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.

Little Nellie, Leo vs LCD, guns, marilyn manson

Wee 23 of the column, in which I drop a steaming deuce on all of Cork and all religions ever.

 

Little Nellie Of God has worked another miracle. The ‘unofficial patron saint of Cork’ (sorry, Gerald Kean) has somehow managed to land Spike Island, her former home, with the title of the best tourist attraction in Europe. Little Nellie lived on Spike in the heart of Cork harbour while her soldier father was stationed there, and the tour of the island begins on the pier outside her house. The tour of the island is fantastic, covering the rich history of the island, from monastic settlement, to star fort, to holding pen for penal transports across the world.

However, Little Nellie must really have pulled some strings to win them the title of top European tourist attraction for 2017 at the World Travel Awards, beating competition from the likes of the Eiffel Tower and the Acropolis of Athens, but also our own remarkable attractions such as the Skelligs, the Cliffs Of Moher, or Kilmainham Gaol. Perhaps even more miraculous is the fact that this is Ireland’s third win in a row, with the Titanic Exhibit and Guinness Storehouse winning the same title in the last two years. While all are worthy winners, the fact it is a public vote (with tourism staff getting double votes, bizarrely) brings to mind the time in 2002 when the BBC World Service asked the public to name the greatest song of all time, only for the Wolfe Tones’s belting rendition of A Nation Once Again to take the crown. Spike Island is a fantastic tourism asset, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there are other attractions in Europe that might actually be – whisper it – better. Perhaps this is just a cynical outlook, after all, I also find it odd that Little Nellie’s life of illness, hallucinations, constant pain and death whilst in the care of nuns at age four is somehow seen as evidence of a kind and compassionate god.

There are many great rivalries in music – Tupac versus Biggie, Katy Perry versus Taylor Swift, The Wolfe Tones versus the BBC World Service – but few are as odd as Leo Varadkar versus LCD Soundsystem. Leo attempted to have a night off and enjoy some great music, but after popping backstage to say hi to the band, he allegedly disrespected Al Doyle’s Repeal tote bag, whilst allegedly enjoying a free taco too. Leo learned a few harsh lessons – never meet your heroes, don’t go on Twitter, and don’t leave your gaf until this referendum is out of the way.

The downside of the spat for LCD Soundsystem, one of the cooler bands of the last 15 years, is their credibility being in shreds due to the fact that they had a bunch of politicians at their gig, the death knell for any hipster outfit. Let’s hope Leo mentions that in his upcoming diss track.

Another mass shooting in the USA, and another moment for the world to stop and marvel at America’s love affair with weaponry. The fact that someone was able to get their hands on an estimated 23 guns so powerful that they could kill more than 50 people from the 32nd floor of a hotel is terrifying, but the response from pro-gun groups is confounding. In the aftermath of mass shootings and in the fact of overwhelming evidence that gun controls could have made a difference, they come out with lines about how control is not what is needed, and that there was no way to prevent this.

Nevada has some of the most lax gun laws in a country that is notorious for lax gun laws, so it’s hard to understand how they think shootings would take place if there were no guns. The majority of gun-related deaths in the US do not happen in large groupings. More than 33,000 people die each year from gun violence in the US. Two thirds are suicides, the rest homicides. There is a constant, steady flow of gun murder, but it is the mass shooting that make the world wonder why they cannot give up their guns. In fact, in the aftermath of shootings like the Orlando nightclub massacre, gun sales actually go up – people are scared, so they get more guns, and their much-touted ‘price of freedom’ climbs ever higher. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school killings, it became clear that America will never give up its guns, and ‘the greatest nation on Earth’ will continue to reap a bitter harvest.

 

In the Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore’s documentary about the Columbine high school massacre, musician Marilyn Manson made the point that American consumer culture has trained people to be afraid and angry, as it made them easier to control. This fear also made them cling to their guns. Manson was scapegoated for the Colorado shootings, after he was incorrectly identified as being one of the bands the shooters listened to. Manson was injured this week during one of his shows, prompting the cancellation of the rest of his tour. The singer tried to climb a prop on the stage only for it to fall on him and knock him unconscious. The great irony of all this is that the prop was in the shape of two huge handguns, making Manson another victim of gun violence, albeit in a surreal way. If only Dr Leo Varadkar had been nibbling a taco backstage, he could have tended to his wounds.

