Saturday, September 27, 2008

Junk mail

The other morning a slip of paper came through our letter box, not, I hasten to add, of its own accord, but thrust there by person or persons unknown.
I bounded down the stairs three at a time in a state of high excitement only to discover that my wife had leapt up from her armchair and dashed out of the sitting room before me. As she read the contents quickly I hopped about from one foot to the other, as though bursting to go to the toilet.
“It’s only a flyer for blinds,” she said, handing me the paper and returning to Fair City.
My face fell. I suppose you are either a curtain person or a blinds person and I am the former. My experiences of blinds is limited to holidays in Kerry or Sligo, where I quickly found that I don’t have the necessary hand/eye coordination to operate them successfully. When I’m trying to raise them, they lower further and further or else I end up with one side up and one side down in a very art nouveau but impractical way.
Consequently I trooped out to the kitchen and placed the flyer in the empty cornflakes box that stands by the back door. The box saves us having to go out to the green bin every time we have a piece of green recycling. When the box is full, we bring it out and empty it. (This ingenious invention has actually been patented by my wife and is under copyright. Bill Dyson is said to be raging that he didn’t think of it first.)
Not all junk mail goes straight in the recycling though. If the flyer is of the non-shiny sort and is blank on one side, it is added to the bundle of scrap paper in the drawer held in place by an elastic band. This is handy if I need a piece of paper to work out why the taxman has taken so much money off me or if I need to write a note to my wife to tell her that I’ve gone out to buy the new Lionel Richie album.
The point that I am making, very long-windedly, is that it doesn’t require a lot of physical effort to transfer one small piece of paper from the front door to the green bin. There is no need to hire a hand trolley or a fork lift, unless you are very feeble, although admittedly there is a need to walk six yards from front door to back. However, this unnecessary trip can be obviated by leaving the flyer at the foot of the stairs until such time as someone is going into the kitchen.
I have no problems with junk mail. The green bin truck comes around every second week now and we never find that our green bin is overflowing. I am sure that the nice men in the recycling centre get quite a buzz out of reading all the leaflets they receive every day.
We do not often eat out but if a new establishment opens in the neighbourhood, a flyer would remind us to “give it a bash.” I do not need any handy jobs done around the house, as I simply close my eyes and work around the problem. I am not thinking of buying or selling a house in the area, nor am I thinking of buying a new Peugeot, though I am sure they are very nice cars.
I do not need my shirts ironed and, as my youngest is twenty, I do not need a childminder, though at times I’m not so sure. I will glance through Lidl’s catalogue to see if they have anything “on special,” and do the same for Aldi, even though I can’t be bothered to travel to Maynooth to pick up a pair of retractable garden shears. Nor am I likely to join Leo Varadkar’s blue-shirted army in the near future. Sorry Leo.
Probably the only piece of junk mail I object to is the one that asks me if I want my lawn cutting. Without knocking on my neighbours’ doors, I am unsure if I have been specifically targetted for this leaflet because of the length of my grass out front or if everybody on the street has received it. I suspect the former, as I never receive this type of flyer when my grass has been freshly cut.
But although 99% of junk mail holds little or no interest to me, I will defend to the death the right to deliver it to my door. (Well, not quite “to the death” – more “till I get bored” really. I have no deep desire to be martyred for this cause and become the patron saint of junk mail.)
Junk mail is produced, in the main, by local businesses trying to promote a service to the local community. They have used a bit of initiative and gone to the trouble of producing a flyer that, they hope, will attract more customers and I applaud them for that. I am sure there are less stony ears than mine out there in the community and I hope their efforts are successful. More customers equals more jobs, as I’ve been trying to explain to Brian Lenihan.
It saddens me therefore that a few people are feeling the urge to put little “No junk mail” signs on their letter boxes. Despite what people maintain, we are hardly burdened down by the weight of junk mail pouring through our letter boxes. We don’t need to call out the fire brigade when we return from holidays to help us force open the front door. At most, what do we receive – three, four pieces of junk mail per day? It is hardly back-breaking work to cope with all of it.
