Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Christmas altercation

If Blanchardstown City were the Rolls Royce of European Football, then Roy Neake was the engine. Or maybe the glove compartment. Suffice to say he was a vital cog in the machine that had purred to the European Cup Final the previous year, scoring the goal that had knocked out arch-rivals Sporting Fingal FC in the semi-finals.
They said Roy was the complete footballer, having all the attributes that a top class footballer needs, namely good vision, a full complement of legs and the ability to cram at least four clichés into every interview.
However, like every tragic hero of history, he had one fault in his character that was liable to be his undoing. In his case, it was anger. With the other six deadly sins, he held no truck. He wasn’t avaricious, although he had no idea what the word meant. Sloth he associated with a tree-hugging mammal from South America. Even lust never crossed his mind, which gave rise to the sarcastic nickname “Stud” amongst his team-mates.
But the red mist had always been his bugbear. He had missed the FAI Cup Final of 2019 when he decapitated an opponent for looking at him sideways. He had been suspended for one match by UEFA for taking a hatchet to a Romanian opponent who had been smirking at him. And even this season, a match against Tralee FC had to be abandoned when Roy kicked down a goalpost when a penalty decision didn’t go for him.
It didn’t help that the team had not been firing on all cylinders since their European exploits. Their form had slumped and manager Lee Sammy was not a happy bunny.
Not that Lee was the master of jollity at the best of times. He was a big, brooding Sligo man with a face that seemed to have been carved out of Ben Bulben itself and then gone to work on by a drunken builder with a Kango hammer.
They said the only time Lee was happy was at his recently purchased farm in Kildare. Despite his rural upbringing, he knew little about farming but had found a certain happiness whilst shearing his cows and leaving his fields fallow.
That happiness was little in evidence after Blanchardstown City’s home game against Shannonside Invincibles at the end of November. As the team trooped off dejectedly after a 2-0 defeat (Richie L, 47, and Neake, 89 (o.g)), Lee Sammy was already waiting for them in the dressing room.
“Ye bunch of useless pansies!” he yelled furiously, turning the key in the lock as the last mud-bespattered player trooped in. “Ye couldn’t get stuck in to a bowl of porridge! I’ve seen more grit and determination at the local apathetic society!”
After these sympathetic words of welcome, he then went through the team individually, singling out each player for individual censure in a hairdryer of a rant that lasted ninety minutes.
“Safe Hands” Molloy, the keeper, was like Dracula – he was afraid of crosses. Gary Byrne, the right back, had as much timing as a broken Rolex, Gary O’Brien, the left back, should apply for a monthly ticket on the 39 bus, he was that much of a passenger. And so it went on. And on.
Observers said later that Roy was not particularly singled out for special blame, despite his thunderbolt back pass to the keeper from thirty yards in the last minute of the match. However, he did not escape the manager’s ire either, with Lee accusing him of both greed and sloth, which left the midfielder scratching his head in puzzlement. His team-mates looked on aghast, as they all knew that Roy’s only sin was anger.
Roy however did not react in his normal Tasmanian-Devil way to the insults. Slowly and calmly and still wearing his football kit, he walked over to the dressing room door, unlocked it and went out. A few people who noticed him climbing into his Porsche in the car park of the Lenihan Stadium (named after Dublin 15’s most generous benefactor, Lenihan Stadium) described his face as “steely and determined” and his legs as “muddy.”
Roy drove down the back roads to Leixlip and then on to the outskirts of Celbridge. He pulled in to Lee Sammy’s farm, waved genially to Lee Sammy’s wife who was watering the chickens, and climbed on to a tractor that was conveniently parked next to an outhouse. Slamming the tractor in gear, he performed a 180 degree handbrake turn and roared forward to the nearest barn.
Lee Sammy’s wife looked on in horror as the tractor ploughed through the gable-end wall of the barn, sending newly-sheared and shivering Jersey cows running for cover. The structure came crashing down, a mass of twisted aluminium, but the tractor didn’t stop. It continued on its destructive odyssey, gathering hay bales and a rather sleepy-eyed Friesian before exiting the far end of the barn in similar fashion.
Then Roy calmly stepped down from the vehicle, surveyed the carnage with a satisfied grin, stepped back into his Porsche and drove off.
Of course, when the press got a hold of the story, news of Roy’s retribution was spread across the world, with many papers making much of Lee Sammy’s sarcastic jibe that Roy couldn’t hit a barn door with a tractor. It seemed that Roy’s days at City were not only numbered but lettered too and many fans were found disconsolately wandering around the Shopping Centre after dark bemoaning the impending transfer of their star player.
Lee Sammy however knew which side his bread was buttered on as he had once worked in O’Brien’s sandwich emporium. Though furious about the destruction of his barn, he told the Board that he would not insist on Roy’s transfer. If some sort of agreement, some sort of compensation, could be reached, Roy could remain at City.
The solicitors and agents got to work but it was a long, slow job, as they were working on an hourly wage. December came and with it the first cries of a disorientated cuckoo. Santa’s elves grumbled constantly about their hours. The gridlock around Blanchardstown Centre grew steadily worse and two emaciated bodies were found in a Corolla on the Snugborough Road junction.
But still no news of a breakthrough in “Roy-gate” as the papers unimaginatively called it. City fans were glued to Blanch TV, hoping for breaking news but none came. They feared the worst and many had already called the Joe Duffy Show to voice their despair at the situation. It was the Saipan of their generation and divided whole communities.
But at last on Christmas morning itself, the news broke. Not, as it happened, through the usual media of television or radio, but by carol singers. A compromise had been reached and the club, in recognisance of the day that was in it, sent out teams of woolly-scarved carol singers to the furthest reaches of Hansfield, Porterstown and Tyrrelstown to convey the good news to the citizens of Dublin 15.
Thus it was that many people awoke that bright and sunny morning to the sound of angelic voices proclaiming the good news outside their windows:
“One-sin Roy’ll stay with City –
Stud’ll owe Lee cattle-shed.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Curious Case of the Prison Conversation

“You seem agitated, Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes, as he battered an old violin into submission with a horse-hair bow. “Come and sit down, old friend, and tell me what is the matter.”
I withdrew my head from the gas oven and flopped down heavily into one of the Georgian armchairs that adorned Holmes’ Baker Street apartment. “I can hide nothing from you, Holmes,” I stated wearily. “My mind has been puzzling over a conversation I heard some evenings ago and I must confess, its meaning has been driving me to distraction.”
Holmes flung the wailing fiddle out of the window and began pacing up and down. Then he began pacing from side to side. “Tell me all about it,” he exclaimed patiently. “I can’t keep this pacing up forever.”
“It was the other night,” I began. “I happened to be taking my evening constitution by the walls of the prison, when suddenly a young girl started calling.”
Holmes’ ears pricked up at this. “A young girl?” he repeated. “How old? Seven or eight?”
“More like twenty, old chap,” I replied. “She was evidently calling to someone inside the prison as there was nobody else around at the time.”
“How very singular,” Holmes ejaculated.
“How so, Holmes?”
“Well… in so far as it isn’t plural,” replied my friend impatiently. “But tell me, do you manage to remember anything of what she said?”
“Why certainly, Holmes, “I answered. “I took the trouble of writing it down in my notebook just as you have advised me.” Here I withdrew a vellum notebook from my breast pocket and began to read slowly.
“Michael,” I read. “They have taken you away.”
“Surely this Michael, being in prison, would be aware of this salient fact,” snapped Holmes. “Did this girl seem simple?”
“Not at all Holmes.”
“Then proceed. Did she say anything else?”
“She called out at the top of her voice that this Michael had stolen Trevellyan’s corn so the young might see the Mourne,” I answered after consulting my notebook.
“The young? The young what?”
“She didn’t say, Holmes.”
“Hmm,” replied the detective, stroking his angled chin and pacing diagonally across the lightly furnished room. “So, by calling this out at the top of her voice, she was alerting the prison service to the fact that this Michael had indeed carried out this act of larceny?”
“It appears so, Holmes. May I continue?”
“Pray do.”
“The next thing was, she bawled out that a prison ship was lying waiting on the kay,” I continued doubtfully.
Holmes head snapped up. “On the kay?” he asked. “Are you sure you heard this conversation correctly? It wasn’t a quay by any chance, for I happen to know that at this very minute a convict vessel is lying on the quay” – he stressed the word – “waiting to sail to Botany Bee.”
“Well, okay, it may have been a quay,” I conceded ruefully.
I was about to continue when the sound of feet came scurrying up the stairs and came to a halt outside of Holmes’ apartment, to be followed by several sharp raps on the door.
“Who can that be Holmes?” I asked in bewilderment.
“A woman, aged in her mid forties. She has obviously served in India for a considerable time. She has a tattoo of Victor Hugo on her left ankle and has a fondness for Lionel Ritchie, though she prefers to keep this latter fact from the public’s gaze.”
As I gasped in astonishment, Holmes strode to the door and swung it open.
“Pizza,” said a young boy. Holmes grunted and took the two boxes, flinging the Pepperoni at me in disgust.
“Anyway, Holmes,” I continued tactfully. “This girl then proceeded to shout out that the fields of Athenry lie very low and that she and the prison inmate had evidently spent some time together watching – how did she put it? – “small free birds” flying there.”
Holmes flicked the last of his peppers into the fireplace and ruminated this information. “So, she has a interest in the topographical contours of east Galway, yet her knowledge of ornithology is somewhat vague,” he murmured. “Yet why should she be imparting this to the man inside the prison?”
“Maybe it’s a code,” I offered.
Holmes jumped up and smacked me smartly on the back, causing a bit of crust to go shooting across the room and land on the piano.
“You have it, old friend!” he announced smartly. He strode to the bookcase and pulled out an old volume called “Rugby players of Connaught.” This he proceeded to open and flick through at great pace. “Tell me, Watson,” he asked. “This young lady didn’t happen to mention a sporting personality of yesteryear that she and the young man were intimately acquainted with?”
“Good Lord, Holmes,” I gasped in wonderment. “Her very next words were “Our love was on the wing.” How could you possibly know?”
Holmes read quickly from the journal. “Lionel Edgar Mentary. Rugby player of some note in the nineties. Played for Galwegians. Went into business with a young couple after they got the franchise for Merry Green Giant sweet corn for the West of Ireland. Currently under investigation by the fraud squad.” He closed the book triumphantly. “L. E. Mentary, by dear Watson.”
I doffed my cap to the great detective, despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing one. “That’s amazing, Holmes,” I said at last. “But pray, who is Trevellyan?”
“Ah, poor Trevellyan,” said my friend wistfully. “He was the loser in all of this. He had been selling tins of sweet corn around the towns and villages west of the Shannon for years, until these three reprobates tried to muscle in on his act. Poor man. When he woke up one morning to find his warehouse broken into and his total supply of sweet corn missing, he was so distraught that he got a blockage in his – what’s the name of that canal that runs through your body?”
“Alimentary?” I ventured.
“Alimentary, my dear Watson. Come we have no time to lose. We must alert Inspector Backwall of the Yard that a consignment of sweet corn is currently being stored near the River Mourne ready to be dumped in Strangford Lough.”
“But what about the code, old chap?”
“Its only a sniffle,” replied my friend impatiently and ran out of the door.