 

Culottes, Varadkar looks like Bob Hope, Malaysia, water charges

Week 22, how did we get here? How have I managed 22 weeks of writing for the biggest newspaper in the country? WTF is going on?

 

In the ongoing nuclear soap opera that is the US versus North Korea, it is clear who wears the trousers – Kim Jong Un. This isn’t because of his brave move of threatening to kill us all, but rather in his bold fashion move of bringing back culottes for men. Not since the golden era of the Jazz Age have men been allowed to wear a trouser twice the width of their bodies, and while back then the billowing pleats complemented their heroin-addled dance moves, Un’s pants truly are worth getting in a flap about.

You might not have noticed his stylish lower half, as you don’t see his legs too often; he is usually pictured sitting at a desk on the launch site of an ICBM, or standing over a Soviet-era machine in a factory that doesn’t make anything. However, there are photos where you can witness the splendour of his absolutely massive trousers. They are at least twelve inches wide from upper thigh all the way to the ground, showing that this Un is not for tapering. What makes them even more bold is that they are suit trousers – these are not skater jeans, to be worn with wallet chain and Offspring T-shirt, but rather a formal attire worn to staged photo ops with children smiling at gunpoint.

His Un-fashionable pantaloons ask the question – is that an intercontinental nuclear warhead in your trousers or are you just Un-happy to see me? Here in the so-called civilised world we are shoehorning ourselves into skinny jeans whilst sipping skinny lattes on lean, zero-hour contracts. Meanwhile, in North Korea, Un is showing that a real man wears his leg wide and his hair in the style of an oversized beetle perched atop his massive head.

Un’s trousers have shown that Trump’s long, miserable red ties are a sad attempt at phallic symbolism, instead looking like a Dali painting of the red button he is going to push to doom us all. I suspect that Trump’s travel ban on North Korea is more about how threatened he feels by another nation’s obvious style, even though part of him must be dying to get into some bespoke clown pants to conceal his yuge backside.

Of course the real victims of the travel ban are the (presumably) tens of thousands of stylish North Koreans who holiday in the US each year, where they go to spend their millions on exotic treats they can’t get at home, like food and basic human rights, whilst also enjoying that home away from home effect of still being in a nation controlled by a despot.

I suggest that all world leaders take a leaf out of Un’s book – our own Taoiseach would cut quite the dash in colossal pants that look like he borrowed them from a Slimming World champ. It would certainly look more fitting than the tan slacks and bomber jacket – a kind of  ‘Bob Hope entertaining the troops’ look – that he wore to the ploughing, offset as it was by the overall appearance of someone who wished there was a travel ban on sophisticated urbanites going more than 50 yards from a Starbucks.

One of the saddest travels bans enacted recently was by Malaysia. The government there has banned both the Better Beer festival set to take place next week, and what they claimed was an upcoming ‘gay party’ (presumably not a political party). But they went one step further and have now banned anyone who had planned on attending either event from entering the country. This followed criticism from an Islamist government party (presumably not a gay party), warning it will turn Kuala Lumpur into the “largest vice centre in Asia”. If you have been to Asia, specifically Thailand, you will know that this is a fairly big claim, as the prospect of a few craft beer heads nerding out over IPAs or a bunch of lads having a dance somehow pales in comparison to moral bankruptcy of the seedier parts of Bangkok.

Great news everyone: We are getting our water charges back by the end of the year. It will be such a great feeling to lodge that cheque and reminisce about all the arguments with friends and family about whether we already pay for water or towards water, and how water conservation is an important part of not killing the planet, and how metering is the only way to ensure we are conscious of each drop we use. I know I will thoroughly enjoy getting that money back, as I bathe in the many joyous memories of falling out with those around me, as I tried to do the right thing, only to learn that it wasn’t the right thing at all, it was completely the wrong thing. Ah well, it’s all just water under the bridge, water that probably came from a leaking pipe that will most likely not get fixed any time soon. Hooray for progress.