It also raises the question as to what constitutes junk mail. Does notification of evening classes fall under this heading? Public information leaflets? The Community Voice? Census information forms? Warnings of an imminent nuclear attack? Does junk mail have to be trying to sell you something?
One letter box in the vicinity is adorned with an essay threatening prosecution under the Litter Act to anybody who dares to drop a leaflet, a menu or a newspaper through it. This person seems very angry. The only explanation I can come up with for this litigious fury is that perhaps there is a baby in the house who is constantly being wakened by the sound of the letter box clattering.
Of course, I feel he is missing out because of this. I have often had the urge to rifle through my green bin and post out all the previous fortnight’s flyers to him in one large A4 envelope. This way he can show support to his local community without the baby being constantly woken.
But I jest. I accept that some people might find the task of transferring junk mail from front door to green bin onerous in the extreme. I am consequently considering offering my services in this regard, calling out to people’s homes to perform this task for them for a nominal sum.
In order to promote this piece of entrepreneurship, I will be sending out a flyer to all houses in the near future.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reclaiming the game

Pic by Pizzapie

This morning I listened to a conversation in work between two very loquacious groups of colleagues. It was in essence the same conversation that has taken place every morning since time began and went something along the lines of “Liverpool are muck, United are great, Liverpool are great, United are muck, hurray, boo, hurray, boo.”
Among the Wildean repartee, there was, as usual, the tendency to refer to the football club of their choice in the first person plural. “We’ll stuff you when we meet you next.” “We need to sign a striker.” “We are the greatest.” Call me a cynic, but I doubted very much whether the persons uttering these claims have obtained the necessary permission from their respective clubs to speak on their behalf. However I decided not to intercede.
Of course, the ‘we’ is indicative of feeling a part of this entity called a football club. They are the supporters, the faithful, from the day they are born until the day they die. Blue and true, or red and true or pink and true or whatever. True football supporters one and all.
The only problem with this little scenario is that football is a sport played in three dimensions. Nay, I jest not. In the real world, football consists of real people, the smell of deep heat, humorous crowd chants and a need to take evasive action when the left black decides to boot the ball out of play in your direction.
The other sport, about which the workplace arguments revolve, is a sort of virtual football called The Premiership. It is a soap opera for (mainly) men, featuring a cast of thousands from around the globe, all earning the kind of money that Matthew Perry and Courtney Cox could only dream of.
In a sort of “Who’s your favourite Desperate Housewife” kind of way, the very young are peer pressured into deciding which Premiership team they will buy into for the rest of their lives. Then they are encouraged to purchase the shirt and buy the Sky package and follow their team in the print media and the two-dimensional screen whenever it might appear.
This is actually not very different from what real football used to be like. There would be peer pressure also from a young age to go and follow the local team and buy the shirt and follow the team in the print media and the three dimensional arena whenever it might appear.
Of course, with the meteoric rise of the Premiership, there has been a corresponding decline in interest in real football. This has happened globally and now kids from Vietnam to Venezuela play in the streets in their Manchester United shirts, while down the road Ho Chi Min City and Caracas Casuals play to half-empty stadia.
Whenever I mention the subject of League of Ireland football, I am informed that it is rubbish, or words to that effect. To back this up, they tell me that they went to a match once and it was dire. When I point out that they have just been lamenting how awful their team was on the box last night, I am regarded with pity. I am often asked which Premiership team I follow, which is akin to asking me for my favourite member of the Royal Family.
By claiming that they don’t follow League of Ireland football because its rubbish, Premiership fans – and we are really talking Big Four here – are really admitting that they only follow a team because they win trophies. Why else are Celtic so popular and Hibs, who are much older and just as Irish, ignored? Why don’t they follow Middlesborough or Aston Villa in such numbers? Dublin fans will never win anything, yet they don’t all go off and support Kerry.
