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.

Goodnight sweet prints, myanmar, fake news, nuclear war

Week 21 of the column, in which I perform a remarkable about-face on my attitude to print media, now that I am making some money from it. Lol jk – journalism is actually important. Stories are great, but there has to be facts.

 

When I left the newspaper industry three years ago, I thought we were heading into a brave new world. I had spent 12 years working as a subeditor in a regional paper, and saw how the digital revolution democratised communications and gave everyone a voice. I thought this was going to be great – everyone would be a citizen journalist, reporting live from global events, large and small; instead of having a small number of media outlets, we would have a chorus of unbiased, verifiable sources for our information.

The reality, of course, is slightly different. When you buy a newspaper, you are invested in it. You generally read it cover to cover, as you paid for it and are committed to it. You are exposed to things you would otherwise not see, opinions you might not like, ideas and information that you could otherwise miss. The commercial aspect of newspapers also meant that if they get things wrong, they get sued; there is accountability.  The overall ethos of the paper you buy may reflect your world view, but you are still opening your mind to a variety of opinions, insights and facts.

On the internet we tend to only look at the things we like – this is anything from cat videos to celebrity nip slips. The more we hit that like button, the more the internet gives us what we want. It refuses to challenge us. In an age when we have the entire world at our fingertips, we seem more concerned with being entertained than informed. This was brought home to me when I asked a friend if he thought Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan still sing Unplayed Piano, the ballad they wrote in 2004 about Aung San Suu Kyi, now that she has been released from house arrest and seems intent on looking the other way while ethnic cleansing takes place in her country. I got a blank stare. Whatever about knowing the back catalogue of Rice and Hannigan, I thought he might have heard about a massacre that has left an estimated thousand dead. He had not. For all the time we spend on our phones, we seem a lot less connected to the world around us. The grim eventuality of this is currently being playing out across the Atlantic.

In 1938 Orson Welles decided to teach America a lesson. He felt they swallowed everything they heard on the radio a little too readily, and created The War Of The Worlds, a radio play that led many to believe that the planet was under attack from aliens. The Trump election campaign did something similar – it deceived people into believing they were under attack, that aliens were coming for them, and that only one man could save them. Trump said the media organisations that tried to hold him to account were fakes, and people believed him, not them. If there is a lesson there for us, it is that actual news matters more than ever.

Three years ago I picked up my redundancy cheque and headed off into my brave new world, where I believed news would be truly democratic. I was, as I am much of the time, dead wrong. Now I am seeing that newspapers matter, because facts matter. And I’m not just saying that because I get paid to write this, but because the bright lights of news media need to be kept on, for all our sakes.

The death of Harry Dean Stanton didn’t come as a surprise. At 91, there were periods of the last decade when he would pop up in a cameo and I would suddenly remember that he wasn’t actually dead. Like all great character actors, he disappeared into the roles he took. He was the go-to for the hangdog American everyman, and seemed to play a succession of people who had not-quite achieved the American dream. The film critic Roger Ebert once said that no film with Harry Dean Stanton can be altogether bad, although he later qualified this by adding that teen body swap comedy Dream A Little Dream, starring Coreys Haim and Feldman, was a clear violation of this rule.

His greatest role was in Paris Texas, where he played a drifter walking the roads of the southern states as a form of atonement. I loved the film from the first time I saw it as a troubled teenager, but it was only years later I could see that this was because it spoke to me. Being adopted, then central themes of family, abandonment and redemption all resonated in my teenage subconscious. As an adult, I love Paris Texas because I spend much of my time like Stanton’s character Travis, wondering if my family would be better off without me, if I should take to the highways and byways of Munster as penance for being a fairly dismal parent. But as this is Ireland, I probably wouldn’t get far before I got clipped by a passing SUV or drowned in a pothole.

