Some Terrible Holiday Advice

“We’re all going on a summer holiday” was the cry in 218BC as Hannibal led his troops through a high alpine pass to attack Rome in what was the first recorded package holiday. Things have changed since then; instead of elephants we have airplanes, and instead of meagre rations of salted meat we have 15 kilo suitcases stuffed with clothes that we won’t be wearing, but the objective is still the same – cross Europe to get some sun, have some craic and perhaps level a European capital. But the key to Hannibal’s success is much the same then as now – prepare, prepare, prepare, and try to leave the under twos at home. 

There are two options – the package and the self-book. We opted for package as we had to weigh up the intense hassle of trying to organise flights, transfers, accommodation and all the rest for the six of us, knowing full well that we would make a mess of it and end up Home Alone-ing one of the kids (bad) or one of us (good). You can save quite a bit of money by spending hours of your short life on Booking.com and Ryanair, but there is always the fear that you will book one bag too few, one child too few, or an apartment that is 400 nautical miles from the airport. The package deal is the path of least resistance, a hedonistic luxury, like clicking your fingers and being magicked away, along with much of your annual income. But if there is one thing I learned from going on holiday with four kids, it is that there is no cheap way to do it. 

Travel light: Everyone overpacks, especially if you are on a package holiday where you are unlikely to get hit with fines for overweight bags. You think you will need a different ensemble for every night you are there, but once you are there you realise that actually you don’t really care if you wear the exact same outfit to the buffet every night, as many of the other residents are bedecked in vests and swim trunks, making you look like Coco Chanel by comparison. If you spill gazpacho on your shirt, either the hotel or its environs will have a launderette. This means you can also clean your clothes before going home, thus avoiding clogging your washing machine filter with sand and seashells. Save also on luggage weight and space by leaving the aspirational items, such as books and gym clothes, at home. If you are travelling with kids you won’t have time or exercise to read as you will be gazing, unblinking, into the paddling pool to make sure you know exactly who hit whose kid first. 

Screentime: You may have some notions about forcing the kids through some sort of digital detox and leaving all their devices at home. We went the other way, making sure that we had every form of electronic entertainment fully charged and ready to go before we left home. You can say, well screen time is the opiate of the tiny masses, but when you have three boys aged four to eleven ruining dinner for you and everyone else in the resort, some sweet sweet opiates are just what is needed – get ‘em doped up on YouTube and stuffed with patatas fritas and you might actually be able to enjoy your food, as opposed to the panicked trolley dash along the buffet with a screaming child in tow. 

Plan activities: We tried to go places every second day. A day trip to a city or nearby fishing village, and then a day off from being cultured when you can just sit by the pool and do nothing except damage your skin. 

Unless you are going off grid, TripAdvisor will be able to point you in the direction of local sites of interest, so at least you can come home and say you got some sense of the region. If travelling with smallies, bring a stroller, or hire one out from the hotel. We did this for our corpulent four year old, which led to us shamefacedly breaking two of them trying to lug him around. But it was worth it, as being trapped by the pool for more than a day really starts to feel like you’re in a display in the reptile house of Dublin Zoo.

Try somewhere new: When we only had two kids we used to go to the same resort in Lanzarote year after year. The reasoning was that it made settling in easier, but it became a sun-baked Groundhog Day. If you are booking a package holiday, it is unlikely that you will be more than a few minutes walk from all the amenities you will need, but a new location means new things to see – there are only so many times you can experience the wonder of Timanfaya National Park before you start yearning for another volcanic eruption just to liven things up. Also, two weeks anywhere is too long. Nine or ten days is loads, seven is just short enough that you want more. No holiday should end with someone muttering that they can’t wait to get home, although there is a great joy in flopping into your own bed after two weeks of weird springs and noisy air con. 

Don’t drink: This, clearly, is not for everyone. Until this year I had never been on a holiday where I did not drink – in fact, like a lot of holidaymakers, I consumed more drink than I would at home. On this trip I found myself asking – why? A holiday is meant to be a break from the norm, and my norm is having a drink. So I didn’t drink – I had more energy, more focus, and more money in my pocket. Granted, I then spent that money on ten bottles of spirits that pushed my luggage into the Heavy Bag sticker category, but I found the break far more pleasant for not drinking. My kids would probably say the same, which is the aim of family holidays – in many respects, I am just a tour rep for them, making sure they have a good time and that they don’t get burned, or lost, or bitten by a rabid cat. Our memories of the holiday are as clear as they can be, free from the haze of alcohol, and beyond the duty free and tatty clothes we lugged home, it is only the memories that last. 

Written for the Irish Independent.

Black Swan

Alan Foley, Cork City Ballet.

The great Soviet ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev said that you live as long as you dance. It’s a sentiment Alan Foley echoes when talking about the abrupt and cruel end to his time as a professional dancer; “Dancers die twice – first when their time as a dancer ends and then when their life ends.” 

Foley was indeed fortunate that, for him, both deaths didn’t happen at the same time. Born with a congenital heart murmur, he had been monitoring his health and knew that someday he would need major heart surgery, but as long as he was healthy he would keep dancing. Then, aged 38, in the build up to a major show he was starring in, he collapsed. Two major heart surgeries later and he was alive, but his life as a full-time ballet dancer was over. There was no fading out, no wringing of hands as he struggled against advancing years – he was simply done. Asked if he thinks that perhaps it was better to go with a bang, rather than a long drawn out battle against an ageing body, he says no – it was a hugely traumatic way to finish, as he felt a choice was taken from him. But in the quarter century he spent dancing to that point, few could say that he had not achieved a remarkable amount. 

For the layperson, the word ballet invokes images of the icy grand dame, cane in hand, barking orders at terrified dancers as they contort their bodies into unnatural arcs. It is also perceived as an artform that is accessible only to the elites. Alan Foley does not fit either of these stereotypes. He is genial, good humoured, and swears as easily as he laughs. His father worked in a factory, his mother a housewife, and he and his eight siblings lived in the Cork suburb of Ballinlough, before moving to Fountainstown, a sort-of Brighton of the Rebel County. The family had, as he puts it, no airs and graces. From an early age he loved to dance, and specifically to perform, as he used to line up his teddy bears as an audience and dance around the living room. Then, aged eight, he won a disco dancing competition and after that his formal training began. But disco, sadly, was not to be as timeless as ballet. When he was 13 he wrote to the Royal Ballet School asking if they had courses in disco dancing. Unsurprisingly, they did not. But he came to understand that ballet was the way forward, and he also had the good fortune of being from Cork, a place with a strong ballet heritage.  Joan Denise Moriarty set up her first dance school in Mallow in the Thirties, and, along with Professor Aloys Flesichmann, became a central figure in the development of dance in Cork, and founded the country’s first professional ballet company in Cork in 1959, quite the achievement after the battles she had faced in implementing a culture of ballet in Ireland; in 1931 the Pavlova Company came to Cork, and was promptly denounced by the Catholic church, and thus played to empty theatres. 

By the time Foley joined her school in the Eighties, Moriarty had achieved legend status, but Foley was something of the unctuous young upstart, and the two frequently clashed. But despite the friction and electricity between them, Foley got away with far more than his female counterparts ever did, but Moriarty had her limits. As Foley’s skill as a dancer grew, so did his stature in the dance world. In 1989 he was accepted into the Vaganova Ballet Academy Summer School in Russia. Foley was delighted, accepted immediately, and ended up with his photo on the front page of the Cork Examiner. However, Moriarty did not sanction the trip, nor did she know he had accepted the offer, until she saw the paper. She was not best pleased, or, as Foley puts it, ‘she was beyond furious’. But there was little she could do. So off Foley went to what was then Leningrad, and the glamorous world of Russian ballet, where he was staying in the same digs that Nureyev had stayed in. Expecting imperial grandeur, upon arrival he was startled to pull back the covers on his bed and find several cockroaches scuttling away. Ballet in Russia was a way of escape – there was no elite there, just dancers desperate for success, willing to endure terrible conditions in order to achieve fame, fortune and freedom. So he trained, and trained hard. 

Not long after he returned it became clear that Moriarty and he would have to part ways. In the aftermath of that he was effectively cast out from ballet in Cork. It was heartbreaking for Foley, but he persevered, setting up Cork City Ballet in 1991. Shortly before Moriarty’s death in 1992, the apprentice and the master made their peace, with Foley acknowledging that while they clashed over many things, he stills owes her a huge debt of gratitude. 

“Of all the people I have worked with, she was the most important, because she was the one who instilled the love of the artform in me. She wasn’t the best ballet teacher, not by a long shot, but she had the passion and the integrity that you need for any artform. And she passed that on to me.”

Aside from the discipline of ballet, Foley also learned business acumen from Moriarty, and soon realised that he didn’t want to be a poor ballet dancer, as many of his friends were and are, so when he graduated he opened a ballet school. In 1998, he was the first person in Ireland to be awarded the Fellowship Diploma in Classical Ballet (with distinction) of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in London. He is still artistic director of Cork City Ballet, and is now in the position of having dancers in the ballet troupe who were trained by his academy. It is 12 years since his operations, and since he had to stop dancing, but he found other joys in life – being able to relax, to watch TV, to enjoy food (he worked as a chef in Bunnyconnellan in Myrtleville to fund his studies), things that can be seen as luxuries for the professional dancer who is always on tour, always on pointe. But he is still on the move – before he wanted to be a dancer he wanted to be a pilot or a train driver, so forward motion has always been part of his make up. Next is Cork City Ballet’s production of one of the best known and loved ballets of all – Swan Lake. Foley is pragmatic about putting on such an iconic show, and its ability to get bums on seats. “It absolutely is one of ballet’s greatest works, and that is why the crowds keep coming; Swan Lake is sublime. You mention ballet the world over, and the first thing people think of is Swan Lake. It would sell out a show in the middle of Basra.”

But this isn’t playing Basra, but rather back in Cork, the Opera House to be precise. The big shows like this are the financial generators that enable them to stage smaller, more challenging works, as they have had no Arts Council funding since 2011. Ballet is an expensive business – the most basic tool of the ballet dancer, a pair of pointe shoes, costs around a hundred euro, and everything else rises in cost from there. But he is used to the grind – when he started out he asked his bank if they would be interested in sponsoring him. They gave him five púnts. Internally screaming, he thanked them, took the fiver and never looked back. Foley’s path has been very different to that of his mentor, Miss M, as he calls her still, but he is keeping her dream of Irish ballet alive. 

Cork City Ballet returns this November with their spectacular full-length production of the classic ballet  – Swan Lake. Thursday 7–Saturday 9 November 2019; 2.30pm/8pm. Tickets are €25, €31, €38 & €43 | Family Ticket €120*. 

Written for the Irish Independent.

Let them drink cake

Wrote this for the Indo about getting druunkish on cake –

The Kerry TD Danny Healy Rae once said that eating a big meal before driving could be a factor in causing accidents. It came as a surprise, not only to the scientific and medical community, but also to the people he was addressing at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport,as they were discussing drink driving, not dinner driving. Deputy Healy Rae – who is a publican – said that after he finishes work he won’t eat a large meal because he knows it would make him sleepy on the drive home.

