Whiskey Live Dublin 2017

An incredibly quick post on whiskey Live Dublin. It’s basically the All-Ireland, Christmas, The Eid and Glastonbury all rolled into one. I love it – loads of vendors, loads of great whiskeys, and loads of Internet Friends who you finally get to meet in real life, albeit after quite a bit of booze so it doesn’t seem real. This was my fourth year, and my worst for making all the stalls. I think I managed to hit about ten of the 40 or 50 there. Pathetic. The upside of that is I only tried a few, really interesting drams, and got to meet some really interesting folks. Here’s a whistle-stop tour.

First up was John Teeling’s Great Northern. Working off a third-party sales model, they may well be a serious player down the road, simply because they are making whatever people want. I tried the 18-month-old peated malt – mild, medicinal but nowhere near the demonic motherfuckers of Islay. The chap I spoke with (that’s him above) had a career that included working as a botanist, a miner, and finally a distiller, so he was a mine (!!!) of information.

The third-party model will be an important one, especially for anyone who wants to distill interesting drams by contract. The flipside of this will be what some chose to put on labels, but none of that is John Teeling’s concern.  

I have a lot of admiration for Connaught Distillery. Their CEO David Stapleton comes from a background in waste management and did his MBA through the Open University. They are effectively an Irish American operation, which is reflected in their Brothership whiskey, which I tried for the first time and really liked. It’s a blend of two ten year olds, one from each side of the Atlantic, with the Irish making up 55% and the American whiskey 45%.  I hope these frontier distilleries are going to do the really interesting stuff down the road, as they will need to build cult following to get the whiskey tourists flocking to their doors.

The guys at Glendalough are looking towards whiskey tourism too – they have a site tucked away in Laragh and hope to start building their distillery soon. Perhaps with this in mind they have unified their branding, eschewing the blues and greens for various shades of grey. It’s not just the labels that changed, the liquid is different too. Five Lamps brewery used their whiskey barrels to finish stout in, so Glendalough took those barrels back and finished the seven year old in them. Gone now are those sweet citrus notes for a far deeper expereience – chocolate, coffee, brandy butter, whiskey cream. I loved the earlier seven, but this is a change I can believe in. Meanwhile, the 13 – an oblique nod to company investor and rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll –  is now finished in mizunara cask, making it the only whiskey in ireland that uses this Japanese wood.

Speaking of coffee – Black Twist is a coffee liqueur crafted as a crossroads between the late nights and early mornings of the whiskey aficionados. Don’t think Kahlua or Tia Maria, this is far better – like an iced coffee with whiskey. The alcohol content is low, about 26%, but it is a delight to drink, with far more of the coffee flavour than the booze.  This could definitely be one to sharpen the mind after too much turkey.

Sliabh Liag are getting there – they have bored two wells at the site of their planned distillery and have struck sweet delicious water. They hope to start work on it once the weather gets better, which given that this is Donegal we are talking about, I’m going to assume will be never. I’m kidding – they are looking at spring 2018. This is one I can get behind – clear message from day one, and a pedigree in the drinks business.

Tipperary are another team working to get off the ground. They’ve gone the extra mile and have distilled their own grain by contract at an unnamed distillery. I had a sample of that new make and it was really excellent. High hopes for these guy – they are rolling out a cask programme soon, and this is one I could get behind if only I wasn’t a member of the working poor.

I also managed to strongarm (I asked politely) John Cashman of Cooley into sharing a mystery dram – their six year old rye pot still whiskey. It was unique. Bottle it and get it on a shelf so I can buy it lads.

One of the first difference I noticed was the lack of Glencairns – the Tuath has taken over. The new Irish whiskey glass is larger than its Scottish cousin, which meant for more generous pours. This was a solid test of the glass and it passed with flying colours. It’s sturdier and the angular base makes it easier to hold and thus not drop on your fucking foot after 25,000 drams, like I did last year. I’m going to do a proper test of the Tuath at some stage, but out in the field, it worked a charm.

There were, of course, loads of other snippets, but overall it would appear that the Irish whiskey category is in rude health – distilleries are being built, more are planned, and we are heading into an interesting time for whiskey lovers. While I’m not one for the backslapping, everything-is-awesome guff that gets fed to the mainstream press – clearly there are issues that need to be sorted out – overall Whiskey Live Dublin was a reminder that our best days are still to come.