The clown’s pie, the zodiac killer, drunken foetuses, branson’s pickle

Week 20 of the column.

 

My parents were strict. Products of the Forties and Fifties when Catholicism ruled supreme, they took a somewhat North Korean approach to cultural products they deemed unsuitable for me. I have fond memories of my father switching off an RTE matinee showing of Black Narcissus when I was ten (still one of my favourite films), banning heavy metal when I was 15 (I still love heavy metal), or refusing to get me a skateboard for Christmas because, they claimed, people were using them to worship the devil. Years later I realised that they were mixing skateboards up with ouija boards. One thing they never censored were books. They held the belief that reading could almost never be bad for you, and so it was that I found myself reading Stephen King’s IT aged 13.

The genius of King’s work lies not in making us scared of what we can see, as Lovecraft did, but in looking deep into the human soul and showing us the simple horrors of life on earth, such as family holidays (The Shining), figuring out how to work domestic appliances (Maximum Overdrive), the perils of cat ownership (Pet Semetery), the importance of a religious upbringing (Carrie) or American democracy (The Stand). But in IT he tapped into one of our most understandable fears – that of clowns. As another remake of King’s meisterwerk hits our screens, it would appear that one bunch of clowns aren’t going to take this pie in the face to their profession lying down. Two professional clowns appeared on the UK’s GMTV to point out that – spoiler alert – the Pennywise character from IT is only one of the many physical manifestations of the being, before going on to say the film was cheap, a low blow, even coming from a pair of men wearing clownpants and facepaint on live TV.

But perhaps the best protest of IT was in the US, where professional clowns though the best way to win back hearts and mind was to stage a protest outside cinemas screening the film. This resulted in members of the public, emerging blinking into the sunlight following two hours of clown-based horror, only to be confronted with a bunch of angry clowns. King must be delighted that his self fulfilling prophecy has come to pass. The clowning profession might do well to note that the only way back from this PR disaster is to kill the media circus – and the only way to kill a circus is to go for the juggler.

Speaking of sad horrors, spare a moment for depressed vampire Ted Cruz. After the ignominy of an presidential race that saw Trump repeatedly humiliate him, and an ongoing joke about him being the Zodiac killer (which he isn’t, by the way), the American Senator has now hit the headlines for his Twitter account liking a pornographic tweet. Were he a Democrat, it would be taken as a sign of the moral decay of liberals everywhere; sadly for Cruz, he is a member of the Republican Party, whose puritanical zeal means enjoying a bit of filth on Twitter is not ok. It seems that poor Cruz is doomed for humiliation no matter what he does, so perhaps he would be better embracing his own decline – and appearance – and star in an X-rated remake of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot titled Count Cuckula. It couldn’t suck worse than the last 12 months of his career.

Rejoice, pregnant ladies – or at least rejoice as much as you can whilst incubating a ten pound loaf of a child. A report this week in the BMJ Open has revealed that a glass of wine during pregnancy is not going to do major harm, and while total abstinence might be healthier, you don’t need to cause yourself anguish over a drop of chablis during a Narcos marathon. This is great news for the entire population of Ireland, whose entire lives from conception onward is fuelled by medicinal boozing. Frankly, how anyone gets through the various delights of pregnancy without a drink or two is a miracle in itself.

Finally, spare a moment for Richard Branson, the billionaire whose Caribbean island home was trashed by Hurricane Irma. Branson laid the blame for the hurricane squarely at the feet of man made climate change. Given that he owns a massive airline firm, whose planes presumably do not run on sunlight, it was a plot twist akin to the moment in horror films when you realise that the killer is inside the house. If there is a lesson for us all, it’s that those Euromillions ads that suggest we should buy an island are really quite misleading. That and the planet is dying.

Coffee, Uranus, gas, spoilers

‘Week 18 of my column’ – words I thought I would never write.

 

Finally science is starting to give us some good news. After a week of terrifying weather events, there were glad tidings for those of us who are unable to function without coffee – it may be helping us to live longer. A study of 20,000 men and women found that three to four cups a day may help us to live one third longer.