There is, however, a perfect storm brewing between both the facts on alcohol – it is a factor in 38% of all road fatalities in Ireland – and Deputy Healy Rae’s folksy musings: What about food with booze in it? Granted, cooking removes most of the alcoholic content in food, but there is one course that is the final bastion of boozy dining – dessert. Desserts like tiramisu or sherry trifle are famous for their drink content, so the question posed here is – can eating desserts put you over the drink driving limit? According to a study by All Car Leasing, the answer is yes – two portions of tiramisu can put you over the limit. Their study also covered lesser known foods like orange juice, which can contain tiny amounts of alcohol which is produced as the orange ferments – but boozy desserts are the most direct way to inadvertently go over the line. So this was the test – just how easy is it to get over the drink driving limit by eating treats?

The initial step in any scientific endeavour is to seek the advice of an expert. The first warning sign that this might not be the most important piece of investigative journalism since Watergate was that the medical expert I consulted didn’t wish to be named. “I just don’t see the merit in what you’re doing,” they said. I took this as a sign that I was on the right track – if the medical community was against me eating desserts until I was hammered, then there was something here that was just waiting to be blown wide open, either a looming war on liquor-laden desserts from the neo-prohibitionists, or possibly just my belt. My so-called medical advisor pointed out that as I am six foot and weigh 13 stone, I would need to consume a very large amount of dessert to actually get that much alcohol in my system, and would possibly just make myself sick in trying. Challenge accepted.

The first time I got drunk, it was on sherry trifle. The story became family lore, of how after my dessert I was singing, waving out the window and trying to open door while the car was moving. I was 11. The lesson I took home from this is that sherry trifle is wonderful, and that booze makes me hilarious. So I set about finding a sherry trifle with which to start my test. It turns out that most modern sherry trifles now don’t have sherry in them, but rather have sherry flavouring. After a pathetic trek asking various supermarket staff if any of their desserts had booze in them (‘I’m a journalist’ I told them, as if this explained my tragic quest), I tried Midleton’s The Farm Gate, where the local petit bourgeoisie go to get sozzled on cake. I was relieved to find they had a delightful sherry trifle which had a decent whack of sherry. After that it was off to Aldi and Lidl – the Germans know how their booze, and they also know their desserts, and there I picked up any dessert that had an alcohol warning on the front label. Then it was off home to gorge.

First up was the Aldi Irish Cream Liqueur Cheesecake, which contains an impressive 15% of Irish cream liqueur. It’s meant to serve four to six people, but as I hadn’t eaten all day, I downed it all in about five minutes. I used my AlcoSense breathalyser – which, at 80 euro from Boots, is a solid purchase for any dessertaholics – and it told me I was still well under the limit for learner or new drivers, which is 0.02% blood alcohol concentration (the level for full license divers is 0.05%BAC).

So it was on to two portions of Aldi profiteroles, which still failed to take me over the lower limit. It was time to take a more direct route – a box of Aldi Mister Roth Whiskey Truffles, eaten in the most joyless way possible. At this stage I was wondering if this was all a terrible mistake, but I knew that this was being done in the name of science. I waited half an hour and tried the breathalyser – I was at a solid 0.029%BAC, easily over the limit for learner drivers. I didn’t feel especially under the influence of anything other than the sugar screaming through my bloodstream, but the breathalyser doesn’t lie – I would have been unfit to drive.

I knew that if I was to cross the upper limit, I would need to go to Defcon One – with a Marsala wine-soaked tiramisu from Aldi. Meant to serve four to six people, I sat there alone, forcing down its rich creamy goodness as I broke a mild sweat. I waited, puffed into my breathalyser and saw that I had pushed myself to 0.037%BAC, a worthwhile return for the horror of gulping down a platter of tiramisu. Next was a box of Lidl Deluxe Cocktail Truffles, ten chocolate malty balls infused with spirit. Eating them was akin to the boiled egg challenge in Cool Hand Luke, but I got there in the end, and while I was still able to sit upright in my chair, I shoved a number of Marc De Champagne truffles down my throat, and another portion of Aldi profiteroles just to be certain. With the last wheeze left in my bloated, corpse-like form, I huffed into my breathalyser, which gave me the warning beep I was praying for – I was at a decadent 0.058%BAC, over the limit for driving in Ireland. I was also yearning for the cold embrace of the grave due to the amount of treats I had consumed, but the facts were clear – it is possible to get over the drink driving limit by eating a large amount of desserts.

There were two take-homes from this – one is that the majority of Irish people understand that drinking and driving is not acceptable. The staff in The Farm Gate said that many diners will deliberately avoid any dessert that has alcohol in it, so the days of getting trolleyed on desserts appears to be disappearing fast. Alcohol is rapidly becoming an indulgence that we enjoy in the comfort of our homes, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The second takehome was that it was easier to get over the limit than I thought – I never would have considered tiramisu was being something that could possibly influence my ability to drive, or to consider it as a potential unit of alcohol – but it is. There are, as Deputy Healy Rae pointed out, many factors that can influence our ability to drive safely – tiredness being one of them – but the days when we can pretend that consuming alcohol in any form and getting behind the wheel is an acceptable practise are gone. Anyone who does it and ends up in a motoring mishap of their own creation is simply getting their just desserts.

An ode to Love

Wrote this feature for the Indo –

It’s the greatest tournament on the planet – we’ve waited and waited for it to come round and now here it is, and it is better than we could have anticipated. We may not have a representative of our country at it, but we are all there in spirit, as this is about skill, determination, passion and the strength of the human spirit. I speak of course of Love Island, the reality show that dropkicks a dozen failed eugenics experiments into a sunny Mallorcan villa in a sort of Battle Royale where you have to shift your way to being last couple standing. The sole aim of the show is to get the young lovelies hooking up with each other and winning 50k, or possibly just some notoriety, which in today’s world of micro-celebrity is almost better than the prize money. Who knows what commercial opportunities await the contestants after they leave the island – who will land that lucrative deal as the face of Canesten, who will end up flogging off-brand vodka in the drinks aisle of their local Tesco, who will be forced into shame-filled public appearances in nightclubs in hotspots like Manorhamilton or Fermoy? Basically, all of them, because a fame based on embarrassment only lasts so long. Just ask Donegal’s Bernard McHugh, who touched hearts when he went on Blind Date, and then went on to become a stripper, albeit a very Irish one who never took his trousers off.

Love Island, much like the World Cup, is one of the few things that will get the teens back watching terrestrial TV. The football is just like FIFA 18 only the players look less realistic in real life, while Love Island is like Call Of Duty, only it’s the call of booty that is being answered by the players on TV3. Some would say that the idea of strategic, competitive romance on a reality TV gameshow is a further sign of the decline of western civilisation, but it really is no different to Les Liaisons Dangereuses: The cast of too-perfect, allegedly 20 somethings all try to seduce their way to becoming the perfect TV couple, winning hearts, minds and other organs, and hopefully then going on to win the public vote. Along the way there has been subterfuge, deception, manipulation, and a lot of very tanned people telling each other that they ‘really rate each other as people’ when actually they mean to say that they want to get freaky naughty.

In between all this are odd party games, like the one where they had to smash watermelons with their arses (a slow-motion montage that made VAR look like a functioning system), or challenges like the time they had to pass ingredients for cocktails through each others mouths. Anyone from a medical background watching the show – including contestant Dr Alex, an emergency doctor who you would hate to have dithering in the resus room during an actual emergency) must be counting down the minutes until there is an outbreak of conjunctivitis or scabies.

But part of what makes the show so watchable is just seeing how terribly awkward we are as a species. These people are mostly great looking, young, fit and healthy, and for the most part they are intelligent human beings. However, the fact they are what we would consider to be perfect people is in stark contrast to how bumbling they are when trying to mate. It’s bliss to watch them fail and to feel better about yourself as a result. Consider Adam Collard, who looks like a Greek god, yet here is his profile quote: “I would say I’m a ten out of ten. Maybe a nine out of ten… I’m not good at washing the dishes.” It’s like Bret Easton Ellis scripted an episode of Eastenders.

Love Island is the perfect companion piece to the World Cup: Drained by all the intrigue, big name clashes and shameless overacting/fake crying on one channel? Why not tune into the exact same format on another? Enjoy knockouts (all of them), fit tanned people running rings around each other (Megan’s nimble dance around the blokes), spectacular own goals (Wes’s series of unfortunate events), fouls (Dani being shown the footage of Jack’s ex entering), maybe even some hand ball (all the various episodes of duvet twitching)? Then Love Island is the perfect place to find your comfort zone during those brief interludes when the footie isn’t on.

Hirsutes you sir

The Indo asked me to write something about baldness, Christ have they heard I’m thinning on top? Anyways:

Flogging beauty products to men is a hard sell. We pay so little attention to our physical and mental well being that you have to feel sorry for Gerard Butler attempting to convince us that moisturizer is actually ‘face protector’ or for those Lynx ads that try to convince us that smelling like a silk road bordello is going to make people want to be around us. One physical attribute that we do care about however, is our hair. It is inextricably linked to our notions of masculinity, and as a result it gets more attention than our skin, eyes, emotions, relationships, kids, and entire digestive system combined. While the styles may change, the stages never really do – behold the seven ages of man’s hair.

Mummy’s little Samson: A man’s understanding of the power of his hair starts almost at birth. Over the first six months of life, he grows a long, luxuriant mane, complete with ringlets bound together with Aptamil formula milk and Liga biscuits. Little Samson is cooed over and poked at and his hair is central to this – he senses that a big mop of hair is the way to win hearts, failing to realise the reason little boys have long hair is that they have heads shaped like half deflated beach balls. It matters not – the idea has taken hold, hair = power.

Dad’s little soldier: The long hair is fine until they are about three and dad gets sick of explaining to cooing old ladies that his son is in fact a boy, and thus the arguments begin. Dad wants a decent short back and sides that you could set your watch by, mum says she will divorce him if he cuts it, but eventually she has to sleep and junior is whisked away to the barbers for a vital ritual in every man’s life – sitting in the barbershop in complete silence for half an hour until it’s your turn, then sitting in complete silence while you get a terrible haircut that makes you look like you have ringworm, then telling the barber it’s perfect and even leaving a tip.  Lesson number one in being a man – bottle up all that disappointment.

The teenage years: The awkward transition from haircut to hairstyle: Back in the 1980s it was crimping. In the Noughties it was straightening. Now it appears to be perms. There is literally no look too silly for the young male in his desperate bid to attract a mate. It is a sad irony of masculinity that at this juncture in our lives, when our hair is at its most fabulously lustrous, we somehow take it completely for granted and try to burn or home-bleach it into oblivion. To misquote Wilde, a decent head of hair is wasted on the young.