The Stop and Go Man

A few weeks ago, that delightful company Eircom decided to spend a week or so digging a long narrow hole down one of the distributor roads in Littlepace and then filling it in again. Naturally the work entailed one man sitting in a JCB eating sandwiches, while another five sat around reading the Mirror and arguing over Mourinho.
However, sitting morosely at the head of the queue of the cars waiting for our turn to pass, I suddenly realised that it was a long, long time since I had actually seen a Stop and Go man. And, such was the length of the hole that was to be filled in, it doubled my delight when I spotted that there was actually a similarly-engaged youth at the far end and that the two, through a series of knowing looks and gestures, were working as a team to ensure neither queue grew too large.
Of course in days of yore (a large vegetable of the brassica family which has sadly fallen out of favour,) the Stop and Go man was ubiquitous, wielding his mighty sign wherever there was a blockage on the thoroughfare. Young Peter O’Loughlin, who “stopped the whole street with a wave of his hand” according to Percy French’s “Mountains of Mourne,” was obviously a Stop and Go man who chose to bring his talents across the water.
The profession was an honourable one, ranking just above zoologist and slightly below gigolo in Debrett’s annual “List of Notable Professions,” and it seemed as though the Irish had a special knack for it. While the English and the Germans frantically experimented with signs that read “Stop” on both sides and took copious notes on the ensuing gridlock, the Irish had long since perfected the system and were leading the way in freeing up the highways. The Japanese too tried to muscle in on the act, flooding the market with cheap signs which, though clearly displaying the words “Stop” and “Go,” failed to differentiate between the two in terms of colour, both sides being a hideous shade of orange and today there is a large landfill site near Ibaraki which contains ten million of these returned prototypes. Even Marcel Proust, the notable French pastry chef, found his revolutionary new sign with “Allez” on both sides fraught with difficulties and it was only after several years of pranged Renaults that he discarded it in favour of the Irish version.
It seemed as though every town and village in the land had their own Stop and Go man, just as they had a policeman, a postman and a florist. It was not an uncommon sight to see students of this great art practising out in the fields in all winds and weathers with bemused cattle, trying to perfect the roll of the hand that signalled, in the great AA quote of our times, that a contra flow was in operation.
Generally the first son inherited the family business, the second became a priest and the third went to the big seminary in Borris-in-Ossary (now the Whining Moon Chinese Restaurant) to study the art of Stop and Going. “My son, the Stop and Go man,” was a phrase uttered casually by proud mothers who used to relate to small clusters of other excited women after mass, the latest exploits of their offspring. “Working down on the N7, hundred and fifty cars an hour,” they would whisper, nodding sagely, while their audience listened in wonder.
The advent of that most hideous of Man’s creations, the Temporary Traffic Light, signalled the end. In Britain, riots ensued at picket lines as the Stop and Go Union Leaders warned that its introduction would spell the end for this honourable profession but the Lady, and it seemed, the road diggers, were not for turning and these automated monstrosities were soon adorning the tarmac wherever a hole needed to be dug. Disillusioned Stop and Go men sat morosely in Job Centres, reminiscing with shepherds and executioners about the good old days, while despairing clerks tried to find modern uses for their skills.
Their plight was beautifully summed up by Pete St.John in his sentimental ballad, “Bloody Traffic Lights:”
“And now I lie
Abed and cry
As ‘lectric lights now glow
To indicate
If cars should wait
Or if it’s safe to go.”

Of course, the Temporary Traffic Light was a godsend to the Road Digging Contractor, who did not need to pay it wages nor arrange for it to have toilet breaks but for the harassed motorist, it has merely increased the frustration inherent in modern day driving. Waiting for ages as these yellow machines dictate that it is unsafe to proceed while nothing is coming the other way, does little for the blood pressure of the driver trying to get home in time for “Deal or No Deal” and it is little wonder that contractors have returned to work in the morning to find their little red-eyed gods adorning ditches and hedgerows.
Thus I was delighted to see the renaissance of this noble art in Littlepace and spent several minutes marvelling at the almost telepathic skill of the two operators as they rolled their signs around in harmony after the briefest inclination of their heads. In fact it was with great reluctance that the incessant and frustrated beeping of horns behind me forced me to move, though on leaving the scene of the roadworks, I immediately executed a 180 degree turn to experience this personalised service from the opposite direction.
And then, only last week, I was travelling down the Clonsilla Road to return a Lionel Ritchie album that I felt was not up to his impeccably high standards, when I came across another Stop and Go man. This time, as the roadworks were considerably shorter in length, he was working solo, his head constantly moving from side to side as though watching a tennis match, as he appraised the length of the queues in either direction. A small crowd had gathered on the opposite path and they applauded him every time he swivelled the sign around, though, like a true professional, he simply bowed and continued his watchful post.
One swallow, as they say, does not make a summer, and certainly a veritable flock of swallows didn’t make any kind of summer in Ireland this year, but I couldn’t help wondering if the sighting of these two separate Stop and Go operations heralds a shift in the tide of progress.
Is the seemingly all-conquering reign of the automated machine coming to an end, with a return to manual labour? Will horses be reintroduced into the fields of Ireland while Massey Fergusons lie rusting in barns? Will comely maidens return to dancing at the crossroads? Will this column go back to being written in longhand with the numerous spelling mistakes being laboriously corrected with Tippex?
Er, probably not. But with the reintroduction of the Stop and Go man, there is a chink of light for the future of mankind. The next time you pass one of these artisans of vehicular logistics, I urge you to shout a few words of encouragement to him and maybe slip him a fiver for a pint.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Book of Loud Lamentations

And lo, it came to pass in the fifth month of the third reign of King Bertie that a great darkness fell upon the land of Blan-chards-town. And a plague of crane fly descended upon the people and it got into their houses and it covered their asses and their oxen and their kith and kin and the people were sore afraid.
And they ran out into the street and they rent their teeth and gnashed their garments and they cried out, Lord, why hast Thou set this plague of daddylonglegs upon us?
But the Lord remained behind a cloud giggling and made no answer.
And the spider who lived in the window frame cast out his net upon the left side and he cast out his net upon the right side and soon his net was heaving with the weight of crane fly and the spider gulped.
And the sky drew dark and more and more daddylonglegs descended upon the land. And the children of Blan-chards-town had great fun removing their legs on the one side so they ran around in circles. And some children removed the legs from one daddylonglegs and stuck them onto another daddylonglegs to make the second daddylonglegs go faster.
And the Lord grew red in the face trying to suppress his laughter.
And the sun went down on the first day.
And then the great prophet Va-rad-kar spoke unto the people.
I am a doctor, he sayeth. Let me through.
This plague is all the fault of King Bertie. In his court is great wickedness and sloth and the Lord is punishing us for following the path King Bertie has shown us. For surely the jackass may lead the hyena into the wilderness and his tongue will cleave to the roof of his mouth and he may lose one tenth of his body fluid but the lamb will not lay down with the lion unless it is a very foolish lamb.
I call on the people now to give thanks and praise to the Lord and to call upon the great prophet Enda to lead you out of the darkness and banish this plague of daddylonglegs for ever. For though I am a great and powerful prophet I am not worthy even to tie the sandal of the great prophet Enda who lives in the land of Ma-yo.
But the people paid no heed to the great prophet Va-rad-kar and passed by on the other side. And the sun went down on the second day.
And the people called instead upon the wise men of the Sanhedrin who lived in a magnificent palace in the centre of Blan-chards-town where people came from all over the county to worship and pay homage. And the wise man in charge of the administration department sayeth that it was not his issue for the daddylonglegs were in the houses of the people and he told the people that it was a housing issue and the wise man in charge of the housing department sayeth that it was a matter for public lighting as the place was dark with the plague of daddylonglegs and the wise man in charge of public lighting sayeth to the people that they must contact the environment department as this kind of problem layeth under their domain and the wise man in charge of the environment department put the people onto environmental health and the wise man in charge of environmental health said he was away from his desk yea verily until the 18th but if you leave a message he would get back unto you. Yea verily.
And the sun went down on the third day and the people went to bed with daddylonglegs skimming over their faces and they woke on the morning of the fourth day to find their houses crawling with these insects and they had taken over the sitting room and the remote control and the people could not watch Strictly Coming Dancing for the daddylonglegs kept flicking onto David Attenborough.
And then the great prophet Hig-gins who had been banished unto the wilderness rode back into Blan-chards-town upon his ass and the people lined the streets and sang hosannas and laid palm leaves beneath his feet or used dandelion leaves when palm leaves could not be found.
And Hig-gins addressed the people thus.
Good citizens of Blan-chards-town. This plague of daddylonglegs is the result of selfish and wicked ways. Thou hast followed the teachings of the property developer who sitteth down at the table of the politician and shares his wine. For as the lion attacks his prey the hyena will follow and the hyena may fill his basket a hundredfold from the table of the lion. Just as the ivy cannot live without the cedar, so the property developer cannot live without the politician.
I am urging you now to cut down this vine and hunt down this lion and rid this land of the scourge of daddylonglegs.
But the people looked mystified and walked over on the other side. And the sun went down on the fourth day.
And on the fifth day the people called upon the great Brian son of Brian to save them from the plague of daddylonglegs which had now taken over the public transport system and were driving the 39 into town during off-peak hours.
And Brian son of Brian told the people that he had made representation to the holy Green Party members within the sacred cabinet upon their behalf and that the holy Green Party members had promised to look into it and report back in due course.
And the people bowed down in thanks and gave praise to Brian son of Brian, saying, He is indeed a wise and holy man.
But still the daddylonglegs kept on appearing. And the sun went down on the evening of the fifth day.
And on the sixth day the daddylonglegs had assumed control of all the light industry and service industry in Blan-chards-town, yea even the shops in the Centre and all the bottles of insect repellent mysteriously disappeared from the shelves in Atlantic Homecare. And all the plugs were removed from all the hoovers in the land and the sweeping brushes were hidden and the people blamed it on global warming and immigration and the EU and George Bush and the younger generation.
And they packed the churches in great lamentation and wailing and called upon the Lord to deliver unto them salvation from the great pestilence that lay upon the land, though some secretly said the public transport sytem was now a big improvement on Dublin Bus. But the Lord was on a pilgrimage to Fatima and had forgotten to turn his out of office on.
And the sun went down on the evening of the sixth day.
And on the morning of the seventh day the people woke from their fitful slumber to find that all the daddylonglegs had disappeared, save for the few still caught in the nets of the spider on the window frame. And they were sore puzzled and scratcheth their heads and furroweth their brows and peepeth nervously behind curtains.
And the great prophet Va-rad-kar addressed the people and claimed the credit.
And the even greater prophet Enda addressed the people and claimed the credit.
And the wise men of the Sanhedrin addressed the people and claimed the credit.
And the banished prophet Hig-gins addressed the people and claimed the credit.
And Brian son of Brian addressed the people and claimed the credit.
And the priests and pharisees addressed the people and claimed the credit.
But the people cared not and there was much drinking and carousing and revelling and barbequeuing, yea, even past the setting of the sun.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Giving blood