This is great news for the caffeine junkies among us, who are unable to have a civilised conversation in the morning before they have at least one pharmaceutical-grade coffee, and possibly two on Mondays. The lead researcher in the Spanish study said that it is the antioxidants in coffee that provide the benefits, which I – like all sensible people – take to mean that I should get dosed up to the gills on premium grade Java to the point where my heart is jackhammering and the veins at my temple bulging.

Of course the only problem is how to come down off this obvious health kick – well, science has done it again, this time via the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which has published a study that says moderate drinking may be beneficial to us physically, apart from helping us unwind from a day of guzzling black gold until our eyes pop out of our heads.

Moderate alcohol use in this study was considered to be less than 14 drinks a week for men and seven for women, and was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of overall death. Our path to a longer, healthier life is clear – jugs of the strongest coffee available without prescription, and a healthy dose of grain alcohol to wind down of an evening. After all, having fallen from first place in the year 2000 to an embarrassing 12th in an EU survey on national alcohol consumption, it’s important that we all don the green jersey and start chucking down the Irish coffees. We need to stagger back up the rankings, otherwise the Public Health Alcohol Bill might seem a little unnecessary.

Our frenemy science also gave us a wonderful headline (or terrible chat-up line) this week with the revelation that Uranus is stuffed with diamonds. Perhaps you thought that the light emanating from it was the sun shining out of there, but no, it’s far more exciting than that.

Uranus, despite being the butt of jokes since German astronomer Johann Elert Bode named it after the Greek god of the sky, or possibly after a co-workers backside, is a massive gassy cloud, but one that produces huge diamonds in its interior which then sink to the centre. It was a nice moment for a mass that for centuries failed to be recognised as a planet as it was considered too dim and too slow. The upside of the planet’s goofy name is that people in the mainstream media actually like writing about it – perhaps if we had named all the other planets of the solar system in this manner we would pay more attention to them, and gaze up at the night sky sniggering about the beautiful brown rings of Shaturn.

Bathers along the Sussex coast at the weekend were hit with a mysterious cloud of noxious gas (not from Uranus this time). The occurrence had a slightly apocalyptic feel to it, coming as it did after another bi-annual ‘storm of the century’ pummelled the southern states of America into the mud, while a scaled down version tried to wipe Donegal off the map. A cloud of poisonous gas seems unlikely to be the result of anything other than human endeavour, you can’t help but worry that maybe the planet has really had enough of us trying to kill it.

Perhaps it had this secret defence mechanism all along, much like in the incredibly weak M Night Shyamalan film The Happening. Aside from the moment the credits roll, the high point of the film – an ecological scare story of a sudden wave of human self destruction sparked by nature itself – was Marky Mark Wahlberg pleading with a houseplant to give humanity a second chance. If the Sussex gas did happen to be belched out by an angry planet, I think I would rather smother in its noxious fumes than have to explain to my decrepit vicus about why watering it once a fortnight was too much hassle, or explain to my velociraptor-friendly lawn about how ‘work has just been really crazy recently’.

If you haven’t seen The Happening, firstly, lucky you, and secondly, sorry for not offering a spoiler alert. However, there is a Shyamalanesque plot twist here – a study published by the US Association for Psychological Science showed that people actually preferred watching films when they knew the twist was coming. Some 800 subjects were recruited by the University Of California, where they were read stories by authors like John Updike and Raymond Carver, some with the plot twist revealed beforehand and some without. It transpired that the listeners enjoyed the stories more when they knew what was coming, and could see the machinations of the writers, as they conspired to misdirect them and camouflage the looming reveal. Perhaps we can console ourselves with this when scientists the world over say ‘we told you so’ as the planet self-combusts.