The template: In the twenties or thirties you will decide on what your hair will look like for the rest of your life (scalp willing). This will be because you have found your signature look and realise that it helps you attract a mate, or because you are now married and therefore don’t need to change any aspect of yourself ever again. Much like North Koreans are only allowed a choice of 15 state approved haircuts, the average Irish male will only have a short list to choose from – short, long, or the best of both worlds, the mullet. Long hair is fine for bikers, metallers, craft brewers or IT geniuses, short hair suits corporate raiders, neo-nazis, or people whose kids keep coming home from creche with head lice. The mullet, or Haircut Of The Gods, is almost impossible to pull off without irony, unless you are an actual outback sheep farmer, new age traveller en route to a crusty rave, or rugby and hair legend Shane Byrne. Please note the mun, or man bun, only works for wan twentysomething baristas in espadrilles, and makes anyone who weighs more than seven stone look like a sumo wrestler.

Ch-ch-changes: So you have a style, and you will go to the same barbers for the same slightly disappointing interpretation of your vague directions (‘a bit more Beckham-ish on the fringe please’) for the rest of your life. However, change does come in the form of grey hairs, usually on the temples, where you can either claim they make you look wise and sophisticated like a dilapidated George Clooney, or you can cling to your youth by buying a vat of Grecian 2000 and sticking your head in it whilst singing Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time. The latter option is obviously the more tragic, and also crosses that line where we move from caring about our appearance to being slaves to it, unless of course you work for RTE, which seems to operate a terrifying Logan’s Run-style employment policy, where you get fired if you show even the slightest signs of ageing.

The cry for help: A man suddenly changing his hairstyle is a handy warning system – something is going on. A recent job loss, bitter divorce, or much-younger partner can all lead to a man taking the notion that he should start getting highlights and spiking his hair so his head looks like a Second World War sea mine, but with the overall effect of making him look less like a dapper young blade and more like a sex tourist. Zayn Malik bleached his hair when he broke up with Gigi Hadid, but that doesn’t mean you want to show up to your divorce hearings looking like Noughties-era Eminem – it’s a custody battle, not a rap battle.

Hair today, gone tomorrow: The cruellest aspect of men and their relationship with their locks is that we often lose them, and there is little that can be done about it. Some manage to keep their hair intact until their twilight years, some start losing it in their twenties thanks to a genetic timebomb. There are five stages of five stages of grief at losing your hair:  

  1. Denial: ‘It’s just a widow’s peak, everyone in my family has them, yes it makes me look like The Count from Sesame Street, but I am definitely not going bald’.  
  2. Anger: Furiously combing the hair forward, or across the scalp, desperately trying to encourage the hair to grow over the thinning spots as though it is a herbaceous vine that will somehow take root on the barren wastelands of your massive head.
  3. Bargaining: Massaging oils, homeopathic ointments, and some sort of electroconvulsive device you bought off the internet that somehow is meant to stimulate regrowth – all of these will ultimately end up in the bin, along with most of your hair.
  4. Depression: Sitting at the computer googling “Marty Whelan before and after” and wondering if you could set up a GoFundMe to raise the thousands needed for a hair transplant. ‘No’ is the blunt answer, you could not. Sobbing, you realise that this is the end.
  5. Acceptance: Also known as ‘Prince William Syndrome’, this is the point where you go ‘ah feck it sher I’ll just shave it all off’. And so you do, yearning all the while for the days of a more repressed Ireland where men were able to wear an incredibly conspicuous wig without anyone pointing and laughing at them in the street. The only hope now is to grow a mighty beard, to create the illusion that all your lovely hair migrated south for the winter, whilst also making you look like you run a fight club in the underground car park of your local Lidl.

Our hair is central to our identity, and whether long, short or faux mullet, it is a tracking system for our passage through life, the most visible part of the ageing process. Greying or thinning hair is the ticking of a clock, reminding us that someday we will soon be gone from this earth – perhaps we should just accept our fate, and rage, rage against the dyeing of the white.

Happy Middleclassmas

static1.squarespace.gif

Wrote this for the Indo as I am the go-to guy for middle class ennui.

 

There are few events in the annual calendar more middle class than Christmas, save perhaps the Grand National, Irish Open or Ideal Homes Exhibition. It is a time of year to gather round the Rangemaster in the back kitchen, earnestly discussing your fear of the hard left with neighbours you don’t really like, sipping some M&S mulled wine out of Waterford Crystal glasses wrapped in artisanal kitchen roll. No need to turn on the heating, as your own smugness keeps you nice and toasty. But wait – what if you aren’t having the most middle class Christmas possible? Here’s 12 key signs that should clear up any concerns.

  1. Debating when Christmas actually starts – The debate over when the decorations go up is one that rages in the middle class home. The younger generation try to force a December 1st kick off, but the more traditional (which is code for religious) among us know that to do it before December 8 is a mortal sin. Granted, this makes December 8th a perfect storm – you need to get all the stuff down from the attic, source a quality natural tree (this year there is no such thing, as they are all lopsided thanks to an actual perfect storm named Ophelia), and still make it into your nearest city to bumble about attempting to get all your shopping done in one chaotic 24-hour period. Best to follow the advice of D’Unbelievables and have breakfast the night before to get a head start on the day.
  2. Discussion of how Roses symbolise our decline – The fall of Irish society can easily be traced by one annual event – the diminishing appearance of tins of Roses. Firstly, they aren’t even tins anymore, but rather some sort of soulless plastic, which means you can’t use them as a long-term storage for leftover pudding or cake, but it is in their decrease in mass that we can see how we are failing future generations. The whole family discuss how, back in the olden times – ie, when things were great – a tin of Roses was the size of an indoor swimming pool, and there was enough chocolate to give the entire extended family Type II diabetes. Now there is barely enough for grandad to choke on, and the new wrappers should come with their own instruction manual. The whole country has gone to the dogs.
  3. Giving Irish-made gifts – During the December 8th trolley dash, it is important that you charge headlong into the Kilkenny Design store to stock up on Irish gifts. You aren’t entirely sure how to ascertain the Irishness of the items you buy, but feel fairly certain Irish people were involved if they are vastly overpriced and made from scatchy wool that would not be tolerated by other nations. It also helps if the packaging has a picture of a dolmen on it.
  4. The quest for spiced beef – A regional delicacy, the hunt for a good joint of spiced beef takes on aspects of a Homeric odyssey. Advice is sought from all quarters on which guilded butcher is best; do they have craft or artisan in the name? No? Well then they can burn in hell.  Once the most artisanal producer is selected, the order is placed well in advance, usually the start of February, because another aspect of being middle class is being tragically well-organised. Of course, nobody actually eats spiced beef, as it is terrible.
  5. Which turkey to buy – Bronze turkeys are better. You have no idea why, or what bronze means (Is it wearing fake tan? Is it an Olympian? Is it the bird from one of those old penny coins?), but somehow it seems superior to the ordinary loser turkey (technically they are all losers as they all get eaten) most people have. You get bonus points if you actually hand select the turkey on the farm, as this shows you are connected to the land and your place in the food chain, ie, at the top of it. If you are considering a goose, you have transcended middle classness altogether and are now ‘posh’, and therefore an exile in your own land. You probably call Stephen’s Day Boxing Day too.
  6. Cheese board – The modern incarnation of those little hedgehog displays made from a pineapple, cheese cubes and cocktail sticks, the cheese board is really only suited to festive ads on TV, as everyone is already on the verge of a cardiac arrest and the last thing their arteries need is a solid tonne of unpasteurised lard injected into them. Nonetheless, a cheese board appears, with everyone forced to pretend they know which weird knife is meant to be used with which cheese. Later on the knives will be used by children pretending to have a Klingon honour ritual.
  7. Midnight Mass – It’s Mass, but more traditional. It also follows the middle class traditional of preparedness, by giving you a clear run at the following day so you can baste the turkey every 15 minutes for its full six-hour cooking time. Of course, being up this late on Christmas Eve opens another can of festive worms – when to open the presents. Do you do it Christmas Eve, half cut on port, or on Christmas morning, half cut on mulled wine? Here’s a handy guide – if you do it on Christmas morning, your inner child is alive and well and is still caught up in the joy of Christmas. If you do it Christmas Eve you are admitting that you are old, that there is no magic in this world, and you have suffocated your inner child with cheese and port.
  8. White lights, no tinsel – Tinsel is a little Eighties, n’est pas? So you subject your tree (and yourself) to a 60-yard length of fairy lights – in minimalist white only – and some 4,000 baubles. This is a great idea, as it turns dressing the tree into an extended game of Buckaroo, as you endeavour to get the baubles on the tree while a psychotic toddler, out of their head on those cherry Roses nobody eats, endeavours to knock them all off by kicking the tree like a proto-lumberjack.
  9. Physical activity – For two days a year it is ok to sit and do nothing – Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day. The middle classes feel chronic guilt about this, as they do about almost everything else, and so a brisk walk is needed on one or both of the mornings. This is carried out in the name of ‘working up an appetite’ or ‘working off that cheese board’, and will see the group wrap up in their new scratchy wool scarves and head out. Whilst on the walk the group will beam and greet every other walker they see as though they were long lost friends. These are the only days of the year when being friendly to strangers is deemed ‘not weird’ and is not something that should be carried through to the New Year as some sort of terrible resolution.
  10. New Year’s Resolutions – Everyone else knows they are a waste of time. Yet each year you set yourself a new, insanely high bar – peak fitness, no more cigars, eat less cheese – and each February 1st you ditch all your big plans and just continue as normal in a general state of shame and that most middle class of feelings, disappointment.
  11. Disappointment, the gift that keeps on giving – The middle classes understand that things are ok but could probably be better, which is why every single gift comes not just with a gift receipt but a loud declaration that the receipt is with the gift, information that is shared before the person has even got the present. ‘If you don’t like it you can take it back’ you nervously titter, as they stare in confusion at the set of Irish made cheese knives and dolmen-shaped cheese board.
  12. Bickering – much like the centuries long storms on Jupiter, the middle class family is in a constant state of friction. It rarely hits full-on arguing, unless someone cheats at Monopoly, or denies that Liam deserved to win Bake Off, but it is always there, a constant loving hum of good-natured ribbing over what colour turkey should be, where to buy the best cranberry sauce, or who was meant to pick up the red cabbage in M&S. Then, after three long days locked in the house together, we all go our separate ways, simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief while also counting down the days until next year.

The ghosts of Christmas past

tumblr_oi9agdozHB1rfd7lko1_400.gif

Wrote this for the Indo about everyone I went to school with, burn in hell guys.