Probably my biggest regret in life, apart from the incident with the Swedish air-hostess and the apricot jam, is that I never gave blood sooner.
Of course, such was my lifestyle in the early years of my so-called adulthood that anyone benefitting from one of my donations would have felt more than pleasantly merry and might well have been stopped by the Gardaí as they drove home from the hospital. But once the last vestiges of adolescence had fallen off my shoulders and I became boring and flatulatory, there really was no good reason why I shouldn’t have started giving blood.
Of course, I told myself I was too busy, though I could always make time to go and see Shelbourne. I had no car and Pelican House was on the south side, but so was Harold’s Cross, where Shels played at the time. Years of wasted opportunities, I suppose, looking back.
It was only when we moved out to Dublin 15 that I started giving blood. The clinics were local and the venues were many and varied. I have donated blood in Coolmine Community School, St. Peters in Dunboyne, Castleknock Community College, Hartstown Community School and Blanchardstown IT, a veritable cornucopia of educational establishments and have admired everything from class projects on Peru, (with the emphasis on anchovy fishing,) to Confirmation portraits while waiting for my turn to lie down on the bed.
The thing that depresses me a little bit though are the questions. Have you ever had typhoid fever? Have you ever fondled a monkey from South America? Have you ever snorted cocaine? Have you ever snorted a typhoid monkey or fondled South American cocaine? It really makes me wonder what sort of exotic lifestyles some people have and puts it up to me how dull my life has been.
But that feeling disappears when you get chatting to the nurses. Blood nurses are the only category of people that are never in bad form. Even hospital nurses have their grumpy moments and nuns have been known to give the odd lash of the tongue when riled but the blood nurses are invariably, almost unnaturally pleasant. I suspect its because they do a lot of monkey fondling in their spare time and therefore feel their lives are so enriched.
The first time I gave blood, I actually had a little trouble. I lay down on the bed and the blood nurse inserted the needle. No problems. But when she opened the valves, the red liquid – I was quite pleased to see it was indeed red – merely trickled despondently into the waiting container, as though loathe to leave the safe confines of my body. “Go on, get out into the world, meet new people,” I urged it but to no avail. Was my blood donating career over as soon as it started?
“We’ll try the other arm,” said the blood nurse and lo and behold, there gushed forth a veritable waterfall of crimson liquid. After all this time, this is a phenomenon that I have never come to grips with. Surely your blood is coursing through your veins constantly, starting at your heart and performing a complete loop around your body before being reenergised back in your heart? At least, that’s what I remember from my biology classes apart from incubating frog spawn and the explicit diagrams on page 73. Your blood doesn’t say “No, I don’t think I’ll bother with the left arm – too much of a detour and the traffic can be dreadful.” The blood nurse’s explanation of “It happens,” doesn’t quite satisfy the scientific probing of my mind but there you have it. This is probably what political commentators call ‘The Arms Imbalance.’
Apparently, for I have no way of confirming it, I have Blood Type O. At first I was a little disappointed in this, having hoped for an exotic blood group that only a dozen people in the world have, thereby being put on a worldwide data base and called into action to fly to Venezuela at a moment’s notice.
However, it was patiently pointed out to me that it was far more useful to society that I had the most common blood group, as there were potentially so many more people that I could help. And also if I urgently required a transfusion myself, they wouldn’t need to disturb Jimenez in Caracas on my behalf.
The thing about giving blood though is the tremendous amount of well-being it brings you. I don’t know who said that there is no such thing as a truly unselfish act (possibly Lionel Ritchie) but the psychological benefits of giving blood must rank almost as high as the physical effects of receiving it. You’ve given up an evening of slouching in front of the telly and made a huge difference to someone’s life – maybe even saved their life. And all because you’ve made the huge sacrifice of sitting in a classroom and lying on a bed.
On about my ninth or tenth visit, I was lying on my bed in Blanchardstown IT filling my bottle (intravenously I should add) when I was approached by a blood nurse in the manner of a raincoated man recruiting for the CIA.
“Psst!” she hissed, through gritted teeth. “You ever thought of giving platelets?”
I assured her that, far from the action being at the forefront of my mind, I had no idea of what a platelet was, no idea of what one looked like and no idea that I had any to give, not having progressed much further than page 73 of my biology book.
A quick biology lesson ensued, wherein it was pointed out that platelets are an essential component of blood, along with red blood cells and white blood cells and lord knows what else. They are particularly of benefit for leukaemia patients and premature babies and, as I had a particularly high concentration of them lazily breast-stroking around my veins, I considered it somewhat selfish of me to hang on to them, when it was a matter of life and death to other people.
So now every month, I go to St. James’ Hospital and spend a very comfortable 45 minutes to an hour attached to a centrifuge, while I try and make as many words as I can from the nine letter word square in the Independent. Being strapped to a machine sounds dodgy but in reality it is extremely relaxing. You lie on a bed and can watch telly or a DVD – Quentin Tarantino movies I find are particularly apt – or simply watch the Luas glide past outside the window. Occasionally you might get a bit of tingling on your lips but that is all.
The other big thing – though possibly not such a big thing for people less egocentric than myself! – is that you get two points for every platelet donation and, as you can donate every 28 days as opposed to 90 days for blood, your tally mounts up really quickly. Together with our partners, we were all brought out for a lovely meal and presentation night in the Burlington Hotel, when we reached 50, and I am already licking my lips as my 100th donation approaches.
So perhaps monkey fondling does have a down side.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One hundred not out

The other day, an A4 sheet of paper bearing what can only be described as a royal crest was hurriedly slid beneath the door of the Community Voice offices. As the sound of yelping corgis retreated down the street, my editor picked up the paper and read it out loud.
“My husband and I,” he read, “are delighted to offer congratulations on the occasion of one’s hundredth birthday / issue / international cap (please delete as necessary) Signed E.R.”
Of course it is unlikely that we will ever discover the identity of the semi-anonymous well-wisher but her sentiments are typical of the thousands of letters and cards that have been pouring in from around the world on the occasion of the 100th issue of Community Voice.
There is something magical about the number 100 that sparks the imagination. It is like a long thin rasher with two fried eggs by the side of it. It is often referred to as a round number, though not as round as 800, which is a veritable feast of circular shapes.
For many, the newspaper is like a favourite jacket, though without the rolled up tissue and sticky sweet in the inside pocket. Together with Phoenix FM, it provides the only real source of information about what is happening in the local community and, in an age when a sense of community often comes a long way down the list of people’s priorities, this service cannot be underestimated.
Of course, it has other uses too. It is great for spreading out on the kitchen floor when the wife cuts your hair because, unlike the Northside People, it doesn’t have any staples in it. It is also great for swatting flies and wasps and even otters when they become too inquisitive and one enterprising sculptress in Porterstown takes multiple issues from her supermarket every fortnight because “they make great papier mâché” as she later told the jury.
But it is for its well-written local news coverage that the paper is held in high esteem throughout the western world, as just a sample of the well-wishing letters show.
“I always read the Community Voice from cover to cover, and sometimes the inside bits too,” writes a world-famous trapeze artist from Vaduz.
“It is full of good reading, especially the articles,” says a V. Putin from Moscow.
“It has everything a good newspaper should have – pages and writing and pictures and things,” applauds R. Murdoch from Australia.
“It is great for spreading on the kitchen floor when my wife is cutting my hair,” writes a ghost-writer for a D. Beckham from Los Angeles.
Believe it or not, the Community Voice is not the first newspaper to reach one hundred issues but it is the first one to do so without straying outside of its Dublin 15 catchment area. The Times of London may be in its 3,000th year but events in Ongar and Littlepace often do not make it into the news section, let alone the front page. Pravda, too, occasionally eschews bringing its readers up to date information on Draiocht in favour of armed conflicts, nuclear disarmament and global warming, much to the dismay of the cultural Muscovite population.
Of course we have all passed a lot of water under Clonsilla Bridge since “The Voice,” (as it is affectionately known to those who know it and view it with affection) first hit the streets many many years ago. In those days, Blanchardstown consisted of a couple of farm dwellings and several outhouses, overwritten with “Here be dragons” on the Ordnance Survey maps of the time. Horse-drawn barges traversed the territory by way of the Royal Canal on their way to exotic and far-fabled destinations like Mullingar and Longford. The Blanchardstown Centre, yet to be built, was a thick impenetrable forest inhabited by wild boar and wolves and houses made out of gingerbread.
Into this wilderness strode a man with a typewriter in one hand and a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus in the other. Fergus Lynch was that man’s name, though many people simply called him Fergus, especially members of his own family. He was determined to put Dublin 15 on the map and he did so in a size 11 Tahoma font.
He had all the attributes of a great editor – he championed the poor and downtrodden; he fought corruption wherever it reared its evil head; he refused to reproduce press releases verbatim to the public; and most importantly, boy, could he spell! Even words like “minuscule,” “marmalade” and “Tyrrelstown” wouldn’t faze him. “Show me a word I can’t spell,” he used to bark at the copy boy, “and I bet you it’s Polish. Or maybe Welsh.”
He has been courted by the rich and famous though he refuses to let power turn his head. “That’s what neck muscles are for,” he tells puzzled undergraduates. Many an aspiring and indeed established politician has felt the venom of his scathing pen if they try to hoodwink him with bluff and bluster. He has sources in every corner of Dublin 15, even the circular bits, and it is well known that he has a pair of eyes and ears in the James Connolly Memorial Hospital, which are often used for medical research.
Throughout these hundred issues, he has consistently championed the cause of the poor, especially those without much money. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” he is often heard to say, though friends admit that he is reluctant to put it to the test. “It is easier for a rich camel to enter the kingdom of heaven, than for the eye of a needle to,” is another of his cryptic sayings.
The Community Voice has become a beacon of hope for many of the oppressed and underprivileged in the world today. As they lie in their beds in Charnwood and Diswellstown, they feel comforted by the fact that there is a newspaper out there that gives them a say, gives them a voice. Let us raise a glass, preferably containing some kind of drinkable liquid, and pray that the Community Voice may continue fighting tyranny as well as bringing heartwarming good news stories to Dublin 15 for another hundred issues.

