Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Dangers of Eavesdropping

I was given the good advice once that you should never get into conversation with the people sitting beside you on busses, trains or planes. Of course I didn’t listen to it and had to learn the hard way, because even the most fascinating piece of small talk is only good for ten minutes. Three hours later you might feel like slitting your wrists only that this is the real reason they don’t let you take knives onto planes.

What about other peoples’ conversations though? I was on the bus today from Dublin to Galway and just couldn’t help overhearing the new friendship between a Swiss woman and some sort of half German/half Irish guy who didn’t know his arse from his elbow. I am calling the Swiss girl ‘woman’ as this is politically correct, but if you ask me; anyone under 30 is a child and has not yet reached the age of bitter and twisted reason.
So she’s here to do a language course and has just spent two days sightseeing in Dublin before boarding the bus to Galway. She tells him that all of her friends who have done language courses let her know that Galway was the place: it’s small and cosy and friendly, Dublin is too big and dangerous. I’m itching to interject already. I want to tell her that not too long ago one of her compatriots on a language holiday was raped and murdered by a man who’d still be hanging out in Galway if he’d only raped and robbed and injured her instead. But the Halfling is telling her that she’s made the right decision, and that Dublin, after all, has a population of 1.9 million. What? I decide that this Mr Nice Guy was homeschooled, so I allow him live his dream of the almost 2 million populated metropolis of Dublin and listen to the now chums – they’ve exchanged names at this stage, talk about how shocking the high heels of the Dublin girls are, and how she has only got her runners with her. They both smugly agree that runners make a lot more sense than high heels. So I’m there thinking that if I’m pushing 50 and still try to squeeze into the odd heel, how come these young ones think that a pair of Adidas runners will be a big hit in the Galwegian disco?
At this stage I decide it’s battle or my iPod. I have those fancy head phones that you can blare up and nobody hears you, and you hear the music full force but you also hear yourself swallow, and a yawn sounds like a Tsunami. I can’t help it, but in between songs I get a few seconds of ‘the sheeps, so many sheeps.’ For God’s sake, whether he’s moving in on the girl or not, could he not just tell her, in anticipation of her English course that the sheeps don’t come with an S. And worse, there are no sheep. Possibly we had passed two or three stray sheep somewhere along the road, but she kept on looking out into empty pastures reiterating the same words: ‘the sheeps, so many sheeps.
I put on my glasses to check if the white lines on the road are maybe stray sheeps that I hadn’t recognised, but even with the glasses they still look like white lines. He’s telling her that Galway is a hippy laid back city and I’m choking on the anger of the election results that always show Galway up as being the most conservative corner on the planet.
When we arrive he offers to help her with her bags, but apparently she can manage, so nothing major has come of the encounter. I get a taxi home and the Ghanian driver catches me up on the latest election results for Galway. He won’t tell me what he voted, other than that it was for change.
I’m exhausted from all this eavesdropping so I decide to go to the gym and work off all the frustration of non existent sheeps and high heels in the city of two million peoples. I think it’s worked until I go into the changing rooms. I have a habit of leaving my gear in a locker that will be surrounded by other people when I come back, even though the rest of the lockers are all free. So these two women are there, talking in Irish. Not your proper Connemara Irish, mind you. No, this is what I would call the parents of the Gael Scoil childrens’ Irish. The women who want to start an Irish speaking revolution by gossiping as Gaelige and rubbing designer handbags together. They’ve obviously been gossiping for a very long time as one of their children is flat out asleep on the floor of the changing room, right in front of where I’m supposed to change. So I do the thing that changing rooms were originally made for: I take off my clothes and put on my swimsuit to go for a nice relaxing post work out bathe. It doesn’t seem to phase them or impact on their conversation that a middle aged woman with the features of a small walrus is standing butt naked between them, so I wonder if I’m missing out on some serious eavesdropping as I stroll down to the pool.
It’s been a stressful day, but I still can’t bring myself to tell the families noisily splashing about that it’s actually well past the time for children to evacuate the pool. I just swim up and down like a little baby seal, or possibly like a more mature one, and head on in to the sauna. This is supposed to be my fifteen minutes of heat and silence, but no. Three little munchkins who are using fake I.D.’s to access the gym are in there talking about all the contacts they have for buying alcohol illegally. I’m dying to give them a few tips from my own day, but I remember the thing about not getting into conversation with people on busses and I decide to extend it to saunas.
My last port of call is the outdoor whirlpool. There are two large men talking about the match. I wonder what match it was and try to hear them, but seconds after I enter the whirlpool, it stops whirling. The two men get out and I push the button to start it again.  I’m on my own. Great things happen to women in whirlpools on their own. All of a sudden I feel lonely though. It’s time to go home, I think. This time, the changing rooms are empty. I wonder if the Swiss woman has settled in with her host family, and did she give the two million man her number. And what about the Irish speaking ladies, would they ever think of trying out French?
I pull in to the shops on the way home to get milk. There’s a man behind me in the queue. He’s on the phone. ‘Up all night’ he says, ‘three and a possible fourth’. It’s lambing season out this way, and I’m curious all right, but I don’t wait to ask him if this is about sheeps or high heels. It’s time for bed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Novel Idea

