Ash Valentine’s, Nollaig na mBan, huntsmen, love

Week 37 of the column:

Rejoice, cheapskates of Ireland – the stars have aligned and for the first time in decades, St Valentine’s Day, February 14, is falling on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This is a true sign from the heavens that Jesus is a dude, as now none of us have to rush out buying chocolates or booking a table for two in a fancy restaurant, because this year the Lord has directed that we make do with some dry toast and a cup of black tea (no sugar).

Even in my godless house it was welcome news, as I still like to respect traditions, especially when they share my core belief of saving as much money as possible. I’m tempted to offer my vastly better half a lovely bouquet of rosaries, or relaxing ash facial at the local church, but instead I’m going to opt for what I get her every year – almost nothing. If that fails and she gets incredibly upset (highly likely), I can just tell her that she will get her real Valentine’s gift when Lent ends on Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 1st, meaning her actual gift would turn out to be the gift of humour, as I don’t really have any gift for her at all. April fools!

Her celebration of Nollaig Na mBan went well, despite me mistakenly telling an elderly relative who phoned looking for her that she was off out for Cumann na mBan, leading to concern among her family that being married to a struggling writer was having an ill effect on her politics. But even Agnes O’Farrelly would have been proud to know that first order of the night was that great tradition of Women’s Little Christmas – a strip show. However, this one wasn’t some gratuitous commercialisation of the human form – it was The Full Monty for charity, although I think any woman voluntarily being subjected to an undressed male is an act of charity in itself.

The charity in question was the fund for a local community playground, because of course a children’s play area is what you think of when you heard the words ‘live male nude revue’ – a sort of Full Montessori, if you will. It was all in good spirits and through hard work, dedication and a lot of baby oil, the lads raised enough (money, you pervert) for the playground to be built, which hopefully will lead to many puns about zip lines, swinging and seesaw-yer-da’s-arse. The end of my wife’s night was nearly as thrilling as the start, as she received a half decent proposal at the taxi rank. I had her forewarned that there is a special breed of man who pointedly goes out on Women’s Little Christmas – he has crunched the numbers and he realises that with all the men folk minding the kids, and all the wives out on the lash, statistically speaking his odds are way above normal.

And so it was at the taxi rank that the local lothario set his sights on her. He told her that, serendipitously enough, he had only just separated from his wife the weekend before, which sounded like a fairly lousy way to ring in the new year. It must have been like watching When Harry Met Sally while it’s being rewound. He also invited my wife back to the hotel he was staying in, which was a smooth play as it told her that he was as feckless with his wallet as he was with the rest of the contents of his trousers, whilst also letting her know that he was technically homeless, which is very chic right now.

Somehow she managed to resist his charms – and his invite to take a stroll down the darkest alley in Munster – and come home to me, so she could giddily tell me she has still got it, before guzzling an Alka Seltzer and falling asleep for ten hours.

When I worked in a local paper, there was an elderly gentleman who would write to the letters page. They were on a variety of topics, but it was the ones about his wife I remember, as they all followed the same formula. He would recall sitting on the bus or train next to this beautiful woman, they would chat, and really hit it off, they would get off at the same stop, and they would – plot twist – both go to put their key in the door of the same house at the same time, because – spoiler alert – the beautiful woman was his wife of 37 years. When I first read them I thought they were a waste of newsprint, but as the years go on I realise I am slowly becoming him. I don’t need the huntsmen of Nollaig Na mBan to hit on my wife to know that she has still got it – I tell her all the time that she is a genetic freak (in a good way) as she has somehow managed to stay the same despite me burdening her with four children, the domestic equivalent of the hobbling scene from the film Misery. She still shines like she did when I first saw her at the local fair in 1989. Of course if you lived within earshot of our house you could testify that it isn’t all smiles and sunshine. Our relationship is like plate tectonics – two land masses collide, there are angry earthquakes and sexy eruptions, but over time all the rough edges smooth away. That said, I don’t really understand how either plate tectonics or relationships work.