 

Monsters, friends, Tom Humphreys, excuses

 

Week 27, bleak af.

 

There is a man I see around town. He looks a bit like an absent minded professor, slightly dilapidated and a bit bewildered. He seems affable enough, with a sort of half smile on his face as he meanders around the supermarket, staring blankly at yogurts and cleaning products. He had a great job with the council for almost three decades, and was even lucky enough to get out with an early retirement package before the court case began. During the trial, the court was told that it was a German website that tipped off authorities to what he had on his computer – almost 14,000 images of children as young as one year old being violated, raped and abused. One of the gardai who dealt with the case said it was one of the worst he had encountered, while the judge said he was horrified by it.

I think about all these things when I see this man. He is a sad, pathetic figure, and I usually feel sorry for him – he has the look of someone who has no-one to care for him, to wash his clothes properly or tell him to fix his hair. I don’t grab my kids and run when I see him, because it’s not the threats you can identify that you need to worry about.

Contrary to our collective unconscious – or your local community group on Facebook –  the monsters aren’t hiding in the bushes or driving around estates in black vans trying to snatch kids. They are standing next to you at the checkout, beside you in the pub, in front of you in church, or even in your circle of friends.

Everyone has that one friend who just can’t seem to get their life together. To most of my friends, I am that person, but even I found someone who was more of a disaster zone than I am. We were friends from childhood, but as we grew older, I settled down while he just couldn’t seem to find the balance in his life to make any relationship work. I married and had kids, he wallowed in drugs, prostitutes and pornography. His obsession with the latter overshadowed everything – he lived in a country where it was freely available and seemed to be endlessly consuming it. I’m no prude, but when I would visit him he would be scurrying off into some shady back section of a shop and come out with a bag stuffed with increasingly brutal DVDs.

We would poke fun at him about it, but it was relentless. His lifestyle choices generally, and the social circle he kept, which as he said was full of ‘the wanted and the unwanted’, meant that he was on a downward spiral.

I was chatting to him on Gmail on evening when he said he had been at a friend’s house and had seen some ‘extreme’ material. With a sense of rising dread I asked what he meant. The videos involved girls aged eight or nine – the same age my daughter was at the time. So I told him he needed to call the cops on this ‘friend’. He said no way, this guy was his pal. I told him his ‘pal’ was complicit in a crime, that he was part of a culture that delights in the rape and torture of little children. My friend was indignant, saying with absolute certainty that the children in these videos weren’t being raped, they were enjoying the abuse.

Some friendship fade out over years as your lives change. This one ended at that moment. I told him to never contact me again, and that if I saw him anywhere near my family I would call the police. I got a few abusive messages after that, but blocked him. In the intervening years he has tried to get in touch, expressing remorse that we ‘fell out’, but not once did he say that he had a problem, or that he was wrong, or that he needed help. I very much hope that I never see him again, because whether or not he ever actually harms a child, he clearly has the paedophile mindset – that children enjoy abuse.  

I’m slow to use the term ‘child pornography’ as the word pornography implies consent, eroticism, or pleasure. These are images of worst kind of rape and torture – the most sadistic abuse imaginable. These are lives being ruined, and while the perpetrators are the active agents, those who watch the videos and share them on the internet are just passive versions of the same monsters.

All of this was in my head in the last two weeks as I wondered how I was able to pull the shutters down on two decades of friendship – but Tom Humphreys, an actual, active paedophile who defiled a child, was still deemed worthy of defence by some of his peers. Perhaps those who stood by him had trouble asking themselves the same question I had to ask after I severed ties with one of my oldest friends – what the hell is wrong with me? How did I end up friends with someone so morally bankrupt, so unfeeling, so utterly sick? But not every paedophile is as visibly odd as Jimmy Savile. Many of them are perfectly affable, average members of society who are secretly despicable creatures. They can be great writers, good friends and monsters all at once. But once the last aspect is revealed, your own humanity should recoil in horror. There is no ‘forgive and forget’ here.

But still there are people like the author John Grisham who in 2014 said that the American courts needed to be more lenient with people who watch videos of children being sexually abused, talking about an old law school friend who was sent to jail for this very thing. Grisham blamed alcohol, and bizarrely, boredom, for his friend’s moral decay. There are no excuses for enjoying the abuse of a child. Even Kevin Spacey somehow thought that telling the world what we already knew, that he was gay, somehow explained his assault on a 14-year-old. This isn’t about gender or sexual orientation – it’s about adults, children and abuse.

