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.

The trouble with tribbles

I wrote a second column for the Examiner for the same reason I wrote the first. Here it is:

 

The London School of Economics this week published a cheerful report under the title Does Money Affect Children’s Outcomes: An Update. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the update might only comprise one word – ‘yes’ – but it goes into a little more detail than that. Reviewing 61 studies from OECD countries including Australia and the UK, the study found direct correlation between money – or lack thereof – and a child’s outcome in life, including their cognitive development.

The report comes as great news for anyone of reasonable income who opted to have a sensible number of children – a figure between zero and two – but for those of us who opted to cross the Rubicon into legally needing a people carrier, the report was a further confirmation that we have too many kids.

In much the same way a human year is seven dog years, having a litter of four kids today is like having 12 or 16 back in the 1950s heyday of Catholic Ireland. While back then it was seen as some sort of blessing from God to have more kids than you need or want, having a large family in the modern age means you lack a fundamental grasp of either biology or economics.

When I tell people I have four kids I usually have to add ‘…with the same person’ as I worry it might make me seem like some feckless Johnny Appleseed wandering the hills of Munster, casting my wild oats about in every direction. When a friend of mine heard my wife was pregnant for the fourth time he declared ‘dear God man, she isn’t a clown car you know’. But here we are, with four kids aged from 14 to two and a half, arranging to sit down together for a meal once a fortnight, an event that usually gets cancelled as one or the other of us dozes off halfway through.

Discussion of our kids with other couples is along the lines of a movie character back from a tour of duty in Vietnam, complete with thousand yard stare, whispering to themselves about the filth and horror they have witnessed. Not that we get to meet up with friends much, as going anywhere with four kids is like Hannibal mobilising his armies to cross the Alps. And of course there is no babysitter equipped to handle four kids, as not even the fastest Formula One car can shift through the gears at the rate you need to cope with a toddler, a teen and two vaguely manageable ones in between whose names you sometimes forget.

Even a trip to the supermarket – which is now classified as a ‘day out’ for the kids – goes off like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, chaos, screaming, someone missing a teddy. Charging up the cereal aisle in Tesco like you are storming a gun turret because you have to get six weeks worth of food in 15 minutes before one or all of the kids go off like a heavy artillery shell. Then when one of them finally does snap and realises they can do what they want and you can’t shout at them, you have to endure those looks from people who have forgotten what it was like to have kids; people who have used the Mandela Effect to convince themselves that their kids were better behaved than yours.  

Before I had four kids kids I used to think the parents in Home Alone should have social services called on them. Now I watch it and think ‘this is funny because it will quite possibly happen to me some day’. Not that we will be vacationing anywhere anytime soon – I couldn’t inflict us on air passengers, they are tense enough these days without six screaming humans creating an atmospheric tension that makes United 93 look like The Love Boat.

Of course, holidays aren’t even an option with four kids, because unless you are some sort of Celtic Tiger developer or Aztec god, you won’t have the money. My only hope is that when my kids grow up they can say ‘well, we didn’t have much, but we had each other’. It will be a comfort to me when they stick me in the cheapest nursing home they can find.

However bleak the picture painted by the LSE report, there is hope: A conference in the UK late last year found that most human misery is due not to economic factors but to failed relationships and physical and mental illness, so while my kids won’t get iPads, hugs are free – and I can hug the goddam hell out of them. And the organisation behind the conference that made this reassuring announcement? The London School Of Economics.

Will work for undercooked food

So I did a column for the Examiner, as their regular guy, Colm Tobin (please note, not the award-winning author Colm Toibin) was on paternity leave. So I wrote about office social events, a topic not selected by me but by my editor, and largely based on my experience of office bashes back in 2004-2007. So basically nowt to do with where I work now, who I work with, or anything else. Here endeth the disclaimer:

 

Office summer party season is here again, an event that blends two fun concepts –  summer and parties – with a sphere that is utterly devoid of both fun and sunlight – the modern office.