You may have noticed that I haven't been all that prolific of late with the blog. It's because I've decided to drop all leisurely writing until the novel is finished. So seeing as I've been working on it all afternoon I had an idea. I'll paste up 3 pages with the request of getting your honest feedback. If you want to read more, I could always paste up another bit, or email it to you. So here you go: 

Girl Racer – Chapter One
The Private not the Public

“Ma. Where are you Ma?”
I knew I’d have to shout louder than the telly and go in the direction of where you could smell cigarette smoke.
There was still no answer so I pushed open the door of the living room. She was on the good armchair, the one that didn’t have a big spring sticking out the seat of it, and even though the good one had a big tea stain ring on it’s wooden arm, she made sure to put her tea cup on the floor .There was a half full cup of tea with a skin growing on it, a nearly empty one and another empty that had turned into an ashtray. She had pulled the chair right up to the telly, almost near enough that that she could   fiddle with the rabbit’s ears on top of it without having to get up.
“Ma, I need to ask you.”
“Fifteen – Love.” The man on the telly had a funny voice and when I’d asked her  earlier what he was on about she had said that in tennis ‘love’ means nothing. Then she said to go away and not to be always annoying her. This was the kind of thing our Ma did instead of making apple tarts or spraying furniture polish all around the house. Even on a glorious day, you could forget about going to the park and getting an ice cream. If it was tennis season, all that happened in our house when the sun came out was that she’d  close the living room curtains to sit in the pitch dark watching people in shorts knocking balls across a net for ‘love – all’. 
 “What’s wrong with you now? For God’s sake, don’t you know I’m watching the tennis? You’re as bad as McEnroe with your whinging.”
“Ma, you know the way Da found me under a head of cabbage down the end of the garden?”
“Bloody right I do. Now would you ever be quiet, you never leave me alone.” Ma’s eyes rolled up with the fag smoke.
“Well Helen Byrne in my class said that she came from inside her mother’s tummy and they had to cut her Ma open to get the baby out.”
“Never heard such a load of rubbish in all my life, and I’m not surprised at her aul’
 one saying stuff like that, because that’s the kind of talk them ones in the corporation houses go on with. Now, get out of the way of the telly. Look, there’s the queen of England!”
“Where, playing tennis?”
“Ah you haven’t got a clue, get out and don’t be annoying me.”
“But I have got a clue Ma, her Ma said that cabbages don’t grow all year round and that all babies come out your privates and if they get stuck the doctors have to cut you open with a knife and pull it outa ya. Is it true Ma, is it?”
Ma lifted her arm and I ducked before she could get my head. I wasn’t sure if it was for saying “privates” or for blocking her view of John McEnroe and the Queen of England. 
Maybe it was just people in corporation estates who weren’t found under cabbages or brought by storks, but I knew, I just knew, that Mrs Byrne was telling the truth. I preferred their house to our house, even if it was a corporation house. There was hardly any difference really. The rooms were a bit smaller, but Mrs Byrne sprayed furniture polish all over the house and they had proper three piece suite and lots of little ornaments. Their living room was so perfect that nobody was allowed into it. If the priest called, he’d be brought into it, and anyone who got a cup of tea in that room, got it on a china cup and saucer. Their real house was the kitchen though. When Mrs Byrne wasn’t cleaning she’d sit at the kitchen table and drink tea with whoever else was there, and with nine kids there was always somebody home. The tea you’d get in the kitchen wasn’t in a china cup. It was served in a big metal teapot with a tea cosy and a whole heap of mugs around it. In the kitchen the milk and sugar came out of bottles and bags, in the good living room it came out of a jug and bowl. I was never sure which room was the best room to be greeted in at the Byrnes. In the kitchen it meant you were in. You were one of them, you belonged. Yet, in the living room – or the parlour – as Mrs Byrne called it, you were being acknowledged as being someone special. I had decided that for now, it was great to be in the kitchen, but that when I grew up and came to visit them when I was a famous person, they would probably insist on bringing me into the parlour and giving me the good china cups and the rest, and Mrs Byrne would have made fairy cakes especially.