She didn’t need to wake me at 3am to tell me about her fun night out, as I was, as usual, lying awake waiting for her to come home. It’s not a conscious thing, but we both do it – you just don’t sleep right when you know the other one is out, because life can be cruel and fickle, and there is a sense of dread lurking within you that your little cocoon may someday go pop. Of course, it isn’t always some terrible tragedy, accident or mishap. We used to live near a block of apartments that was known locally as Bold Boy’s Corner, due to the high number of separated men living there. It was conveniently located next to a McDonald’s, and you would see the McDads there on the weekends with their kids, sad faces all round. My Women’s Little Christmas was a solid reminder that I am fortunate to have found somebody to love and who loves me in return, and who isn’t going to leave me for a fundraising male stripper or desperate single dad who lives in a hotel room. Perhaps I will just start Lent on February 15 instead.

 

Footnote: The chap who hit on my wife happens to be in one of these photos.  Just saying this in case I end up in a landfill.

Happy Middleclassmas

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

 

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

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

Christmas, shops, Matt Damonnnn, Popefest

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Week 35 –

It turns out that I wasn’t all set for the Christmas at all. I think I was asked the question so many times that I actually lost all sense of the true meaning of being ‘all set for the Christmas’, and basically forgot that gift-buying actually takes a little bit of effort. The kids were easy – with four children I usually start the next year’s shopping on St Stephen’s Day, getting the best out of the sales while also fitting in the festive tradition of fainting in a queue in Smyth’s, or shoving someone out of the way when Next opens at 5am. However, as Christmas is all about the kids, I more or less forgot about everyone else, and by everyone else I mean my long-suffering current wife.

For the budget romantic who is as short on ideas as he is on disposable income, there is only one place to go – TK Maxx. A sort of Brown Thomas for people on zero-hour contracts, TK Maxx has it all – literally. It’s like the treasure horde of a flock of time-travelling magpies – mounds of relics of ancient and alien cultures all collected and dumped into a warehouse just off the highstreet. You want a stuffed grizzly bear? You got it. You want a leather onesie? You got it. You want a million different household decorations, all themed around pineapples? Tragically, you got it.

But even when you think you have found the most bizarre items of clothing, footwear or soft furnishing, and are holding it aloft in mild horror, you will see someone looming behind you, gazing at your find like this diamante pineapple is the final missing piece in their presumably hideous home. Tk Maxx is a reminder that everything has its place, and every ugly lamp will someday meets its ugly nightstand in an ugly house.

Few people have the stamina for TK Maxx- you need to clear your schedule, get loaded up on protein shakes and Red Bull, and go at those rails like it’s an old-style threshing, wildly grabbing items and flinging them in the general direction of your basket or possibly just the ground, arms flailing like you’re drowning. Using this technique I managed to select a range of reasonably priced gifts, including some jewellery that appeared to be made from Kryptonite she reacted so badly to it, and a pair of gloves that it turned out were for men, thus reigniting the old ‘shovel hands’ debate that has been raging since our GP passed a remark that she had big hands.

She also got a bag that by some miracle she actually liked and some other stuff that I can’t even remember as I went into one of those capitalist mate-spawn-die trances halfways through, a sort of Xmastential crisis. Long story short, she got a present, and it wasn’t the worst she ever received, which is what I would call a Christmas miracle.

Much of my Christmas was spent assembling Lego and wondering what Matt Damon was thinking. After a year in which abusive men finally started to get their comeuppance, Damon cast aside his ‘Hollywood nice guy with a high IQ’ stance to adopt the rather weak ‘not all men’ angle, where instead of condemning people like Harvey Weinstein, he said people should be celebrating the nice guys. Guys like, well, Matt Damon basically. He misread the room in glorious fashion, veering off in the direction of becoming a sweater-vested masculinist, rather than seeing serious issues at the core of masculinity itself.

His Good Will Hunting co-star Minnie Driver even wrote an op-ed about his tone deaf comments – Driver, of course, being the girlfriend who found out she was dumped by seeing him tell Oprah Winfrey that he was single. Let he who is without sin cast the first #NotAllMen.

Now that we have Christmas out of the way, it’s time to start focussing on the summer and that most special of seasons – festival season. This year there is only one gig in town, only one headline act worth seeing, and that is Pope Francis’s visit here. This Electric Popenic, which includes Mass on the main stage in the Phoenix Park and an acoustic duet with Queen Elizabeth up North, this is one show that everyone will want to see.

