Few people have any real idea what public relations actually entails. I certainly didn’t until I managed to blag my way into a summer internship in a high-profile firm in 2001. It was a great experience – it was a well-established Dublin-based company that mostly dealt with luxury brands and business-to-consumer stuff. It was also quite the education – up to that point I had no clue how to even answer a phone properly. Thankfully on the first day someone took the time to tell me that picking up the phone and yawping ‘hullo’ down the phone was simply not the done thing. I somehow mastered answering the phone in a semi-professional manner, and a few other basic tasks – I was basically Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, only with a flat east Cork accent.
During my time with the firm I got to work with and meet lots of great people, but learned early on that it’s not all smiles and sunshine. PR agencies are the firewall that protects the client from the media-driven outrage-athon, and they get little thanks for it. So always be nice to the PR firm. And I’m not just saying that because I got this in the post today:
I first met the guys from Burrell PR around this time last year when they helped organise the broadcast of Sean Moncrieff’s Movies and Booze on Newstalk down in the distillery in Midleton; you can read my coverage of the event here. The focus there was also on this great drink. Redbreast was the first pot still whiskey I tried and it is still one of my favourite whiskeys. As Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett describes it, it’s Christmas cake in a glass – stewed winter fruits, toasted nuts and oak, and that rich warm glow, a velvet thickness that just wraps itself around you. If you are looking for a gift for the whiskey fan – be they novice or nerd – Redbreast is a great, affordable option; at 65 yoyo, it is actually great value for money… in whiskey terms, at least. Again, I’m not just saying that because I got a bottle of it as a present. And anyway, I don’t think a post about whiskey on Ireland’s least successful blog qualifies as ‘leveraged coverage by a key influencer’ or even makes me as a ‘bribe unit‘. But as today is my last day off before nine days straight working in one of the busiest A&Es in the country, it really did lift my spirits. So thank you.
I was meant to have a vasectomy two kids ago. My wife and I had what is known as ‘the gentleman’s family’ – a boy and a girl – and we were officially done. She went back to work, and while her wage, combined with my salary, wasn’t a king’s ransom, things were going to be ok. We talked about our sadness that we weren’t going to have any pitter patter of tiny feet in the house, but we knew it was the best to keep it to two. I made vague plans to get meself fixed, and we continued with life, and life continued with us.
One month into her new job, she felt a bit odd. Odd in a familiar way. Another little person came along nine months later. Which was fine, it was going to be grand and I’d get that vasectomy someday soon now. A few months later, she started to get that familiar odd feeling and hey presto, welcome to People Carrier Town, population me and my four kids. I am now at the stage where when I tell people how many children I have I sometimes add ‘with the same person’ at the end, as it sounds like I might be a feckless Jeremy Kyle-style Johnny Appleseed, roaming east Cork knocking people up. Four is a crazy number of humans to create – when I told a friend of mine that my wife and I were expecting again his response was ‘dear god man, she isn’t a clown car you know’.
So this was the point where I actually picked up the phone and booked a vasectomy. The Catholic in me would say the procedure was atonement for forcing my poor wife into four pregnancies, but really it was more like the moment in Se7en when Kevin Spacey’s serial killer character walks into the cop station and asks to be arrested. So to help me go through with it – and to help pay for it, as the procedure is 450 – I wrote about the whole experience. You can read the entire lot here, it is quite hand-wringy and po-faced, but it generally covers all of it – including some basic guidelines for shaving your genitals. See kids, newspapers still got it.
The features editor liked the article and sent it off to media outlets ahead of publication. I’m not sure why it took off the way it did – it was possibly that this is an issue that most men don’t talk about, despite it being incredibly common. For whatever reason, this was the point where my 15 minutes of shame began.
First was the Ray D’Arcy show on Today FM. Ray was on holidays, so it was Paddy from the Undertones instead. Teenage kicks indeed. It went fine, I even got to reference The Simpsons when talking about the squirm factor of talking about the procedure – ‘it’s like when you see someone getting hit by a football in the groin, even if you’ve never been hit by a football in the groin’. Well, the sound engineer got the reference anyway.
