Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ronaldo to transfer to Clonee United?

Last summer, a senior citizen was physically ejected from Millennium Park in Blanchardstown when an official from the Fingal County Council parks department deemed it possible that she might “look at a child” whilst in there. The fact that the park was home to a lone magpie at the time did not deter the official on the grounds that, if children were to come into the park, they would run the risk of being looked at by this elderly lady.
Since that time, I have paid careful heed to the Council’s redefining of the old adage about children being seen and not heard. Not wishing to be branded a criminal, if I am ever driving down a street and a child dashes out after a ball, I immediately avert my eyes until I have passed the spot and I would urge all other good citizens to do the same.
Thus it was that as I passed by the green area in the middle of Hazelbury Park recently, I shielded my eyes lest my gaze should accidentally fall upon some of the children that I could hear having a nice, quiet game of football there. And in shielding my eyes, I therefore failed to spot the wayward clearance that caught me expertly on the ear.
I could hear that the players were upset by the incident. Just as some people cannot help but laugh out loud when given a particularly tragic piece of news, I could hear from the whoops of laughter on the green just how much the accident had affected them.
“Sorry mister,” said what sounded like a young boy and as I righted my glasses on my nose, I inadvertently caught a glance at his retreating back as he dribbled the ball back up to the pitch. What I saw caused my heart to palpitate wildly and I did a quick double take. Well, you don’t expect Cristiano Ronaldo to turn up in Hazelbury Park, do you?
But it definitely was him. True, he had blonde, spiky hair, was approximately four feet tall and yelled in a Dublin accent that it was “our throw.” These three facts, allied to his somewhat stocky physique, caused me to question momentarily whether it really was the greatest player in the world who had just tripped over a rather sturdy dandelion to more hoots of laughter, but his Manchester United shirt, with the number 7 on his back and, crucially, his name “Ronaldo” emblazoned above it, put an end to all doubt.
And the way he sat on his backside with his arms outstretched appealing for a penalty simply reinforced the matter.
Of course, now that it was actually Ronaldo and not a twelve year old boy, I was allowed by law to look at him. What I saw merely lent credence to my long-held opinion that television actually distorts reality. The camera may never lie but it obviously has the ability to turn a spiky haired blonde individual into an athletic Latino type. To be honest, he didn’t look a bit like he does on the telly but then, people seldom do.
As I watched him, I thought he looked somewhat out of shape. He controlled the ball about as far as some people can kick it and when he stubbed his toe taking a free kick, I thought that the sooner Real Madrid get him back for pre-season training, the better.
But if the erstwhile Manchester United star had signed for Madrid, then what on earth was he doing in Hazelbury Park? I came to the conclusion that he must have been visiting relatives. There are a lot of new Irish in the area and it is a well-known fact that many people have emigrated from Madeira to Dublin 15, doubtless attracted by the sun and the opulent lifestyle that we are famed for.
But, as I watched in awe as he bore down on goal, that theory went out the window as he was sent crashing to the turf by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, obviously keen to get in the first blow for the Catalans. Fernando Torres then came along and pushed Messi away, making him cry, before Robbie Keane in his Ireland shirt grabbed Torres by the neck and proceeded to wrestle him to the ground.
The ensuing melee was eventually sorted out by the traditional method of scissors/paper/rock and the world’s footballing elite – with, bizarrely, Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin in goal - then got back to their training session.
This was truly groundbreaking news, I thought. Idly, I wondered if they were making another advertisement for Nike but there were no signs of any film cameras around. There was only one possible explanation – they were all trying out for Clonee United.
There had been no rumours of this on Sky Sports News, nor in any of the print media. This really was a journalistic coup of the highest order and I could earn myself a nice little holiday if I played my cards right. I mean, what wouldn’t the Community Voice give for a picture of Ronaldo, Messi and Torres playing three and in on a Friday afternoon in Hazelbury Park?
Well, “any money” is probably the answer to that question, as the editor of that paper is a sort of football atheist, preferring to have his dreams shattered annually by a team of fifteen in light blue and navy. But there was always The Sun and The Star and The Sunday Wuddle. This was my passport to a life of ease.