Ah Christmas – a time to get together with old friends, when everyone comes back home and reunites, talks about how their lives have changed and gain a deeper understanding of who we really are, and the strange elliptical paths that lead us back into each other’s orbit once a year. Of course, there are also the ghosts of Christmas past who suddenly materialise in front of you in the pub, before you have the chance to run and hide – here are ten of the worst offenders:

  1. The Wild Goose – Up until 2009, they sounded like Micheal O Muircheartaigh being possessed by a sean nos demon. But then they emigrated, and depending on whether which hemisphere they ran away to, they now either sound like Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting, or Alf Stewart in Home & Away. But it’s not the accent that makes them grate – it’s the confidence they have been imbued with, as they talk down to you about the land of milk and honey they have discovered, repeatedly mentioning the great ‘quality of life’ in a country either plagued by mass killings, or a species of spider that nests in toilets and can kill with one bite. You smile and nod and casually ask them when their flight back is, so you can count down until this wild goose takes their grey wing, jumps in the tide and effs off back to where they now claim to come from.
  2. The Swan – The easiest way to track your own demise is in the faces of your classmates. You look at their thinning hair, wrinkly eyes, and Nineties clothing and think – do I look this goosed? The answer is a ghastly ‘yes’. But there are always those genetic freaks who seem to age like a fine wine, as opposed to the bitter vinaigrette that you have become. The Swan went from so-so extra in the soap opera of your teenage years to looking like an actual movie star, all rippling physique, Milan style and an inner glow that blinds your weary, squinting eyes.  You desperately try to avoid them but are drawn to their beauty like a moth to a sexy flame. After resisting the urge to stroke their face and hair, you go home, stare in the mirror and weep.
  3. The Success Story – They made a fortune selling their company after getting deep into either tech or something to do with gluten. You know this because not only did your mother tell you this fact repeatedly, but The Success Story is now nonchalantly telling you the exact same thing. After their 20-minute TEDxThePub talk on how great they are at blockchain (you assume it’s something to do with Minecraft), they finally get round to asking you what you do, and then offer a nondescript ‘good for you’, before you are finished telling them. They eye the room looking for fellow moguls, before offering you a business card and disappearing, much like your own sense of self worth.
  4. The Breeders – So how many kids do you have? That is their opening line. Kids are all that matter, the validation of your entire existence. No kids means no life, right? Wrong, and they are about to get a masterclass in what it means to be alive. Just as they try to whip out their phone to show you photos of their sticky brats, you show them the tribal tattoos you got after spending six months living with pygmies in the Amazon basin, or the crocodile bite on your leg, or just the photos of your studio apartment in the city centre, which is overflowing with Bang & Olufsen kit and smells like sandalwood and lemongrass. You can tell you just ruined their evening, as they desperately wanted to feel sorry for you, to crinkle up their already-crinkly faces as they tell you ‘it could still happen’. No it couldn’t you tell them, as this planet is hurtling towards its doom thanks to overpopulation, and someone had to be the hero who wasn’t vain enough to believe their bloodline had a right to continue. Satisfied with yourself you walk away, covering up the bite mark from your neighbour’s cat and the rubbish tattoos you got on an Ibizan booze cruise.
  5. The Ex – Oh my god, there they are, across the bar, the same bar where you first met, this has to mean something, this is deeply serendipitous, it’s basically the video for Last Christmas by Wham! It’s like the last few decades never happened, your eyes lock and you are both back in that moment all those years ago, young and wild and free. No kids, no mortgage, nothing but an open road, vodka shots and the morning after pill. Your heart is jackhammering and you think you might be about to have a cardiac arrest as your left arm has suddenly gone numb. On closer inspection your arm is numb because the actual love of your life has your elbow in the vice like grip. Through a frozen smile they whisper ‘what are you staring at?’ followed by ‘is that drool?’ You snap back to the present and the moment has passed, you are back where you are fairly sure you belong, and everything is fine, this is fine, as you are almost certain that this is happiness. On mature recollection and reflection you remind yourself that The Ex used to eat with their mouth open, read terrible crime novels and believed in homeopathy, so it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Probably.
  6. The Poor Mouther – Despite coming from the largest farm in the province, they talk as though they grew up on an allotment in the inner city. Everything is terrible, the whole country has gone to ruin, it’s all the fat cats at the top who have it all. You wonder whether you should bring up the 80,000 tax bill they got for never mentioning their plant fire firm to the Revenue, but you don’t want to ruin their Christmas by pointing out that they are actually incredibly wealthy. The conversation reaches a crescendo when they declare that we would all be better off dead, before wishing you a merry Christmas and heading off into the night to drive their poor auld 171 Porsche Cayenne back to their 800-acre smallholding.
  7. The Who – Hey! It’s you, how are you, how is…..everything? This is the traditional greeting for the person you don’t quite recognise. You know them from somewhere – Irish college, scouts, Bebo – but you aren’t 100% sure where. One thing you are entirely sure of is that you have no clue what their name is, despite the fact that they have used yours six times in five minutes of chat, so the pressure is growing, especially now your partner is staring meaningfully at you and waiting to be introduced to your friend. Clearly there is only one way out of this – offer to buy them a pint, and never come back from the bar. The only thing worse than this particular social nightmare is being the one who nobody remembers.
  8. The Bully – They made your life a living hell for six years, yet somehow here they are, chatting away as if nothing happened. They seem to have suffered some sort of memory loss as, not only are they talking to you, they are talking about ‘the good old days’, as though there were such a thing. Your brow furrows as you wonder if they are luring you into a false sense of security before giving you a dead leg, purple nurple or atomic wedgie, like the one that you got in 1994 which means you now can’t have children. No, they just want to chat, and you slowly come to realise that they managed to take all that anger they had in school in channel it into something more productive than giving you PTSD, as they are now CEO of a vulture fund.
  9. The All Star – They won an All-Ireland in 1996, and somehow the celebration party is still going on. They look like they might be about to have a heart attack, as they play online poker, swill pints, and complain about the modern game, and how the young stars now have no class, before drunkenly hopping into their car and screeching off to a lock-in or possibly into a ditch. Never meet your heroes.
  10. The Hero – Back in school they told everyone they were a Level Eight Vegan (they only eat gravel) but secretly ate a big dirty kebab every time they had a lash of pints. After school they got seriously into Facebook activism, endlessly posting conspiracy theories about how Big Oil and Big Government were secretly watching us all through our webcams, and Infowars was the only real news left in the world. Despite their strong opposition to capitalism, they actually live and work in Saudi Arabia, wiring up the homes of oil-rich royals with IoT technology, so they can watch beheadings on their tablets. The Hero sees nothing wrong with this at all, but somehow thinks Ireland is a police state, just because they got busted with a nodge of hash on New Year’s Eve 1999.

 

There are of course, many more contenders for this list, including old teachers, disgruntled former co-workers, cousins you don’t have anything in common with, or racist friends of your parents. While once a year really feels like more than enough time spent with any of these ghosts of Christmas past, they do serve as a reminder of how much you love your oldest friends, your family and the people you chose to surround yourself with, because Christmas is all about the present.

Brain Kerr

Wrote this for the Indo:

 

Miranda Kerr knows a thing or two about marriage. This is partly because the 34 year old model has been married twice, firstly to Orlando Bloom, and now to the world’s youngest billionaire, Evan Spiegel, head honcho of Snapchat, AKA the biggest threat to today’s youth since cooties. In an interview with Net-a-Porter’s online magazine, The Edit, Kerr described Spiegel, who is seven years her junior, as “a 50-year-old man in a young body”, which makes him not that dissimilar to so many of the 50 year old men on Snapchat pretending to be 15.

But it was Kerr’s discussion of her approach to marriage that raised the most eyebrows: “At work, I’m like, ‘We need to do this!’ and, ‘This needs to happen’. But at home, I slip into my feminine and empower Evan to be in his masculine”.

Asked to explain exactly what this pearl of wisdom actually meant, she elaborated: “Just be more in my feelings. More gentle, leaning back. It’s a nice balance. My grandma taught me that men are visual and you need to make a little effort. So when [Evan] comes home, I make sure to have a nice dress on and the candles lit. We make time to have a nice dinner together.”

Finally, our day has come – Kerr is leading the charge for masculinists everywhere, letting the ladies know that even a Victoria’s Secret model has to put a little effort in to make our fragile egos feel validated. So without further ado, here are some other ways to ‘lean back’, so far back that you fall into the 1950s.

  1. Would it be too much to ask for a pipe and slippers? Clearly feminism has gone too far and balance needs to be restored in households around the world, but rather than revert to the old ways, we need to modernise: Instead of pipe and slippers, why not bring him his e-cig and Toms when he comes home in the evening. A nice relaxing puff of unregulated mystery gas should help him unwind, whilst the flimsy canvas and porous soles of the Toms will make him feel like he is relaxing in a hammock on a Pacific island, as opposed to trapped in negative equity in Roscommon.
  2. Come on girls, have a wash: You’ve been trapped in the house with several deranged children all day, racing through endless cycles of laundry and ironing, and are starting to understand why Irish housewives used to consume half of the world supply of Buckfast. At the end of the day, you sound and look like Jodie Foster in the film Nell, in which she had been living in isolation in a ditch for her entire life. No man wants to come home to that, especially not a billionaire who presumably has to sift through his site’s online traffic of billions of nudes. No, you need to achieve a supermodel’s level of perfection – despite having zero time in which to do this in – or we are done. You know we once shifted a third-round qualifier for the Rose Of Tralee and we are fairly sure she is still waiting for us out there somewhere, so please try to fix yourself up a bit, or at least stop crying.
  3. Men need to feel all powerful, as they are afflicted with critically fragile masculinity. When he slumps in the door from his important job in the call centre being shouted at by strangers, the last thing he needs is you attempting to talk to him about how you think one of the kids might have ADHD and you think you might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A respectful silence, punctured only by the sound of respectful shuffling and bowing, as though he were Genghis Khan, is all he wants to hear when he comes home.
  4. Fetch him a beverage: Thanks to the EU/troika/Opus Dei, we aren’t allowed to drive around the place half cut, so offering him a refreshing alcoholic beverage is a thing of the past. However, you can go for a healthier option – after all, you want him to live for a long time, as without him you’re nothing. Why not clear some time in your day to rustle up some kombucha, even if it’s just so he can quip that the gelatinous lump of bacteria known as The Mother is much like your mother, in many ways.
  5. Laugh at his insulting, unfunny jokes: It’s important that men are laughed with, not at, so whenever you suspect he is trying to be funny, even if it is after you have discovered he remortgaged the house to buy a sports car, you will need to giggle like a schoolgirl. So titter flirtatiously while the debt collectors are kicking down the door to take away your washing machine, the only help you ever got around the house, and possibly your only friend.  
  6. Make him feel smart: Ask him about the many important decisions he made in the workplace, like which roll to have from the lunch trolley, or which highlighter he used most during the day. Also try to ask him about things you supposedly don’t understand, but do really, like the GAA, personal finance or George Hook.
  7. Teach your kids to admire him: You need to work hard to counteract the corrosive effects of Peppa Pig and her constant ridiculing of Daddy Pig. Daddies generally are not shown the respect they deserve, whether jumping into muddy puddles or making a mess of dinner. Teach your kids to call their father ‘sir’ and to never speak to him unless they are spoken to by him first. This distance should ensure that they will grow up to be respectful members of society, or possibly gang members. Time will tell.
  8. Aim low: If you do manage to get out of the house and have some sort of career, just make sure you don’t earn more than your spouse. This will be easily achieved as your workplace will most likely be overflowing with equally insecure men who also seem to think they deserve a higher wage than you.
  9. BMS, or Be More Stepford: Miranda Kerr dons a nice dress and lights candles for her man in the evening, despite this being a clear fire hazard, and despite the fact that as a 27 year old tech billionaire, Spiegel probably just wants to take hits on a bong while playing Overwatch. Even on their wedding day, Kerr was striving to be the perfect wife, going so far as to roast a chicken for the groom as it is his favourite dish. Somehow the image of Kerr in her haute couture wedding gown checking a mini rotisserie oven is the most depressing part of this whole thing.
  10. Disregard all of the above: What works for Kerr and Spiegel works for them. Her comments weren’t some call to arms for women everywhere to give up on this whole suffrage malarkey and get back to tanning hides in a cave while himself goes to hunt a wooly mammoth in Copperface Jacks – she was just talking about how her relationship works, and given that they are still in the first six months of their marriage, she is allowed to over-egg the cake a little. Let’s see if she is still roasting chickens by candlelight in a negligee in ten years time, perhaps then we can check back with her and see if she has any actual advice on how marriage works.