The counterpoint to the office Christmas party, which at least takes places in the dark evenings so no-one feels weird about being hammered at 8pm, the summer office party is really all about the build-up. The list is on the wall, who has signed the list, who has not signed the list, has anyone given even one cent of the five euro for the pig on a spit, or is everyone skipping that for a chicken snackbox al fresco at 3am? There is just so much giddy expectation, because deep down everyone is hoping that this goes off like the Red Wedding in Game Of Thrones, only with a charity raffle in the middle of the bloodshed.

Of course, the secret desire of the office drone to revert to some primal form after a few free drinks is the worst nightmare of HR execs everywhere. Office human resources departments run a tight ship, ensuring that almost no trace of humanity remains in the workplace – vows of silence, chastity and poverty are all in the fine print in your contract – so the summer party is a chance to take your business off site where HR can no longer see you, in much the same way French aristocrats, when devouring rare songbirds, used to place a silk sheet over their head to hide their delicious crime from the eyes of god.

Of course, for the socially awkward among us – and that is about 90% of the population of Ireland – the idea of going out with the ‘work crew’ is in itself hell. Who came up with the idea – spending time with the people you spend most of your time with anyway, only you’re not getting paid to be around them and you are drinking warm beer and getting food poisoning from an undercooked pig cheek. Not even the automatons of the accounting department could come up with such dry cruelty.

Then there is the office Iago, sowing seeds of discord and dissent ahead of the big night; are you going, well such-and-such wants to know just in case there’s any awkwardness. Then off to such-and-such to report the exact opposite of what was said, lighting the fuse on the powder keg of simmering resentment that comes from being stuck in the same grey space with the same grey people for more than a decade.

But in the run-up to the party – a period that spans the two weeks before the date but feels like it actually encompasses your entire life – you were asked so many times by so many people if you were going that eventually you just said yes, yes of course you will be there, all the while thanking god you have kids so you can cancel plans at the last minute and nobody judges you for it. In fact, you look even better as they think you am staying home to mind a sick child, as opposed to sitting alone playing Overwatch for ten hours straight. There comes a stage in life where cancelling plans is the sweetest drug of them all, and cancelling going to the work summer party brings a rush of endorphins that you haven’t felt since Sir Henry’s shut down.

When it comes to the office summer party, it’s probably best to adopt the same policy you did for the company’s manual lifting course, hand hygiene course and alcohol addiction awareness course, and just not bother going.

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.

Cheffing, Adam West, Irish college, and the further commodification of my own grief

Column for the Indo last Wednesday, in which I slowly peel away the mask of terrible comedy to reveal the raging emo sea within.

 

They used to say too many cooks spoil the broth. Sadly it seems that broth of any description may soon be off the menu, as the Restaurant Association Of Ireland informs us that we are now short about 5,000 chefs. It seems hard to understand why more young people wouldn’t want to join an industry that elevates icons like Gordon Ramsay, who have shown that the best way to make great food is to scream swear words into a person’s face for 15 minutes, then use their tears to baste a turkey.

Cheffing is a brutal grind; for those who simply love food, it is a vocation – many great chefs have that innate, creative skill to blend flavours, much like the rat in Ratatouille. However, for people like me, it was the only job we could get. After dropping out of an Arts degree to pursue my true passion – drinking cans – I ended up meandering into a job in a kitchen. I spent two and a half years burning pots, smoking fags and drinking heavily, and while the kitchen I worked in was fantastic, with a wonderful head chef, it was still an awful job. There is little point in the RAI trying to encourage young people into an industry that offers low wages, appalling hours and the chance you might be stuck under a head chef that makes Ramsay look like Bugs Bunny. Until the conditions of working in a kitchen are improved, it will remain a catchphrase for endurance, and many will decide, as I did, that they simply cannot take the heat.