Alas, I have never been in the habit of bringing my camera along when going down to the shops for milk. It has never occurred to me to do so and my lack of foresight was to cost me dearly. However, I did have my mobile phone, which my wife insists should accompany me everywhere in case I have a nasty accident and need to tell her to which hospital they are rushing me.
However, with some more lack of foresight – this was becoming a trend – I had never bothered to sit down and figure out how the camera function on the phone actually works. Desperately I started pressing buttons for functions called Applications, Log and Organiser but there was nothing in any of them that looked like a camera. And then, as I perused Settings, I heard a lady in one of the houses surrounding the green calling in Wayne for his dinner.
To my surprise, it wasn’t the handsomely-challenged Mr Rooney who ran off but Ronaldo himself. Very clever, I thought. Obviously trying to throw any snoopers like myself off the scent and keep this potentially earth-shattering news under wraps for as long as possible.
Desperately I turned back to my phone, flicking through Profiles and Themes and Shortcuts while, one by one, the greatest footballers in the world all ran off for their dinner. As Messi slammed the hall door, so I let a howl of rage and flung my phone onto the tarmac.
My wife told me later that I didn’t have a camera on my phone. It made little difference. I had had my moment and blew it.

What kind of doormat are you?

I once worked with a man called Matt. People kept walking all over him.
There are people who claim that they can tell what kind of person you are by the food that you eat, by the clothes that you wear, by the pet that you have. There are even those – wait for this – who claim that your personality can be determined by the configuration of the planets in the sky at the time of your birth!
Far more scientific is the study of doormatology, the relationship between the humble hall doormat and the person who placed it there. Practitioners of this art are known as doormatologists, not to be confused with dermatologists, who generally have little or no interest in doormats, except in cases where they might cause skin irritations.
Using case studies and pie charts, doormatologists claim that they can tell what kind of person inhabits a house simply by studying the doormat that sits humbly outside of the hall door. Naturally, this is of interest to us in Dublin 15, well-known, due to the building boom, as the doormat capital of the western world and in the interest of the community, I have been doing a bit of research into this comparatively new science.
Generally, doormats come in two basic shapes. There is the rectangular and there is the semi-circular, although I have come across a rather fetching oval shape in Hazelbury Park and word of mouth tells me that there is an Ireland-shape mat attracting some media interest in Lohunda.
But these are very much the exception. The world, to all intents and purposes, is split into two people – those with rectangular doormats and those with semi-circular ones. The rectangulars outnumber the semi-circulars by about four to one, achieving a comfortable majority that is unlikely to be usurped in the next generation.
The common doormat (doormatus doormatus) generally should have stiff tan-coloured hairs over a rubber backing. Some people occasionally use off-cuts from a carpet but this holds no sway with the true doormat lover, who point out that the off-cut has neither the penetration of bristles to clean a grooved sole nor the rubber backing to stop it moving when it is stood upon.
The most common doormat is of course the plain rectangle, replete with the aforementioned stiff tan-coloured hairs. Functional and strong, the person who owns this is a no-nonsense, down-to-earth practical sort of person, the type who expects nothing more of a doormat than to clean the soles of shoes before the wearer enters the house.
A variation on the above is the doormat where the rubber backing extends around the basic matting, like the black strips around your television picture when one of the kids changes it to 4:3. This sort is no good for going tobogganing as it is built to be immobile. The person who purchased this sort of mat obviously has more of an eye to the dangers of slipping and possibly underwent a traumatic fall sometime in their childhood.
Some doormats have a rubber pattern with the matting inlaid between the black strips. Most commonly of herringbone design, these mats demonstrate a determination by the owner to combine functionality with artistic endeavour, seeing the doormat not only as a shoe-cleaning tool but also as an adornment to the family home. This design is most usually found in the semi-circular or half-moon shaped mat, where the rubber strips form the shape of a fan. Picasso is thought to have favoured this particular design during his little-known Buff Period.
Some mats forsake the rubber backing, opting to have the matting inlaid with strands of wire. This industrial-looking mat has a tendency to curl at the edges, though it is quicker to dry out after a downpour. The house resident is probably a company man, seeking reassurance in the display of corporate strength.