 The ads came on and she lit herself another fag, then pulled herself off the armchair and headed towards the kitchen to put the kettle back on again.   
I followed her into the kitchen. The silver lid of the kettle fell onto the floor, and I picked it up and handed it to her as she turned on the biggest gas jet, and waited for the whistle sound to tell her that the water was boiled. Her curlers were in, so it must have been Da’s pay day, and whatever dress she was wearing was hidden by her massive housecoat. She’d say it herself ‘this may as well be a bloody tent, the size of me.’ I’d say ‘you’re not a bit fat Ma’, but she was, and the nylon housecoat with all the flowers in the world on it looked more like a building site than a pretty garden when Ma wore it.
“Ah Ma, is it true. Is it?”
 “Not a word of it.”

Sunday, February 6, 2011

St. Valentines – The Saint, the Over-Priced Flowers and Love


  There has always been some confusion about St Valentine. The bottom line is that there seem to be a plethora of saints and martyrs all who were called Valentine and nobody can decide just which one of them it was that we can all hold responsible for having the world go crazy buying flowers, chocolates, going for candlelit dinners and sending anonymous cards to one another all in the name of love.

My favourite story is the legend that suggests St Val was actually a Catholic Bishop in Rome who lived during the reign of Claudius II, and that this Claudius guy got it into his head that an unmarried man made a better soldier than a married one. Hence, he forbade his subjects to marry. Bishop Valentine was having none of this, so he secretly performed marriages between young couples. Eventually, he got caught and Claudius threw him into jail with the order to have him beheaded.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Whilst in prison, Bishop Val fell in love himself with the blind daughter of the jailor. Because of his strong faith and the very fact that he loved the girl, her blindness was miraculously cured. However, Valentine may have been able to perform miracles for his beloved, but could not save himself. He was still condemned to death, and rumour has it that shortly before his execution he wrote her a note, signing it ‘from your Valentine’. And this, of course, is the phrase still used between lovers to this very day.
It is a tragic story, but we all like a little bit of tragedy, especially when it’s somebody else’s tragedy. But I have to say I’m also impressed by people who have the courage of their convictions, even if those convictions go against the flow. So St Val was a lover, not a fighter, and that seems to be why he was beheaded. I’m sure we can all relate to that one. So whenever Valentine’s Day comes around, I always think it’s worth celebrating love in general, whatever form shape or size it might come in.
But what is love when you think about it? Is it really the mad overpriced commercial frenzy of February 14? Maybe it is for some, but love is many things.
The Greeks managed to divide love into different expressions. First of all there is Eros. Eros is the ‘I’m in love’ sort of love. It’s the fuzzy buzz with the butterflies in your stomach. It’s the not being able to wait. It’s passionate, it’s hot, it’s about wanting to jump on top of your beloved and when you feel like this you really don’t want to do anything else except be in love. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But Eros is dependant upon being ‘all loved up’. Once the cracks begin to show, Eros begins to seep out through them. So basically, Eros is like a hook. It gets you in there and puts you on cloud nine, but it isn’t the basis for true love, and just as exhilarating as it may be, it is also just as likely to leave you disillusioned, disappointed or dejected. For that reason, I am convinced that my 12-year-old daughter’s love for Jedward will not turn out to be as lasting as she may currently believe.
Then there is Philia, the love we have for friends, the relationships we have to best friends and the sense of fulfilment we feel when surrounded by people who we cherish. Philia is magical, and yet, it too is sensitive to situations and experiences that can push friendships apart. The Greeks decided that, because Philia is based on give and take, that it isn’t really true love, but I love my friends to a fault and the Greeks are just too pernickety if you ask me.