Speaking of wasted youth, the passing of Adam West brought back many memories of the kapows and kablammos of Saturday morning TV in the 1980s. For many he was their childhood hero, unless of course they had the misfortune of reading Burt Ward’s memoirs, Boy Wonder: My Life In Tights. There are few things sadder than badly written filth, but Ward’s book is some of the lousiest erotica you will ever encounter. Playing on the style of the show (‘HOLY PRIAPISM!!’ Being one good example), it has the worst use of alliteration this side of a Leaving Cert English essay. The book details Ward and West’s exploits as they engage in the sort of shenanigans that would make Motley Crue blush – but Ward also finds plenty of space for complaining about West upstaging him, claiming that his co-star’s laconic delivery was designed to simply ensure that he was on screen more. West’s suitably cool rebuttal of claims that he was stealing the limelight and placing himself centre stage was to dryly ask “What was the name of the show again? Oh that’s right, it was Batman”.

Irish college season is here again, and with it comes memories of my own forays into Dead Language Zones of Ireland. One of my best memories is of our college standing to attention, singing the national anthem in front of the Tricolour in the main square. As we did, an elderly gentleman cycled past, and as we earnestly mumbled patriotic noises, he shouted ‘sieg heil’, cackled at us, and cycled off down the road. It was about the only thing I remembered from my three summers spent there, as after that I promptly failed Irish in the Inter Cert. In fact, the only lesson I took from my brief encounters with our native tongue was that it was even harder to get the shift via Irish. Úfásach ar fad, as Bosco would say, although I still have no idea what that means.

My grandfather used to tell my dad a story. One day, he and his buddies were down town, when across the street they saw a contemporary of theirs, pushing a buggy. They guffawed at what they believed to be the craziest thing they had ever seen – the very notion of it, a man pushing a buggy. My grandfather’s generation had a more Victorian mindset when it came to family life – children were women’s work. My dad, however, was different. He swam against the tide of his own sad history, and as I face into my first Father’s Day without him, I marvel at who he was. As I crashed headlong through life, he was always there for me – when I failed the Inter Cert, scraped through the Leaving, dropped out of college, slumped into dead-end jobs, or even told him I was expecting a baby with my girlfriend of six months (now my wife of 11 years) he never stopped believing in me. All my tiny triumphs were celebrated as though I had conquered the world, and a few column inches like these would be whisked off to the print shop to be photocopied and dispatched to relatives all over Ireland. He was unfailingly proud, even I went on TV to talk about getting a vasectomy.

In the nine months since he passed away I have struggled to rationalise the loss. The warming smugness of my atheism provides little comfort, as I try to convince myself that this is simply the circle of life – not even a thoughtful narration by David Attenborough could make my journey through grief more bearable. I am still trying to figure out a way to say all this on a headstone, how to sum up the endless love and support I received into a few pithy words. He overcame the culture of his times; he grew up with a father, but I grew up with a dad.

Now that I have inherited two decades worth of the Father’s Day gifts I gave him, I realise that aftershaves, socks, scarves, and books on the GAA are of little consequence, and that time together is the only gift any parent really wants…until the grandkids start screaming, then it’s time to leave.

Vader’s Day

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

 

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

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

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

Scents and scent ability

So I wrote a bit for the Examiner on the Aroma Academy’s Whisky Nosing Kit, something I had tried to buy on Master Of Malt at Christmas but it sold out. The main piece was on George Dodd, who is a Trinners educated Dub, and head of the Aroma Academy, but this was my lesser contribution:

 

So you’ve decided to become a whiskey geek. You’ve tried a few brands, learned the lingo (arcane terms like dram, NAS, cask-strength), the science (you know the difference between a washback and a Lyne arm) and the history (the two Aeneases, Coffey and MacDonald), and have even bought a tweed blazer in Penneys so that you look the part. But there is one part of whiskey fandom that is hard to perfect; an innate sense that cannot be trained via literature alone – your sense of smell.  