It won’t be divisive, like when Garth Brooks threatened to bring his accursed sounds to this land, but it will be a shining beacon of hope and positivity, like when Garth Brooks failed to get a license for his gigs. Granted, the pope’s visit is set to cost about 20 million euro, money that will presumably be wired here from the Vatican by Western Union transfer, but it will be worth it as this is the coolest pope ever – even though it isn’t that hard to be the coolest when your predecessor looked a bit like a panto villain and was once a member of the Hitler Youth.

Pope Francis is a sign that the Catholic church might actually be able to change – he is the first Jesuit pope (Jesuits being the Kraftwerk of the Catholic Church), the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the 8th century. He’s also the first Pope fully trained to deal with the wild atmosphere of festivals, given that before his seminary studies he was both a chemical technologist and a nightclub bouncer. The countdown to Popefest 2018 starts here, let’s just hope the touts don’t snap up all the tickets. See you in the pit.

 

Varadkar kar away, more Brexit, Meehawlll, Celtic Phoenix

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Week 34  –

At this time of year, there is nothing better than settling down to enjoy a classic movie. I was delighted to catch a screening of Disney classic Darby O’Gill And The Little People at the weekend. It is a gem of a film: There is something so natural about the old special effects, where they made the leprechauns look tiny by using huge sets and simple lighting. I wasn’t long into the film when I realised that it wasn’t the original I was watching, but rather some sort of reboot starring Leo Varadkar. The story had changed slightly too, and instead of being about some zany shenanigans involving special people from a magical land far away, it was about Brexit. Soon it clicked with me – this wasn’t Darby O’Gill at all.

It seems that the crock of gold we are paying to the magical Strategic Communications Unit is all being spent on oversized lamps, vast desks and enormous chairs just to make our leader look more like one of the little people, ie, you and I. The Taoiseach’s weekly video was a wonder, as it was impossible to take in anything he said because viewers were too busy trying to figure out if the corridors of power were either very small or just far, far away. I’m no fan of big government, but for our Taoiseach to actually shrink himself seems a little drastic. If he is trying to win the youth vote by looking like a child, perhaps he could try to be a little more BFG than YFG.

The whole Brexit debate was a piquant end to the political year. The Brits came crawling back to us after we kicked them out, begging us to sign the divorce papers so they could move on with their new lives in a bedsit in Crouch End, with Union Jack duvet on their single bed, counting all that money they now have for the NHS, like a modern day Silas Marner. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for them: The Brexit talks were basically that diner scene from Good Will Hunting, with us screaming how you like them apples after getting Donald Tusk’s mobile number.

One person who did not share in our festive orgy of schadenfreude, however, was Micheal Martin. In an interview with Joe.ie, he slammed what he called the modern ‘megaphone diplomacy’ of the Taoiseach and his human-sized colleague, Simon Coveney. Deputy Martin tut-tutted at political announcements by Twitter and even going so far as to lament the absence of Bertie Ahern’s quieter diplomacy, a skill that shone in 2014 when Bertie told a party meeting (sans megaphone) that he didn’t think much of Martin and wouldn’t be saying anything nice about him. If he had just subtweeted him it would have been less cruel.

Speaking of the collapsed bouncy castle that was the post-Celtic Tiger decade, it seems we have finally bounced back from our pit of despair. Things are picking up – no more will we have to worry about discerning between wants and needs, no more will we need to furrow our brows as we try to understand what a CFD is (I think it’s the stuff that makes fridges cold?), no more will we have to have actual money when we can rely on credit. But more than all those things, no more shall we have to pretend to be happy about buying off-brand goods, as we are now actually happy. According to the 2016 European Quality of Life survey, carried out by Eurofound, the EU agency for the improvement of living and working conditions, we are back to Celtic Tiger levels of life-satisfaction. The signs were there – a bar (roll those Rs) just opened in Dublin that charges eight euro a pint, various property developers are back from whatever limbo they were hiding in and are raring to go, and, according to public health experts, our cocaine use is rising – all the benchmarks of a society that is ready to lather, rinse and repeat the same mistakes of the 2003-2007 years. Hopefully some developer will get cracking on a few thousand shoebox apartments filled with tiny furniture where Taoiseach Varadkar can shoot his next video, because if there’s anything a life in politics teaches you, it’s the concept of forced perspective.