Love at the Bookshop

A few months ago, one of the very interesting morning programmes on RTE One radio had a competition to write a Mills and Boon story. The prize was the chance to meet a Mills and Boon editor who would more than likely tell you that your stuff was rubbish.
Notwithstanding this, I decided to turn my not very considerable talents to the art of writing romantic fiction and submitted the following piece, which I am sure will reduce most women to quivering wrecks. Get your hankies out, girls, you’re going to need them.

There’d been a special offer on the spaghetti hoops in Tesco and as Brad exited the store he couldn’t help thinking that the plastic bag he’d bought to carry the tin had wiped out the money he had saved in the first place. “Drat!” he said – or words to that effect – causing an elderly woman to go careering into the line of trolleys, which in turn rolled into the car park, making an oil tanker jack-knife and overturn.
Brad ignored the screams and the 200 foot plume of smoke that rose into the stratosphere like a giant mushroom cloud and marched off along the pedestrian pathway. “If Kylie had been here, she’d have warned me of that,” he thought, swinging the bag idly and accidentally shattering the plate glass of Boots window. “She always knew about bargains.”
He passed Fothergill’s. “Purveyors of fine food,” he read absent-mindedly, as he headed on towards Ladbroke’s (Purveyors of Fine Betting Slips) and Roselawn Hardware (Purveyors of Fine Bathroom Tap Washers.)
As he passed the Roselawn Bookshop, he glanced inside and stopped. Sure it looked like the same bookstore but it was under new management “for the summer months only.” Same as Kylie, he thought. Under new management.
Soon the brightly coloured shelves festooned with a vast array of novellas, poetry anthologies and paperbacks would be a gloomy shell. Dust would cover the fixtures and the floor and grinning spiders would abseil delightedly from the light bulb.
This was where he had first set eyes on Kylie, he remembered. They had both reached for the same Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat book and their eyes had met. After a short tussle, she had wrestled the book from his grasp and ran to the counter to pay. He had executed a full-length rugby tackle on her and the book flew out of her grasp. Turning round she clicked a flick-knife and held the blade at his throat and he knew in that instant that he loved her.
Her eyes were like lucent rockpools, even as far as the tiny shrimps darting here and there among the seaweed. Her cheeks were ruby red like the Manchester United home jersey from the late nineties and her full pouting lips seemed to quiver like a blancmange on a rollercoaster. As they locked in a passionate embrace, he reached down and grabbed the book and placed it on the counter with a €5 note.
All had gone well at first. He had moved into her tiny basement flat on the Clonsilla Road and had shared her bed for three months until she found out. He used to wave her goodbye as she went out to work in the evenings, selling all-night home insurance along the Quays. Idly he used to wonder why she would return home in the early hours with her hair dishevelled and her clothing in disarray. “All part of the home insurance business, sweetie,” she would say, placing her fat finger on his lips and standing on his foot.
They used to go for walks in the park and he cut their initials in the bark of a tree until the knife slipped and he lacerated her cheek. Hand in hand, they would skip through the long grass and deer excrement while up above the birds twittered in the trees annoyingly. Nothing it seemed could ever go wrong with their love. It was a match made in heaven.
It was when he came home one afternoon and found her naked beneath the local rugby team that he began to suspect something was wrong. He had believed her explanation that they were simply “looking for a shinpad” but he noticed how she crossed her fingers as she said it. Occasionally he would wake up in the night and think there was a third person in the bed until a big gruff voice assured him he was only dreaming.
Matters came to a head when he started receiving letters addressed to “Mr and Mrs Cohen.” She denied it at first, vehemently and passionately, but after five seconds, she admitted that yes, she was indeed Mr. and Mrs. Cohen.
It was like a bomb had hit him and in fact a piece of shrapnel did penetrate his right buttock. It was not the fact that she was an elderly Jewish couple – it was the fact that she had lied to him. This was what hurt him the most, apart from the shrapnel. He had always been open and honest with her about everything, except maybe the incident with the liquorice allsorts.
That was three months ago and he still found her smiling face haunting his every waking moment. Even now, as he gazed into the plate glass window of the bookshop, he fancied he saw her beautiful reflection, all gappy and gummy with a Woodbine hanging out of the corner of her mouth. In a sudden fit of rage, he drew back his fist and slammed it through the glass. “Get away from me!” he yelled as the blood spurted triumphantly from his main artery.
“Why?” said a voice behind him and he swung around to find himself staring into that familiar face with its four inch scar down the side of her nose.
For a minute, neither of them spoke, though Brad involuntarily broke into a few bars of “Dancing on the Ceiling” by Lionel Richie. Then they rushed into each others arms in a hot passionate embrace that had all the tramps in the neighbourhood coming around to warm their hands.
“Oh Brad,” she whispered, as she came up for air. “Let us never part again. Let us be always as one, entwined together in the great embrace of love.”
“Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Cohen,” he managed to reply weakly. As the last pint of his blood splashed gaily onto the window of the boutique next door, he vaguely wondered if a second can of spaghetti hoops would have made the trip to Tesco’s worthwhile.

Well I guarantee there isn’t a dry eye, or indeed a dry pair of trousers in the house after that. The only problem is that the competition finished three months ago and I still haven’t heard anything from the judging panel. Still there’s plenty of time yet. I expect the contract’s in the post.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Seven Wonders of Dublin 15

There was a much-publicised survey recently to find the seven wonders of the modern world. Although many people treated it as an interesting piece of trivia, lobbying was feverish as governments eyed the billions of dollars in extra tourist revenue that could result from making the top seven.
In a similar way, the Community Voice also commissioned a survey to find the seven wonders of Dublin 15 in a bid to lure millions of foreign tourists to our neck of the woods and make us all rich. Sadly, the survey was not quite as extensive as had originally been envisaged, as both my wife and daughter merely raised their eyes to heaven and tutted when asked to contribute.
So, in no particular order, here is a list of my seven wonders of Dublin 15.
Possibly the most famous bridge in the whole world, the Clonsilla Bridge was constructed in 1500BC and was almost immediately declared too narrow to do the job. Nothing has altered much in the intervening 3,500 years. Today hordes of Japanese tourists pile out of coaches to take pictures of exasperated commuters taking their lives in their hands as they attempt to catch trains by squeezing in between the traffic and the bridge ramparts. This spectator sport has waned somewhat in recent months as extra trains have meant that the traffic is kept static for much of the time but the bridge is still deserving of being one of Dublin 15’s premier tourist attraction.
It is said that the Quinn Direct building is the only insurance building in Dublin 15 that can be seen from the moon, though this has been very difficult to prove. By far and away the tallest building in the area, this colossal structure has been likened to the Empire State Building, but only by very silly people. It has 97 storeys, though many of these are on the same level. But the main reason for its “wonder” status, is that when we are travelling along the bypass at night, I always say “Oh God, look at the queue!” and my wife is fooled every time.
Not too far from this magnificent structure is the “Games Workshop” unit by the yellow entrance in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. This choice might cause a few raised eyebrows and earlobes among adults as basically it is just an ordinary shop that happens to sell toy soldiers and warriors, just as Fields Jewellers sells diamonds and pearls and the Perfume Shop sells smelly water. However, this modest shop is perhaps unique in the western world in that not only are young people allowed inside without being spied on by suspicious security guards, but the assistants who work in the shop have a habit of treating them as adults and engaging in intelligent conversation with them!
My fourth choice as one of the wonders of Dublin 15 is the Urbus. Despite its name, this bus does not serve the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur (much to the confusion of Blanchardstown’s burgeoning Armenian population) but wends its merry way from Castleknock to Blanchardstown and onto the Airport and Swords. What makes it remarkable is that passengers travel in comfort and the buses are quite reliable. For those who have not enjoyed a journey on the Urbus, this may seem hard to believe in the context of the Greater Dublin Transportation System. In fact managers in Dublin Bus have been actively spreading rumours that the Urbus doesn’t actually exist and is really only the commuter’s version of Fiddlers Green or the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
No list of Dublin 15’s wonders would be complete without the now legendary St. Mochtas telephone mast, a beautiful and aesthetic structure that is the pride and joy of the surrounding estate. It is said that St. Mochta struck the ground with his staff three times and the telephone mast rose out of the ground and convinced the dumbstruck villagers to become Christians. Sir Christopher Wren is thought to have modelled the nave of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the mast and it has been reported that the dishes have picked up irregular radio signals from the vicinity of Betelgeuse that warrant further investigation by Jodrell Bank. However, rumour has it that mobile phone users nearby still have to go out into their back gardens to get a signal.
Another place that I would maintain merits a place on the must-see sights of the locality is the footbridge that crosses the M50 from Castleknock to the Royal Canal at the Twelfth Lock. Designed from an idea by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (namely, that a bridge should always span the distance between its two ends) this remarkable feat of engineering is one of the more unsung beauty spots of Dublin 15. There is nothing more relaxing than bringing one’s deckchair onto the bridge on a Friday afternoon, sitting back and soaking in both the gentle hum of the traffic beneath and the fragrant fumes wafting slowly upwards. If there is any place closer to heaven on earth, it has yet to be discovered.
Finally and after much deliberation, I have plumped for the Snugborough Road intersection for my final selection. What a well-thought-out feat of civil engineering this is! There are five busy roads all converging on one spot which certainly gave a headache to traffic management. Would they use fly-overs, or filters? No, the ingenious solution was that each road should take it in turns to have a green light. Brilliance! Around Christmas, it has been known for the 39 bus to take an hour in crossing this intersection and the resulting log jam has certainly cut down on the risk of accidents.
Of course I realise that my choice is purely arbitrary and my mind cringes with embarrassment as I take stock of all the eclectic sights and structures that have failed to make it to the top seven. The Fingal County Offices in Blanchardstown with their shimmering translucence – a fine house of residence for those dedicated people who work tirelessly on our behalf; the Coolmine Recycling Centre, currently being restored, with its architecturally playful use of colour and shape; Rugged Lane which sweeps down from Porterstown to the Strawberry Beds and was obviously designed by the same pygmy roadsmiths that designed Clonsilla Bridge; the Georgian sweep of the Crescent Shopping Centre in Mulhuddart; the deceptively simplistic and artisanal prefabricated unit that houses Castaheany Educate Together National School. The list is endless and it certainly goes to show what a rich heritage we have in Dublin 15.
All that I can say is that if you have any further suggestions for sites deserving of inclusion, then by all means jot them down on a postcard and send them in. The list is due for revision in two thousand years time. (Please note – you may vote as many times as you like.)