 

Twitter, Caravaggio, eclipse, swearing kids

w1500-Caravaggio-Taking-Christ.jpg

Column week 17:

 

Twitter gets a lot of stick. In existence for eleven years, it has been accused of everything from facilitating Nazis to allowing anonymous abuse and harassment. But its enduring contribution to modern culture is the hashtag. Used as a means of linking discourses across the platform, the hashtag turned ten years old recently, but it was one this summer that showed how Twitter can be a force for good. #NoWrongPath allowed Twitter users around the world to share their stories of how they came to their current careers, with the vast majority showing that few school leavers have a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives. It was a hashtag I can relate to. All I wanted to do in college was art, but, after failing to get into art college, I did what many people did when they aren’t sure what they want to do, and committed to an arts degree. I dropped out after four weeks. I went back to college in my early 20s, got my masters and started working in the media. I wonder what path I would have taken if I had been accepted into art college, but that’s something I will never know, largely thanks to Caravaggio.

The Taking Of Christ had been hanging in the dining room of the Leeson Street Jesuit Community for decades. Considered a copy of the original, in the early Nineties it was discovered to be the actual work of the great master, and was handed over to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1993. Art was one of the few subjects I was good at (incredibly, English was the other), and we were guaranteed that Caravaggio was going to come up on the higher paper when we sat the Leaving Cert in the summer of 1994. We even went on a school trip to see the painting, staring in awe at its scene of chaos, betrayal and loss.

Caravaggio’s short life was easy to study – he was a drunkard, a violent thug, an outsider who seemed utterly at war with the world. In his paintings he used labourers and prostitutes as life models for religious figures, wrapping the divine in the pasty flesh of profane humanity. All his paintings remind us that we are just haunted meat, and everything passes.

Being typically difficult, Caravaggio didn’t come up on the Leaving Cert higher paper (he did on the ordinary level), and I failed to get the points to study art. I have no doubt that I am better off for not becoming an artist, not least because my arse is too big for skinny jeans. My career hasn’t been what I would call a success, yet here I am, writing for one of the biggest selling newspapers in the country. However, my favourite quote about success come from Dicky Fox, the sports agent mentor of Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire: “I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”

Our mortal enemy the moon also proved that there is #NoWrongPath by moving its enormous mass directly into the path of our sun, cutting off our meagre supply of Vitamin D and attempting to give us all rickets. The occasion provided for many stunning images, but few were as beautiful as the one of Donald Trump staring directly into into the eclipse, presumably because someone told him not to do that exact thing. Perhaps we should all start telling him that he is doing a great job and to stay there forever. Although something tells me that it won’t work like that, and that impeachment is the best way to drag the whole sorry mess of the White House into sunlight.

A study this year by Marist College examined the correlation between verbal fluency and swearing, with the result that those who were more adept at swearing had greater language skills. I tried to console myself with this thought on Monday night, when I happened upon my two and a half year old son shouting ‘f**king tractor’ over and over again. It’s one of those moments where you try to A) hide your laughter and B) try not to get too angry, before turning to your spouse and declaring ‘this is your f**king fault’, because clearly, swearing is an equal opportunities employer: This week the popular site Mumsnet has advertisers concerned over their ads appearing next to posts with snappy titles like ‘I can’t f**king do this anymore’ and other howls of despair from parents at their wits’ end.

Perhaps my son will decide he wants to go to college, and will eke out a career as a sweary, boozy artist like Caravaggio. Hopefully, he will be a more sane version, as, despite all his talent, Caravaggio killed someone over a game of tennis, went on the run and died from fever aged 38. So perhaps there is #AWrongPath after all.

No Pain, No Gain

 

Wrote this for the Examiner:

 

When it comes to achieving your sporting dreams, there are no shortcuts. Except obviously there are – steroids. Aside from big name busts like Lance Armstrong, there are more and more whispers of big names across the sporting world using pharmaceutical enhancements to gain an edge on a competitor. But of all the sports tarnished by steroid abuse, bodybuilding is one that seems synonymous with the practise. However, there are those within the scene who utterly reject any medical shortcuts – to an almost forensic degree.

The World Natural Bodybuilding Federation was founded in the USA back in 1990 with the aim of offering those who wanted to take part in bodybuilding in the most healthy way possible a platform for their achievements. From humble beginnings it has become a worldwide phenomenon. The Irish wing of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation held their annual competition in the Everyman Theatre last Saturday. There among the gold gilt Victorian splendour, competitors, clad in the tiniest scraps of in velvet and sequined cloth, flexed and posed as they showed the judging panel just how perfectly defined their bodies were, while backstage there were drug tests and polygraph tests to make sure that nobody had been tempted to use steroids or growth hormones.