You would think that a doormat adorned with the word “Welcome” would indicate a warm-hearted gregarious person who is happy to invite all-comers through the door. Not so, said Leon Winkelhalter, Professor of Doormatology at Syracuse University, whose 2004 paper Doormats and Sarcasm, caused quite a stir in scientific circles. Winkelhalter maintained that the Welcome mat was in fact highly sarcastic and indicated a desire to keep the world away from the front door. He later famously retracted this view at the Madrid Symposium, after he was hit repeatedly about the head with a rolled-up newspaper by Dr. Wessler of Leipzig.
What is more accepted is the reverse view that mats adorned with “Go away” or “Get Lost” show that their owner is very much a fun-loving person, choosing the doormat to reflect their outgoing personality. Similarly “Beware of the Dog” probably demonstrates a) that the owner has goods worth robbing and b) that the household pet is no bigger than a budgie. However, the possibility that the house contains a vicious Rottweiler should not be discounted by would-be burglars.
Some doormats have little pictures of footprints on them. This seems to indicate that the house owner feels the need to indicate in a flat-pack-assembly-instructions sort of a way what the doormat is intended to be used for. Teenagers in particular seem to have little notion on how to wipe their feet with any degree of thoroughness, so the house bearing this mat probably contains a harassed middle-aged mother of two boys.
It is said that Lionel Richie has “Hello! Is it me you’re looking for?” woven on his mat. The fact that he wishes to remind the world of this particular crime against music would appear to denote a particularly self-delusional personality. Rumour also has it that Lisa Minnelli had “Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome” on hers. Zsa Zsa Gabor was rumoured to have a doormat made of alpaca hairs and inlaid with genuine rubies, a trend unlikely to be copied by anybody in the Dublin 15 area.
However, the simple purchase of a doormat is not enough. There are a few simple rules to be followed in the placement of the item. For example, when laying a semi-circular doormat, it is imperative that you align the straight edge with the bottom of the door if you want to avoid social ostracisation. Also, nothing sets the neighbours’ tongues wagging than buying a rectangular doormat and placing the shorter side up against the door. One prospective chairperson of Laurel Lodge Residents Committee could not find anyone to second his nomination because of this social faux pas several years ago.
So, the next time you approach a neighbour’s front door, take a quick glance at their doormat before you enter. Oh, and wipe your feet.

Monday, June 8, 2009

On the road with Lorcan

I am traditionally very slow to embrace new technology, displaying the wariness that is characteristic of my generation.
I was the last in the family to get a mobile phone, only succumbing when one of my wife’s hand-me-downs was forced on me, as apparently, and despite my protestations, I need to be contactable at all times of the day and night.
When the DVD player doesn’t do what it is supposed to, I sidle out of the room and gallantly leave my wife to pore over the instruction manual to find out where the problem lies. I am still not sure what an MP3 player is, never mind MP1 and 2. And having only just mastered the art of playing a CD, the whole concept of an iPod is something of a bridge too far.
So far, I have managed to get away with it, arguing that the reason we had children in the first place was so that they could deal with new technology for us when it came along.
However, we have a foreign holiday coming up during which I’ll be doing a lot of driving, so it was decided, (not in my presence, I might add) that we should borrow my sister-in-law’s Satellite Navigation System to ensure we know exactly where we are at all times.
Naturally I protested. When, I argued, had I ever got lost when driving abroad?
Well, came the answer, there was the time I got lost between Disneyworld and International Drive; the time we missed the turn driving into Cologne and had to take three autobahns before we got back on track; the time we took the scenic route back to Girona airport from Perpignan; the time we couldn’t find our way out of a tiny village in the Algarve...
When the contraption arrived, I naturally had to test it out. As I suffer from a particular brand of Attention Deficit Disorder that won’t allow me to read instruction manuals, I got my son to show me the basics, like how to take it out of the box, how to attach it to the windscreen and how to turn it on. So far so good.
I then decided to test it out by typing in an address in the next estate to ours and seeing if it would direct me there. And yes, it worked.