The Bills have eyes

Wrote this for the Indo about the Leitrim village appealing for people to move there.

 

The idea of country living is one that resonates with us all. Deep down we all have the suspicion that urban spaces and their associated lifestyles are somehow eroding our soul. In our minds we dream of being one of the characters of Leni Riefenstahl’s mountain girl films, fleeing the corrupting wasteland of the city for a life of purity stuck up a hill with a goat. So the announcement from Kiltyclogher, a north leitrim village, that it was desperately seeking people to move there resonated with many city dwellers. The poor immobile thousands who take part in the live reenactment of the video for REM’s Everybody Hurts that is the M50 at peak times must surely drift off in their minds and think ‘I shall rise and go now to that village in Leitrim and build a wattle and daub five-bed detached mansion as there are no planning laws in the country’. But for anyone considering a move, there are some things you might want to consider.

Goodbye internet: There are degrees of country. A small town or village will offer you many of the amenities you enjoyed in the big smoke – public transport, council water/sewage schemes, street lighting so every evening walk doesn’t turn into the Blair Witch Project – without all the negatives – giant rats, hourly burglaries, increasing secularism. But then there is the country-country, out there in the dark beyond the last streetlight, and that is where things get complicated. While the city-dwelling flaneur may feel exasperation waiting in line for their frappucino or pickleback (it’s a shot of whiskey with a shot of pickle juice, obviously), nothing will ever compare to the white-hot rage caused by trying to use the internet while living in the country. A move to the country is, in broadband terms, like moving back to 2004. You used to complain about sluggish 10mb speeds, now you would sell your firstborn for something over 1mb. You’ve taken lots of nice photos of sunsets over fields but you can’t upload them because the upload speeds never go over 30kb. The sweet irony of this is that you need the internet more than ever, as your kids are now miles from their friends and you are miles from everything in the world. You feel so isolated that you almost consider switching back to the old version of the internet, Catholicism, with Bible stories instead of Snapchat ones, and hosting the Stations instead of your weekly Game Of Thrones-themed Google Hangout. Rubbish broadband isn’t the only difference from town to country, but it is the first one you will notice.

Hello vehicle: You may have felt you spent forever stuck in traffic when you lived in the city, but in the country you will spend even more time in your car, only navigating the shattered no-man’s land of potholes and subsidence that is Ireland’s secondary roads. In the city you can stroll to the shop for a pint of milk or to the pub for a pint of porter, whereas now you have to drive absolutely everywhere. You may think ‘well there’s always the bike’, but then you realise that the road is not wide enough for a bike and a car to pass each other, nor is it wide enough for a car, a milk truck, a combine harvester or a truckload of bales to pass. Incredibly, you might actually have been safer on a bike in the city, despite still facing a similar threat level to that of fighter pilots in the Second World War.

What’s that odour: The scents of the city are manifold – exhaust fumes mingled with overheating tarmac and the many flavours of vape juice being enjoyed by popcorn-lung aficionados. The country has a simpler odour – poo. In the city you come to believe that your food comes from supermarkets – in the country you are constantly reminded that food comes from the land, and that land sometimes needs nourishment in the form of poo, which was cleverly rebranded as slurry. You may feel like complaining about the smell, but remember that this is like moving in next door to a fat rendering plant and then complaining about the smell of fat being rendered. Also, the fact you now have to look after a septic tank means you don’t really feel like sitting in judgement on the poor cows. It is also why you give a sizeable-yet-shame-filled tip to the poor lads who come to drain it twice a year.

Power cuts: If the power goes out in the city, tens of thousands of people instantly start harassing the ESB to fix it. In the country you usually walk outside your house and peer across a field to your neighbour’s place to see if they have the lights on. If they don’t, you go back inside and tell everyone to stop flushing the toilet, as no power now means no water. This is because you now live in the country and own a pump and are learning the hard lesson that water is not a god-given right, but something that actually costs money. Who knew?  The biggest problem in a power-cut (apart from flushing of ‘solids’) is loss of your already patchy internet, as you now can’t even tweet about how you are basically living in Black ‘47 and no human has ever suffered as you have for the 25 minutes before the power comes back.

Céad míle suspicion: With your Dublin reg, jackeen accent and big city confidence, it will be assumed that you have moved to the country under the witness protection programme, or are just on the run from one of those drug lords with stupid nicknames, like The Marsupial, or Fathead. You think your move is going to be like Green Acres or Cider With Rosie, but your interactions with the locals will be more like the warm reception given to the war hero in Ryan’s Daughter, or the wealthy investor in The Field. Why not endear yourself to the locals by putting up signs along the road about speeding, complaining about the smell of slurry, or the noise of crow bangers, or threatening to shoot the next cow you find in your garden? That should keep the numbers down the next time you host the Stations.

Country living is not for everyone. Life is just as hectic, but in different ways, much like in Withnail & I. People are the same wherever you go, so while the notion of escaping the rat race to north Leitrim might sounds appealing, you turn your back on all the many positives that city life offers. After all, if urban living was such a nightmare, two thirds of our population wouldn’t be crowding into it.

Le quo

Nobody does formal anymore. So here’s a thing I did for the Indo on that theme:

 

The French are a stylish bunch. Perhaps it’s the tan, the teeth, the hair, but they can switch from haute couture to pret a porter with enviable ease. Just look at their First Lady.  Brigitte Macron was recently photographed casually dressed in jeans whilst deep in conversation with Bono and Rihanna at the Élysée Palace. Her bold, relaxed look shows that we have finally entered the Casual Age.

Decorum and its tedious formalities are now a thing of the past – no more will we be shackled to the kitchen table writing thank you, Christmas or birthday cards, as a casual ‘cheers’ or belated ‘like’ on Facebook now covers all. This is great news for Ireland, a nation that struggled with formality, as evidenced by Ronan O’Gara’s encounter with Queen Elizabeth II, when he suffered that social crisis of not knowing what to do with his hands, so he stuffed them in his pockets, like a disinterested car salesman who had already hit his monthly target and didn’t really want to have to talk to anyone.

So we can all relax, and undo the twine holding up our trousers a little. But what if we relax too much? How do we navigate this potential minefield of relaxed weddings, funeral selfies and tuxedo T-shirts? Let’s look:

  1. Funerals: You have lost a loved one. You are heartbroken, but this is still an opportunity for you to create some content. The general consensus is that taking selfies at funerals is probably not ok, even when your post is signed off with a touching message like ‘smdh’ (shaking my damn head) to show how grief stricken you are. Even in today’s relaxed world, leaning across a coffin with a selfie stick to try and capture grandma’s pan-stick coated death mask while you do ‘peace ‘n’ pout’ is still a no-no. Perhaps try to limit your snapping to the church steps, as you attempt to channel ‘soft grunge’ looks for your Instagram followers. But some things don’t change, so as always you don’t want to go too formal in your funeral attire here, lest you look like someone who thinks they might be getting a little taste of the estate, despite most of it being headed straight for that nursing home where grandma spent her final decades. You know, the one down the road from your house that you never visited.
  2. Weddings: Wearing jeans in the Elysee Palace is one thing, but it’s not like she was hosting a world leader, despite what Bono might claim on his CV.  Weddings are still formal events, and thus showing up to one in your best indigo jeans is improper and impractical, as once you embrace the bride your jeans will leave a Shroud Of Turin style print across her lower half. Of course, it’s entirely possible she is wearing hotpants, what with it being some sort of permanent casual Friday nowadays. Another sign of our impending social apocalypse is the rise of the wedding barbecue. No, not the one held the day after – an actual BBQ on the day, held instead of a five course banquet. Of course this sort of thing will never take off here, for even if you followed the example of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, and commissioned ten thousand terracotta statues of the child of Prague to be buried in the back garden the day before the big event, it will still absolutely hammer down rain, as this is the perfect storm for inviting rain – a barbecue on a wedding day in Ireland.
  3. Birthdays: Gone are the days of the birthday card, or even having to remember when a person’s birthday is, as Facebook has annihilated any real bonds of friendship you might have once enjoyed. Ever since MySpace allowed you to rank your top friends, your closest pals have become feuding chieftains trying to gain the succour of you, their digital warlord. Come your birthday, the automatic Facebook reminder goes out, and everyone piles in to wish you a very happy birthday, all 780 of your friends, even though you are fairly sure you actually only have two actual friends, and both of those are analog ones who send you a humorous yet highly insulting card from the other side of the world. The Facebook birthday wish is a godsend to the cheapskate – ie, most of us – as you no longer have that uncomfortable moment when you realise you should probably stick a One4All voucher for a tenner in with the card. As usual, America is the world leader in casual birthday wishes, with new chief of staff Anthony Scaramucci congratulating his estranged wife on the birth of their son via text message. America is also mastering the art of the casual goodbye, as President Trump announced that Reince Priebus – who despite his name is apparently human and not a type of neolithic crustacean – was departing office via three tweets. Hopefully when he nukes North Korea he will let us all know via DM.
  4. Introductions: When people hear this word they most likely think of Plenty Of Fish, Tinder or Grindr, but there was a time when people were introduced face to face in a formal setting rather than being introduced groin to groin in a Holiday Inn. First impressions still count –  when meeting someone for the first time, do attempt to make eye contact and attempt some sort of hand gesture, perhaps a firm handshake, limp high five or awkward fistbump. Open by asking them how they are, before launching into a probe of their online influence, platforms they use, and whether or not you can use them to leverage your brand. Remember – a stranger is just a follower you haven’t muted yet.
  5. Work: The rise of the tech start-up has shifted all the rules about how we work. Apart from the meaningless Nadsat that now makes up management speak (hey Chad, some great blue sky thinking with that ultraviolence, real horrorshow!), we no longer know what to wear to work – the seat of that Penney’s three-piece suit won’t withstand daily trips down the slide to the canteen, nor will it withstand you struggling to get out of an oversized beanbag after playing Call Of Duty during what was meant to be a business meeting. Dress like you did in college, for, much like in college, you are not being paid, but are rather subsisting on ‘start up moxy’ and Red Bull. But be warned – modern workplaces are so relaxed that it is easy to get confused. If your work compound has all sorts of perks, like on site gym, full restaurant, healthcentre, and creche, you might not be working for Apple or Google and might have accidentally joined a cult, or at least a cult that isn’t either Apple or Google.
  6. The Dail: So you have been elected to the second highest office in the land (the highest is the local GAA county board and/or parish council, obviously), and are burdened with the knowledge that our people struggled under centuries of hardship just to get to the point where we could take part in the democratic process. To honour their fight, and show respect to this high office – and fittingly high salary – that you now hold, what do you wear? Well, have you considered a sleeveless T-shirt? Possibly a faded, slightly tatty one, the sort of thing a charity shop wouldn’t take? Because our countless fenian dead would like nothing better than to see our parliament filled with people who look like Balearic rave wizards. Honour their sacrifice by dressing like a homeless shaman, despite earning three times the average industrial wage.