Of all our senses, smell is probably the one we value the least. If forced to pick one to jettison, it is hard to imagine someone binning their ability to see or hear in favour of smell, but it is in its subtlety that its power lies – apart from enabling us to avoid danger, evolutionary biologists suggest that it also helps us recognise family by scent, and thus avoid inbreeding. It should come as little surprise that the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion also processes our sense of smell. How we perceive aromas is often guided by our life experiences. But there are some elements of scent that we can be completely objective about – and whiskey carries many of them. As the most complex spirit in the world, whiskey can be a tough sensory code to crack. How do you train your senses to pick out the key notes? It turns out, much like you can train individual muscles, you can teach your brain to isolate and identify a few of the elements most identified with what should be our national drink.

The Aroma Academy’s Whisky Aroma Kit is a beautifully packaged set ideal for the budding whiskey enthusiast seeking to bone up on their nosing skills, or for the hardcore geek wishing to evangelise friends and family with tutored tastings. Contained within the set are the 24 vials of scent, a helpful book on how to use them, a thorough introduction to Scotch whisky, and some slivers of card that can be used to diffuse the scents, in much the same way perfumeries proffer samples of their wares.

The scents help you understand how the aroma of whisky works – what phenol is, what the experts mean when they suggest there is a whiff of decay, and yet keep on sipping, what a buttery note smells like, how to identify wet peat, solventine, rosewater, or sherry.

The vials themselves are numbered and the list of their actual aromas is contained in the notebook – tutored tastings often see the vials being passed around, with guests being asked to have a guess as to what scent each vial held. It’s a fun way to show how we all perceive reality in completely different ways – could you say for certain that what you think of when someone suggests ‘the smell of cut grass’ would be the exact same as what I think of? And what of the variables – what if you have a slight cold that impedes your sense of smell? The whisky expert Jim Murray – whose annual Whisky Bible reviews thousands of whiskies from all over the world – won’t do any whisky reviews for two weeks after a cold in case it affects his ability to discern elements.

Using the Aroma Academy kit is a great way to tune your senses into the most important elements of whisky, but more than that it gives you the confidence to start proffering opinions on what a whisky smells and tastes like. The 24 scents are some of the key aromatic components, but are also key to ‘talking the whisky talk’. Knowing them is akin to learning scales on the piano before you start rattling out Rachmaninoff. Once you know your phenol from your decay, you can start expanding your vocabulary to include just about anything. A good example of creative tasting notes are those on the bottlings released by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They never directly state what distillery the liquid is from, but instead use a  tasting panel to describe it. The results are intriguing – and sometimes baffling. Consider this, a whisky released under the title of ‘Irreverent Painter In Church’: “The nose, with the oiled wood of new church pews, exuded peacefulness and earned reverence – it also had dried papaya and mango, marzipan, lemon curd, sherbet and candied angelica. The palate was chewy and satisfying, with spritzy and zesty elements (orange and lemon jellies, tropical fruits), spiced pear and the sweetness of white chocolate and French Fancies. The reduced nose continued the citric theme – lemon sponge-cake, chocolate limes and a painter with a cigarette in one hand and a margarita in the other. The palate was juicy and rewarding, combining tangy fruits and bitter lemon with cola cubes, pear and chocolate.”

With the guidance of the Whisky Aroma Kit, and a little bit of self confidence, soon you too could be drawing furrowed brows and concerned looks from friends as you prance about in a tweed catsuit talking about whiskies as though they were the Sistine Chapel – or a cocktail of paint thinner and altar wine.

The Aroma Academy Whisky Kit costs a very reasonable stg£99.95 (many other brands cost upwards of 200euro) from http://www.whisky-academy.com.

Logan’s Run, collagin, sunbeds, tatts

Death, despair, dystopian hell and how I hate tattoos – it’s the weekly Bill. 