One of the organisers, Mark Lee, a champion natural bodybuilder, explained the motivation for this purist approach: “Bodybuilding has a stigma associated with it which is what we are trying to break.

“But you will have some people regardless who will turn up and try. We would love to test everybody who takes part, but it costs a lot of money, the testing alone costs up to 2,000 euro per show, so we need to get a lot of bums on seats here.

“You won’t see our shows as heavily attended as the other shows in terms of competitors – we have about 70, normal competitions would have about 140, because we have such guidelines and rules, people just won’t come. But we don’t want them obviously if they are using steroids.”

The Natural Bodybuilding Federation of Ireland has seen competitors start out with them and then move on to pharmaceutical enhancements – but the NBFI does not tolerate anyone who has used steroids previously in their life: “You have guys who would have gone natural who then would have moved on to other things. There are other associations out there that have a seven year rule – whereby they allow you to compete naturally in their association if you have been off any banned substances for seven years, but ours is a lifetime rule. So if you ever in your life had any steroids, you can’t take part in our events.

“For us it’s a lifestyle – our people want to eat healthy and train healthy.”

 

They train healthy – and they train even harder because of it. There are no shortcuts here. Take Aleksander Grynia, a 23 year old who travelled down from Wicklow for the contest. His muscle mass isn’t just for show – he works making industrial equipment and needs to be as a strong as possible. He works a nine to five job, then trains from six to nine every evening and more at the weekends. In the week leading up to the event he doubled down on his efforts, cut down on his food intake, and took bronze in the under-24 category.

From the outside, bodybuilding seems like an odd pursuit. There is a sense amongst some that improving the physique to this degree means the intellect will atrophy. But then you talk to a bodybuilder and realise that their understanding of the human body is far greater than the average person. They are like mechanics, fine tuning and boosting muscle and sinew until they achieve perfection – this is the body as machine. Unlike team sports, it is often a solitary affair, as they strive to be the best they can be: Rise before dawn, protein shake and gym. Everything is controlled, from the diet to the routines to the reps. The self discipline is extraordinary, but once people get the taste for it, it becomes a vocation.

The show itself is split into categories – based on age, height, weight and gender. Competitors are asked to do a series of poses to show certain muscles or muscle groups, and this is where genetics come into play. While some people build muscle more easily than others, some people are simply blessed with, for example, sizeable lats, so when competing they can fan them out like the Archangel Gabriel spreading his wings.

Then there are posedowns, where competitors have to freestyle a variety of poses, showing their best assets to the crowds – you find yourself holding your breath as they flex and strain to get each muscle to pop. The brown colouring they use on their skin enhances this effect – the darker colour shows the contours. But this is about something deeper than skin – it is the human form stripped bare, all muscle and sinew as visible as it would be in a medical textbook.

One person who has made a career out of capturing muscle and sinew is Shaun Barry. From Carlow, the young photographer travels the country covering bodybuilding events, and his moody monochrome portraits have become highly desirable, as they transform their subjects into classical godlike figures. Having got into photography five years ago, in the last three to four years he started to focus on fitness photography and found his niche, although as he points out there are a few more people getting into it now – to this end he pays to secure image rights on events. There is a whole micro-economy around fitness – gyms, shops selling supplements, home training equipment, clothing. As our working and home lives become more sedentary, simple things like going to the gym are becoming part of our lives, and a dedication to feeling and looking your best is less of a prideful sin and more a medical necessity.  

The Everyman was packed with families of competitors – from grandparents to infant children. Conor McCarthy travelled with his parents and girlfriend from Mullingar and was beaming with pride in the lobby. Only two years after starting bodybuilding, he took first place in the Men’s Physique (Tall) category.  While he has youth (and height) on his side, many of the competitor are in their 40s and 50s. All want to be the best, but in the small scene of the national circuit, they all know each other well. They all want to win, but they all have the same aim – to win clean. In a world that seems to be facing an epidemic of shady practises across all sports, the NRBI have shown that the most powerful muscle of all is the mind.