A less notable death this year was that of Stanislav Petrov, aged 77. Although he passed away in May, news is only breaking now of his passing and of the minor incident in 1983 that saw him save the world.  In the depths of the Second Cold War, Russian satellite warning system alerted authorities that a nuclear missile had been launched by the US, and was followed by several others, all headed for Russia. This was an act of war, and the Russians had to scramble to retaliate. Lt Col. Petrov, however, discerned that it was a false alarm, stood down the Russian weapons systems, and prevented what could well have been the end of civilization as we know it. It seems strange that one man had the presence of mind – and faith in humanity – to know that this was a malfunction. Despite all the technology teling him otherwise, Petrov knew that the computers were wrong: He saw information on a screen, and was able to discern that it was false. If only we all had this ability.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi gave an address to her nation yesterday. She condemned any human rights violations in her country, and previously said an iceberg of false information was being put forward about the situation. All she needs to do now is stick on a little red cap and claim there are good people on both sides, before promising to build a wall around the Rohingya, who the UN have said are victims of a military ethnic cleansing programme. Here in Ireland, people seem strangely on the fence. In a poll of 1,000 adults for Claire Byrne Live, 42% of people said they think the Myanmar leader’s award of the Freedom Of Dublin should be rescinded, 11% disagreed and 47% were unsure. Assuming the 11% were just massive fans of the song Unplayed Piano, it is still incredible that 47% were unsure how to feel about what is happening in Myanmar. If ever there was a case to be made for people to just pick up a paper and have a proper read of it, there it is.

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.

 

Of human bonders, manifesto, faerie folk, perseids

Week 15 of the column, and somehow it still is a thing that exists:

 

Few things in this world escape the oily touch of gender politics – not even our precious booze. From the manly pint of Guinness to the ladylike bottle of West Coast Cooler, marketing firms have yet to fully retract their tentacles from our brands. But of all drinks, whiskey is one that still struggles to free itself from the suffocating quicksand of masculinity.

In the post-war era came to be entwined with notions of manliness, a fact that hasn’t served the diversity of the whiskey scene well. It was a thought that came to mind when reading a blog post by whiskey bonder Louise McGuane about her time working as a brand ambassador for global spirits firms. It makes for grim reading as she recounts several instances of harassment, including one deranged Carry On style incident, with a sales rep in a bathrobe appearing at her second storey hotel window, clawing at the glass like one of the vampires in Salem’s Lot. Awful as the stories are, the saddest part is her admittance that she making a complaint about these people would have hurt her career. So she did what many women did, and simply put up with it.

Her post was actually written to celebrate the fact that she has just hired a new ambassador for her Chapel Gate whiskey brand (bringing her staff number to two, including herself). She expressed the hope that the world – and the whiskey scene – is a better place now, and her employee won’t have to navigate the obstacle course of sexual harassment that she had to. And besides, one would hope that the omens for her whiskey are good, given that her ambassador (above) is named after St Blaise – the patron saint of maladies of the throat.

One person currently experiencing bad omens is the engineer at Google who wrote a lengthy screed that was ostensibly about why men are better than women. He went into a lot more detail than that, and used a lot of big words and overwrought sentences, but ultimately his message about women in tech was the same as Ron Burgundy’s newsteam when they heard there was going to be a woman reading the news: It’s anchorman, not anchorlady.

The man who wrote the manifesto – it’s always a man, which is why it’s not called a womanifesto – has fallen back on that classic excuse of wanting to ‘open an honest discussion’ about ‘left leaning bias’. Sadly it seems like he will be the one left leaning, as he has been fired, and will spend a while thinking about how superior he is whilst signing on.

You know who has no gender? The faerie folk. They are mercifully free from genitalia, and thus have much more time to spend on lengthy excavation projects that undermine local infrastructure. It was pleasing to see John B Keane character made flesh Danny Healy Rae speaking out about the gentle folk and how they are causing subsidence in a Kerry road. Previously known for thinking Noah’s Ark was an actual thing that happened, or that a big dinner affects your driving in the same manner as a pint or two, you can’t but feel that maybe everything he says is a gloriously postmodern prank. Given that his haulage firm has been paid more than eight million euro in State contracts, someone has to be laughing all the way to the bank with their pot of gold.

From the faerie folk to the gods; the Perseid meteor shower is due to light up the skies this weekend. As we spend more and more time staring down at our phones – even while driving – it is good to sometimes look up and be amazed at the wonders of space, or just to look up so you don’t rear-end a schoolbus.