In the trial of the man I see shuffling around my town, one of the arresting gardai testified that he thought the man downloaded 13,845 images and videos ‘out of boredom as much as anything else’. In the end, the man got off with a four-year suspended sentence, due to a statement from the Granada Institute that he was unlikely to pose a threat to the community, and also because he was his mother’s sole carer. She died earlier this year, so now he is alone, muddling about the place looking confused. Some day he will die, have a tiny funeral, and that will be that. The world won’t be any safer or better, but there will be one less identifiable menace in my hometown, and – more worryingly – many, many more that I don’t know about.

RTE, Supremes, JFK, Duchas

Week 26, six months of being an opinionista and nobody has threatened to kill me yet, WTF am I doing wrong?

 

 

It seems odd that I grew up in the age of one TV channel. It doesn’t seem like a million years ago, but I can still remember the excitement when Network Two launched, or waving a wonky rabbit-ears aerial around the living room in the hope of picking up some HTV Cymru Wales and possibly some post-watershed nudity, as there was little hope of any on a station that carried the Angelus.

Times have changed, and although RTE still carries the sacred ding-dongs, there is little hope of salvation for them. My kids don’t watch TV – they watch Netflix and YouTube. The concept of sitting down at an appointed time to watch any show is completely alien to them, I feel much the same way. I am happy to pay my license fee, as I think it is important to support our national broadcaster from a cultural perspective, but it’s a sad state of affairs when the most enjoyable thing to come out of Montrose in the past 12 months is a Twitter account of an unnamed, disillusioned producer who is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

Secret RTE Producer appeared out of nowhere in early September and started dishing the dirt. At first it seemed like it might be a Steve Bannon-esque false flag operation being used as an accelerant for job cuts, but the sense of frustration in the tweets can’t be faked. Many of them explain some of the odd decisions made in Montrose over the years (why isn’t Fair City better, what was the story with all the Craig Doyle stuff), or help shed some light on the background operations of an entity that we all have a stake in. In the two months that the account has been running there have been plot twists, grand reveals, Cold War paranoia, and even a period when the account went silent, leaving its thousands of followers wondering if the secret producer had been caught and dispatched to a North Korean-style re-education camp in the human resources department, or a just another course in media studies in Colaiste Dhulaig.

Whatever happens to the secret producer, they probably need to start making plans for life outside Montrose, because the closing scenes of this real-life drama are not going to be pretty. The public reaction from those within the RTE machine was a little depressing – where many of us on the outside saw a whistleblower, they saw a rat. Where they saw profound disloyalty to their organisation, I saw those tweets as actual public service broadcasting. But the future for all of RTE is stark – kids today don’t want The Den, they want Stampy Longnose’s inverted guffawing on YouTube, while teenagers just want Netflix and chill, whatever that means. Perhaps instead of feeling hurt by the tweets of Secret RTE Producer, the top brass at Montrose could learn from them, and make a few changes. Don’t change Nationwide though – that is perfect.

One move in the right direction was the broadcasting live from the Supreme Court for the first time yesterday. While many tuned in in the hope of some Judge Judy style shrieking and fake cases involving bruised pets or damaged flowers, it really drove home just how devoid of drama the courts are. Far from the byzantine, kafkaesque nightmare of legal jargon and people shouting latin at each other that one would expect, it was quite like a live broadcast from the queue in the motor tax office, or a dentist’s waiting room. It was like the broadcast from my local church on the internet which I sometimes found myself watching at 4am when I worked nights. You kept waiting for something incredible to happen, but it never did – yet the expectation was always there, of some divine judgement on us all. But if the broadcasting of court cases helps deter people from taking spurious insurance claims, then RTE will have justified the license fee for at least another decade.

Conspiracy theorists rejoice, for another tranche of the FBI’s JFK assassination papers are being released. While Donald Trump announced to the world that he was allowing them to be opened, they were scheduled to be opened since long before that haunted jack o’ lantern began flushing America’s reputation down the toilet. It was actually Oliver Stone’s intensely dull film JFK which prompted the US congress to order the release all the way back in 1992. Still, you have to admire Trump’s confidence, as he is basically allowing the FBI to release a ‘how-to’ guide on getting away with assassinating a president, in a nation stuffed with gun nuts. So perhaps anyone thinking of dressing up as him for Halloween might want to rethink their costume choice.