 

When the science fiction writer Philip K Dick died in 1982, his ashes were buried under a headstone that had carried his name for 52 years. When his twin sister passed away five decades earlier, both their names were inscribed on the stone at the same time, presumably by family members who were more worried about cost-effective measures than their son’s mental state.

Dick lived his life in a state of constant paranoia, hardly surprising for a man who had a grave awaiting with his name on it. It sounds like a plot point from one of his brilliant, paradoxical works, which posed big questions about our concept of reality; questions like, if you knew when you were going to die, would you live differently? It’s a question that we may need to start asking ourselves, as researchers have created an artificial intelligence programme that can estimate our life expectancy. The team of researchers – from the third level thunderdome that is the University of Adelaide – simply feed scans of your organs into the application and it comes back with a 69% accuracy of when you are going to expire. The crushing inevitability of our own demise is something we tend not to think about a whole lot, but probably should. Hopefully this technology will trickle down to the point where you will be able to scan yourself at the supermarket self service checkout and get your own expiration date. Perhaps then we might think less about collecting clubcard points and more about buying time on earth through positive choices. Unless it’s double points on family packs of crisps, that just makes financial sense.

Speaking of endless waits for ascension into the heavens – Dublin Airport. The Loop, the airport’s duty free, was the scene last week for the launch of a new gin, which in itself is not remarkable, given a new gin seems to land on our shelves with the frequency of Ryanair arrivals. This gin, however, is different. While most gins promise ‘locally sourced botanicals’ such as magpie’s nest or eye of newt, creators Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick have infused their new product from that least appealing yet most local of botanicals – us. Or rather, powdered synthetic collagen, the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues. It is most associated with cosmetic surgery or anti-ageing therapies, the most tragic skirmishes in our battle with mortality, and this new product – CollAGin – is a nifty rebrand from the drink formerly known as mother’s ruin to an elixir of youth. That or a sort of Soylent Green for jetlagged housewives.

Our skin deep obsession with beauty was thrown into sharp relief as recent statistic showed a rise in the use of sunbeds by Irish teenagers. Speaking as someone who used them in his early twenties, I look back now and wonder what I was thinking, as they turned me a shade of orange best described as a Full Scale Dale Winton, but which a friend helpfully called a ‘third wipe’ shade of brown. To this day I still have blotches of pigmentation that show up when the sun is out, like a mid-transition Michael Jackson, or a slowly combusting vampire.

Sunbeds are awful. Apart from the cancer risks, they make you look like an Hermes ostrich-skin birkin that’s been through the washing machine. And now that another recent survey showed that young Irish people are drinking less too, our poor beige-tinted young folk can’t even claw back their youth by quaffing collagen-infused gin, proving that George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote that youth is a wonderful thing, but what a crime it is to waste it on children.

Mortality and skin were the topics in the journal BMJ Case Reports, which detailed the death of a man who got a skin infection while swimming in the Gulf Of Mexico. Suffering from chronic liver disease, he had recently got an inspirational tattoo, which allowed the infection into his skin, and ultimately killed him two months later. Although the ironic elements of his death will bring little comfort to his family, perhaps his journey to heaven will be accelerated by the subject of the tattoo that led to his death: A crucifix with praying hands and the inscription ‘Jesus is my life’.

Paul Ryan, dead dolphins, ortolans, country fairs

Week five of my wafflings; eventually I will just turn into Lenny Bruce and use it as a platform for bitterly attacking anyone who I feel wronged me. But for now it’s still mostly shit jokes about deceased mammals.

 

Politics is a lonely business. Spare a moment for poor Paul Ryan, current US Speaker Of The House. An all-rounder in high school, he excelled academically and at sports, before being crowned prom king; Ryan isn’t used to being unpopular with young people. So imagine his chagrin this week when a group of eighth graders refused to have their photo taken with him, with one child going on the record as not wanting to be associated with Ryan ‘or his policies’. His attempts to win over the youth vote brought to mind one of our own politicians and their encounters with Da Kidz. In 2003, the then Justice Minister Michael McDowell was speaking to a group of schoolchildren in Laois when he uttered the immortal line: “If you listen to the MTV ethic or the Ibiza Uncovered kind of world – if you think that’s the future, it isn’t.” He was right of course, it wasn’t the future at all, as Ibiza Uncovered had come to an end six years earlier in 1997.