Brigitte Macron’s jeans may signal a relaxing of the old order, but in a very French, very stylish way. Somehow it seems unlikely that Michael D will be answering the door of the Aras in a tracksuit any time soon, or that any of us showing up to an interview in a Minions onesie will get us a job. As digital interactions supplant human ones, there is even more value to be placed on going to the trouble of writing a card, making a phone call, or just having manners. We may not need to doff the cap to all and sundry, but even in the age of informality, showing a little bit of respect will never go out of style.

Allsuds

Somebody said something silly, so here’s this:

 

Kirsty Allsop knows a thing or two about home layouts. As the host of Location Location Location and Kirsty’s Homemade Home, she taught us all about where and how to live. So when she recently told us that having a washing machine in the kitchen was disgusting, we were a little taken aback.

Where is it meant to go we pondered; in the shed, with the dusty exercise bike and letters from ex boyfriends? Or just plonked in the garden next to the compost bin, so that when it goes into spin cycle it can roam free range around the lawn, possibly even nudging its way through the griselinia into the neighbour’s garden, only to tip over and disgorge its precious cargo of faded jocks into their coy carp pond?

Part of the confusion over where Kirsty wants us to stick the washing machine is explained by the fact that she is an aristocrat. Despite having a name that sounds like a brand of detergent, Allsop is actually the daughter of the 6th Baron Hindlip, making her the Honourable Kirsty Allsop. So while she may think we all have larders, back kitchens, ballrooms and vomitoria, her cries of ‘Let Them Eat Calgon’ have just caused confusion in this land of peasantfolk who feel blessed to have a kitchen, a living room with a giant TV in it, and, if you are very fancy, a shed with electricity.

However, there are some parts of the average household that are simply out of place in modern Ireland.

  1. The dining/ironing room: The dining room is great in theory, but in reality you eat standing over the kitchen sink, while your kids eat in their rooms, in front of the TV, or anywhere away from you, so you can’t see them blast peas out of their nostrils at each other, or feeding your terrible lasagne to the cat. Thus the dining room becomes a depository for a year’s supply of unironed clothes, and has all the class and sophistication of a cargo container loaded with fake charity collections, destined for Eastern Europe.
  2. The bidet: Now a relic of a bygone age, the bidet is not an object you stumble across all too often, unless you are buying a dilapidated starter home recently vacated by a dead person. The bidet started popping up in Irish homes in the 1970s, as the first whiff of the sexual revolution wafted across our shores. Irish people had no idea what this revolution actually entailed, but thought it best to be prepared anyway by having the cleanest arse possible, in much the same way you only wear clean jocks in case you get hit by a bus and end up in hospital. The bidet, like the toilet brush, asks more questions than it answers, and really needs its own bidet to clean itself with after use.
  3. Soft furnishing in the toilet: Again a throwback to the 1970s, when luxuriant plush synthetic fabrics were all the rage, carpet cleaners hadn’t been invented yet, and nobody really understood that the bubonic plague was being resurrected by having a carpet and velvet drapes in the toilet. Thank god for tiles and blinds, otherwise it would have been curtains for us all.
  4. The sacred heart: Sat up high in the kitchen, the sacred heart watches over your attempts at cooking, like a benevolent Mary Berry, quietly judging your collapsing souffles and crumbling marriage. Back in the olden times the sacred heart was vital for two reasons; one, Jesus needed to make sure you didn’t put too much sherry in the trifle, and two, the little flickering light was the best way to tell if there was a power cut or not. Now you know when there is a power cut because the WiFi goes and your children start talking to you for the first time in months.
  5. JFK painting: While the sacred heart keeps an eye on the kitchen, the JFK portrait is usually in the living room, as he was the patron saint of fun, so you don’t need to feel any shame having a drink and possibly attempting to flirt with an au pair beneath his squinty gaze. Morally, it’s the equivalent of having a framed picture of Dick Byrne from Glenroe in your living room.
  6. Ashtrays: Once upon a time you had to offer smokers an ashtray when they were in your home, in case they felt the urge to enjoy their delicious, obnoxious habit within the confines of your house, thereby shortening their life and damaging the health of everyone in your family, including the pug, who was struggling to breathe anyway. Now you welcome smokers to your home by making them stand outside in the icy dark, so they can get pneumonia or abducted by aliens. If you still have an ashtray in your home just for smoking guests, why not take your hospitality to the next level by offering them a tincture of laudanum or perhaps a toot on your opium pipe?
  7. Home bar: With all the drink driving legislation now making it impossible for a simple country person to have ten pints and four shorts before driving a combine harvester home whilst eating a steak at the same time, the home bar seems more and more practical. In reality, it makes you look like you have been barred from every pub in your province and thus are bitterly setting up your own pub, where you will drink mostly alone until your unclean taps give you e. Coli and you die alone, face down on a beer mat that has your own face printed on it.
  8. Entryway shoe storage: Having one of these inside your front door is a great idea, as we live in a country where, if it didn’t rain 300 days a year, we would be up to our knees in dog faeces. Every guest to your home comes with the gift of traces – or chunks – of dog turd on their shoes. However, even though you believe that the shoe rack gives your home a certain zen feel to it,  it actually makes your hall look like a poorly lit bowling alley, complete with moist insoles, lifting floorboards, and the faint odour of parmesan.  
  9. Fondue sets: Fon-don’t. A tin pot trough for government cheese or discount cooking chocolate that brings nothing to your home except mouth blisters and high cholesterol.
  10. Actual swimming pool: If it’s a medical necessity, you get a pass. Otherwise it is there solely so you can feel smug on the 12 days a year we get great weather on a weekend. The rest of the year it’s Davey Jones’s Locker for thousands of bugs and the odd rodent, unless you drain it and use it to store boxes and boxes of worthless AIB share certs.

Kirstie Allsop backtracked from her claim that washing machines in kitchens were disgusting by saying that if you had nowhere else to put them, then it was fine, which is like saying having a jacks in the kitchen is disgusting, but sher if there’s nowhere else to go then it probably makes sense. A washing machine in the kitchen isn’t a sign of sloth or an indication of a lack of food hygiene – it’s a simple necessity for most of us. Despite being an expert on location, poor Kirstie failed to notice just how out of place her comments were.

In MySpace no-one can hear you scream

Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming one of those hot take guys, but then I remember that money of money and money money money #money. Anyway, this piece on Xennials went in the Indo today:

 

Is your name John Paul? Were you named after the guy from Led Zeppelin, or the artist formerly known as Karol Józef Wojtyła? Because if you were named in honour of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979, chances are you belong to a recently discovered micro-generation known as the Xennials.

Nestled between the wooly nihilism of Generation X and capitalism’s latest ground xero, Millennials, Xennials were born between 1977 and 1983 and are not to be mistaken for Xenomorphs, the monstrous creatures from Ridley Scott’s Alien, introduced to the world the same year the Pope came to Ireland. Unlike Xenomorphs, Xennials don’t have acidic blood, but they are strange beasts in that they came of age while the world transitioned from analog to digital.

They made mixtapes that were recorded on actual tapes, later they owned a first-gen iPod, and now have a retro fetishistic turntable and accompanying cool vinyl record collection. Unlike Millennials, they don’t need what LCD Soundsystem called ‘a borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties’, as they were actually there.

Coming of age at the dawn of the digital era means Xennials made all the mistakes so Millennials wouldn’t have to. Look at Tom Hardy – born in 1977, his MySpace page was still accessible until recently and was a treasure trove of terrible selfies and awkward braggadocio. Xennials also remember who Claire Swire was and why nobody says things like that in emails anymore (that’s what Facebook messages are for, and also, nobody really cares now). And thanks to the wonders of globalisation – a process accelerated by digitisation – the signs that you might be a Xennial are almost universal:

  1. TV: Your teenage years were shaped by the emo struggles of My So-Called Life, Party Of Five and Buffy, before you were cheered up by the humorously bourgeois debacles facing the guys in Central Perk. You transitioned from not having that many TV channels in your youth, to having too many TV channels, to Netflix removing the need to ever know how to Sky+ anything ever again. You remember when your parents’ outrage over Fr Ted’s sacrilegious take on the clergy became softened in the face of various reports into the fact that some members of the clergy might not actually have been a great bunch of lads after all. You also think that watching Nasty Nick get his comeuppance on Big Brother 1 was your generation’s moon landing.
  2. Internet giants: You once owned or possibly still own a Hotmail account, a sure sign that you are a Xennial. You remember the first search engines, when Ask Jeeves seemed like a sophisticated AI as opposed to the clunky mess you learned it was once you started using Google. You connected with people you didn’t really like on FriendsReunited.com, and people (and bands) you did like on MySpace. You remember the banshee’s screech of a dial up modem, the strange thrill of stealing music via Napster, and opening the floodgates of filth and wonder on the internet. You possibly even owned a Geocities page dedicated to Boyzone.
  3. Communications: You knew someone in national school whose dad had a phone in his car, and this was the most amazing thing, as anytime you weren’t at home you needed to queue up to use a payphone. You got your first mobile at the end of the Nineties and even though older people told you that using it was the equivalent of sticking your head in a microwave oven and setting it to high, you soon became utterly addicted. You transitioned effortlessly from making calls, to sending texts, to WhatsApp, but draw the line at Snapchat as you suspect it may be something like the voyeuristic tech in the noir sci-fi Strange Days.
  4. Consoles: You disobeyed your parents to go to the local arcade, when you blew your pocket money playing low-res Konami classics like Double Dragon, inputting your name as ACE (there were only three spaces) when you got a high score. But then you segued effortlessly into the age of the console, where you didn’t have to hang out with the school bullies in the local arcade, as you play 8-bit classics at home, learn the basics of computer programming, and become the geeks that inherited the earth.
  5. Attitude: The Xennials are mercifully spared the cynical mindset of Generation X, but also avoid the alleged ‘special snowflake’ mindset of Millennials, a generation who supposedly believe they can be anything, despite the fact that robots are about to take all their jobs. Having lived through the birth of digital and the dot com bust, followed by the 2008 global collapse, the Xennial is cautiously optimistic that things work out in the end, despite not being able to afford a house anytime soon.
  6. Music: As a Xennial you grew up on Spice Girls, Offspring and Blink 182, which explains why you found it easy to never pay for music again once you discovered Limewire.
  7. Movies: Every time you see a Millennial wearing a Goonies T-shirt you feel the urge to shout at them that you were there, you saw it first time round in a small town cinema with sticky floors and it scared the bejaysus out of you. You did not see some 75mm restored version on Imax at some festival of postmodernity curated by 16 year old hipster who owns an ironic Zune.
  8. Consuming: Just as Deliveroo has taken over from actually going out to eat, your trips to the shops and the shopping centre, once a central part of your socialising, have been flung into the dustbin of history.  Every day you are wearing a path to the sorting office or Parcel Motel to pick up your latest online splurges, secretly yearning for the days of the shopping trip so that you could control your relentless clicking and collecting.
  9. Chain reactions: You remember the first time you read Naomi Klein’s No Logo, your idealistic young mind being quite concerned by the idea of Starbucks outlets spreading like a virus. Now you claim Ireland is a Third World Country if you don’t have a Starbucks on every street corner, and cite the Geneva Convention if the baristas don’t write a humorous interpretation of your name on the cup so you can post it on Instagram.
  10. You feel like the before and after photos in an academic paper on how technology has dehumanised us. You remember real news, eye contact, speaking, and putting effort into writing letters. Now you can’t remember the last meaningful real-world interaction you had, and wonder sometimes if you are becoming less human, or just obsolete.