Chips, Sausage and Poached Eggs

“We don’t need no education,” chanted Pink Floyd on their hit single “Brick in the Wall,” and to be honest, as multi-millionaire rock stars, education is probably quite a long way down their list of requirements. The prospect of Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour sipping daiquiris on Martinique and discussing the latest list of evening classes at their local community centre requires too great a leap of imagination, even for Floyd heads.
However, for the rest of us, education has always been one way of maximising our options throughout the forty odd years of our working lives. The higher you ascend the educational ladder, the more jobs you are qualified to do. And the wider your choice of jobs, the more chance you have of actually enjoying your work.
Of course, the main charge levelled at education – usually by young people who aren’t willing to put in the graft – is that it has no relevance to the world outside. And there is a large amount of truth in this. In the thirty years since I was last dismissed from class, I have had absolutely no call to write a letter to a penpal in Nantes, I have never even seen a slide-rule, let alone used one, I have never brought up the imagery in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in conversation and I have never had occasion to mix potassium permanganate with magnesium sulphide over a Bunsen burner.
Educationalists will naturally argue that it is not what you know that is important – it is the fact that you have been able to digest, understand and, in a pressure situation, regurgitate all the information force-fed you over a two year period that makes you a good prospective employee. If you have shown the moral character to be able to write an authoritive essay on anchovy fishing off Peru (from memory) then you surely have some of the qualities required for a management role in a multinational company, the argument goes.
Right at the heart of this non-relevant education argument is the subject of Irish. Its boring, say the kids. I never use it outside school. Sure, everybody speaks English anyway.
The obvious answer is that Irish isn’t boring, just as Latin isn’t boring. What may be boring is the way that it is taught and there seems to be a perception in schools that Irish is being taught in a boring way by boring teachers. However, teachers who attempt to liven things up a bit and who avoid the tedious repetition of declensions should hold the attention of class for longer. I would even go so far as to make the use of hand puppets in Irish mandatory for all teachers.
And if you ever go down to Spiddal and ask the postmistress in the Spar for a stamp for your postcard as gaelige, you will know the great feeling of satisfaction when she responds in kind with a smile.
However the one subject that young people are taught nowadays which was totally ignored in our day is CSPE. Both my children took CSPE in school, yet for the life of me I can never remember what the letters stand for – hence the chips, sausage and poached eggs.
To be honest, I would have loved to have had CSPE in school. I emerged from school totally ignorant of the ways of the world. I could spout Iago’s “Reputation” speech to Othello but I had no idea about how a bank loan worked. I could calculate a hypotenuse with my eyes shut but I had no idea that councillors even existed, let alone what role they perform in society. And when I started work, I blindly accepted that my income tax was being deducted correctly because I knew no different.
While every member of our generation decries the appalling education standards of the current school population (just as the previous generation decried ours!) it is fair to say that the introduction of CSPE – along with Business Studies and Home Economics – is a major step forward in making schoolwork relevant. Children learn to explore – as opposed to being taught – topics like racism, immigration, trade unions, business trends, interview techniques and social welfare entitlements, which can only be a good thing. If your only exposure to immigration issues are clouded by a racist father or schoolfriends, chances are you will head in the same direction. If nothing else, at least the discussion of the issue shows that differing views exist.
What CSPE does, and what the education system in our day completely failed to do, is to prepare students to become active citizens who can participate in society in a meaningful way. Most of us are aware of our rights as citizens but not everybody is aware of the responsibilities that come with these rights. CSPE is instrumental in making children aware that life is not simply about being entitled to this and that.
In the reverse of the “Irish isn’t boring, it’s the teachers that are boring” argument, though, all the relevance in the world will not make children pay attention in class if CSPE is taught in a monotonal and unimaginative way. Droning on for an hour about Martin Luther King while Smudger and Notcher throw erasers at each other is not likely to be very productive. Though to be fair to schools, it is probably the one subject where teachers are encouraged to be unconventional, to use more teaching aids and to encourage class discussion and participation.
Having said all that, the notion that schoolwork should only concentrate on subjects that have a relevance to the real world is equally ludicrous. As my father always used to say – well, occasionally used to say – the more you know, the more interesting a person you are. We are all familiar with the guy in the workplace who only talks about football. Now, I enjoy talking about football – particularly if Shelbourne have won at the weekend – but I am confident I could join in a conversation on other subjects if they arose. Football guy can’t. Discuss share prices, the Holocaust, modern Irish poetry, golf, lunar eclipses or agriculture and he is struck dumb until the subject comes around to Robbie Fowler again. Ask him to balance his household budget and he’d probably reach for a pair of weighing scales. God help his poor wife.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A watery end

In a fit of environmental zeal last October, I splashed out on a water butt. I had been only too aware of the size of my environmental footprint (my wife had pointed it out etched on one of the tiles near the back door,) so I decided to reduce, reuse and regurgitate, or whatever the saying is. So, when I saw an advertisement for a water butt in my local free top quality newspaper, I felt the time had come to start protecting the planet for my children, neither of whom sees anything wrong in spending 30 minutes at a time in the shower.
To cut a long story short, Fingal County Council delivered the large green monstrosity promptly and it remained standing outside my back door for seven months while I contemplated assembling it.
Not that there should have been much to assemble – the blurb had said there was nothing to it but even so I knew things were never going to go smoothly. I’m not a DIY person. Flat packs can take me months to assemble. I hang wallpaper and come down the next morning to find it on the floor. Towel rails and toilet roll holders fall off the walls after three days.
Eventually, after much procrastination on my part and irritation on my wife’s, I took a deep breath and ventured forth. “I may be gone for some time,” I said as I closed the door like a latter day Captain Oates.
Actually I wasn’t gone very long at all. I came back in with the instructions. “Step one,” I read aloud to my wife. “Get a hacksaw and remove eight inches of your drainpipe about four feet from the ground.”
“That’s an end of that then,” said my wife, who is well aware of my deficiencies in anything practical. “You start cutting the drainpipe and the whole gable end is liable to come tumbling down.”
Call me stupid – and many people do – but I had never actually realised that you were supposed to connect the water butt up to your downpipe. I thought you just left it outside and you attached a tap and that was it. Notwithstanding my uselessness at sawing, we simply didn’t have the room down our very narrow side path to fit a butt without blocking in the wheelie bins.
“Okay, Plan B,” I said. “We just leave it outside the back door with the lid off and let it fill with rain water.
“If you think I’m going to spend my day staring at your butt outside the back door, you have another think coming,” replied my wife. “If we have visitors, all they will see is your butt. Think about it for a second.”
I thought about it for a second. “How about if I move my butt down by the shed?” I asked. “That way we can collect rainwater that rolls off the shed roof.”
“Yes, get your butt down to the end of the garden,” she replied and the finality in her voice left me in no doubt that there was no room for compromise.
The water butt had an inside part, like a huge plastic jelly mould, which I couldn’t really figure out what it was for. It had another piece to replace the eight inches of drainpipe (ho, hum) and a hose to connect butt and pipe, now also obsolete. It also had a tap which I dexterously fitted in to the only place possible – about an inch from the ground.
I removed the jelly mould and other bits and hauled my butt down to the shed, placing it strategically beneath the sloping roof. Then with great manual dexterity, that surprised even myself, I affixed the tap. Brilliant, I thought, standing back and admiring my handiwork.
Of course I soon spotted the flaw. If the tap was an inch from the bottom of the butt, how could you get a bucket or watering can under it, when you needed to water the garden?
Like Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot, I wrestled with this problem, scratching my chin and biting my bottom lip to show how seriously I was taking this. Then, just to be different, I scratched my bottom lip and bit my chin. This seemed to work, for the light bulb appeared over my head almost immediately.
I disappeared into the shed and re-emerged with one of the patio chairs bought in Tommy’s last September when they were selling them off. I placed the chair against the shed and then sat my butt into it. It nestled there snugly and the tap was now a good eighteen inches off the ground. Pure genius, I thought to myself and dislocated my shoulder trying to pat myself on the back.
As you are only too well aware, this year’s summer has been a trifle moist. Consequentially, my butt filled up very quickly, aided by the water collecting in the huge jelly mould which I also left by the shed and which I emptied regularly. Even my wife had to admit that for once I’d had a very good idea and that my contribution to the environment when/if the dry spell came would be immense.
Then, about a fortnight ago, in one of those rare relatively dry days that my wife and I managed to get out to survey the wreckage of our garden, I checked the butt to see how it was coming along. To my surprise, it was practically up to the top lip. “Just about full,” I said and carefully poured the contents of the huge jelly mould in on top. Perfect! I placed the lid on top to stop any water evaporating and forming more rain clouds and walked back up the garden.
The next sequence of events happened in a split second but, replaying it in my mind, it all seemed to happen in slow-motion. I heard a loud crack and turned. My wife, duelling a rampant pyrrhacantha with a pair of shears, screamed. The patio chair buckled as the leg snapped off under the weight and the water butt went crashing to earth, spilling the entire 200 litres of rainwater over a startled viburnum.
“You idiot!” was all my wife could gasp noiselessly as two months of assiduous rainwater collecting went crashing to earth.(Actually there might have been a third word in there in between “you” and “idiot” but I an still too traumatised to recall.) I reached the water butt and pulled it upright but there was less than a teaspoonful left inside it. I picked up the plastic chair leg and idly wondered how I could have expected one plastic chair to bear the weight of 200 litres of water. With a sinking heart I noticed too that in the fall, a large split had appeared down three-quarters of the length of the giant container.
“That’s it!” I said, turning away in disgust, already preparing myself for a lengthy stay in the kennel. “I’ve had enough of this environmental lark. You just end up breaking your butt for nothing.”