Shels will never win the European Cup and even the League of Ireland looks out of bounds for the foreseeable future. Yet I am convinced that winning our first League title for thirty years in 1993 and beating Hajduk Split at Tolka in 2004 gave me far more pleasure than United fans here had on winning their 800th trophy last year.
It is estimated that by 2012, half the world will be of Chinese extraction and 47% of the global population will claim to support one of the Big Four in the Premiership. In England there is a campaign called Reclaim the Game, which aims to promote real football with mud and crowds but they are small and pitted against Murdoch’s billions.
This season Sporting Fingal joined the League of Ireland. They play in Morton Stadium, Santry and unfortunately are doing rather well in their first season. I say unfortunately as I am a Shelbourne supporter and they stymied our push for promotion recently.
Most Shels fans dismiss the club as a sporting franchise, a Fingal County Council plaything and, based in Morton Stadium in Santry, they are hardly ‘local’ to Dublin 15, despite Fingal’s attempts to make us all feel that we belong to their little empire.
They do however play real football, sometimes badly, sometimes well, but it does actually exist in the real world. You can actually go down to a match, pay your €12 in and actually shout at players and officials in a situation where they can hear you. Sometimes they will even answer you!
Now I am not advocating that everybody climbs down off their barstool and goes and watches Torpedo Fingal. I’d prefer if they came and saw Shels. Or Clonee United or Verona or Castleknock Celtic or some team that is putting a huge amount of time and effort into representing the local community, whether they are good, bad or indifferent. But at least go and watch a real match! You can still follow your soap opera for the rest of the week!
In my confirmation class, I once had the temerity to ask if you could be a good Christian and not go to Church. In reply, I was told the parable of the boy who wanted to be a boy scout (this was back in the mists, when Baden-Powell infamously promoted Scouting for Boys!) He purchased the uniform, practised his reef knot and bowline until they were perfected, lit campfires from two pieces of flint and sang all the campfire songs. Yet he never attended a meeting. Could he claim to be a real Boy Scout?
In the same way, a true United follower can tell you how many goals Giggsy has scored and how many they beat Valencia by the last time they played them and how much shopping Rio Ferdinand bought on the day he was supposed to take a drugs test.
But if he never goes to a match, is he a real football supporter?
Support your local team.
Reclaim the game.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunrise, sunset

So there we were in southern Crete, in an idyllic little town on the coast and somebody suggested we book an evening meal in the village above on the mountain “and watch the sun set.”
Okay, a bit yuppie but it seemed like a good idea. We ascended the steep winding path at around 7.30pm and got a steep, winding table for eight on the terrace with fabulous views of the bay below. And it was warm and the food was delicious, even the olives, and the company was great, but the sunset? The sun was like an aspiring actor that has waited all his life for his big part but then proceeds to fluff his lines. It showed no desire to turn luminous red or paint the skies with fantastic oranges and purples but simply sank with a bit of a groan behind the headland to the west. When it had gone, a little strip of cream bordered the headline for a while and then all went black.
I remember sitting on my balcony in Tenerife with a bottle of beer and watching the sun (it was the same one – I recognised it) set over the sea. I was prepared for the spectacular and again was roundly disappointed. Far from crashing into the dancing sparkles of the ocean in a cacophony of colour, the sun never actually made it to the horizon. It became enveloped in a kind of a haze three inches above the sea, shrugged its shoulders dispiritedly and simply petered out.
Now Crete and Tenerife have great advantages over Dublin 15 in many areas, particularly the weather. You may not have noticed but the last couple of summers in this part of the world have been a little on the moist side. However in other parts of the continent, the weather has been veritably Scorchio, to borrow a phrase. One would have thought that entry into the EU would have resulted in some more equal distribution of weather but it appears that this is still a long way off.
But where Dublin 15 wins out every time is in the quality of its sunrises and sunsets. For the benefit of any teenagers reading this, sunrise occurs in the early morning when the sun ascends above the horizon. In our case, the horizon is somewhere over Damastown and some of the most spectacular sunrises I have seen have emanated from behind the large beech tree in Littlepace Woods.