Unfortunately, though, the address I chose, involved an incredible amount of left turns. “At the end of the road, turn left,” intoned Lorcan breezily. (My wife had decided that he sounded like a Lorcan). “Turn left, and, at the end of the road, turn left. Turn left and at the roundabout take the first exit left. Take the first exit left. In 300 yards, turn left. Turn left and at the end of the road, turn left...”
It was only a two minute journey but by the end of it, I was screaming at Lorcan to shut up. And then, very foolishly, I set the instructions to take us back home,
“Turn right,” said Lorcan. “Turn right and at the end of the road, turn right...”
We had to go down to Strokestown in lovely county Roscommon on the Bank Holiday weekend, which would be more of a test for Lorcan, we decided, even though I know the route like the back of my hand.
Surprisingly, Lorcan agreed with my decision that the best way to access the M4 was to head down the back roads to Leixlip, thus avoiding the Friday afternoon traffic on the M50. And once we hit the motorway, he shut up for 68 miles, which was delightful, though he failed to spot the toll bridge near Enfield and made my wife scramble in her handbag for some loose change to throw in the basket.
It was on the outskirts of Longford though that Lorcan and I had our first serious disagreement. The shortest way to Strokestown is to go through Longford town centre, turn left at The Longford Arms and keep going on the N5. I, on the other hand, have an aversion to sitting in traffic, inching through Longford and so I prefer to carry on to Rooskey and then cut cross country.
“Turn left at the roundabout,” intoned Lorcan. I ignored him and continued on straight along the by-pass. The screen wheeled around in disbelief. The readings disappeared as Lorcan obviously tried to figure out what to do next. Eventually, he figured it out.
“In 500 yards, turn left at the roundabout.”
“Forget it. That’ll lead me back into Longford,” I replied. Again, I continued on straight.
“At the next roundabout, turn left,” Lorcan repeated, after a few moments speechless disbelief at my insubordination.
“You’d better do what he says,” said my wife. “You’ll only make him upset.”
I grunted and continued on straight at the third and final roundabout.
“When it is safe to do so, turn around!” pleaded Lorcan urgently. “Turn around now. When it is safe, turn around.”
He kept it up half the way to Rooskey and then decided that he wanted me to turn right, which would have led me north towards Leitrim and Cavan. I suspected that, in a fit of pique, he was just saying the most ridiculous thing that came into his head, because he knew I wouldn’t pay any attention.
To be fair to him, though, at Rooskey, he finally copped on to what I was trying to do, though as we travelled down the road, he tried to tell me that I was in fact traversing a large field, which I could see quite plainly was a big fib. My wife put it down to the fact that we were only ironing out our relationship and he was just seeing how far he could push me.
I think I will use Lorcan sparingly when we go abroad. Possibly I’ll only turn him on when we are hopelessly lost and need a hero to get us back on the right road. Doubtless he’ll be grumpy about being used in such a way but what can you do?
Of course, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the man, sitting up there in a satellite, looking down at my car with a telescope and giving me directions. I still haven’t figured out how he manages to do it on a cloudy and overcast day. God bless his eyesight, that’s all I can say.

Confessions of a political guru

To the great unwashed, I am just an ordinary voter. The prospective councillors, TDs and MEPs knock at my door and convey to me their determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with me on whatever view I have on the current situation. And I promise them my wholehearted support and tell them they can count on me on polling day for my number one vote and they go away happy and I get back to the washing up.
Few of them realise that the mild-mannered man clutching a tea-towel was once the leading political guru in Dublin 15, the king-maker supreme.
Nevertheless, it is true. I was the Clark Kent of politics in Dublin 15, the puppeteer par excellence. Let me explain.
I was always interested in politics, even as a foetus. Most expectant mothers are thrilled when their babies kick. I used to pretend to shin up lampposts and put up election posters, much to my mother’s discomfort. And when her womb eventually lost patience and expelled me from the party, the midwife held me up and announced, “It’s a cabinet minister.”