They claim that Agape is the business when it comes to love. Agape is selfless love. This is what we also call ‘unconditional love’, and for this reason Agape is reckoned to be higher than the other two types of love because when you love somebody unconditionally it means that you are able to give love whether you get love back in return or not. This is the type of love that is often associated with parenting, even if I sometimes consider my role as a parent more as martyrdom than Agape, but then again, wasn’t Valentine a martyr too all because of love?
I tend to get confused. Was it Philia or Agape when I gave a jump start to a stranger during the bad weather? Does having a secret crush on my Yoga teacher really have to be Eros if I want it to be Philia? It gets confusing, but I do know that my heart swells up with love when I hear my son play the guitar in his bedroom, and it still misses a beat if I happen to bump into my beloved unexpectedly during the day.
Love is everywhere, and I am lucky enough to value how many people I love and in so many different ways and situations. I’ll tell you one thing though, no matter how much I love any of them, I refuse to buy over priced red roses just because we are remembering St Valentine. I definitely don’t want to be taken to dinner just for the sake of it, because token gestures of love don’t fit into any of the love types I’ve come across. But then again ‘Agape’, unconditional love, doesn’t that mean that I might just do all the flowers and dinner and cards just to please the one I love, in a selfless sort of way? Or worse, pretend it’s all because of my other half when really I’m just looking for an excuse not to be cynical. Because sometimes you need to give common sense a break. Yes that’s it. I want 12 of those over priced long stem roses please and a big box of heart shaped chocolates. That’s love for you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Success or What?

 Here's one I wrote for some business journal, but I was kinda thinking, you know, that it's worth a read.

The Successful Self
They say confidence is the companion of success, so how would you react if someone were to ask you this question: are you successful?  For a lot of people success conjures up the image of the rich, the famous and the powerful. In reality though, this is not what true success is about at all. True and fulfilling success actually has nothing to do with achieving wealth, fame or power. Success is personal and it’s different for every individual. The secret to true success is to know just what it is that makes you tick. Understanding how important it is to follow your own personal desires and values is the first step to fulfillment, and that is what success is all about: personal fulfillment.
For example, a few years ago, a friend of mine was running a very busy GP practice. She managed to have two afternoons a week free, was financially independent and had a very supportive family. You could say she had everything going for her, and most people would definitely have labeled her with the word ‘successful’. However, after much deliberation she made the decision to close her practice. The reason was that she had never really wanted to become a medic. Throughout her school years she had measured success through her academic achievements, and when she graduated from school with flying colours, studying medicine seemed to be the next step to success. At university she followed the same pattern, and it was only when she was a well established doctor that she stopped to ask herself the question ‘is this really what I want from life?’ In her case, it wasn’t. She had always been a passionate gardener. So she decided to follow the dream that she had always been afraid of, and started growing flowers. She now runs a thriving business, growing and selling flowers at country markets. As she told me herself, no matter how good her GP practice was, she was never going to experience personal success at it, as it wasn’t her true passion, her dream. She had been living by other peoples measures of success and not her own.