On Friday and Saturday night, the shower will hit its peak. It is worth looking up and remembering that human beings and our galaxy have about 97 percent of the same kind of atoms – we are mostly stars. As the meteors skim across our atmosphere and disappear in a blaze of glory, take a moment to think about how futile it is to live on this little planet with meaningless divisions like race, or gender, or religion, as one day we too will burn out. And if it gets too cold while you’re out there stargazing and musing about the future of humanity, you can always warm up with a drop of whiskey.

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.

Game Of Thrones, Alan Moore, Chester Bennington, Phil Collins

Last week’s column, today!

 

American Psycho is a difficult read. From its initial release more than a quarter of a century ago, it has divided readers with its jet-black satire, misogyny and violent nihilism. However, for many readers, it is the passages about Eighties pop music that can be the biggest challenge. At certain points in the novel, the protagonist directly addresses the reader with page after page of dull analysis of the music of Huey Lewis, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.

Reading A Song Of Fire And Ice, the series of books later adapted into TV juggernaut Game Of Thrones, is a little like this. Interspersed between the psychotic violence and political intrigue is a level of detail that, while enriching the realism of a book that needs sorely needs it given that it is filled with dragons, is intensely boring. Passages are given over to describing the stitching on tabards, ironwork on swords, and other details that you can’t help but feel are wasting time that could be spent reading Madame Bovary, or perhaps just reading more chapters about dragons incinerating people.  

For those who watch the show and never read the books, I quote Wildling character Ygritte — you know nothing. Nothing of the countless hours spent dragging your weary eyes through page after page of descriptive prose about the various qualities of a suit of armour, nothing of the interminable wait for the next book, and nothing of the fear that George RR Martin won’t actually finish the last two novels before, much like one of the characters in his books, he keels over dead, leaving his readers in limbo. It isn’t some elitist approach, where I tell you the books are better than the series – in fact, I would say they are at least equal. GRRM himself seems to think the same, since he has revealed the endings and major plot points of the final two as-yet-unwritten books to the producers of the TV show, which at least means that if the worst happens, we can get closure via the TV series without wading through entire chapters on needlework.

While Martin embraced the adaptations of his work, not every fantasy/sci-fi author is so open minded. Alan Moore’s sprawling graphic novels From Hell, Watchmen and V For Vendetta may have brought respect from the literary world, but their adaptations into film brought scorn from critics and, strangely enough, Moore himself. He washed his hands of many films of his work, refusing a credit and thus turning down a potential sum of several million dollars, countering that you cannot put a price on empowerment like that: To just know that as far as you are aware, you have not got a price. Moore – who has just announced he is starting work on the last chapters of his League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, part of which was also made into a really terrible film – may be a great British eccentric, but he seems to have figured out modern life’s great revelation; that money isn’t everything.

Chester Bennington’s death came as a shock. Aged just 41, the lead singer of Linkin Park had enjoyed some of the greatest success of any hard rock band in the last 20 years. On the outside, he had it all. But our idea of ‘having it all’ is largely shaped by the same capitalist nightmare that Brett Easton Ellis bloodily skewered in American Psycho – where money equals happiness. Ellis depicted a world without depth, where business cards and nouveau cuisine were all that mattered, soundtracking it with music that he found to be vacuous pop.

Little wonder then that Phil Collins was not best pleased by the inclusion of his music in the novel as a symbol of soulless commercialism, telling Q magazine: “”I didn’t read it. At the time, I just thought, ‘That’s all we need: glorifying all this crap. I’m not interested’.”

On the upside, Phil did like the film adaptation, saying that he thought it was ‘very funny’. Given that his classic track Sussudio is used in a scene where Jared Leto gets an axe buried in his head, we can probably assume he isn’t going to be releasing an album of 30 Seconds To Mars covers any time soon, or that Leto will be taking the lead role in a reboot of Buster. We live in hope.