Here at home we have sizeable chunks of our own rich history being released onto the internet. Duchas.ie has released a quarter of a million documents and almost ten thousand photographs from the National Folklore Collection on their website. With a handy search option, it is a fascinating selection of myths, legends and rumours that otherwise would have been lost. Granted, some of it is pure bunkum, but when I stumbled across two transcriptions from 1938 about treasure that may or may not be buried near my house, I found myself waking in the middle of the night and googling metal detectors and the law regarding ownership of massive hoards of gold. If I do find a load of torcs, I just hope that I get to appear on Nationwide before I flog them all on eBay.

 

Any port in a storm

We got to Heuston Station as the last train pulled out. It was only going as far as Portlaoise, so even if we had made it, we would still have had quite a walk back to Cork.

My daughter and I were in Dublin for a hospital appointment, one that only got cancelled at 10pm the night before, when we were already in the city. This meant we were trapped in the big smoke, with the worst storm in four decades bearing down on us. So we decided to go shopping.

Back in Dublin city centre it soon became clear that this was not going to be an option – almost everywhere was pulling down the shutters as we walked around, first across O’Connell Street and then up to Grafton Street. Despite the warnings that Ireland was about to get hit with a bone fide hurricane (bear in mind that the last tropical occurrence here were those really racist Lilt ads in the early Nineties), the weather was pleasantly mild, if a little breezy. But hell or high water wouldn’t keep me from the one place I always visit when in Dublin – the Celtic Whiskey Shop. I had assumed they wouldn’t be open, but, as their owner is a canny Scot who is used to actual storms, he opened. This was a godsend, as whiskey does technically fall under the remit of ‘provisions’ in any major Irish emergency.

So despite the weary groans from my teenage daughter, we ambled in to soak up the ambiance, and by ambience I naturally mean booze.

I tend to complain about the price of Irish whiskey. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income, so the prices of Irish whiskey sometimes make me despair. As a result, I usually shop online and mostly buy Scotch. This is partly because of the value you get, and also the sheer variety. But what you don’t get is the enjoyment of talking to a salesperson, especially ones as expert as the staff in the Celtic Whiskey Shop. It’s little wonder that many of their staff go on to work as brand ambassadors, as they know their stuff, they know how to treat customers well, and they are a genial bunch.

As soon as we started chatting, a sample was offered, to warm the blood after braving the unseasonably mild weather outside. But this wasn’t going to be a drop of whatever was on special – they went straight for a Midleton single cask. After that – and an hour long conversation about Irish whiskey, Jim Murray, transparency, online vs offline shopping, and beef – I basically had to buy something. I asked for something interesting, so they gave me a drop of the new Teeling Brabazon port cask.

John Teeling. Picture; Gerry Mooney

The Teeling story is a remarkable one. John Teeling was a teetotaller and serial entrepreneur who had the barmy idea of buying an old, state-owned industrial distillery and using it to make whiskey for third party sales. Looking back now, more than two decades on, it seems visionary, but I would imagine that at the time it seemed quite batshit. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, he played it hard and fast, ending up at loggerheads with Irish Distillers on at least one occasion, but in the end he created an empire, one that he sold to Beam Suntory for €71m in 2011.

John Teeling’s boundless energy meant he was never going to stay still – he bought the old Harp brewery in Dundalk and turned it into a distilling powerhouse, again using the third party model that had brought him so much success in Cooley. But his sons went for a riskier, bolder model.

**** NO REPRO FEE **** 13/02/2013 : DUBLIN : Independent Irish whiskey maker the Teeling Whiskey Company has launched Teeling Irish whiskey to celebrate 231 years of whiskey distilling tradition within the Teeling Family. The Teeling family’s whiskey heritage dates back to Walter Teeling who set up a distillery in 1782 in Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties, Dublin. The Teeling Whiskey Company also announced that it is carrying out a feasibility study on setting up a distillery in Dublin. Pictured launching Teeling Irish Whiskey is Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Company. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.
Media contact : David Ó Síocháin Mobile 087 936 2440 email : media@teelingwhiskey.com

Jack and Stephen Teeling may be the dauphins of Irish whiskey, but they also came burdened with their father’s impressive legacy. However, there are few people in Ireland today with their insight or expertise in building a successful whiskey business. A sign of this confidence was where they opted to site their new distillery – in Dublin city’s Newmarket Square. 