Rejoice then that there are some aspects of Irish society that weren’t affected by the digital transition, for just as you listened to your parents droning on about the X Case as you drove to Knock a quarter of a century ago, you find yourself listening to the exact same rhetoric now. So at least that hasn’t changed.

Ken?

As in, the Scottish for ‘y’know?’. But also a popular toy that got a makeover, promoting this work of genius in the Indo:

 

Is there any toy more tragic than Ken? Since his creation back in 1959, his life has been one tragi-comic misadventure after another. Initially created with authentic felt hair, he had to suffer the embarrassment of many follicularly challenged men when it turned out that his lush head of hair fell off when it got wet. Physically, he has the rigid upright stance of someone with a slipped disc, or perhaps one of the guys from Kraftwerk, but it is his personal life that is most rigid of all. Ostensibly created as a love interest for Barbie, poor auld Ken has been boxed off in the friend zone for decades now, with his creators Mattel never precisely specifying the nature of their relationship, leaving Ken to ponder his place in her life – gay best friend, purely platonic pal, or creepy flatmate she mistakenly let out the spare room in the dreamhouse to?

After a life of loneliness (even lone-wolf hero Action Man has his life partner, GI Joe) and confusion about his role in life, the death blow to traditional Ken was dealt by Toy Story 3, in which he was thoroughly lampooned as a preening narcissist. There was no coming back from it. So the good news is that Mattel have relaunched Ken for our modern times, with a selection of fresh new looks, body shapes, styles and, ultimately, lessons for the child of today.

Masculinity: The old Ken was a sexless prop in Barbie’s world. While his arch nemesis Action Man had a walk-on part in the war, poor Ken took the lead role in a cage. Granted, neither of them had any trace of genitalia, but while Action Man was out destabilising governments and having rocks thrown at him, Ken’s passive existence was a pity to behold. Not so now – the reboot takes him from ‘Ken doll’ to ‘Ken playfigure’, a huge leap forward for the toy world’s least popular eunuch. New Ken comes with attitude, and his fresh new looks show that he is more than Barbie’s accessory. He is still, of course, unrealistically perfect, but then living with no genitals means he has a lot more time to dedicate to sorting out his eyebrows, trimming his ear hair and treating his fungal nail(s).

Body image: Old Ken’s body shape was just as alien as Barbie’s; a study in 2005 showed that for the average man to have Ken’s physique, he would need to grow 20 inches taller and add nearly eight inches to his neck circumference, 11 inches to his chest and 10 inches to his waist. Thankfully new Ken has scaled back these unrealistic ambitions, with three new body types – slim, broad and original. Presumably slim suffers from Marfan syndrome, while ‘broad’ is that same euphemistic term that your mam used when she couldn’t fasten the cape for your CBS school band around your neck. Broad Ken – or Fat Ken as he will most likely be called by the other toys – is probably the best Ken of the new breed, as his portly frame teaches young girls that some day their prince will come, then get settled, then get fat, and that golf is not really exercise.   

Relationships: Ken’s new body confidence, man-bun, corn rows, and general swagger means he has his pick of partners, but given that he is still a child’s toy, he will presumably continue to be a bit part in a vague storyline about Barbie going shopping, standing around changing rooms while she tries on a selection of hats, like that scene in the hit romcom Sleeping With The Enemy. Ken is the non-threatening asexual longtime companion for Barbie, endlessly shifting and then perfecting his appearance in the hope that she will fall in love with him, but since he first met her back in 1959, she hasn’t shown the slightest interest. Perhaps it’s time for Mattel to release the poor guy from his loveless hell and issue a Tinder Ken – or Grinder Ken – because it doesn’t matter how many times he suggests they watch When Harry Met Sally, Barbie has no interest. It’s almost like her dead plastic eyes don’t even see him anymore.

Career goals: Most people would say that the only job Ken ever had was as bag-minder for Barbie, but he has had almost 40 occupations since his creation. Many of them are more hobbies than actual jobs – bodybuilder, beach bum, and fraternity member being the bottom scraping of Ken’s less than illustrious career. This in itself is a positive message for girls, as they can’t all marry princes, astronauts or even guys with actual jobs that pay. The new Ken comes in a selection of looks, all of which make it seem he is either a digital marketer or aloof clothes-folder at American Apparel, neither of which pay enough for Barbie to get that Malibu beach house, or even a mobile home in Bundoran.

The saddest part of Ken’s story is that this complete reimagining of him is Mattel’s last ditch attempt to make him and Barbie relevant. Kids today just aren’t interested in playfigures like Ken and Barbie, and they are fast becoming relics of a bygone age. Ken’s new look is really just a midlife crisis, as he tries to save his crumbling relationship and thus himself, because, like a lot of men, without his significant other, he is nothing.

 

Vader’s Day

Wrote an intensely pious piece on International Day For Men Who Got The Ride (Father’s Day) for the Indo, so here it is:

 

Gather ye round my brothers, and let me tell ye of a fabled time, a golden age where a father’s job was to simply have a job, and little else. Returning from a hard day’s work, he would retire to the drawing room with his pipe and slippers, and nobody was to disturb until he had his tea, whereafter he would depart to the pub. A father was a remote and distant thing, as nature intended. Sadly, times have changed, and now fathers are expected to partake in a child’s life well beyond the fun production bit at the start. So we adjusted and learned, just like we did at those antenatal classes where we were advised on the best technique for gently massaging a thrashing woman who is threatening to murder you.

Some dads have even gone one step beyond in their pursuit of the best kind of parenting, crossing the threshold from quietly enjoying the miracle of being a parent, to very loudly advertising their skills across social media. These Instadads – like Simon Hooper or Matt Farquharson – have amassed thousands of followers, and are therefore better than most other dads who just get on with it. The Instadads’ accounts bring the revelation that parenthood is not all glamour, glitz and Gap catalogue style perfection, as they capture suburban chaos at its most lightly filtered. But with followers comes power, so here’s a handy guide to jumping on this lifestyle brandwagon.

  1. Capture everything! Sort of… – The key to leveraging your image from ‘just a dad’ to influential #brandad is to portray yourself as a put-upon martyr, drowning in a sea of sturm und drang. Context, of course, is key – if your kids empty out bins and throw stuff about, take the opportunity to snap it for Instagram. Kids are great aren’t they! Do not, however, take photos of the actual filth of your home, complete with fresh turd in the hall courtesy of the toilet training toddler. Nobody needs to be reminded that you can either have an impeccably clean, camera ready home, or you can spend time with your kids. The Instadad understands that, much like with childhood itself, reality must be used sparingly – and nobody needs a stop-motion guide to the norovirus.
  2. Boundaries: Kids are always getting up to mischief, and a photo of them scurrying about like gremlins wrecking your stuff always bring a lot of traction online. However, it’s important to know where the boundaries lie.
    DO: Be like Stephen Crowley, the Dublin dad who photoshopped his daughter into mildly dangerous situations and posted them on Instagram to scare his mam. The photos were a worldwide hit, and Crowley now boasts an impressive 25k followers.  
    DON’T: Be like YouTuber DaddyoFive, whose increasingly bizarre and cruel pranks led to him losing custody of his kids. Shouting at your kids due to mental exhaustion, stress or malnutrition are one thing – doing it for clicks is just bizarre.
  3. Always remember your ABCs – Always Bring Camera. There is no occasion that is not fodder for your online profile – birthdays, Christenings, parole hearings – you are going to need to capture every moment, rather than simply existing in them. Always have that phone ready to capture your child’s first steps, first day at school, or the gradual process of them becoming estranged from you as you obsessively photograph everything.
  4. Sports: Gone are the days of the old chuckabout in the back yard, where father and child would throw the old pigskin back and forth while a Wonder Years narration plays inside dad’s head, assuring him that he has now achieved Cat Stevens’ levels of perfect dadhood. The modern dad has no time for leaving the house, what with feeding the beast of his online profile, so instead challenges his kids to team deathmatches on Call Of Duty, without ever hearing the call of his own actual duties.  YouTuber Finnball regularly posts videos of his son playing him at COD, and despite millions of views and subscribers, still hasn’t become alert to the fact that there might be something slightly Oedipal about a son repeatedly murdering his father with an AK47.
  5. Showmanship: Instadads know that online supports like Rollercoaster.ie or Mummypages are not for them. Nobody needs to hear their anguish about paying bills, being a good father, or what sort of world their children are growing up in. Instagram is a place of surface only, and the myriad challenges of being a parent are far too complex to be captured in a photo of a handsome dad with four kids and two changing bags hanging off him like the late stages of a game of Buckaroo. Ninety percent of being a dad is either undercutting mum’s authority by allowing them treats before bed or helping them escape from the naughty step, or blowing a gasket when someone empties a packet of cheese and onion into the PS4. But instead of all that, just post photos of yourself styled like Hugh Grant’s character in About A Boy, all ‘kids eh?’ and tightly choreographed mess.
  6. Shopping: A trip to the shops with the kids is a fun event, when you get a real taste of the logistics of Hannibal’s trek across the Alps. Take lots of photos of your kids in the food hall at Marks and Spencer, before bundling them all back into the car and going to Lidl to do your actual shop. The modern dad feels that if he manages to get them all to the shops and back without misplacing a single child, he deserves the Victoria Cross, or even a new set of golf clubs, despite the fact that mum makes this trek up to three times a day. Also, the annual festive tradition of getting up at 4am to queue for the Next sale is never an option for dad, no matter how modern he is, because he would then have to admit he isn’t quite sure what age his kids are.
  7. Airports: All the bags and all the kids, all bundled on a trolley! What a great shot! What isn’t great is the fact that they screamed for the entire four and a half hour flight to Lanzarote, and screamed even louder during the layover in Shannon, leaving the poor American soldiers sharing the lounge area with an even more severe case of PTSD. The great thing about photos is there is no sound, and the Instagrammed child is always seen and not heard.
  8. Precious memories, AKA #content: Remember that iconic scene in Kramer Vs Kramer where the father helps his child cycle a bike? Now picture dad letting go too early to whip out his phone and capture the moment, only for the child to crash to the ground, breaking an arm. This leads to another great moment – the trip to the hospital, where you get to share your anguish about your child’s well being with strangers on the internet. Might be best to put away the phone when the social worker asks to have a word about how the accident actually happened. Please note that ‘crafting a brand’ isn’t an excuse for neglect.
  9. Playdates: Few things in a father’s life are sweeter than brand synergy, so why not get some fellow influencers over with their brood so you can cross-pollinate your accounts? So many great opportunities as you force your kids to hang out with a bunch of equally showbiz-primed prima donnas, all jostling for lens time and seeing whose photo gets the most likes. You know; a normal, healthy childhood.
  10. Everything is fleeting: Photos used to be a way to capture moments in time, and were so precious that when people were asked what material items they would save from a burning house, photo albums usually made the top three. Social media changed that, for better and worse, and while it is a comfort to see images of other parents struggling with the chaos of a busy home, it never quite relates the pleasures and sorrows of having kids. Nobody Instagrams a panic attack at 4am over whether you are a good parent, or Snapchats the secret fear that your child might turn out just like you, riddled with flaws and struggling to cope with the world. The Instadad claims to ditch the sugar coating of family life, but it was never sugar coated to begin with – nobody takes it lightly, as it is, in the end, the only thing of true merit you will ever do. Tens of thousands of followers are a comfort to the ego, but it’s the little followers trailing you around the garden who really matter, and their contentment is considerably more valuable than your #content.