Milkshake duck, Keaton Jones, blogging, my glittering career

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Indo col week 33

 

In June last year, Australian cartoonist Ben Ward, known by his Twitter handle @PixellatedBoat, tweeted a joke. It was a simple three-line gag about a character named Milkshake Duck, the cartoon duck who everyone loves…until five seconds later when the duck is revealed as racist. The joke perfectly fit its medium and obviously enough loses a lot in translation to print, but the use of the term Milkshake Duck has since taken hold and has become shorthand for the perils of internet fame.

Andy Warhol may have predicted that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, but thanks to the internet it’s really more like 15 seconds. As soon as someone is thrust into the limelight for a viral video in which they wear a funny jumper or a write blog post about feelings (all blog posts are about feelings), the internet regurgitates some dirt from the person’s past, and their brief moment of fame rapidly pivots into a slightly less brief moment of notoriety.

The latest Milkshake Duck is an American schoolboy named Keaton Jones. The 11-year-old made a short video, shot by his mother, in which he called out the bullies who made his life hell. She shared it on her Facebook page, and it has gone on to be viewed more than 20 million times. Soon, Hollywood celebrities like Mark Hamill, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo were tweeting their support, offering to bring Keaton to movie premieres, while a GoFundMe page set up for the family racked up US$60,000.

It was at this point that the mechanics of internet fame kicked in, as I regret to inform you that it would appear this Milkshake Duck’s mother Kimberly is a racist. Old Facebook posts by Keaton’s mother showed the family draped in Confederate flags, with one daughter holding a gun. In other posts Mrs Jones mocked civil rights protesters.

Then the recoil started – these people weren’t innocent victims, they were the monsters all along. The mother set her Facebook page to private, but it was too late. The GoFundMe accounts were frozen, and a little kid who was upset at being bullied has become the innocent victim of viral hate.

By today, Keaton and his family have learned some hard lessons about the internet and how it works. It is an archive of every mistake you have ever made, a treasure trove of casually abusive comments, off colour jokes and general obnoxiousness – and that’s just your Facebook account. In the silent world of the internet we can be our worst selves, falsely believing that we are invisible and anonymous, when actually almost none of us are. When we post, we might as well be standing on a street corner with a megaphone screaming out our thoughts, or going to the toilet with the door open. Take it from someone who learned the hard way.

More than a decade ago I was working in a job that I didn’t especially enjoy. I was going through the proverbial ‘difficult time’ personally, and a lot of my frustrations with myself and my then employers came to a head with a series of splenetic posts on the absolute mess that was MySpace. Soon I was in an office with the head of HR and CEO being given a final written warning. I’m glad it happened; it served as an incredibly valuable lesson at a point where the digital age – led by social media game-changers like MySpace and Bebo – was shifting into top gear. Internet 101 is be prepared to stand over everything you say, because sooner or later it will come back to haunt you.

I spent another seven years working with the same company, living under a cloud of shame. I kept my head down, worked hard and worked well, and atoned for my mistake. As the company came asunder, I heard there might be redundancies – so I got in early with my requests, and kept rattling the cage until New Year’s Eve 2014, when I picked up my cheque and skipped out the door. I no longer work in the media, and I’m happier for it. I found the old written warning recently, and briefly contemplated getting it framed – it’s a reminder that I shouldn’t take life too seriously, but also a reminder that change, no matter how traumatic at the time, can often be a positive thing.

The company I worked for, Landmark Media, is being sold to the Irish Times. This was news to nobody; it was a miracle that TCH – as they were known when I Milkshake Ducked myself – managed to make it this far, and I would imagine there are a lot of people breathing a sigh of relief. However, there are many more who are now facing redundancy. The problem for anyone working in the media in Cork who loses their job is – where do you go from here?

The perils of being one of the few outposts of the national media that lies beyond The Pale is that once you leave, you can’t stroll into another paper and start work there. There are other options – for subeditors it seems technical writing is the best fit for their skills, while journalists can segue into content creation, PR or communications jobs, but the problem is in how many get let go at the same time, and how many jobs there are out there. The economy is picking up, but if a hundred media professionals in Cork lose their job at the same time, there simply won’t be enough jobs to absorb them all.

But it isn’t the end of the world – you will get another job, and you will look back and marvel at how you resisted the change when it came. Although it might be an idea to delete all those Facebook photos of you in Pairc Ui Chaoimh draped in a Confederate flag before you go into any interviews.