Then it was on to Red FM, where I was interviewed by Neil Prendeville, because if you’re going to openly discuss your genitals with someone in the media, he really is the ideal person. Neil was great, we laughed about the whole thing, which is the sometimes best way to approach sensitive topics like this. I assumed at this point that this would be it – one national and one local radio station had covered it, so the others wouldn’t be interested anymore, right? Wrong. Later in the week I had the sublime pleasure of going on one of the most listened-to shows in the country, Today With Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio 1. On I went, along with a relationship expert and Dr Andrew Rynne, who is a bit of a pioneering legend when it comes to vasectomies, having once been shot by a former patient.
At this stage I was an old hand at being on radio, and afterwards I trundled back to the office to enjoy the hate hoots of co-workers and slump back into total obscurity. Not quite. I was asked to go on Ireland AM on TV3, because nothing says ‘breakfast TV’ like an old guy talking about his sausage and eggs. We agreed a date – November 7th, which as I’m sure you know is World Vasectomy Day.
The researcher told me they were trying to get an expert or two on with me as Mark Cagney was away on holidays, meaning it’d just be me and the lovely Sinead Desmond talking about my junk. The seventh arrived, and as my dawn taxi slid through the grim industrial estates of Dublin’s hinterlands, I thought ‘this must be what it’s like to get trafficked to a snuff movie’ – and, much like a snuff movie, TV3 only paid my taxi fare one way. We eventually got to TV3’s studios, which is basically a big industrial unit in the middle of several other industrial units. I was greeted by an intern who was running up and down corridors trying to do seventy million jobs at once; she told me she was also interning at a radio station in the evenings. Life in the media: Non-stop glamour.
After some awkward loitering near the complimentary muffins, and even more awkward loitering near Lovely Girl Emeritus Sinead Noonan, I was ushered down to make-up to be beautified. Having a face that is already a full-scale Dale Winton shade of tangerine, I didn’t need much pan stick, just a ton of powder to try and tone down the mirrorball effect of my skin. Then it was off to backstage to lurk behind the set and let the fear take over. Rugby legend Shane Byrne was on before me, then they cut to break and it was hammer time. I was ushered over to the couch. Shane shook my hand and said ‘fair play’ while wincing. Not sure if that was about getting the snip or just being stupid enough to go on TV and talk about it. So down I sat with the lovely Sinéad. They had failed to get anyone else on, so it was just the two of us, talking about my frank and beans, as you do. I don’t remember much from the interview, I talked about family, getting the snip, public reaction to the article, and how online comments sections are just a Fight Club for the terminally deranged. And then that was it. Somebody shouted ‘cut’, possibly ironically, and it was over. I got my pan stick and powder removed, and went off to visit a relative who was being treated in the Blackrock Clinic. I got there, and having been too nervous to eat brekkie, decided to get a coffee and non-complimentary muffin. While sitting there I felt a tap on my shoulder, and looked up to see a woman looking at me with a somewhat furrowed brow. I assumed she was about to ask me if I was wearing make-up (I was), but no, it was much better than that.
‘Sorry, but were you just on TV? On Ireland AM?’
Oh my god yes I was. Yes I was and now I was being recognized in public, like Kim Kardashian or Larry Murphy!
‘Well you were very, very good. Well done’.
I said thanks a million, that I hoped I didn’t look thick (I am), and we went our separate ways, me to bury my face in a muffin, her to whatever, I don’t care as I’m the famous one in this story. It was only afterwards I realized that I should have pointed out to her that I was in the Blackrock Clinic to visit a relative, and not to have my genitals reattached, or to transition to another gender, or anything bollock-related. Oops.
My pubic publicity tour was made all the more surreal by the fact that I got my redundancy notice midway through it all. So it wasn’t just my Johnson that was totally without purpose – soon the rest of me would be too. But it was fine – one of the reasons I wrote about getting the snip was how I feel about journalism: I feel that anyone who works in a newspaper needs to be have that bright light shone upon them from time to time, to be able to hold themselves up to public scrutiny, just as their industry does to others.