Authoritarian

I did a steaming hot take on the Clinton/Patterson book for the Indo, and here it is: 

 

When it was announced that Bill Clinton was writing a book, most people assumed it would be a cross between 50 Shades and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sadly, our hopes of a steamy memoir about Slick Willy Clinton polling the electorate were dashed when it was announced that human bestseller machine James Patterson would be co-authoring. Patterson is what you might call box office, one of the most successful – and richest – authors in the world, even if he has his critics – as horror maestro Stephen King bluntly put it, Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very successful.

So the book will be a hit, no matter what, even if the title – The President Is Missing, which according to the publishers is about a president that goes missing – doesn’t suggest a gripping, unputdownable page-turner. But not every politician has had success when dabbling in the creative arts.

Painting – Churchill painted to alleviate depression, Hitler was a failed artist, and Franco was  better than you would think. But beyond all those were the paintings of George W Bush, whose portraits of world leaders – and himself in the shower – were startlingly poor. Of course, art is completely subjective, but when a 14 year old entrant in the Texaco Art Competition makes W’s works look like a potato print, it is time to retire the easel. However, he did exactly the opposite – he released a book of portraits, this time on a subject that meant nobody could criticise his work: War veterans. Frankly it was the least he could do after starting a war himself.

Acting – It should set off alarm bells for all of us that so many actors become highly successful politicians. Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Glenda Jackson; it is a surprisingly smooth transition from pretending to be someone, to being a politician. Perhaps the oddest transition was that of Illona Staller, known by her stage name la Cicciolina. The Hungarian-born model (and porn star) stood for the Green Party in Italy and served one term, one of the most memorable moments of which was when she offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace in his country. Perhaps if George W had painted that scenario he might sell a few more copies of his book.  However, he would have to compete with the talents of conceptualist artist Jeff Koons, who married Staller and created a series of massive portraits of he and his wife engaged in explicit sexual acts. So politics isn’t all paperwork.

Music – Wyclef Jean ran for president of Haiti, Youssou N’Dour ran for office in Senegal, Sonny Bono became a US congressman, and our own Bono seems to have more influence with world leaders than our politicians do. It’s not surprising to see idealistic musicians attempt to turn their lyrics into actions. And then there’s former TD Paul Gogarty, who brought his baby to a Green Party press conference calling for a general election, and on another occasion shouted ‘f**k you’ across the floor of the Dáil at Labour TD Emmet Stagg. If he was to record music, you would assume it would lie somewhere between The Sex Pistols and the theme music from In The Night Garden. But Gogarty’s project, His Sweet Surprise, is a very sweet surprise – synth-heavy pop songs with catchy choruses. His time in politics may have been brief, but his music (and swearing) definitely made more of an impression than his party colleagues, such as the lightbulb guy or the other guy, you know, the one who cycled everywhere.

Writing – Clinton’s foray into writing is unusual in that it is a work of fiction. Most former presidents just churn out a memoir or three, along with several impassioned books on how they could make the world a better place if only they were still in charge. The only previous work of fiction Clinton was affiliated with was the Chinese counterfeiting of his memoir, the imaginatively titled My Life. The Chinese version of it – which came out before the book was actually released – featured countless anecdotes of Clinton talking about how great China was and how their technology was vastly superior to America’s. It also included a scene in which Bill informs Hilary this his nickname is Big Watermelon, which somehow seems entirely plausible.

But when it comes to forays into the world of creative writing by politicians, few come close to our own Alan Shatter. His one novel, Laura: A Story You Will Never Forget, shot to prominence when a complaint was made to the censors office about it. Fittingly for a man born on Valentine’s Day, Mr Shatter included a few scenes of the protagonists engaging in the physical act of love – which is what they called sex back in 1989 when the book was first published. After the complaint to the censors board and subsequent furore, the book was republished, proving that the old adage of ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is true in the arts, if not in politics.

While Mr Shatter is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant minds to have graced Dáil Éireann in modern times, one does have to wonder if the much talked-about sex scenes in Laura would have been better if he was a little less brilliant – perhaps a little less mind and a little more body would have turned his well-written, sterile prose into top-notch filth. He does, however, get bonus points for including this classic Irish chat-up manoeuvre:  “She knew that she had been foolish for not taking the necessary precautions herself, but Brannigan had assured her that he always withdrew in time and that she was not at risk.”

It was either that or tell her his nickname was The Big Potato.

Battle royale

So the Indo asked me to write a bit on the royal visit to Kilkenny. Naturally I completely misinterpreted the brief on the piece and had to rewrite it; the final printed version is here, while this is the original:

We have come a long way as a country. The announcement that HRH Prince Charles was going to be visiting Kilkenny was greeted with a national shrugging of shoulders, a sign that we have moved on from the angry young nation we once were to a more mature approach. We now see a royal visit as being like Christmas drinks in your house with neighbours you don’t especially like, but need to keep onside in case you need to borrow a generator at some point.

In fact, it might even be acceptable to say that it would be nice to have our own aristocracy. Sure, we have our own version of royalty, like Queen Miriam O’Callaghan, ruler of the airwaves, pirate king Johnny Ronan, snatching up gluten-free princesses and whisking them away to his north African hideout, or the Dauphin Nicky Byrne, whose increasingly complex riddles saw his Million Euro Challenge show marched to the guillotine. If only he had listened to his father in law, Emperor Bertie, he would have known that the plain people of Ireland care not for complex mathematics, nor even rudimentary bookkeeping.

So we have our own yellow-pack royalty – but it’s not really the same. There is something entertaining about watching genuine aristocrats go about their business, like a cross between Teletubbies and Game Of Thrones. All that pomp and circumstance, the pageantry of it all, the zany names and goofy accents. The only real royalty we have is Puck Fair’s King Puck, a terrified goat in a cage, dangling 50 feet off the ground like a hairy David Blaine.

Kilkenny was the perfect choice of venue for a royal visit, for it was King James I who granted it royal charter as a city in 1609, which led to centuries of confusion as visitors pointed out that it really is just a large town. Anyone suggesting this heresy might want to do so in private, as Kilkenny was also home to one of the first witch trials – and subsequent burnings at the stake – in Europe. Held in 1324, the trial involved Dame Alice de Kyteler and her servant Petronella de Meath. Part of the charges claimed that Alice had a demon as incubus ‘by whom she permitted herself to be known carnally’ and that he appeared as a cat – something that should sound familiar to any poor hurler who had the arse ridden off them by the Cats in Croke Park over the last two decades.

The two were found guilty of the crimes, and while Petronella was flogged and burnt at the stake, Dame Alice fled to the UK. Aristocrats – a great bunch of lads.

It is Kilkenny’s rich medieval history that has drawn Charles to the city, according to Chris Hennessy, the head barman at The Dylan Whisky Bar.  Chris said that the rumours of the royal visit started some months ago, but were confirmed in the last three weeks. Asked how the news was greeted by locals, he says “People were just glad that something was happening outside Dublin”.

While there are two definite stops for the couple – Rothe House, a 17th century merchant’s townhouse, and the stunning Kilkenny Castle – The Dylan might appear on the itinerary. As the number one whiskey bar in Leinster, it is entirely possible that a whisky enthusiast like Charles might pop in for a quick dram. The Prince is a keen supporter of whisky producers, having given a royal charter to Scotland’s Laphroaig, a distillery whose fire-and-brimstone whisky would go down a treat with the Kilkenny puritans who flambéd Petronella de Meath. So if HRH should pop in for a liquid lunch, what would Chris serve him?

“To start I’d go with an original aqua vitae. This was the drink that later became what we know as whiskey, and the first recipe for it comes from the Red Book of Ossory, penned in 1324 by Bishop de Ledrede at St Canice’s right here in Kilkenny. We have recreated it from that original recipe, so he could start by tasting whiskey’s ancient past. Then I would serve Redbreast 12, to show the traditional Irish style of whiskey, and finish with the new Teeling Brabazon, to give a glimpse of the future.”

Chris points out that the visit really does seem less about publicity – of which there has been little – and more out of the royal couple’s genuine curiosity about the Marble City. Asked if the bar had considered any ways to cash in, he says “We did think about getting in cardboard cut-outs of them, but we were worried we might get a visit from the secret service agents.”

While the royal visit – and subsequent boost in profile – should be of great benefit for the city, it really is a shame that some of the younger royals don’t make a trip across the water before Brexit makes it a bit of a nightmare to get through immigration.

Charles and Camilla’s visit may be the biggest thing to hit the town since the Black Death touched down in 1348, but who among us wouldn’t like to see Will and Kate bringing the kids over for a weekend? Who wouldn’t want to bump into them stocking up on shorts and T-shirts in Market Cross Penneys, as their kids rip the place to bits? Or witness Harry and Meghan loudly arguing outside Joe’s Takeaway at 3am whilst spilling garlic chips down their tops? Imagine the boost in Kilkenny’s tourism profile if little George was seen in a miniature Kilkenny kit, swinging a hurlóg at passers-by, while his dad struggled to get a slab of Smithwicks into the back of a horse-drawn carriage.

In the absence of a monarchy of our own, maybe it’s time we simply accepted the royals back into our bosom – after all, they are practically related to us, for both Kate’s family and that of Charles and his sons, can be traced back to the High King Of Ireland, Brian Boru. Boru’s lineage can also be traced to JFK, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and even our own Baronet, Ryan Tubridy. In fact, Boru’s sprawling family tree shows that when it comes to producing devil-may-care aristocrats with complex marital relations, we really are up there with the best of them.