 

PTA, pride, failure, Brexit

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Indo col week 32

It seems something of a miracle that I managed to avoid attending a parent-teacher meetings until last week. I always had great excuses for not being there – either work or just a complete lack of interest in going – but the day finally came where I could no longer avoid it, as this wasn’t just any parent teacher meeting, but the only one of my daughter’s Junior Cert cycle. This was Serious Business – no more chats from disinterested national school teachers about colouring inside the lines or how good the child is at sharing; this was a serious talk about the foundations of a life and career – this was education with a clear purpose. So I stuck on a tweed waistcoat so I would look more erudite, had a quick peruse of some memorable quotes from Pearse’s The Murder Machine in case it kicked off, and headed along.  

As soon as I walked into my daughter’s school I felt a familiar sense of dread. The nicotine yellow walls, hand-crafted motivational posters with ‘positivity’ and ‘prayer’ written in gradually diminishing fonts, the dead light from halogen bulbs – this was an anxiety dream made real, all it needed was my teeth to fall out or for me to wet myself, which seemed increasingly likely as I was starting to panic.

I was given a printed guide to the classrooms, informing me which teachers were in which rooms. It might as well have been written in Sanskrit. I tried to read my daughter’s report card to match up some names, imagining the teachers as depressed Pokemon, adamant that I was gonna catch ‘em all. Obviously, I wasn’t going to catch even half of them, as the whole system was rife with confusion. Other parents milled about, queues formed with no beginning and no end, with no-one quite sure who or what they were queueing for.

I started to wonder if this was a test in itself, if we were the ones being secretly graded and judged by the Department of Education. I’m very clever for thinking that, I thought to myself, wishing there was someone else around in a tweed waistcoat who would appreciate my tremendous wit. No, I thought, save it for the column – this sort of grand insight is the premium content that my readers deserve. Don’t waste it on these poor schmucks shuffling from desk to desk. Besides, I appeared to be in the wrong queue again and needed to move.

Eventually a helpful transition year student saw I was struggling and guided me to a corner, and there I was, the perennial buachaill dána, back in bold boys’ corner, surrounded by rather shoddy paintings of Jesus. All I was short was a dunce cap.

Finally I got out of the corner and got facetime with some teachers; the first one didn’t seem to know my daughter at all but told me about the class and their self care plan for the year ahead. Back in my day self care was a sin and they said you went blind from doing it. We smiled and nodded at each other, and said goodbye – she went back to correcting homework, I went back to my corner thinking that really, teaching isn’t all Dead Poets Society, is it? If someone stood on a chair in the self-care class and shouted ‘oh captain my captain’ you’d probably have a departmental inquiry before small break.

I moved on to the next teacher, who did know my daughter, and this was when things got intense. She was full of praise for her, saying how hard she works, how she was a pleasure to teach. I could see the teacher wasn’t just saying this because of my tweed waistcoat and obviously eruditeness, but because she meant it. The next teacher was the same, and the next. As I moved from one to the other I started to get more and more emotional, and by the time I got to the fourth teacher I was blinking back tears.

It’s a strange thing to realise that you might be an okay parent. We spend so much time fretting about passing on all our bad habits and mistakes, that it is extraordinary to think that we might be raising someone who will be better than us. In theory, every generation should be some sort of upgrade – it didn’t work that way for my poor parents, who used to have to grit their teeth for my parent-teacher meetings, as all but the art and English teachers said I was going nowhere fast.

Perhaps a knock-on of that experience is that I would give myself a C- as a parent – fair to poor, could do better. After my daughter’s parent teacher meeting, I realised that my wife and I might actually be getting a solid B+ – there is always room for improvement if we worked hard, but we weren’t failing by any stretch of the imagination. It feels good to know your best might just be enough.

That said, my self-satisfied bubble burst when I got home and my wife and daughter realised I left the parent teacher meeting without talking to half the teachers. I tried to explain that the last thing the event needed was a middle aged man in tweeds in the middle of a classroom, sobbing with pride. That, I claimed, was a scene better suited to one of those sensitive Educate Together places; if poor auld Jesus up on the convent school wall managed to hold in the tears, then I should too.  Besides, is it not the spirit of continuous assessment that I should go along next year too and speak to the other half of her teachers?

The biggest shock of the night wasn’t that my daughter had given up history, but that anyone is allowed to give up history. I had assumed it was compulsory, but apparently not, which I assume is also the case in the UK, where there seems to be a lot of cramming about what the Empire may or may not have done to their neighbours over the past few centuries.