After this brave move, there was the pressure to source quality stock – and this is where I am going to engage in some wild speculation. I would suggest that, contrary to popular belief, they didn’t hang on to a load of Cooley stock. Beam Suntory didn’t pay seventy million clams just for Cooley, Ireland’s ugliest distillery (they also got one of Ireland’s prettiest distilleries, Kilbeggan) and zero stock. When you pay that much for a distillery, you are not just looking for infrastructure, you are looking for booze – and lots of it.

Similarly, if you are selling a distillery and tons of stock, you are selling it at a good price, so you are not going to get some sort of budget buy-back deal. So while there is a theory out there that all three Teelings walked away from that deal with a cartload of premium casks, it is highly unlikely. As one pundit put it to me, that would be like selling someone a car with no engine.

While the grain the Teelings use may be from Cooley (as with all things supply related, a lot of this is guesswork) it would appear their other source is Bushmills, a distillery that seems to be able to supply vast quantities of excellent whiskey to just about anyone but themselves. The Teelings’ Vintage Reserve releases would certainly suggest Bushmills, as some of those bottlings are older than Cooley Distillery itself.

But back to their sourced releases, which rarely disappoint – their first being a blend that was, and still is, one of the great bang-for-your-buck whiskeys out there. My first bottle of it came with a ringing endorsement from the Celtic Whiskey Shop a few years ago, and it is still one I would rank up there with Writers Tears as a great introduction to the ever expanding world of Irish whiskey.

So the Teelings have it all – the supply, the distillery, the know-how, a partnership with Bacardi that opens new channels across the globe; and they even had their own TV show, which I think makes them the Kardashians of Irish whiskey. 

Their sourced releases were varying degrees of excellent – here are some of the mainstream releases, not including the single casks and obscure releases:

Core Trinity Range:

Small Batch

Single Grain

Single Malt

Vintage Reserve Collection:

21 YO

26 YO

30 YO

24 YO

33 YO

Revival Series:

Vol. I

Vol. II

Vol. III

Vol. IV

Vol V (pending released 2018)

Brabazon Bottlings:

Brabazon 1

Brabazon 2

Collaborations/exclusives:

Stout Cask

Airport Exclusives  x c.10

Poitín (from their own distillery in Dublin):

Teeling Poitín

Teeling Spirit of Dublin

The Teeling brothers are looking at an Autumn 2018 date for their own stock, which will be the first new whiskey out of Dublin in quite some time, so the furore then will possibly be even more annoying than when the Dubs win the All-Ireland.

But back to Brabazon II: I asked Gabriel Corcoran from Teeling to shed a little light on the components: “There is a significant portion of white port, of a similar profile to the Carcavelos single cask release, but balanced out with a ruby port backbone and some added depth from a tawny port-finished element.”

The complete breakdown is as follows:


So on to some confusing and wildly inaccurate tasting notes:

Nose: Going to set a high bar for pretentiousness early on by saying ‘a forest in winter’ – vegetal notes, pine, an outdoorsy freshness, although that may just be the alcohol vapors freezing my face. Red liquorice, slight acetone, camphor. Less of the heavy fruit notes I expected to get from so much port cask, but then I haven’t a clue what port tastes like as I am not a feudal lord.

Palate: Fucking hell that 49.5% hits you in the goddam throat – in a good way. Lots of aniseed, ouzo, real heavy warming sensations, Benylin, the stewed fruits coming through. Hierbas, the Mallorcan liqueur,

Finish:  Dark chocolate, coffee, going to say tannic dryness even though I’m not entirely certain what that means. Cornflakes, for some bizarre reason. Hints of peppermint in the aftermath, pink peppercorns, metallic notes, and those juicy, sweet notes of the fruit.

Brabazon II in a grappa glass for some reason.

Overall, a solid release. Could it be a little better priced? Yes, it could. At close to €80, this is more expensive than the Tyrconnell 12 Madeira cask, which they used to make in Cooley, and which is one of the greats of Irish whiskey. But as with anything, this is completely subjective – bear in mind that after tax, I get paid about €80 a day, and as I work hard, it needs to be a pretty decent whiskey to justify that spend. Still, as a memento of an odd day wandering a deserted Dublin waiting for the hurricane, it was a worthwhile buy. My thanks to the guys in the Celtic Whiskey Shop for just being open, but especially to Dave Cummins, who was fantastic company, even managing to get my daughter chatting about whiskey, a topic she hates as it is ‘boring’. I mean yeah, it is totally boring, until you’re old enough to drink the stuff. But for her, that day is a long way off…he said hopefully.