We all have our own idea of success and most of us will strive to achieve this. And it is true that some will end up being top of their game, while others may not quite make it. But does that mean they are unsuccessful?  The meaning of success is complex. It has numerous definitions and manifests itself in different ways. Ultimately, your success is all about what you are searching for in life, whether it is family or career oriented. Some people’s measure of success is extremely focused. Someone whose dream it is to sail around the world, for example, will have one very clear way to measure that success – whether they get to do it or not. A stay at home mother, on the other hand, may measure her success in a very different way. It all boils down to your perspective on life, and in turn your perspective on what success means.
But it is not always easy to down tools to follow dreams. You might have more than one dream that you want to follow, and sometimes you need to make compromises. But don’t forget this: there are many simple things you can do to feel personal success. It doesn’t matter what it is that you want to do, and you don’t have to better at doing it than anyone else. Just working to be the best you can be, at whatever it is that inspires you, is the true measure of success. 
 Trying to keep up with other peoples measures is never a good thing. Their successes are purely about them, so comparing yourself to others just isn’t worth it. Instead, focus on what it is that you want to get out of life yourself. If you don’t stop and ask yourself what it really is that you want, you could end up overlooking your successes, or worse, trying to be successful at things that don’t really fulfill you.
  It is also important to know the difference between accomplishment, success and true Success. Things that you accomplish are always tasks or actions where there is an end result that you are happy with. It begins with an expectation and ends with a positive completion. A distinction in an examination is an accomplishment, and in general most of us accomplish things every day without experiencing true success in what we have done. Success is different. Let’s say you complete a number of  examinations, resulting in a major qualification, and this qualification in turn, brings you a career that you have always dreamed of, all of these accomplishments added together might be seen as success: in this case, success in business. So you could say that consistently getting the results that you want with regard to your personal life or career may be seen as success.

You can take success further though. This is what I call ‘True Success’.
It is when you chase the things that are close to your heart, the things that make you feel successful, no matter what other people think about them. You could say it’s all about passion and understanding just what it is that makes you tick, because long term, your true successes will always be connected to your heart. And it is up to you make things happen for yourself. As Henry Ford once said, “If you believe that you can do a thing, or if you believe you cannot, in either case, you are right.” So what are the things that really do make you successful? Is it maintaining a great relationship? Leading a team of people at work? Being a stay at home mother running a family? Success can also be about self development, it can be about overcoming a fear or learning a new skill. It is so personal that really nobody else can measure it but you.
 Here are some tips to help you on your way to success:
1.      Believe in yourself. If you don’t nobody else will. And remember, what is important to you, might mean nothing to somebody else.
2.      You are the managing director of your own life. All the successes you experience are completely of your own making. Likewise, lack of personal success is also down to you. Your vision and your choices will drive your results. So take control now and enjoy your success!
3.      It is almost impossible to out perform your own expectations, so think big! Wherever you put yourself on the map will determine how far you go. So if, for example, your measure of success is to run a 10k mini marathon, ask yourself if you can maybe stretch it even further. You never know, you might just see yourself running a fully blown marathon if you put your mind to it.
4.      Success is not about luck. Of course, there is always an element of good and bad fortune in everything we do, but if you wait around for somebody to come and discover you, you might be left waiting a long time. It’s up to you to make it all happen.
5.      You reap what you sow, so be careful with what you plant! Your expectation of yourself is the result you are going to get. So have a think about what you really really want.
6.      You are what you think. Positive thinking brings clear results. If you think you can be the master of your own success, it will truly happen.
7.      You already know what you want (even if you think you don’t!) Although you might find yourself reassessing what matters to you and making some changes to your goals, most of us know deep down what it is that we want, and what it is that makes us feel fulfilled
8.      Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to go with a gut feeling, you have it for a reason.