Apart from that, I felt that this was something worth talking about. A vast portion of the media obsessively talks about women’s health issues – look at almost any magazine rack and all you will see is women’s bodies being dissected, discussed, probed, analyzed – and when I was going about getting the procedure, I found very little written from the point of view of an Irish male. Maybe I blew it all out of proportion – and I’ve been told I did – but it is a big deal for men, and one that needs to be talked about openly, even if it’s in the form of juvenile banter – as long as we’re talking about men’s physical and emotional health, things can only improve, and god knows we need to do a bit of evolving in that department.
Anyway, after it all I found I was being asked crazy questions, which just show how little people know about vasectomies – so I’ve compiled some of the best FAQs – or ‘fairly awkward questions’ – here for anyone looking for a short checklist ahead of getting it done.
Do you get to keep your junk in a jar to bring home or does it go to the dog food factory?
Great question, your junk goes home with you where it always was, only more shriveled than usual. Go home and spend two days in bed. Fun fact – this will be the very first time you have ever spent two days in bed without having a single erotic thought. The time will drag. Get Netflix.
So….do you still feel desire?
I was asked this by the education correspondent of a newspaper. People I had previously believed to be intelligent beings asked me the most idiotic things. A vasectomy is simply the cutting of the conduits for your sperm – basically your little soldiers now end up swimming around in you, rather than in someone else. Your body then reabsorbs them; think of yourself as a recycling centre, albeit one with fewer depressed eastern Europeans working in it.
There is absolutely no effect on your desire. It’d be great to find a way to stop the endless whispering of the id in the back of your head – ‘What about her? What about her? What about him? What about all of them together like an Irish stew with extra sausage?’. Sadly, it seems that only the blessed black wings of death can silence the endless hunger and thirst of human sexuality. That or watching Oireachtas Report.
Do you still ejaculate?
Seriously? Yes. Obviously. This is a question I was asked by a female co-worker, and once again goes to show there is very little knowledge around the issue, or men’s health in general. As I said already, nothing changes – you are just sterile. So zero savings on tissues, if that was your prime reason for getting it done.
Do you have any parenting tips?
Yes – think long and hard about having four kids. Obviously I love all my children and can’t imagine my life without them, but there is a knock-on for all of them with each new life. As I pompously pointed out during one of the interviews I gave, parenting isn’t always about the money in your pocket, but about the hours in the day and the love in your heart. With each child, your time to spend with them individually is decreased, and while a house full of life is fantastic, childhood is a brief moment – they are only with you for a short while, and it’d be nice to cherish them as individuals as well as a family unit.
As far as I’m concerned, if even one man reads the article I wrote and feels less worried about getting a vasectomy, then I will consider my 11 years working in the media to have been a success. It is simply a bonus that I also managed to piss off someone who reads the Daily Mail.
All that said, I still think the best part of the whole experience was how TV3 captioned me – not as a journalist, a writer, a father, a shameless self-promoter or anything else – they distilled it all down to this:
There are things that I miss about being in a newsroom. The flow of insider information, the unprintable story behind the story, the kernels of truth you occasionally stumble across. It is like an addiction – once gone from it, you feel the withdrawal, you realise that you are now on the outside. But that isn’t necessarily the worst place to be, and definitely not in today’s media, where low sales are driving a race to the bottom, with everyone now chasing MailOnline and Buzzfeed’s business models of listicles, flesh, rage-bait and endless repetition.
However, one of the best aspects of journalism is the access it gives you; it places you in a position of extreme privilege – you get into places you shouldn’t, get offered things you don’t need, and generally can live a larger life than your wages would suggest. And this brings me, as almost everything does, to whiskey. Two years ago I was sent to an event in my hometown distillery called The Housewarming. It was being held to celebrate the massive expansion of the local distillery, but beyond that I didn’t know much else. I’m not sure what I expected, but nothing could have prepared me for the scale of it. Walking through the arch into the main courtyard behind the old distillery was like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything suddenly blooms into Technicolor, or the first time Aldous Huxley dropped acid; I was, like Adam, seeing all of creation for the first time. After The Housewarming, I was hooked, and have been writing about – and loving – whiskey ever since. And so it was that I was one of only a few journalists to be invited to both the launch of the new micro distillery and celebration of Jameson’s rocketing sales – five million cases plus in 12 months.