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that my passion for politics was only matched by my complete ineptitude at the art. As the saying goes, every time I opened my mouth, I put my foot in it, an admirable talent for an acrobat in the circus but a fatal flaw for one with dreams of high office. I was completely talentless, the political equivalent of David van Day.
However, I was undeterred in my love of politics and resolved, from an early age, to become a political guru. To this end, I haunted constituency clinics, I made the acquaintance of senators, spin doctors, advisors and chairpeople of local residents associations. Not only did I live politics and sleep politics, I frequently danced, dined and indulged in intimate liaisons with politics, though not necessarily all at the same time. I took night courses in Political Guruism in Hartstown Community School and participated in the era-defining Political-Gurus-against-the-Bomb marches of the late seventies, which paved the way for the safer world we live in today.
Emerging as a fully-fledged guru in the early eighties, I was distressed to find that the bottom had fallen out of the guru market. Throughout the country, gurus were scouring the evening papers looking for jobs that simply weren’t there and lining up at unemployment centres, swapping tips on the horses. Many retrained as accountants and bankers. I have to admit that in the darkest hours, I sometimes felt like following suit, but I had a vision after eating some funny mushrooms in which St. Thérèse of Lisieux advised me to stick with the guruism.
Coincidentally it was a woman of similar attributes that gave me my first big break, though I like to think I helped her just as much as she helped me. At the time, Joan Burton was starting to become somewhat disillusioned with politics and one day over a cup of hot chocolate at the kitchen table, she confided that she was thinking of giving it all up and travelling to America to become one of Lionel Ritchie’s backing singers.
“Joan,” I said, offering her another hobnob. “You have a wonderful singing voice but do you really want to perform “Dancing on the Ceiling” every night for the rest of your life? Would it not be far more fulfilling to be the Dusty Springfield of Daíl Eireann?” I can still recall now the tears of gratitude in her eyes as she reached across for the biscuit tub. She took my advice and the rest, as they say, is history. We often laughed about it afterwards, though not in each other’s company.
Throughout the late eighties and the early nineties, my reputation grew. In those days, of course, gurus weren’t allowed to advertise, but word of mouth was such that a steady stream of political wannabes beat a path to my front door, which was great, as I’d always wanted a path.
I remember one rather senior politician phoning me up in an agitated fashion one night, wondering if he should run for president or not. I’ll call him Brian to protect his anonymity, though that was actually his real name.
“Brian,” I said. “You’ll be a shoe-in and you’ll make a damned fine president. Just don’t give any interviews to Fine Gael post-graduate students and make sure that your recollections are always mature.” He was greatly heartened by this and offered me the job of his election agent but unfortunately Boris Yeltsin had invited me over to his dacha in Yalta to discuss seizing power from Gorbachev and I had to refuse.
In the latter years of the century, I remember opening the door one evening to a young lad in a hoodie and torn jeans. “Heowerya bud,” he drawled. “Are you the geezer what does the political thing, like, y’know? Can ya teach me some stuff, like, cos it seems a deadly buzz?”
I brought him inside and sat him down and gave him a crash course in politics. How I remember his little eyes widening in awe as I explained balancing budgets and the IMF and corporation tax. He looked completely nonplussed, the way Brian Cowen would do years later when I whispered Brian Lenihan’s name in his ear. Before he left, I gave him one final word of advice.
“Leo,” I said. “Do yourself a favour. Buy yourself a nice suit. Oh and maybe take a few elocution lessons.” Naturally, his is the first Christmas card that comes through my door every year.
Some of my best successes have been completely inadvertent, like the time a year or two ago when I mis-addressed two packets that I was sending out. Thus my nephew was somewhat taken aback on his fifth birthday to receive a thirty page step by step guide on how to become President of the United States, while a young senator from Illinois was correspondingly bemused to receive a DVD of Bob the Builder.
I am semi-retired now, content to watch my former seedlings flowering and bearing fruit. Occasionally I get questions from candidates in the local elections, asking my advice on which is their better side for the election posters or should they fly a hot-air balloon above their house to advertise their candidature, but most of the young whippersnappers fail to recognise the political heavyweight that answers the door to them, tea-towel in hand. And that is exactly how it should be.