Chickens and Counting Them – a Ramble

We are often told not to count our chickens before they have hatched.
The phrase is normally expressed as a command, rather than a piece of homespun advice, which brings up the whole area of civil liberties. If I insist on counting my pre-hatched chickens, I should be allowed to do so without censure. Tut-tutting might be permitted and disapproval for my actions in jumping the gun might well be expressed, but the choice ultimately is mine. My grandfather did not die on the battlefields of Monte Cassino so that I should only be allowed to count my chickens when the powers that be say so. (Actually, he didn’t die on the battlefields on Monte Cassino at all, but hid in the wardrobe every time the military police called around to the house, but you get the point.)
Personally, though, it is very rare that I have actually counted chickens before they have hatched. I have of course counted eggs and I suppose that there is little I can do if my mind translates the unbroken shells into a picture of fluffy yellow chickens running around a farmyard. Counting eggs is of course perfectly okay according to the philosophers and indeed it is a necessity for those people who make a career out of packing the eggs into egg boxes. Pack in too few and the customer will be most disgruntled when he/she gets them home. Pack in too many and the lid won’t close, no matter how much you sit on it.
Not that I have had much opportunity for counting chickens since we moved to Dublin 15. We are hardly overrun with the little yellow flea-ridden feathery bundles. I have counted them occasionally in the supermarket when there have been very few and I intend registering a complaint to the meat manager. Of course these chickens are well-hatched, though judging by the state of them, they would have been better off remaining where they were.
Whereas the instruction not to count chickens while they are still in the shell might be sound advice to human beings, one would think that the Mother Chicken (or is it a Hen?) might be forgiven for doing a bit of forward planning. A mother who knows she is going to produce triplets might have to adjust some of her thinking on sleeping arrangements, equipment, bottles and asking the mother-in-law for help and I imagine that the Mother Hen (or is it a Chicken?) would be inclined to be the same. “I have six eggs,” she would say to herself, “and, if they all hatch, I will have six chicks.” (It is this sort of logic that makes you wonder why hens (or chickens) aren’t higher up the evolutionary pecking order.) “Therefore” – she would continue – “I will need to plan for feeding, rearing and educating six chicks after hatching.” It is only natural and one cannot really castigate a mother for dreaming.
The proverb is quite unclear as to whether it is acceptable to count chickens whilst hatching is actually in progress. In certain cases, this is instinctive. It is hard to say to yourself “Ah – a certain number are in the process of breaking out of their shells while a certain number have yet to do so.” There is also the very salient point first broached by Wittgenstein in his groundbreaking book “The psychology of farmyard animals” that a chicken’s egg that is actually hatching should not contain anything other than a chicken. “It is unlikely to contain a long-eared bat,” he chortled with that wicked Teutonic humour of his.
Of course it is absolutely imperative that you start counting the chickens after they have hatched (If you are a member of the younger generation, you may bring a calculator as there could be anything up to ten of them) If you fail to count them, one might slip under the bit of wire at the bottom of the yard and you mightn’t even notice. The poor little chick would then be at the mercy of any amount of predators that like to prey on uncounted chickens like hyenas, pterodactyls, certain species of whales etc
Again, if a chicken wanders off and you move house suddenly, the little beastie is unlikely to find its way to your new home. We have all heard heartwarming stories about families who throw a stick for the family dog to fetch and then move to Ulan Bator, only to find the poor wretch whimpering on the doorstep of their yurt six months later. Chicks do not have the same sort of homing instinct as dogs, although they would be unlikely to be fooled by the fetch-the-stick trick in the first place. Only by the scientific approach of “counting them” can you be assured that they are all packed safely in the suitcase for the long journey.
In days of yore, the ancient Celts used to employ chicken-counters who would be responsible for the inventory of chickens within the tribe. The chicken-counter was much exalted though not as much as the Druid, who seemed to get more perks. A little-known story from the Four Annals describes how Niall (of the Nine Sausages fame) once caught his chicken-counter hovering over a nest of eggs with a notebook and pencil in hand and had him hung, drawn and quartered until he said sorry.
During the Great Famine, the role of the chicken-counter all but disappeared in rural Ireland as most birds ended up on the dining room table an hour after emerging from the shell. Many turned their attention to root vegetables, though the job satisfaction was not as great. “Turnips,” one demoralised counter recounted in his memoirs, “do not run around. They are too easy to count.” With the advent of the steam engine, many farmers found they had time to learn the rudiments of counting themselves, which completely demystified the chicken counting art. Many counters were forced to emigrate or consider a career change, although some still eked out a living until the end of the nineteenth century.
I am approaching fifty years old and have never been involved in a traumatic incident to do with eggs or indeed chickens, though a fried egg once slipped out of a sandwich into my lap while I was waiting to be called for an interview. This blissful existence I attribute to having followed the above maxim assiduously for most of my life and I would urge all Dublin 15 residents to do the same. Counting chickens and eggs simply do not mix and those people seeking spiritual nirvana are advised to eschew all temptation to do so.

Prime indicators

The older I get, the more I realise just how many simple tasks I am unable to perform. I have never been able to blow bubbles with bubble-gum. I have never been able to whistle without pursing my lips into an O, I cannot do backward tumbles in the swimming pool and I cannot touch my toes without bending my legs. Nor can I change sparkplugs, do simple tiling, draw, sew on a button with any degree of rigidity or pretend to be angry without giggling.
There is however one small task which seemingly only I and a handful of others seem able to do with any regularity – indicating.
Now, to me, it doesn’t seem a difficult thing to do. I want to let everybody know I am turning left. My left hand moves two inches off the steering wheel and flicks upwards. At most, the operation takes a quarter of a second. I do not feel physically drained after doing this, nor do I feel the need to pull over and massage my aching wrist. The manoeuvre has not taken very much out of me and I have fulfilled my objective in letting everybody know that I intend turning left.
I am immensely surprised however that more drivers don’t seem to have the ability to do the same. Maybe, I tell myself charitably, that they have cars in which the indicators are located behind the passenger seat and it is a considerable hardship to operate them. Maybe, I suggest to myself (though I suspect I am not listening), they have fragile left wrists and are suffering from repetitive strain injury through over-indicating. Or maybe, and here I find myself nodding sadly in agreement, maybe they just can’t be bothered.
Sitting in my car at a busy roundabout, I find myself wishing disgusting toe infections on drivers who suddenly veer off to their left when I had been expecting them to go straight ahead. Sometimes, after it happens three or four times, I extend the curse to their kith and kin and to all their descendants in perpetuity. If, in 200 years time, half the country walks with an exaggerated limp, they need not pester the doctors for answers, as they will only have their ancestors to blame.
In these heated moments, I find myself marvelling at how ineffectual penalty points are. If we had cameras on every roundabout and fined everyone, say, €1,000 for every time they didn’t indicate, think how much joy would be brought to people’s lives. As well as the fine, drivers should be made to sit their test again or at least should be sent back to indicator school, where world-weary instructors can stress upon them the need for communication on today’s roads.
Alternatively, the Japanese could be encouraged to develop cars that indicate automatically whenever they are turning at a junction. An irritating, disembodied voice, preferable in a Jade Goody accent, could demand of a driver which way they are turning at the oncoming roundabout and indicate accordingly. If the driver fails to respond, the question could be repeated ad nauseum in progressively severe tones of voice.
Almost as annoying as the drivers who can’t be bothered indicating are the ones who indicate at the last moment, as a kind of afterthought. What good is that to anyone trying to anticipate a break in the traffic? Indicating once you have actually turned the corner serves no purpose whatsoever and you might as well not bother.
Dr. Wilhelm Grossenfahrter, from the European Institute of Road Etiquette in Leipzig, believes that a pathological failure to indicate is genetic rather than behavioural. “We have isolated the gene that is responsible for indicating and preliminary tests show that this gene is not present in almost 131% of non-indicators,” he claims. “It is also true to say that people who have this gene twice are more likely to operate their hazard lights by accident.”
The Crown Prince Franz Josef was a notorious non-indicator and it has been claimed that his blasé attitude to roundabouts was a major cause of Serb dissatisfaction with the of the Austrian Empire, particularly around the Sarajevo area. Field Marshall Goering, too, used to enrage Hitler by indicating wrongly when turning into Unter den Linden in Berlin. “Indicate right until the turn before the one you want and then indicate left!” Hitler would scream, sweeping the Corgi cars off the table in his bunker in a fit of pique. On these occasions, Martin Bormann would be prevailed upon to demonstrate and he would pretend to drive around the table making ticking noises until the Field Marshall said he understood, which often took several hours.
The great roundabout crisis of 1963 nearly led the world into nuclear war. Kruschev was adamant that there was no need to indicate when travelling straight ahead at a roundabout but Kennedy stood firm. “Ich bin ein Indicator,” he told a million cheering Volkswagen enthusiasts at a rally in Memphis, though not many of them spoke German. Kruschev responded by threatening to pull the indicators out of every Lada in Eastern Europe but backed down when he realised the amount of time it would take him.
Of course the most famous non-indicator of the modern era was Nelson Mandela, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island for the crime of “failing to indicate at a road junction,” which was a comparatively lenient sentence for black offenders under the Apartheid regime of the time. Mandela’s claim that he was “walking” at the time was laughed out of court, although his incarceration led to worldwide calls for reform of the rules of the road in South Africa.
“If everybody indicated correctly on roundabouts, the world would be a happier place,” sang Bob Dylan at Woodstock and his melancholy lyrics ring as true today as they did then. In Australia, they have experimented with road signs saying “Have you indicated yet, you lousy wombat?” on the approaches to major junctions and in Italy, a major advertising campaign called “Si, si, indicatore, signore” featured a Genoese model who stripped down to her bikini bottoms to get the message home. George Bush has recently said that he is in favour of bombing countries that don’t share the American ideals of free speech, democracy and indicating, while Condoleezza Rice nodded sagely in the background muttering “God bless America.”
I have a dream – yea verily I have a dream – that one day all the people of the world will unite in their approach to communication on the highways of this world and Bob Dylan’s seemingly utopian view of life on earth will in fact become a reality.
In the meantime, I will continue to spit curses at offenders.

A very kind gentleman tactfully pointed out in the following edition of the paper, that if I move my hand upwards, I would in fact be indicating right not left. Mea culpa!