The current stumbling blocks over Brexit and the border seem to cause confusion with many on the mainland, as they wonder what they ever might have done to deserve such a hardline approach from the Irish Government. Presumably the same people avoided watching Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley as they assumed it was a documentary about the impact of agriculture on climate change, or In The Name Of The Father because they thought it was one of those Jeremy Kyle Show DNA test specials.  Yet while there may be some gaps in the UK’s educational policy when it comes to their own history, it is great to see so many people frantically try to brush up on several centuries of imperial unpleasantness in the space of a week. Here’s to lifelong learning.

Ikea, Amgen, elections, promises

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I woke my wife at 5.30am when I read the headline. She was panicked – where the kids ok? Was the house on fire? Had we won the Lotto? No, it was way more dramatic than that – Ikea might be coming to Cork. She sat up in the bed. ‘What?’

Exactly – what? There had long been rumours that us tasteless culchies would get our own outlet of the iconic Swedish store, but now it looks like it might finally be happening. No more will we have to use our imaginations or creativity to furnish our homes – now we have world’s greatest purveyors of budget taste. Granted, within six months of it opening, every home in Munster will have the exact same interior, but that’s what is so great about shopping in Ikea – no more thinking. We can just walk around it with smears of meatballs sauce on our lips and dead eyes calculating heights and widths of various bits of storage that we only need to store the small bits we already got in Ikea Dublin and were able to bring home in the boot.

 

So it’s an exciting time for us boggers – now we can take the old sideboards and chaise lounges that have been in the family since Famine times and throw them all in a skip, only to replace them with a Fuurkenfoola or Ziffoowqska or whatever goofball names Ikea have given their furnishing this week.

 

Although the location has yet to be officially confirmed, it appears a lot of the focus is on the old Amgen site. It’s called that not because the pharma giant Amgen are based on it, or were ever on it, but rather that they were supposed to be there.

 

The Amgen announcement came back in 2006 – the site was to be developed and a staggering 1,100 jobs were being created. Everyone in Cork started preparing their CVs and readying the plans for their leaving do, as these weren’t just any jobs, they were pharma jobs. We were all going to be rich, rich I tells ya. But then the rumours started, whispers that the plant wasn’t going ahead.

 

This was roundly refuted by the then Minister for Trade and Enterprise, Micheal Martin, who when asked about these rumours, asked: “Who is spreading these rumours? Who is putting it around the place? It is outrageous that this would be said. Why would I want to do that? … This is a fairly stupid rumour, to be frank.”

If he seems tense, it’s probably because he was making those comments in April 2007, a few weeks before the general election. One month later, Fianna Fáil and the Greens swept to power.  

 

Then, in August 2007, the announcement was made that the Amgen plans were being scaled back. For any of us living in east Cork, the dream was already over. Everyone had heard the rumours – the parent firm was in freefall and the plant was never going to be built.

 

One look at the site confirmed most of those claims. It had gone from being a hive of activity, to having a few lonely machines moving piles of earth about the place with no real purpose. Finally, in December 2007, what we all knew was confirmed; Amgen were not coming to east Cork, and we were all back to staring at the wall in our dead-end jobs.

 

So now, as we teeter on the brink of the another general election – the least desired one ever called – the petit bourgeoisie of Munster can only hope and pray that this isn’t some ergonomic carrot on a Swedish-designed stick, and that the old Amgen site doesn’t become the old Ikea site.

 

It seems strange that a people who fought so long and so hard for the right to vote could now be at a point where we really don’t want to vote at all, but that is the case right now. Frankly, we have better things to be doing than standing on a freezing cold doorstep being bothered by people who aren’t going to change our minds, smiling insincerely through chattering teeth as they try to undo several generations of Civil War politics that have been written on our hearts.

 

Nobody wants those old wound reopened, or to see a fight outside a chipper at 3am on December 23rd because somebody called someone else a ‘Free State Bastard’. And what about all the posters – this is the time of year for tasteless festive tat and Yuletide advertising, not grinning politicians looming over us on every lamppost, watching our every move like Father Christmas if he was chair of the local branch of Macra. So please – give the people of Ireland what they want for Christmas – no election, and an Ikea that we can get to without having to navigate the Fury Road that is the M50.