A few weeks ago, the sun was about to burst forth upon a world that, while not unsuspecting, was largely asleep. There was a large grey cloud that looked a bit like the island of Madagascar (without the lemurs) hovering above the Spar and the hidden sun illuminated it in oranges and greys, so that it looked like a stream of molten lava or those hot coals that very silly people run across in the South Seas. This was set off by an absolutely pure pale blue that the whizz kids at Dulux can only dream about, which stretched from the N3 to almost overhead, where it gradually became darker until merging with the night sky above Beechfield. On the far side of the N3, pinks and creams were splashed on this magnificent canvas in what was a veritable riot of colour.
Sunsets can also be quite spectacular, with flamingo pinks and dusky oranges sometimes covering up to a third of the sky. Red clouds, isolated and seemingly on fire, are commonplace and must have terrified prehistoric Dublin 15-ers, before they figured out what they were.
It is very likely that the history of the art world would have been very different if Paul Gauguin had decided against Tahiti and come to live in Blanchardstown instead. What a world of colour he would have tried to recreate, sitting at an easel outside Mace at six o’clock in the morning and gazing in awe at the panorama above Corduff!
In Channel 4’s recent programme “The World’s 100 Greatest Sunrises,” hosted by Brussel Rand, Dublin 15 had seven sunrises all told and three in the final ten. Critics may argue that the eventual winner (the very first sunrise after God created dark and light on the Fourth Day) was somewhat of a bizarre choice as there exists no photographic evidence to back up its claims of brilliance, save for some rather grainy black and white snaps, which prove nothing.
Similarly the morning after the Krakatoa explosion in 1883 may well have produced a fantastic sunrise but solar commentators all agree that this was due to particles of molten ash in the atmosphere and cannot be attributed to a merely naturally produced luminary phenomenon.
For those of you who have difficulty struggling out of bed at such early hours, the Sunrise Channel (number 834 on your digital box) broadcasts repeats of the best ones throughout the day for those of you who missed it first time around. This is normally accompanied by some atmospheric music such as the panpipes or Slade’s “My Friend Stan,” to further enhance the effect.
Of course, you don’t get good sunrises or sunsets every day. Certain criteria have to be met in order to produce a multi-coloured extravaganza such as I have been talking about. The time of day is important. Very few sunsets take place in the middle of the afternoon or at nine o’clock in the morning, so timing is essential.
Also, a good scattering of cumulo-nimbus clouds seems to augment the show, which of course is where the likes of Crete and Tenerife fall down so badly. These sun-kissed islands don’t appear to have the ability to produce good, sunlight catching clouds and frankly, they are the poorer for it. Of course, the mere presence of clouds indicates the possibility of rubbish weather but every cloud has a silver lining, so they say.
Just as Hollywood attracted film-makers with its brilliant blue skies at the turn of the last century, so I feel that Dublin 15 could easily become the sci-fi capital of the world. The alien skies above this portion of the capital would save millions on film sets and push back the boundaries of what is possible in the world of cinematography.
I have written to an Bord Fáilte, suggesting to them that they come to Dublin 15 and record some of our sunrises and sunsets. Then they can play them in audiovisual rooms in Blarney Castle or the Burren Interpretative Centre, with a diddley-i-doh soundtrack and encourage rich Americans to come and sample the delights of Carpenterstown and Mulhuddart. We could establish sunset interpretative centres, where we could explain the complicated astronomical dynamics involved in sunrises and sunsets, with little models and an interactive video game and perhaps an adventure playground.
So far, I have not had a reply but I feel it can only be a matter of time.

The old school tie

I remember being very concerned about that tie.
I was four years old and it was blue and yellow and grey and I knew that somehow I would have to master the art of putting it on. It had hung on the bedroom door handle for a week, along with the rest of my uniform, and I had eyed it nervously every time I passed in and out.
I made a few half-hearted attempts but the “knot,” such as it was, came apart if I looked at it. What on earth was I going to do when the Big Day arrived?