The events in the distillery are pretty special – almost everything they do is delivered in epic widescreen, and this was no different. The first part of the evening was the launch of the microdsitillery, which has seen distilling return to the old distillery site for the first time in 40 years. In fact, this year marked a triple celebration for IDL – parent firm Pernod Ricard turned 40, the new Midleton distillery turned 40, and Master Distiller Brian Nation also hit the big four-O (I also turned 40 in August, but since I was on the dole, celebrations were muted).
Over the past couple of years, an old storehouse was renovated and turned into a small scale distillery – but one which was still larger than many of the new independent distilleries being set up around the country in the past 24 months.
After a drinks reception in the courtyard, we were ushered in to hear IDL CEO Anna Malmhake, Tánaiste Joan Burton and ‘micro-distiller’ (note: not an actual term) Karen Cotter speak about the new venture. Anna acted as MC, and Karen spoke first, giving a speech about her path to this point, about the distillery, her mentors and what the future holds. Given her young age – just 24 – it was remarkable to hear her speak with such clarity and self-confidence. It reinforced my view that she will be a very bright star in Irish whiskey.
Then it was the Tánaiste’s turn. Deputy Burton spoke about how her ancestors were coopers, having grown up near Bow Street distillery, and also about how important it is to have gender balance in the workplace – be it at the cabinet table, or in the distilling world. Then it was over to the stills to switch them on, one by one, at which point they lit up in sequence.
Here is some low-grade audio of part of Karen Cotter and Joan Burton’s speeches:
Whilst there I chatted to local politicians Deputy Sandra McLellan of SF, David Stanton of FG and fellow journalist Tomás Clancy of the SBP. It was great to finally meet Tomás, as we both used to be part of the same media group, and also because he is a great ambassador for whiskey. I had seen him speak at Ballymaloe LitFest with Dave Broom and he was great, really knowledgeable without beating you over the head with it. Top guy, and the SBP is a great paper.
I also chatted to Richard Forsyth of the legendary pot still makers Forsyths – the Rolls Royce of post still makers. I had met him at the Spirit Of Speyside gala in May so it was nice to meet him on my home turf. Speyside is incredible – if you ever get a chance to visit there during the whisky festival, do so. You won’t regret it. The festival is one of the rare occasions when you can get a tour of the massive plant in Rothes. As a Scottish engineering firm their main business is oil and gas – which occupies about 300 of their staff, while the distilling operation has 60 or so working in it. There is an impressive drone flyover of the facility to give you an idea of what they do.
During the Spirit of Speyside festival the town also hosts a tattie bogle contest – local businesses create scarecrows and hang them off buildings or in windows. It is goddam terrifying, like something from Tales Of The Unexpected or The League Of Gentlemen.
Also there was Bernard Walsh, head of the IWA and one of the ‘real deal’ distillers in Ireland at the moment. He is the man behind Writer’s Tears, to my mind one of the stand-out Irish whiskeys, not just for its fresh aesthetic and great name, but just because it is a great drink. Bernard’s new pot stills arrived from Rothes last week, so it’s an exciting time for him, the culmination of many years of hard work.
Then it was off to the buses to be ferried down to Warehouse 11, a functioning storage facility that they had transformed into an incredible venue for the evening. About 350 guests filed in, greeted with Jameson whiskey sours, and then on a massive screen we were shown DJ Kormac talking about a commission he was given to create a track from the sounds of the distillery. He talked about his methods as they cut in footage from barley fields, and then he and singer Vivienne Long took to the stage to unveil their track. No wonder he is so skinny with all the frenetic work he does behind his electronics.
