch and the pension, probably at age 75.
So what does motivate people? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? In my case its my bad hip. I need to stretch it. After that, I need to get out of the house before I have to speak to the bunch of teens who live here.
And the other things - recognition, thanks, success, teamwork and all the usual crap. Well they all end in money I suppose, somehow.
Even this blog, c'mon, I want your donations, want it to make money. And when it does, then I can sit back smoking a lady pipe and throwing wildly extravagant parties telling people how money don't mean nothing...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Understanding & Speaking Teenglish.



They say the best way to learn a language is by having full immersion into the culture of the people who speak it, so given that my life rotates around half a dozen teenagers, it hasn’t been too difficult to start picking up the lingo.  It’s a mixture between English phrases as I once knew them, only now they have a completely different interpretation to what I once understood, along with some new vocabulary. Of course, how you interpret it is also connected to the vitriol, whine, mutter or whisper with which the language is uttered.
So I’ve learnt that "I’m bored" really means "I need your help, I don’t have the confidence to do the things that would inspire me so now I don’t know what to do with myself". Of course, if you answer in English, it will not be understood, so if you have to answer in Teenglish by thinking of what you would like to suggest and then rewording it to make it understood. So let’s take another example such as "I hate you" which in fact means "I need you to tell me you love me”, you would think of the answer (for example: how could you say such a hurtful thing after all I do for you, you ungrateful little so and so?) Then you translate it back into Teenglish which will give you something like: “you might hate me, but come over here and give me a hug because I still love you, you brat.” Things like ‘I hate school" mean ''Something happened at school. Ask me what happened" and “I can do whatever I want" means "I feel helpless and out of control". Teenglish sounds so much like my native tongue, English, that at times if I were to take it as that it would well and truly push my buttons into believing that the correct response would be a clip across the ear. But no, I’ll probably be a native speaker by the time they’ve left home, reverted to English, had babies and start suggesting  I learn Babglish.
Anything described as ‘gay’ has nothing to do with either homosexuality or homophobia, it’s just gay. Expect it, and most sentences to have the word ‘like’ pronounced ‘laak’ at the end of it. So something that’s ‘a bit gay laak’, is probably something old fashioned, respectable, uncool or all three.
“You never give me what I want" means "I need something from you and it is hard for me to convince you". Of course don’t take the word ‘you’ as meaning you, it in fact means that the teenager who is speaking is having a sudden hormone rush go through them so that the word ‘you’ means any thing or person outside themselves that is within pointing or shouting range. "No one loves me in this family" is the cue for "I am looking for some attention" while “I am going to run away" means "I am afraid of ever leaving this place, I’m stuck."
At times your teenager will speak to you in human language too, but listen to them converse with their peers and you may hear things like ‘yo sup homie?’ which means ‘how are you, my friend?’ or ‘you got mad skizzils’, meaning that they find the person in question to be very talented, while I recently discovered that ‘the lights are on’ means there is a parent within earshot.
"You don't care about me" means "I need you to tell me you care about me", but sometimes it just means “I know how to rile you and I have a few other things that will get you going if this one doesn’t work.” "All the other kids get to go and I don't" means "One kid is getting to go and I’m chancing my arm that I’ll be allowed go too".  In this case I advise asking for a list of ‘all’ the kids so that you can confirm with their parents (in English) that this is the case. It may then change to “Well my friend is allowed go, and if I get to go so will so and so.”
 "I don't have to listen to you" means "I wish I didn’t need to listen to you" and "You are cruel" means "Tell me you love me" (Although in my case it can be the exact same meaning as the English version, and not without good reason). "You never let me do anything I want" is Teenglish for "I wish I was already an adult and I’m going to take it out on you that I’m not".
And everything is fly. Not fly as in the pesky little insects; rather, it describes the cool, normally preceded by ‘pretty’. So if you are pretty fly, it’s the new cool. (And I thought cool was a cool word, but apparently not). Wicked has nothing to do with witches, wicked is brilliant. Abbreviations have turned into words, so it’s OMG and LOL laak…
When all the pretty fly friends have exited the house, your teen will revert to full sentences such as  "I don't need you", said in a huffy voice and translated as "I need you so much I feel helpless". "I wish you would die" means "Get out of my way, I can’t see the telly”. I suggest you do get out of the way of the telly in this case.  "Life sucks" means "I need your help in finding meaning in life" and “It is all your fault" means "I feel guilty" But remember that feeling guilty is part of the human condition and demonstrates that your child has almost become an adult. This the part where I find myself speaking Teenglish believing deep down that whatever is wrong really is my fault, and who cares if the damn teen feels guilty for belonging to the planet, because most of the time, so do I.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bootcamp