Sleeping on it

I used to think we lived in a quiet neighbourhood. Let me rephrase that. We do live in a quiet neighbourhood. Its just that I never realised until recently just how many different degrees of quiet there are.
My situation in work has changed recently, with the result that some months I work at nights. As such, I have joined that small band of people who have to sleep during the day. My wife and I discussed this – should I go to sleep immediately on coming home, or should I hold off until the middle of the day? It was decided to pursue the latter course as everybody else in the house would be getting up in the morning and I would keep getting disturbed by Krispies snapping, crackling and popping away in the bowls.
So at the ungodly hour of 11 o’clock when most decent people are safely ensconced in their offices, I got undressed and settled down to what I hoped was a good six hours sleep.
The first thing you notice is the light. It really is quiet unnatural to think about sleep with the sun streaming in through the curtains. I tried shutting my eyes, but obviously my eyelids are made of the same material as our curtains because the sun still got through. Only by turning away from the window and burying my face in the pillow did I manage to convince myself it was the middle of the night.
And then it started.
I was just nodding off when from an estate behind us, a house alarm went off. Obviously someone had put a pizza flyer through a door with too sensitive an alarm and all hell had broken loose. Its amazing how house alarms don’t like pizza notices.
My double glazed window was shut but it was still like a workman operating a jackhammer in the bed beside me (don’t worry – I checked and it wasn’t.) From bitter experience, I knew that if it was not turned off immediately this would keep running for another fifteen minutes and then at fifteen minute intervals during the day. Reluctantly, I grabbed my alarm clock, shut the bedroom door behind me, moved to a bed in the front of the house, shut that door behind me and hopped into bed for a second time.
The sound of the infernal alarm was much muffled here and it was something I could live with. At any rate, it disproved my wife’s theory that I would sleep through World War III. I settled down again and soon started to nod off for a second time.
Just prior to the point of no return, when you cross the Rubicon into sleep, the door bell rang. I ignored it, listening. It rang again. I waited. Why wasn’t my wife answering it? For the third time, it rang. I swung out of bed, opened the bedroom door and was halfway down the stairs when my wife came out of the kitchen and beat me to the front door. It was the postman with a package for my daughter. I turned back on my heel and went back to bed.
By this time I was wide awake. On the rare occasions when this happens, I have a perfect plan for spiralling into the arms of Morpheus. I imagine a football match.
Don’t laugh. I play out a fictitious football game from the kick off in my imagination. One player tips it to another, he plays it back to the midfielder, who sprays it out wide to the left full back who, under pressure, plays it down the line, for the defender to head it out. I guarantee you it works. Twenty passes into the game and I’m gone.
This time, however, my inside right (kids, ask your dad) had just made a cunning foray down the channel when he was brought up suddenly by a loud “Caw!” For a moment Graham Poll looked at his whistle with a puzzled expression, but when a second, slightly higher-pitched “Caw!” came, I realised with a groan that two killer crows (my wife’s expression – they spook her) were having a conversation on the gutter above my bedroom window.
I don’t speak crow (it wasn’t on the syllabus in school) but I suspect they were discussing which over-full wheelie bin to ransack next. Wearily, I got up on my knees and opened the window violently. A sudden flurry of wings told me that they had decided to carry on their conversation elsewhere.
I flopped down on the bed, feeling a bit apprehensive. I needed to sleep.
For the first time in my life, I could see what bad sleepers have to contend with every night. They are anxious that they can’t sleep, so they don’t sleep. It’s a Catch 22, (rather than a Catch 40 winks) situation.
I went back to my football match but no sooner had an over-zealous midfielder gone clattering into his opposite number, than I heard the tell-tale sign of a lawnmower spluttering into life. Squinting out of the side of the curtain, I could see a man several doors down getting to work on his front lawn. I remember I had passed his garden a couple of days ago and thought absently that it needed a cut. I had a vague notion that the man also worked nights. Maybe he had given up trying to sleep and was mowing the grass instead, I thought ruefully.
I tried reading while the lawnmower clattered away out front and the house alarm scythed through the air out back. Reading normally puts me to sleep. However, this book, “Great Chartered Accountants of the Late Renaissance Period” (later made into a film starring Ernest Borgnine and a soundtrack by Lionel Ritchie) was fascinating and I read page after page before I realised that all was quiet in the neighbourhood.
With great reluctance, I lay the book down on the floor beside me and rolled over. Centre-forward to inside-left. Knocks it back to centre-half, diagonal ball down the wing…
Someone in the street walks past the house at the end of the road. This is fatal as the house has a big stupid dog in the side entrance who howls with fury every time somebody walks by. He’s off again now, paying not the blindest bit of notice to the unfortunate passer by, head back, running up and down, howling like a banshee. This alerts another dog several doors down, who begins to bark in empathy. Somewhere far off, a terrier yaps away like a demented woodpecker. I wrap the pillow around my head and wait for the din to die down.
The ice-cream van comes around. The man on the little tractor starts to mow the green opposite the house. The dogs start yowling again. The wheelie bin truck makes his round to thwart the killer crows. I pick up the Accountants book again and read to the end of the car chase on page 58. Silence reigns.
Centre-forward to inside-left. Tries to beat a man. Is fouled. Free kick. Opposition player protests. Ref changes his mind. No, he doesn’t, that’s silly. Three doors down, someone opens a car door without realising the alarm is on. I’ve done the same a hundred times. Alarm goes off. Fumble for the remote control. Alarm goes off again after five seconds. No harm done.
Except there’s a man in a bedroom in a nearby house screaming at the top of his lungs as his wife rushes upstairs to see what’s the matter.

Making memories

While rummaging through the rubbish bins at the rear of the Tyrellstown Plaza Hotel, (as I am wont to do on fine Summer evenings,) I came across a crumpled sheet of paper which I proceeded to unfold. It had evidently been an entry for the recent Fingal County Council “Memory Makers 2007” competition (essay section) but had not made the grade. This may have had something to do with the words “factually incorrect” being emblazoned across the text in red biro.
However, after reading through the essay, I have decided to reproduce it here, as I feel it will be of interest to people of a certain age (over 115)
“I was born in a little cottage in Blanchardstown near the Tolka River. The cottage has since been pulled down to make way for a fire hydrant. That’s progress, I suppose.
“My father was one of the first astronauts in the country but it was not an easy occupation in those days. He was often out of work for long periods of time, when he used to sit by the hearth and yearn for the birth of space travel. He had been arrested by the Black and Emeralds (a more fashion-conscious offshoot of the Black and Tans) during the Civil War and only avoided summary execution by lying about his sex.
“My mother hailed from county Roscommon. She had walked to Dublin barefoot for the Eucharist Conference in 1932 and ended up squatting in a house in Brunswick Street with two Mesopatamian dope-fiends. My father had rescued her from this den of iniquity when his lunar module crashed through the roof in 1934.
“I had 32 brothers and sisters, most of whom had rickets. The others used to pretend they had rickets because they thought that was the norm. We all used to attend St. Whoopi’s National School (now The Mace) in Blanchardstown. I remember one of my teachers was called Mr. Goering. He had a cane and used to administer six on the rump whenever anyone spoke in class, even when he asked them a direct question.
“Mother used to work at Comerford’s Little Bits of Plastic that you find on the Back of Sticking Plasters Factory in Chapelizod (now the River Liffey) The company employed 20,000 people in its heyday until it inexplicably went bankrupt one week later. Mother used to work from 4am to 3am the next morning, seven days a week with Christmas morning off. Oftentimes she’d be held up on her way home by comely maidens dancing at the crossroads and have to turn around and go back into work before she arrived home. It was a hard life but I think she was happy
“Of course we had no television to entertain us in those days. Every evening the whole family would huddle together and stare at the corner of the room, waiting for it to be invented. I remember the first television set that appeared in the village. It was in the window of Lionel Richie’s Hardware Emporium on Main Street (now a tree) and it attracted a huge crowd until Maxie “Mad Fecker” Murphy took an axe to it to see if there really was a little man inside of it or not.
“When I was sixteen, I was sweet on a boy called Notcher Farragher, son of the village’s computer analyst. When he found out I was with child, he ran away to join the Navy until he discovered that it entailed a lot of travelling on water and joined the Army instead. I heard later that he had fallen in the Korean War but escaped with a badly stubbed toe.
“When I told my father that I was pregnant, he became acutely distressed, as he had always assumed I was a boy. “James,” he said. “The priest won’t like this.” Sure enough Father Away de Betta (a visiting Dutch cleric) came to the door with a roaring red face, threatening damnation and the workhouse. I hid in the scullery as Father confronted him on the doorstep. At first I thought it was going to come to blows but the whole incident was settled amicably by a game of kerb football. However, when the time came for the baby to be born, the midwife discovered that I, and I quote, was “just plain fat.” Oh we were naïve in those days.
“Because times were hard, most of my brothers and sisters emigrated to England and America, where people with rickets were much in demand. My father contemplated emigrating to Cape Canaveral when the space programme started but a letter from John Glenn advised him that his wooden leg would likely put a hole in his spacesuit. This seemed to crush him completely and he spent the rest of his life sitting on a stool in the back garden staring up at the sky, while my mother entreated him to come in out of the rain.
“I got a job in Jacob’s writing the word “NICE” in capital letters on the biscuits. Later I was promoted to drawing cows on the malted milks. “You draw great cows,” my supervisor used to say. “You have a great future ahead of you.” Sadly it was not to be and I was made redundant by the influx of a large group of Hungarian bovine-artists after the failed uprising of 1956.
“In the meantime, I had married a man named Denzel O’Loughlin who was apprenticed to a shepherd out in Luttrellstown. “Jobs may come and jobs may go,” he used to say with great insight, “but there’ll always be shepherds in Dublin 15.” After a year, I had triplets (one of each) and the following Spring I had twins. Three months later another set of triplets and by the end of the year another set of twins. It was a hard life but we managed. The older children, once they learned to walk, used to mind the younger children until my husband came home from a hard day shepherding.
“I remember the first car we bought. It was a little Morris Minor and the twelve of us used to go for trips to Skerries which to us seemed like the end of the world. Myself and Denzel used to paddle in the sea while the kids buried each other in the sand. One time the tide came in and they were all drowned. But we were happy.”
I think I may appeal to the Memory Makers committee about the reasons for excluding this exceedingly moving piece on the grounds that its relationship with the truth might be somewhat strained. Just because it all may be a pack of lies does not mean that the facts may not exist in somebody’s head.