Thinking back to MTV’s chaotic reality show does make you yearn for a simpler time when bacchanalian mayhem was enough fun for the kids, before they needed to involve deceased aquatic lifeforms in their shenanigans. The sight of a deceased dolphin at a student party in Cork caused outrage after it was posted on that toilet of the soul, social media. Allegedly brought to the party by two non-students, the animal’s carcass was danced around the living room before being unceremoniously dumped out a window, in scenes akin to a Weekend At Bernie’s/Flipper crossover. However, the more astute observers of marine life would say it was only a matter of time until dolphins – the smartarses of the sea – began infiltrating our third level institutions. Ask anyone: They’ve been trying to get into the best tuna schools for years. Pressure to keep up with dolphins is  the last thing Ireland needs, as most school-leavers today already lack a sense of porpoise.

Donald Trump’s National Lampoon’s European Vacation finally came to a close, leaving us with many fun-filled holiday memories, from his tiny hands trying unsuccessfully to hold Melania’s, to his tiny hands dangling uselessly next to the most cheerful Pope in history, who on the day looked like Bishop Brennan after just being kicked up the arse. On his tour, Trump stomped across the world like a T-Rex, all savage maw, primitive bellowing,  and tiny little hands that almost make you feel most sorry for him. His dinosaur-like tendencies might also explain his affinity for fossil fuels.

Trump styles himself as the apex predator, but it was the leader of the nation of intellectuals who showed the power of sheer force of will.  Of all the national leaders to step up to the plate and take him on at his own game, few would have expected French president Emmanuel Macron. Perhaps it is Trump’s aggressive style that irked Macron, but given that he is French it is more likely to be the fact that Trump eats his steak well done with ketchup, a crime which I believe is still punishable by death in France.

Macron grabbed Trump’s tiny hand in his and did not let go, gazing deep into his eyes as he dragged him into an existentialist staredown that seemed to go on forever. Sadly, all good things come to an end, and much like the Americans got bored of calling French fries ‘freedom fries’ after a few months, Macron let go, and the Arc De Trumphe separated, leaving the world to bask in the afterglow of a world leader who realised that sometimes the best way to deal with a bully is to crush his tiny hand as though it were a delicious ortolan.

If you want to see what real, hard working hands look like, get yourself to an agricultural show, a sort of Electric Picnic where the headline acts are a massive tractor, oversized bull, and a weird sheep that looks like it could be cast as the devil in a Ken Russell film. Outings like the agricultural show are important parts of the rural calendar, as the broadband is so poor that there is little reason to stay in the house: Since moving to the country I have dragged my kids to two holy wells, eight woods, and the site of a War Of Independence massacre, which, oddly enough, was located in someone’s front garden and was guarded by a cheerful corgi, an ironic choice given that it was Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite breed.

Agricultural shows make you more aware where our food actually comes from, and the gruelling work that goes into producing it. It reminds you that, unlike the libertarian mindset of people like Paul Ryan and Trump, none of us exist in isolation, and we are all reliant on each other – even if it’s just to help push a people carrier out of a muddy field.

LinkedIn, Minecraft, fidget spinners, doomsday

I hate LinkedIn. Perhaps it’s because I have no career to speak of and thus nothing to post on there, but I also think it is a clunky fucking mess. So that was the jumping off point for my column in last week’s Indo. Enjoy!