Thankfully Dad came to the rescue and the night before my first day in school, we went through the procedure until I had it perfected. Left hand, little end. Right hand, big end. Big end six inches longer than the little end. Hold out little end in left hand. Pass big end in between tie and arm, let go, catch it and go around again. Second time, come up by neck and down through the gap in the tie just created. Raise knot to neck and adjust to correct size.
Soon I was able to do it subconsciously and without looking in the mirror. If it had been an Olympic event, I’d have qualified easily and would doubtless have been in contention for a medal place.
Like every other schoolboy, I soon learned the trick of pushing the thin end of the tie through the buttons of my shirt, ingeniously overcoming the need to redo the knot if the thin end was too long. I recall excitedly imparting this information to anyone in earshot, with all the eagerness of Sir Isaac Newton explaining the laws of gravity.
Of course, the state of the tie leaving the house was a far cry from the state of it on my return, much to my mother’s frustration. Red-faced and sweaty, I would bound in through the door with the tie loose around my neck and tilted over to the side, or else it would be rolled up in a ball in my pocket along with all the fluff, sticky sweets and other treasures I had managed to accumulate during the day.
The school tie was great for tying around your head and pretending to be an injun. In fact, I would say that any passing Cherokees or Mohicans would have to look again to make sure we weren’t compatriots, such was the uncanny resemblance of the blue, yellow and grey school tie to traditional Native American headwear.
It was also great for tug o’ war, though mums doubtless tended to disagree. You could also tie your mates to their chairs and, in the summer, when jumpers weren’t worn, they would also do for goalposts, though disputes often broke out over their exact delineation.
Over the years, the way that the school tie was worn reflected the fashion trends. At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, it was considered “hip” and “groovy” to make the knot as large as possible, often the size of a small football and obliterating the very wide lapels on the shirt. It was a great source of amusement to us in those days to grab the thin end of someone’s tie and yank it very tightly, until it was down to the size of a marble and impossible to undo without the aid of a chisel.
This practice ceased with the advent of punk rock when it became distinctly uncool to wear the knot of your tie large and floppy. It was much more anarchic to yank it down to the size of a cherry stone and the more frayed it looked, the better. These were the days when the honour of the school was repeatedly invoked in order to stop the growing trend of cutting other people’s ties with a pair of scissors. Doubtless the founding fathers would be rotating madly in their respective sarcophagi at the carry-on.
By the end of my secondary school career, I was thoroughly fed up with the old school tie, both in a literal and also a symbolic sense. I found it rather difficult to convey respect to a bit of cloth that you wore around your neck for merely decorative reasons just as I was developing a rather deep antipathy to the notion of a school as a kind of father figure that should be venerated due to having been in existence for many years. I had toyed with the idea of going to the doctor, Alex Higgins style, and claiming that the tie chafed my neck but in the end I spent my money on going to see the Clash instead.
The worm, naturally, turns. As a father myself, I was rather looking forward to helping my son master the intricacies of cravatology (okay, I made it up) on his first day at school but it was not to be. My wife returned home with one of those ties with the elastic around it that you simply slip over your neck. What kind of fun is that? Yet another labour-saving device that means schoolchildren now have an extra ten seconds to play with at the start of every school day. And if you try wearing it on your head, any self-respecting Sioux or Navaho would spit on the ground contemptuously.
I could not however share my wife’s righteous indignation when my son returned home with the tie rolled up in a ball or full of mud stains. This was partly due to the fact that it was not me who washed and ironed it but also I was secretly rather pleased at my son’s antipathy to the state of his tie.
My secondary school tie went out in a blaze of glory on my final day at school. It was a cheap and unimaginative shot but it felt good, as though the flames were cleansing my soul.
I did however come across my old primary school tie in the attic recently. My mother must have packed it away with my three-legged race second place certificate and my certificate for swimming twenty five yards without drowning. Despite the battering it had suffered, it still seemed in remarkably good shape and I realised that it was probably the article of clothing that I had worn most often in my life.
Wow, I thought sentimentally, and threw it in the bin.