Powercuts, offaly, ophelia, sean hughes

Week 25 of the column! Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not my guidance counsellor in school, who said I should be an engineer and also got my name wrong.

 

The worst storm that I can remember was in December 1996. It seemed to come out of nowhere and pummelled east Cork right before Christmas, ripping the roof off the local Co-Op and leaving thousands without power. We lost our power on Christmas Eve and didn’t get it back for ten days. This, of course, would not be that bad, only for the fact that we have a well, and no power meant no water – to drink, to flush, to wash. That Christmas was never going to be an easy one, as we had lost my sister earlier that year. I can remember my parents and I sitting around the fire, all trying to be strong for each other, all pretending that somehow this live reenactment of The Shining was a much more traditional Christmas, as opposed to an incredibly sad week and a half of darkness, despair and poor personal hygiene. We didn’t even have a TV to distract us from the loss, or clean water to wash away the tears. Thank god I had a massive supply of beer to keep me hydrated.

The most memorable part of the storm and its aftermath were the simple acts of kindness. People we hardly knew showed up to the door with gallons of water, hot food, and even a couple of roasted turkeys fresh out of the oven. It was incredibly touching, even though it meant I had to eat about 30lbs of turkey in 48 hours so it wouldn’t all end up in the bin. To this day that storm ranks as the worst and best I have lived through, and I still use it as a gauge for any other natural disasters – the only questions I ask are; are we all here; is everyone ok; and who wants more half melted ice cream. As long as you are safe and together, things are generally ok – although a decent supply of Febreeze and babywipes also helps.

It was disappointing to see Offaly get hit by Ophelia. The recent census figures showed that the county has the highest percentage of Catholics in the country, which I assumed made it some sort of promised land for the chosen people of Ireland. Apparently not; they got smote just like everyone else, despite being the home to important pilgrimage sites like Clonmacnoise and that Barrack Obama filling station in Moneygall. Granted, there were a few missteps along Offaly’s path to righteousness, as the county is responsible for not one but two Cowens, while they also declared war on heaven by Birr physicist George Johnstone Stoney coining the term electron in 1891 as the as the “fundamental unit quantity of electricity”, thus undermining the power of prayer, which up until that point had been fuelling the national grid. I’m sure all the poor souls without power in The Faithful County will enjoy the irony of that. Perhaps this latest testing of their faith might make them want to move to Dun Laoghaire, which not only had electricity right through Ophelia but also has the lowest number of Catholics in the country. Coincidence? Probably, yes.

I spent Ophelia trapped in Dublin. My daughter and I travelled up on Sunday to make a hospital appointment on Monday morning that was subsequently cancelled, along with all of the trains out of the city. The culchie in me felt a rising panic as I realised I was going to have to spend another 24 hours in this terrifying metropolis, trying to hide my uncool, non-ironic country ways and singy-songy Cork accent. I stood at the Luas stop for a tram that would never come, desperately trying to remember what the Five Lamps were, or how to make coddle, in case a local started talking to me. The last thing any culchie wants is to be identified as such in the Big Smoke and subjected to the hate hoots of the million or so first generation Dubs whose parents only left a bog in Mayo two decades ago. We kept the heads down and just prayed that we would make it out alive, ready to burst into Aslan songs if anyone tried to chat to us. As we walked through the city centre, businesses were pulling down the shutters, as staff got sent home to ride out what has become known as Bank Holiday Ophelia with important provisions like Netflix and cans. We passing throngs of bemused tourists who obviously failed to listen to the Nuacht warnings that the weather was going to get ufasach ar fad, as they clustered around important cultural attractions like Carroll’s gift shops, those Paddywagon places, and Starbucks. But it’s good to know that when the trumpet sounds and the fall of man begins, we will still be able to get a pumpkin spice latte and Kiss Me I’m Irish bonnet.

In the middle of the storm the new broke that Sean Hughes had passed away. Aged just 51, he was one of the great surreal comedians of the Nineties, but more than than, he always seemed like a nice guy. There was something loveable about his witty misery, his love of indie music, and his wet, sad Irish eyes. One of my favourite quotes is his thoughts on religion, of which he once said “I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a man or because I was brought up a Catholic. But sometimes I find the whole idea of sex repulsive and at other times I’d gladly stick my penis up a drain.” Hopefully when he gets to the pearly gates they will see the funny side.