Sportz, Dr Who, piano bars, robots

Completely lost all sense of who I am and what I am doing with this column, but here’s this anyway:

 

It’s been a busy season for us non-sports fans, as we struggled to avoid the all-encompassing maelstrom of the Lions tour. Normally we can avoid sports chat by simply explaining that we don’t have any real interest in sport, even though that usually is received with the furrowed brow and slight look of disgust that greets a statement like ‘I’m not into sports but rather do enjoy skinning live animals and making lampshades with them’.

An interest in sports is seen as vital to human existence, and especially so when the males of the species are involved. I have fond memories of going on a double date many years ago, where the other chap had obviously been told that I was not into sports, but was studying film in college. Clearly trying to find some middle ground that would normally be facilitated by sports, he spent 45 minutes talking about his favourite film; Event Horizon – a truly awful, derivative pile of space junk –  to the point where I really wished I could steer the conversation around to something less awful, like the repealing of Rule 42, or the finer points of sledging, or the Manson murders.

But big events like the Lions tour make sports chat unavoidable. You’d be there, nervously sipping from the office water cooler, when up pads a pride of Lions fans, ready to draw you into their yawning maw with the latest rumours out of the camp. Your eyes glaze over and you succumb to smiling and nodding and trying to chuckle at the right time, like one of the replicants undergoing the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner.

By the end of the conversation you all concur that you will be up early to watch the big game, while you secretly think ‘I will be up early for a Paw Patrol marathon with little people who will grow up as outsiders because their dad couldn’t teach them about sport’. But at least I will be able to teach them that a draw doesn’t mean everybody wins, it means nobody does. And that Event Horizon is a really terrible film.

Rejoice, people of the second city, for you are getting a piano bar. The latest addition to Cork’s nightlife will surely complement the aura of fading 1970s Americana created by the presence of about 20,000 donut shops in the city centre, whilst also bringing the je ne sais quoi of 1980s Leeson Street to the Rebel County.

Piano bars are a sort of nightclub for people who don’t like loud music, and who think waving your arms over your head whilst sitting down constitutes dancing. The venue, part of Rachel Allen’s new restaurant, will hopefully go down the same route as one of Europe’s great piano bars, the wonderfully titled Fingers Piano Bar in Edinburgh, a basement venue that welcomes you with its rich odours of urinal cake and desperation. There are few better places to enjoy an irony free singalong with Billy Joel’s classic The Piano Man, whilst also enjoying some mild frottage with a middle aged tax consultant. Fingers is the piano bar at the end of time, where it’s fin de siecle atmosphere comes off like a Graham Knuttel painting of an orgy at Mrs Dalloway’s. One can only hope that Rachel’s new venue attains this high standard of wanton sadness, or, failing that, that it offers good food in a nice atmosphere for those of us too old to go clubbing.

The announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor was roundly welcomed, with the exception of a few coots who screeched that ‘it’s DOCTOR Who, not NURSE Who’. Overall the news received a positive reaction, primarily because science fiction fans are a progressive bunch. Sure, they are reared on a diet of dystopian cityscapes where mankind stage their last stand against the dehumanising effects of technology, but they are also excited to see what the future holds, and accordingly embrace change.

Look at all the developments foreseen by sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke – everything from the cell phones, to the internet, to 3D printers. But just this week another one of his predictions – self destructive existentialist robots like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey – came true.

A shopping centre in Washington DC was faced with the grim task of fishing their new security robot out of the centre’s water feature after it threw itself in there. No cause for this bleak end has been suggested, although it’s quite possible it had to endure a double date in a piano bar where somebody assumed it would want to discuss Paul Blart Mall Cop for 45 minutes, when it just wanted to talk about the match. Or perhaps it simply couldn’t navigate steps, like one of those poor Daleks in Dr Who.

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.

Sharks, Lupus, gluten free Jesus, bears

Pic via https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/25/mallorca-blue-shark-capture-beach-sighting-cala-major-can-pastilla#img-1

Indo col week eleven, in which I slowly lose my mind.

 

The alleged sighting of a shark in the shallows of a Mallorcan beach in recent days – the second sighting in a month – has caused much concern among holidaymakers. Along the beaches of Magaluf, anxious tourists stayed out of the water, as they knew they would make  delicious sharkbait, being stuffed with the full English and lightly flambéd by the sun, like sausage rolls on legs.