Shinners and grinners

I don’t know if anybody noticed but a general election campaign has been going on for the last month or so. Seemingly the more posters you can put up around the constituency, the more the electorate think that you’re the man or woman for the job. Poster hanging is of course a vital part of running a Government and those who can shin up lampposts at local level are destined for great things.
Speaking of Shinners, the redoubtable Felix Gallagher was first out of the traps, getting his large Gerry’s-buddy election posters up a full week before Bertie called into the Aras. Unfortunately, he chose to locate them on the rear of showhouse signs which were removed from roundabouts on the Sunday evening.
One thing about Felix, though – he sports a most engaging smile on his poster, as do most of his party colleagues around the country. His casual grin was seen in many places where other candidates feared to tread, on out-of-the-way lampposts, far from the mainstream spots favoured by the other parties.
One unusual feature of the SF posters was the addition, a few days before the election, of little Irish flags. Now I assume they weren’t suggesting it is in some way patriotic to vote Sinn Fein, so I took it as a helpful little reminder that the election was being held in Ireland. In the last election, I spent hours wandering around Antwerp trying out my pidgin Flemish, before being told that I should go to the Mary Mother of Hope polling station in Castaheany, so Felix’s little reminder ensured I did not repeat the mistake.
Brian Lenihan was another smiler, beaming down with all the confidence of a man who knows his seat is safe and that he doesn’t really need to put these posters up to get elected but he doesn’t want to appear arrogant. He obviously favours the same passport photographer as his running mate Gerry Lynam, judging by the identical dark green curtain pulled behind them.
Gerry is not smiling in his poster. He obviously knows that he hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected and sees no point in flashing the teeth. What surprises me though is that nobody in the Soldiers of Destiny took Gerry aside and told him that moustaches hadn’t had a place in Fianna Fail since the 1970s, with the exception of, erm, Willie O’Dea. As it stands, Gerry’s photo reminds one vaguely of the bad man who used to tie the girl to the railway track in silent movies.
Another who was not best served by her party’s electoral machine was the Labour candidate Joan Burton. I mean, let’s face it, Joan is a damned sexy woman and you would have thought her posters would reflect that, just as a football team always plays to its strengths. Now I’m not saying she should have gone as far as a bikini and a beach ball, but at least she could have clamped a red rose seductively between her teeth, and worn a long flowing scarlet dress with a slit up her thigh. But no, they missed the opportunity of a lifetime and showed this bombshell only from the shoulders up.
A week before the campaign ended, a second Joan poster went up. This was of a younger Joan, more sultry, yes, but still only from the neck up. Her bob haircut made her look like a member of a 1960s girl singing group – the Rabbettes? – and perhaps hinted at the raver we fancy she used to be.
One thing about the Burton posters though – because of the brevity of her name and the white background, her posters were easily legible when travelling up the new Ongar Rd at 80kms per hour (sorry that should read 49kms per hour, officer) It occurred to me that if Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink should ever go into politics, he would need extra wide posters to fit his name on.
Fine Gael candidate Leo Varadkar easily won the prize for putting up the most posters in the constituency. Barely had RTE breathlessly announced the date of the election, and Leo the Statesman posters were going up on every third lamppost. Obviously deciding that this was not enough, another set of posters went up a week later, and then, with even his finances surely running low, a third set of posters went up a further week after that.
The first poster was of a serious yet compassionate Leo, backed by a blue sky and white fluffy clouds. He also seemed to be standing in the middle of a field surrounded by hedges and trees, probably to give the impression of a down-to-earth man, a real salt of the earth type. The second poster was of a much younger, misty-eyed Leo, in the days before he could afford a jacket, that appeared to have been resurrected from a previous election campaign. And the third one, which he obviously thought would help to sway the floating voter, was a diamond-shaped effort urging people to vote him number one.
The Socialist Party was very quick off the mark, with their first posters going up by the time Bertie had got out onto Infirmary Road. Joe Higgins was the only one of the candidates to be photographed in black and white, which some might say mirrors his politics. Again, his posters appeared to have been recycled from a previous campaign and one would suspect his election budget was just a tiny percentage of Leo’s. Less bin charges for Joe l presume.
The two late-comers to the poster frenzy were Roderic O’Gorman and Mags Murray. Roderic for the Greens somehow managed to end up with many prime location spots all to himself, though P.D.’s Mags, who concentrated mainly on junctions, often ended up sitting on top of Gerry Lynam or Felix Gallagher, or both.
Roderic had probably the most attractive poster with the green and white background, urging us all in the Littlepace Gaeltacht to make “an rogha cheart.” Alone of the candidates, he favoured the slightly oblique stance, turning sideways to look at the camera, as practised at the beginning of 1970’s American soap operas. True, Leo was at a slight angle in his field but that was probably because a bull was eying him menacingly and he was preparing for a quick getaway.
Mags went in for blue in a way favoured by Picasso in the early 1900s. Her blue mascara matched her blue eyes and her blue dress with Leo’s blue sky in the background. Curiously she sported what appeared to be Queen Maeve’s torc in her election photo and looked a bit like a young Twink advertising her latest pantomime in the Gaiety. Still with her long blonde hair wafting gently in the breeze, she posed coquettishly in a way that should be copied by Joan in the next election.
But perhaps I am being too critical. I had occasion during the campaign to travel down to the Longford / Roscommon constituency and was deeply traumatised by the ugly-looking ibexes they have adorning the lampposts down there. Mothers, I am told, keep their children locked in during the day and even adults go about their business with their eyes fixed firmly on the paths. Compared to them, our bunch of candidates are positively good-looking and, if truth be known, would probably form one of the more attractive ballot papers in the country.
One thing is for sure, though. Like Christmas decorations, the place is going to look really bare when they come down.

The lawn forcement agency

It is one of the few consolations of our long, dreary winter months that the lawnmower can stay firmly nestled in the shed, untouched, unloved and forgotten. Few things in life give me such perverse joy as unplugging the infernal thing for the final time in late September and returning it to its natural home beneath the gardening gloves, one welly and a host of partly-deflated footballs.
Grass, the experts tell us – (they have experts in grass?) – will not grow below 5°C. This is not through any design of nature. It simply refuses to do so and who can blame it? If I had no financial concerns, I too would willingly hibernate for six months of the year.
Unfortunately these days there may or may not be an entity called Global Warming, depending on which paper you read and whichever day you read it. These winters, we rarely get enough snow to build a snowman’s lower appendages and the mercury regularly creeps up above this magical 5°C mark between October and March.
One of my abiding principles in life, along with always changing your clothes after you have a bath, is to do nothing in the garden before April 1st, except maybe look at it from the kitchen window. The garden books all give us little jobs to do during the winter months like raking up leaves and preparing soil but I see no earthly point in any of it. Besides, its always raining.
This year, however, such was the mildness of the winter, that I contemplated breaking the rule of a lunchtime and lugging my old green pal out of the shed a whole month early. Actually, to my abject horror, one Saturday afternoon in January – yes January – I even heard the old familiar sound of a lawnmower engine in a nearby garden and I had to higher up Lionel Ritchie on the radio lest my wife heard it too and started getting ideas.
So, come mid-March, the grass was not yet out of hand but could certainly have done with a short back and sides. Two things stopped me. Every time I had a bit of spare time, it rained. (This happens a lot actually and I’m starting to get paranoid about it.) And we were going off on holiday on April 1st. If I could just reach that date, I could extend my non-grass-cutting hiatus by a further fortnight.
With a couple of days to go before we jetted off to what was a disappointingly chilly Orlando on our very early summer holidays, the heavens opened and I knew I was safe.
In line with our general holiday experiences, while we were donning sweatshirts and shivering in Downtown Disney (I have the photos to prove it), Ireland enjoyed one of those glorious fortnights that come only too rarely. The good citizens of this country should really have a whip round and send me away on holidays more often if they want to see some improvement in the meteorological situation. Evelyn Cusack would be able to explain to a gleeful public that “Peter Goulding is away on his holliers so a big H is coming in from the Atlantic and preparing to settle over Ireland.”
The fine weather, of course, allied to the previous showery weather, meant there was no need to ask mad Mary Mary Quite Contrary how her garden grew. Like wildfire, I think the answer was (how do cockleshells make a garden grow?) When we pulled up outside the house on our return, the dense foliage all but obscured our abode and it was only through checking our neighbour’s gardens, that we worked out through a process of elimination where our house should be.
We had actually left our two late teen offspring in the house in our absence but in the scramble to pack our t-shirts and shorts (ho! ho!), I had neglected to draw a map outlining the route from the kitchen door to the shed, so the grass had remained uncut.. Only it wasn’t just grass – nature had sought to reclaim what had once been hers and had really gone to town. There were shrubs and trees and dandelions as big as sunflowers and other exotic green things that looked decidedly tropical in nature.
I got away with it for about three days, claiming jet lag, which is really just a posh person’s way of saying “I couldn’t be arsed.” There was also so much to be done inside the house, I claimed, that we needed to prioritise the work. We can’t expect to get everything back in order immediately, I said, as my wife raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
For the next week or so, I would pull back the net curtains and peer despairingly at the vast expanse of blue sky. “Looks like rain,” I would mutter. I even dug out an old Community Voice article about a workshop in the Library where Monica Shannon and the great people of the Dublin 15 Environmental Group were asking people to “garden for wildlife” and let portions of their garden run wild to encourage a greater biodiversity.
What made matters worse is that in our absence, all our neighbours had taken advantage of the fine spell to diligently mow and trim their lawns so that our patch stuck out like the proverbial aching digit. Like the new proposed Eye and Ear Hospital, it was a site for sore eyes. I knew I had to tackle it eventually but I was still in holiday mode, I said. Just a few days more.
The leaflets started coming in through the door. Do you need your lawn mowed? they asked, obviously rhetorically. I wonder do the people who deliver these leaflets only post them into houses with scruffy gardens? The reason I ask is that they never seem to come when my grass has just been cut. I know it is time to wash my windows when somebody pushes a leaflet through my letterbox offering me a window cleaning service. Come to think of it, there’s no need for my wife to post a job list on the fridge – she can simply pile the flyers up on the hall table and I’ll work through them one by one.
The final straw came when I came home from work one evening and my wife recounted that she had seen a troop of Masai warriors, carrying an okapi on a long pole, emerging out of our back garden in single file. I sensed she was exaggerating slightly but when she is in one of her sarcastic moods, its best not to challenge her.
Still, I managed to achieve a new personal best by not cutting the grass until the last week in April. This will be the new benchmark for future years and when I see grown men struggling to turn Black and Deckers around impossible corners in February, I will sit my enthralled grandchildren on my knees and recount to them proudly how in the Spring of 2007 I nearly made it to May without cutting the grass.