Then the screen lifted and we were in the venue proper, with names and tables assigned on a screen. Somehow I managed to locate mine, right up the front near the stage, perfect if i got carried away and wanted to start a moshpit or possibly stage dive onto some marketing people. The meal itself was spectacular, these massive outside events mean you need to set up mobile kitchens in the middle of nowhere and bus in an army of wait staff and chefs. Sometimes this can result in sub standard food, but not in this case; every part of the meal was incredible, really interesting food, beautiful, inspired presentation, and wait staff who were incredibly patient with my increasingly terrible banter: ‘Still or sparkling water sir?’ ‘Sparkling – LIKE MESELF’. I wonder how many times that poor person had to hear that jape in a single night. I was sat next to a member of the Irish Whiskey Association, which much like its Scottish counterpart is mainly involved in protection of intellectual copyright and maintaining the integrity of the Irish Whiskey brand. They make sure that you don’t end up with some low grade hooch from outside the country being passed off as ‘ye olde Oirish whiskey’ as it will devalue the entire category.
Also sat next to me was the Jameson Ambassador to Tokyo, a 23 year old Arts graduate from Wicklow, who possessed the rare (Irish) skill of being able to speak fluent Japanese. He spoke about his work, his projected aims and the brand’s target demographics. It was an amazing insight into a job that seems like it might be akin to being Duffman from The Simpsons, but is actually a lot more sophisticated, nuanced and involves a lot less booze than you would think. He has his work cut out for him – in a fast-paced and somewhat alien cultural landscape (one with a fantastic indigenous whisky scene), trying to attach yourself to the zeitgeist will be akin to catching a bullet between your teeth. But it will still be some incredible adventure for a young man.
Throughout the event there was incredible live music on stage – Lisa Hannigan, an orchestra playing popular classics (and grunge), and a harpist who would give Tony Iommi a run for his money.
After dinner we were treated to three new whiskeys from the distillery, each curated by a master – Master Cooper Ger Buckley’s the Cooper’s Croze, Master Distiller Brian Nation’s Distiller’s Safe and Master Blender Billy Leighton’s Blender’s Dog, three exclusive blends named after the respective tools of the masters’ trades.
We were asked to sample them, discuss and compare, which we duly did. Then the massive screens flared into life, and a short film about the trio began, showing them getting ready in their various domains, which then cut to a live feed of them walking into through the massive doors of Warehouse 11, all conducted to the strains of Arcade Fire. We toasted them, had a dram, and Hermitage Green took the stage, playing into the night.
CEO of Pernod Ricard, Alex Ricard, also spoke at the event. Last year he talked about the definition of craft and what it means. It has become increasingly obvious that craft, artisan and small batch are products of marketing teams and have lost much of their meaning. However, the consumer is getting canny – Templeton Rye was hit with a massive class action lawsuit over claims their whiskey was small batch, when actually it was sourced from a large-scale production facility. So when Midleton created a micro-distillery, they made sure to avoid the computer terminal controls you see in larger facilities, and instead opted for manual controls. The same goes for Ballindalloch in Speyside – they deliberately went for full manual controls to keep a down-home feel to their single estate distillery.
Alex Ricard posed the question – ‘what is craft?’ Is it the centuries that Irish people have been making whiskey, is it the incredibly history of the drink on this island, and at what point does a facility stop being ‘craft’? Is it a question of size and scale, is it to do with technology? Is there less craft in a large plant than in a garage-based operation? How is that so? Can a multi-national own a craft distillery – is it a question of economics? Most modern food and drink operations operate like pharma plants – is there a chilling effect in this system? Would you enjoy your drink more if you thought some chap made it in his shed? Or is it simply a question of aura, of exclusivity, of rareness? As a species we tend to hate the modern age, and yearn for some pre-industrial idyll that never existed; a simpler time when the noble farmer toiled the land before going home to read Chaucer by candlelight and die of natural causes at 40. We are bemused by the trainspotters and their passion for engineering – but not by people who go to art galleries. Modern engineering is a beautiful thing – be it the micro distillery or the bigger sibling that produces much of the world supply of Irish whiskey.