The big sleep

Dawn over Dingle.

Nobody goes to Dingle to sleep. This was a thought that occured to me as I lay tucked up in my B&B there on a Friday night at 8.30pm. I was in the village for work, but on the way down I was almost giddy with excitement at the thought of an early night. Naturally, I failed to consider that booking a B&B that is right over a pub right on the main street might not have been the best idea, as this small village on the edge of Ireland is absolutely hopping in summer. As I lay there listening to a multitude of languages and various renditions of Galway Girl, I wondered if this would be what it’s like if I never met my wife, never became a father: Dine alone, pint alone, bed alone. All the sleep you want, endless days to yourself. I’m not sure I would like it.

I lost my virginity in Dingle. Not that weekend, obviously. It was 23 years ago, I had just finished the Leaving Cert and hitched down there to meet with friends and my then girlfriend. It took me six hours and four lifts, each one zanier than the last, but I made it, found my friends, and after we exchanged stories about our Kerouacian journeys down, someone said ‘who brought the tent?’ Nobody was the answer, nobody brought the tent. So we trudged out of the town a bit, found one of the many small cottages with no windows, no doors and a half collapsed roof and made our camp there. And it was there that I supposedly became a man.

Most of my memories are shame-based anyway, but it is my romantic ones that cause me the most chagrin. I wondered what happened to everyone I knew back then, how did they remember me, was I as awful as my memories suggest. If I was faced with all my former lovers I think I would just offer a blanket apology, not just for my performance in the bedroom, but in all the other rooms of the house too. I just wasn’t a very good person – intimacy was an irritant, commitment and love seemed like those magic eye pictures from the 1990s; everyone else got them, but not me, no matter how hard I stared. Of course, saying ‘all my lovers’ somehow implies that there were loads, when you really wouldn’t have to make more than four phonecalls to get them together for their long overdue apology.

I briefly thought about going to see if the old cottage was still there, knocking on the door like the traveller from Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners, while my horse in the silence champed the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor:

‘But only a host of phantom listeners   

That dwelt in the lone house then

Said ‘you were really bad at sex,

Now, as much as then’.

If I could go back, there is not a huge amount I would change, as youth is meant to be a relatively cruel education that prepares you for later life. But I would try to treat people better, and specifically, to treat women better. All these thought came back to me not just because I was in Dingle, but because of a phonecall I got while I was there.

On Friday a package arrived to my house. My wife, thinking it was for us, opened it. Bearing in mind the fact that I got a vasectomy three years ago, you can imagine her surprise when she found a packet of condoms within. I’m amazed she recognised what they were, given that we have four kids and ergo are not overly familiar with the concept of contraception. She checked the address again, but while it was the right house, it was the name that was wrong, as the package was addressed to our daughter, who is 14. There were several options here: It was either a prank, a slur, a practical necessity (dear god please no), or she meant to order some boutique brand of ketchup and due to our failing school system was unable to spell ‘condiment’ correctly. As a father, this is the moment you dread – it means the sharks that you once swam are starting to circle, and you are going to need to get your daughter on a bigger boat, ie, a finishing school in the Swiss Alps.

Whatever the reason for the delivery – early explanations include ‘friendly prank’ which actually means ‘typically inept flirting by some poor kid’ – the hour has arrived where I need to sit down with her and tell her who I was and how to avoid people like me, or at least, people like Early Nineties Me. It seems like yesterday she was this little bundle in my arms, then playing with dolls, starting school, all those growing pains, and now she is drifting away from us into her own hidden world that we have no access to. All we can do is try to make sure she doesn’t make our mistakes, and at least makes some new, slightly less awful ones, like waiting for the right time to take this big adult step, and remembering to bring a tent when you go camping, euphemistically as well as every other way.

Norovirus, flu, maccie d’s, Mickey d

Week 24 of the column and I finally get around to talking about my ass. Also, check out that layout up top: They used my name, like you would with other important thought leaders like David Quinn, John Waters, Ronan Mullen, or any of those other great guys who I am totally friends with on Bebo.

 

There are many pleasant occurrences at the changing of the seasons – shorter days mean the awkward among us breathe a sigh of relief as they slump into social hibernation, while the drop in temperatures means we get to light a warming fire and then use it as a mini-incinerator for everything from broken toys to pink Roses.