Of course, there was little point in reasoning with them that virtually all sharks are harmless. Of the 375 shark species that have been identified, but only about a dozen are dangerous to humans, with three strains being responsible for most attacks. Still, it is hard to shift the fear that Jaws is patiently waiting for us just off Costa Del Wherever, or that every sea creature larger than a pollock is planning our demise.

As a birthday treat I brought my daughter to swim with sharks. It didn’t matter that that the sand tiger sharks in the tank were just as harmless as most other sharks, people thought I was mad. But in she went, swimming about as the massive leviathans slid past, showing zero interest in eating my firstborn. I was almost disappointed by how peaceful they were.

Afterwards, she struggled to get out of the wetsuit, having been plagued for a few months with aches that, in typical dad fashion, I had put down to growing pains. When we got home, we went to the doctor, and then on to a specialist, who informed us she had mixed connective tissue disorder, an umbrella term for more snappily titled Lupus. I had no idea what Lupus was, save that I would prefer if she didn’t have it. A terrifying google later, I knew that it is an autoimmune disease that varies in severity, from skin-based to systemic. She has systemic, meaning that her own immune system can turn on her at any time. There is no cure.

As a species we foresee our deaths as being big dramatic occasions, like plane crashes, shark attacks, or bear maulings. It’s usually something gradual and mundane that brings about our demise, like driving when tired, running across six lanes of traffic to meet a friend for lunch in Costa, or just some random condition lurking within us. My daughter’s illness is potentially very serious, but in most forms it is manageable, provided you avoid the sun, which means at least she will never have to worry about being nibbled by a small shark on a sun holiday. Although if she announced she was off to Magaluf on a holiday I think a sharkbite or sunburn would be the least of my worries.

Health and faith intersected this week when the Vatican gave us a definitive line on the current fad for gluten-free foods, saying that gluten-free bread was not suitable for use as hosts. I believe it was in the first letter of St Paul to the Coeliacs that he told them to ‘eaten ye unleavened, normal bread, for this coeliac thing is just a fad, and if gluten was bad for you we would have made being gluteny a sin’. It’s great to see the Catholic Church cracking down on food fads, and hopefully they will soon excommunicate people who think kale, spirulina, or apple cider vinegar are things we should be putting in our bodies. God knows the Church needs to limit the numbers clamouring to join their ever-growing congregations.

Of course, sometimes our brushes with death are incredibly dramatic, as one Colorado teen discovered this week. Supervising a summer camp in the mountains, he was woken in the night by a crunching sound, which on further investigation turned out to be a bear – or shark of the woods as they are possibly known – trying to eat his head. The young man’s life was no doubt saved by the power of prayer, as the camp was being run by Seventh Day Adventists. Well, it was either the power of prayer or the fact that he punched it in the face and poked it in the eyes until it let him go and ran away.

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.

 

Sunburn, smoking, Taylor Swift, Bonfire Night

Week eight of my award-defying column, and yet no death threats. What am I doing wrong?

 

Our traditional Leaving Cert weather finally arrived at the weekend. Much like the pagans of old would sacrifice the young to appease the gods, we sacrifice the mental well-being of our teenagers by forcing them to sit State exams while we barbecue ourselves outside until we are burnt raw on the outside and pink and unwell on the inside.

 

The recent blast of hot weather – or Summer Paper I as it is also known, with Summer Paper II being scheduled for when the kids go back to school in September – was a reminder that we do not belong in the sun. The tan was once seen as the sign of the peasant, toasted by the sun from toiling upon the land, until Coco Chanel accidentally came home from holidays with a golden brown hue. She did not, however, walk around a shopping centre with straps down and shoulders burnt to the point that they look like two smoked hams, nor did she go ‘tops off’ at the first sign of sun, showing off her terrible tattoos and a Pointillist canopy of future melanomas. And it isn’t just one or two people on the street who are waddling around like newly liberated rotisserie chickens – huge numbers of us clearly have no idea how dangerous the sun actually is, or how quickly it can ruin your skin. Much like back in 2014 when it you woke up to the horrible realisation that everyone you knew was a closet Garth Brooks fan, people who previously seemed sensible were this week showing up to work with raw necks and red legs, explaining that while they slathered the factor 1,000,000 on the kids to the point where they looked like Casper The Friendly Ghost, they neglected to do themselves the same favour, thus significantly raising the chances of developing cancer and becoming an actual ghost.