I saw an ad in the local newspaper there last week for a bootcamp. Now I know that I should be wary of anything that promises to make you thinner, healthier and fitter, is currently in fashion and costs money, because I normally end up just spending the money and not getting thinner, healthier, fitter or one bit happier. But I rang the guy anyways and told him about how I was an ageing unfit fat lady who still dreams of being young and beautiful, so he told me to come along, that it would be great and that I really wouldn't be the laughing stock. In fact, he told me, people of all fitness levels will be there and the strong would be supportive of the weak.
So I decided to go, I geared myself up, told myself that I would turn out to be one of the strong people on the course. I was going to get that kind of energy that mothers get when their child is trapped under a car that enables them to lift the car up with one hand.
Of course I didn't go. But I did go to the supermarket, and that was a struggle in itself. You use up a lot of energy going over to one isle and then all they way back to the far isle because you need garlic. Then you have to take everything out of the trolley and put it onto the counter to have it checked out. Then you have to pack it and get it back in the trolley. The guy from bootcamp said there'd be exercises using all muscles, but I bet he doesn't have one that simulates the muscles you use at the supermarket.
So I got to the checkout and realised that my laser card was still in the little purse that I put it into in Barcelona because everybody told me I was going to be robbed over there if I had a bag. And the purse with the laser card was in my anorak pocket which was hanging in hallway of my house. I sweated a bit but remembered I had my credit card. Then I remembered that I can't remember the pin number of said credit card, so I sweated a big bit, mumbling things such as 'I have money, really, I just don't have my card.' A manager was called and I then suggested that I pop home and get the card, it would only take five minutes, but the manager said that even though that was fine, I'd still have to check it all out over again, and at this stage supermarketcamp was getting a bit strenuous.
Artists Impression of me at Bootcamp
I then realised that I had eighty-something euro on me - my child's savings that I had agreed to put into the credit union, so I put back the unnecessary items such as bread and milk and got home with the wine, candles and pizza.
And don't forget this - bringing back the trolley is also work if the coin you have in it wont yank out of the slot.
Yesterday I took some visitors up diamond hill in Connemara, I was out of breath after about 100 metres, so I kept stopping and turning around saying 'wow, look at that view' just to pretend that I was struck with awe and not completely exhausted upon setting out on a piddly little tourist Sunday afternoon walk.
I'm not sure if the visitors were convinced. But I still believe in bootcamp, so next week, here I come...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Planning a Pet, or a Baby?

If you ever find yourself under pressure to buy a pet for a child who you know won’t look after it, here are some good tips preparing for same:
A Budgie: Buy a smoke alarm and let the battery in it run down. It will make an unbearable chirping/beeping sound every two or three minutes. Put it into a cage and hang it far away enough that you won’t be able to get to it. Then buy some sandpaper and a pair of fake nails. Stand outside your child’s bedroom all night and scratch the nails up and down on the paper to imitate the nice sound of the budgie being playful.  If this does not put your child off, remind him or her that on top of this there will also be a lot of gooey poo to clean and that eventually there will be an extremely traumatic day when they will find the dead budgie on the bottom of the cage. If they still want the budgie, buy one.
For a dog: Buy a bowl and pour some dog food into it. Then shake it so that bits of the food are all over the floor. Demand that your child clean it up, because ‘after all, it’s your dog!’ Eat their shoes. Then get balls of dog hair and randomly put them around the house. Put a big ball of dog hair in your child’s lunchbox and add two or three balls of dog hair to the wash so that it spreads out evenly among the clothes. Jump onto the child and paw them when they are feeling their most sensitive and tired. Leave big lumps of poo around the house and tell your child to clean it, because ‘after all, it’s your dog!’ If they still want the dog, buy one, but leave home yourself.
Preparing for a cat is easier. You just have to insist that every window in the house be left open in the middle of winter, in case the cat needs to get in. In the middle of the night you will wake up to find about three or four stray cats wandering around the house. Get your child out of bed and ask them to help you shoo the cats out of the house. You then realize that your own cat is not home yet.  Get the kids back up again and start crying hysterically ‘the cat is missing’. Drive around and look for a dead cat.
If you do not plan a pet, but are planning a child, do all of the above except keep every window shut instead of open, walk around with a piece of vomit on your shoulder and then give away all of your money and get into debt. You are now ready for parenthood.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Catholic Miracle

 I was born into the world of Catholics. My parents weren't religious, but we were bred on guilt and the devil. Jesus was someone who was crucified because of me and after that some Irish Rebels died for my country, or more specificallly - for me personally. So it was a good start really. I learnt that if I ever did anything that felt good or right, it was probably wrong. And Jesus wasn't all that far away, he had managers on earth (a bit like school and work really), and they were the nuns and priests who you had to genuflect to because after all, they had given up all their wealth to go and live in palatial homes where they never got to experience fun things like paying bills or cooking or waiting for drunks to come home.
For a short while I liked the idea of it, but by the age of 7 I reckoned I was probably going to hell anyway because I got a chocolate stain ( it was a curly wurly) on my communion dress and I peed myself a few months later when walking in a May procession wearing that same communion dress.

By 11 or 12 I'd started to understand that the world was not actually flat and that it was probably unlikely that there was another layer of the world above the clouds. By 15 I'd confirmed that thought when I first went in an airplane. It was great being a rebel and not going to mass, even if it was difficult to explain to my parents how I got bitten by a horse when I should have been in church.
Years later it turned out that the whole thing was a farce - abuse, corruption, crime, the works. It turned out that the Catholic church was way up there with the mafia and the devils own tempation. But the miracle is this:
The badness of it all has made people even more supportive. As I always say, you can't underestimate the power of denial. The thing is though, that I didn't leave the church because of all the hypocrisy, evil and the works, I left it because I just don't believe that when you die you don't really die at all, you just get filtered into a good pile or a bad pile. Good - you go Butlins, bad you go to the Electric Picnic.
All the same though, the fact that they're still going strong is a miracle really, isn't it?