But there are some things that happen at this time of year that are less welcome – the mass migration of giant spiders into our homes and, presumably, our hair; or having to pretend you care about the budget beyond diesel and pints. But the least welcome seasonal occurrence of all has to be the return of the Norovirus. It is better known as the winter vomiting bug, in itself a complete misnomer as ‘the ebola of the arse’ would be a more fitting title. It may be simply a side effect of age, but I just don’t remember this bug being around when I was a child. I don’t recall the horror of when it takes hold of a family, spreading from person to person like wildfire, forcing violently unwell parents to chase nauseous toddlers about the house with a basin, like some deranged medieval parlour game, or if Caligula directed an episode of It’s A Knockout. I can remember measles and mumps, even the odd demonic possession, but not this. It seems like a very modern bug, one that preys on our very modern belief that just about everything is going to kill us. True, it does make you want to gather the children and bid them farewell, or even just to curse them for bringing it home from playschool, but as actual illnesses go, it does little real damage to healthy subjects, apart from helping us shift a half stone just in time for the Halloween treat binge.

One virus that definitely needs a rebrand and relaunch is influenza, a life-threatening bug that we have become so blasé about that we don’t even call it by its full title, instead opting for a rubbish nickname – ‘flu. In fact, we are so blind to just how dangerous the ‘flu actually is that we now use it as an umbrella term for anything from a nasty cold to the shame-filled endgame of a bad pint. If only it had the caché of new kids on the block, bird flu and swine flu, who went truly viral in the last five years. Even the uptake of the influenza vaccine is poor – because hey, it could never happen to me, and even if it does sher I’ll be grand. This year, however, is different. There is a particular strain of it that has hit Australia with punishing ferocity. Where previously it was a serious threat to the elderly or those with underlying conditions, now it is a threat to the young as well  – three children are among the casualties already. Influenza has always been dangerous, but it would appear to be getting moreso. So for those of us who previously thought we were invincible, this is a wake up call. At the ripe old age of 42 I now have to accept that I quite like being alive and the chances of me staying that way are diminishing day by day, so the onus is on me to actually get the vaccine. It’s a sad sign that I am both getting older and getting sense, and I worry about what comes next – pension plans? College funds? Minding my cholesterol levels? Dark nights in front of the fire watching The Great British Bake Off whilst enthusiastically discussing flans are my MDMA now, prompting me to ponder – was it for this that the wild geese spread? Yes, it probably was, as we are living longer, freer, and better than ever. So off I go to get the jab and try not to die. Now if only they could come up with a vaccine for the Norovirus.

Spare a thought for local mom n’ pop food chain McDonald’s, who seem to be struggling to produce that most basic of foods – condiments. Inspired by the hit adult cartoon Rick And Morty, Maccie D’s decided it might be fun to reintroduce their long gone Szechuan sauce for just one day, but in very limited supplies. They seem to have underestimated the demand, as some outlets only got 20 sachets, while there were scenes of screaming children and angry adults shouting at slightly bemused staff. In some outlets, the police were called to deal with irate customers. Within hours, three packets of the sauce went on eBay and sold for US$280 each, while Twitter went into its usual meltdown over the fiasco. The facts are clear – McDonald’s are running out of food, and we are all doomed. Either that or it was a cynical marketing ploy to create buzz, which backfired spectacularly. Still, given that this was America, let’s all just be thankful that nobody got shot.

The campaign to make Michael D Higgins President for life starts here. His tenure in the Aras has been a huge success – from his compassion, to his communication skills, to his general je ne sais quoi. You just get the sense that were you ever found yourself lost in the Burren, he would emerge from a dolmen to teach you how to read ogham and show you which mushrooms to eat, before guiding you back to civilisation by the stars. He has done such a great job, it is easy to forget the also-rans from the 2011 campaign. While he didn’t just win by being the best of a fairly uninspiring lot, it was a pretty poor line up. There was the Uncle-Fester-in-Louis-Copeland guy, the sad eyebrow guy who looked like ALF, I think Enya was there, and some others that I don’t recall. Michael D won because he is both a man of letters and someone who knows how to deliver an intellectual headbutt to those who deserve it; listening back to his surgical takedown of American right wing radio host Michael Graham – in which D uses his keen intellect to eviscerate him and also manages to call him a wanker – will make you want to declare him president for life. And if that role isn’t possible, let’s just stick a throne on Tara, give him a couple of wolfhounds and make him high king of Ireland. All hail King D.