 

But what can we do? No wonder we get so confused by the big orange ball in the sky, as much like Hale Bopp, it only appears once in a while. Like the panic that sets in when Aldi  gets an especially good batch of Special Buys, we dash headlong into it in the hope that we look more exotic. Perhap RTE could wheel out Theresa Mannion to wander along Portmarnock beach dressed as the grim reaper telling people that they should cancel all unnecessary journeys to the beach and divert to their local dermatologist. Just as we say for most of the rest of the year, this really would be a great country if only we could build a roof over it.

 

Speaking of the extermination of all human life as we know it – Taylor Swift. It’s hard to know how she achieved a level of unpopularity that has made her the ‘Isis Of Pop’ – all she did was sing a few songs and possibly make some frenemies – but few people in music today draw such absolute loathing. However, I for one stand with Tay Tay, because for two thirds of 2015, she kept me sane.

 

I picked up my redundancy cheque on New Year’s Eve 2014, and a few days later, I bought her opus, 1989. The existence it portrayed, of giddily launching yourself into a world filled with possibility, was a million miles from the dole queues of my situation, with four kids and no job. As I trudged from job activation meeting to job liaison session, I played 1989 over and over to lift my spirits and remind myself that the turgid hell I was stuck in would not last forever.

 

After eight long months of playing it on repeat while I sent out CVs, cold called disinterested HR departments, and was talked down to by tan-shoed recruitment goons, I finally got a job, and I never looked back. But I still love 1989, and am thus one of the millions currently awaiting news of her new album. So even though Tay Tay only seems to make headlines for her on-again, off-again relationship with Spotify (it’s back on) or her Tupac-and-Biggie-style blood feud with Katy Perry (Tay Tay’s relationship with Spotify went back on the same day Perry released her new album, in what the kids would call a sick burn), I will defend her to the hilt, because, for eight months in 2015, her shimmering pop stories about young love stopped me from turning into Travis Bickle. Although I might have got a job slightly sooner if I hadn’t been humming Shake It Off in every interview.

 

Millenials may be feeling anxious that their jobs are all going to be taken by smartypants robots, but if the main street of every town and city in Ireland is anything to go by, they will always find work in a Centra, Starbucks, phone repair shop, or that most gaudy of shopfronts, the vape store. The explosion in vaping has seen a shift in the habits of the young, from the toxic, deadly habit of smoking, to the vaguely unsettling habit of vaping. Sadly, some people simply cannot give up the leaf. Good news then from a firm with reassuringly cheesy name of 22nd Century, who are working on a genetically modified variation of the tobacco plant that will offer all of the lethal flavour but almost none of the nicotine. The same firm is also working on a version of medical cannabis that contains almost no THC – the active ingredient that gives the high associated with its social use – and only offers the medical benefits. No doubt these two products will be a huge success, mirroring the massive uptake in creations like non alcoholic beer, softcore pornography and unsalted crisps.

 

Bonfire Night is upon us again, the annual tradition in which the people of the Rebel County remember the Burning Of Cork by the Black and Tans. It is a tragic moment in the city’s history that is honoured by  locals dragging old suites of furniture, tyres, and bags of household refuse into the middle of the green before torching them whilst sitting around with cans as the toxic fumes cloud the sky. Except obviously, Bonfire Night has absolutely nothing to do with the Burning Of Cork at all – it is actually the ancient feast of St John’s Eve, a sacred time of year when John The Baptist would drag old scrolls, parchments, and bags of goat horns into the middle of the green before torching them, quaffing mead and later on that night, throwing rocks at the fire services. The celebration is a reminder that whether it’s our own skin, an old sofa, sweet tobacco leaf, or just poor auld Katy Perry, we all secretly love to watch things burn.