 

In terms of the various selves that we project online – stylista on Insta, thoughtful commentator on Twitter, twitchy comedian on Snapchat – it is on LinkedIn that we are farthest from our own reality. In its clunky interface we paint a portrait of our many academic and professional achievements like a digital Ozymandias, demanding all look on our mighty works and despair at how diligent, agile, and Lean we are.

But we cannot shift the bang of want, as LinkedIn transforms us into Jack Lemmon’s doomed salesman from Glengarry Glen Ross, begging everyone we know for the good leads. And then there are the helpful LinkedIn updates, which, like a disappointed mother, email you to tell you how well everyone else is doing and asking if you would like to congratulate them on being superior to you in every way.

The good news is that LinkedIn is about to get even more depressing. From June 6,  LinkedIn will feature a ‘members in your area’ feature that tells you when your contacts are nearby, so you can run far, far away from them in case they challenge you over your wild claims about management experience or ask you to explain what Six Sigma actually is. Of course it will be a great tool for those attending a conference who want to play a version of Pokemon Go, only instead of chasing a rare MewTwo, you will be hunting down that recruitment guy who told you your CV was amazing and then tried to traffick you into a zero hour contract in a call centre.

To another online world filled with grandiose, non-existent monuments  – Minecraft. The sandbox game came under fire recently as it included a mechanic in the game whereby you could breed parrots if you fed them chocolate chip cookies. Like almost everything else that happens in the world today, this caused much gnashing of teeth by concerned keyboard warriors, who pointed out that feeding real-life chocolate to real-life parrots causes them not to breed, but to die. Obviously, if your child is smart enough to figure out the mechanics of virtual parrot breeding in Minecraft, they are probably smart enough to understand that it is not representative of real life, and that parrots, in their natural habitat, do not eat chocolate chip cookies.

Explaining the cookie conundrum, one of the game developers said that they were terribly sorry, and that the cookie idea came from the song Polly by Nirvana – a song which A) has zero mention of cookies, instead using the obvious line of ‘Polly wants a cracker’, and B) was actually written about the abduction and rape of a 14 year old in 1987. So whoever gave that explanation can remove ‘public relations’ from his LinkedIn skill cloud.

Whatever dangers Minecraft may pose to our kids, it is nothing in comparison to the biggest threat to civilisation as we know it – fidget spinners. These small spinning toys are banned from most school playgrounds, with notes being sent home to parents warning them of confiscation if they are seen on school property. Thanks god our schools are keeping our kids safe from harm, and are directing them towards more delicate pastimes, such as hurling, once astutely described as ‘a cross between hockey and murder’.

I can’t help but wonder if prohibition is the way to deal with the fidget spinner craze, since kids are clearly already hooked. Driving the trade underground will only empower the dealers who control the supply. Before you know it, schools all over Ireland will be like an episode of Narcos enacted by six year olds, with all out war in playgrounds – purple nurples, Chinese burns, dead legs; you name it, these cartels will sink as low as they can to ensure they stay in control.

Soon the child you love will become as a stranger to you, arriving home at 4am in a chaffeur driven limo, dizzy from all the fidget spinning, stumbling into their cot through boxes of fidget spinners stacked high like Jenga. Before you know it you have lost them to the spinning scene, and shortly thereafter society will fall completely asunder. Or we will just move on to the next moral panic.

Something actually worth panicking about is the news that the vault containing the key to human survival in post apocalyptic hellscape might be leaking. The Svalbard vault, buried deep in a hillside in Norway’s frozen north, apparently had a sudden gush of water through its doors, as the permafrost around it melted. The vault contains samples of close to a million plants, so that we can replant the earth once we are finished waterboarding it.

Of course, there is a sweet irony to the fact that the so called Doomsday Vault has been damaged by the very thing that that will probably doom us all – global warming. Perhaps we can chuckle about that in a few decades as we sit atop a mountain surrounded by water, while we burn copies of JG Ballard’s Drowned World to keep warm, and hunt iguanas using fidget spinners, like we used to hunt business connections on LinkedIn.