Mr Ricard also spoke about how everyone present on the night had a personal connection to Jameson – they have their pet names for it, their favourite way to drink it, their stories about how they started getting into whiskey. The jaded cynic in me might raise my eyes, but in a way he was right. Like Jameson, I am from Dublin originally, but spent the last 40 years in east Cork. My mother was a 19 year old from Sherriff Street in the north inner city, who grew up close to the old premises of Haig And Haig, and a few doors down from St Laurence O’Toole Church, supposedly built over old whiskey stores, which has led to the crypts still carrying a lingering hint of the angel’s share. She put me up for adoption, and after six weeks I was brought home by my mum and dad. After a brief stint in Kerry, we moved to Midleton, where my dad worked in the bank that lies just downriver from the distillery.
I grew up in a house overlooking the distillery, halfway between there and the new maturation sites in Dungourney. As a kid I swam and fished in the same river that they make all those incredible whiskeys from, and later I went to school just over the wall from the distillery in Midleton College. If you ever visit the Garden Stillhouse, see if you can find the sinkhole nearby, which leads to the underground stream from which the distillery takes some of its water. The stream travels under the wall and into the school grounds, and over the years pupils used to dare each other to travel through the pitch black cave network and up into the distillery – despite the fact that for some of the 50 yards or so you would be chest-deep in ice-cold water. My parents sent me to this expensive, private school – and they worked hard to pay for it. My dad loved whiskey – the first article I wrote for the Irish Examiner was about The Housewarming, but also about my dad, and in it I told this story: When I was about 10, my mother had a massive brain haemorrhage. She was given 24 hours to live. My dad went to the hospital chapel and made a deal with God – he would give up his beloved whiskey if mum pulled through. She duly did, and he hasn’t touched a drop since. She passed away nine years ago now, but he still won’t drink it as he says ‘a deal is a deal’.
It sounds like bunkum, but I like this story because it tells you the kind of guy my dad is. Part of my love of whiskey comes from him, and from suddenly having that strange epiphany when you realise that your dad is a great guy. He grew up in an Ireland that has thankfully almost completely disappeared – his dad used to come home, eat dinner, then go to the pub. His father once told him about the hilarity among his friends when they saw a friend of their’s pushing a buggy. Fathers back then earned the money and that was about it. The kids were women’s work. But my dad was always there for me, as I crashed headlong through life. Despite the fact that I often made terrible choices, he supported me no matter what. Whiskey to me is a symbol of all that is great about him – of being a good father, a good husband, a good human being. It represents the slow joy of growing old, of maturity. It’s about the simple pleasure of a mind-unclenching, blood-warming drink whilst surrounded by your family as they bicker about X Factor or try to figure out what the hell was going on in Age Of Ultron. It’s a celebration of making peace with this world. I have enjoyed constant privilege – from the luck of being a journalist to the childhood I had. I went down Sherriff Street for the first time this summer to see the old family home, to see where at least part of me is from. The area is a ghetto, fenced in by the ugly opulence of the IFSC on one side and, on the other, a canal, which once brought so much wealth and industry to the area, now filled with rubbish. While we were down there a child shot at the car with a BB gun. We didn’t stick around for long. It was a sobering reminder of how lucky I am, in all aspects of my life. I have tasted amazing whiskeys, seen amazing things and met amazing people over the last few years, and the event in Midleton last month was a reminder of all my good fortune – of growing up in the home of Irish whiskey, in a house filled with love and unopened bottles of Jameson, because, as my dad says, a deal is a deal.
Stupid puns! Copyrighted images! Spelling errors! Wow I have got it all! And would you believe I created these masterworks on an outdated South American page-drawing system that nobody uses anymore? IncrediBILL!!!
The mind boggles. A few years ago there was a young man died after falling off the battlements in an Italian fortress city. The photo one of the papers used was of him dressed as a clown. It’s not hard to crop a photo you know.