Archive for December, 2008

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Posted in U Lads on December 13, 2008 by Johnnie

1_r2_c12Originally published in U MAGAZINE, December 2007

Dear Johnnie

Did you know that girls spend at least 6 weeks before Christmas hinting at
what they want you to buy them? Men say they never know what to get. Is it because:

A They’re deaf
B They’re stupid; or
C They don’t care enough to listen to what we’re hinting for?


Jennifer Stevens, Editor, U Magazine

Hinting; women are great at this. The undisputed champions. I’m not sure if any scientific study has been carried out to determine what percentage of female words and actions are made up of insinuation but it would doubtless be very high. Whether it’s leaving things strategically around the house ‘to be done’, hiding our favourite gadgets or leaving magazines open at specifically random pages, life is a barrage of strict female orders delivered through the medium of subtle implication. And woe betide the man who systematically fails to pick up on these hints; before long, a couple of empty suitcases may just happen to appear adjacent to his belongings.

Hinting about Christmas presents is so fraught with danger, it’s a wonder women still do it. Women are life’s shoppers; the notion of going to an appropriate shop to buy the appropriate gift is second nature, like breathing, weight-watching and clogging the bath with hair. Sending a man to buy women’s things is like getting a Rottweiler to choose a kitten; he’s not looking at the merchandise the same way you do and it’s likely to end up in a terrible, terrible mess.

If we’re looking for a reason why men don’t know what to buy a woman for Christmas, the multiple choices above are slightly unfair; and yet, they’re all perfectly true at the same time. The catalyst, however, is fear. The fear of getting it all horribly, horribly wrong.

Take clothing. For 9-12 months of the year, women complain of having ‘nothing to wear’. Let’s say blokey resolves to fill her supposedly ‘empty’ wardrobes, he takes his lunch break to zoom around what he thinks are her favourite clothes shops. It’s then that the fear takes hold. Crap, what does she like? What size is she? Does this really look good? Are these my hands I see trembling before me?

If I hadn’t seen such a man with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe this happened. Said gentleman arrives in the shop slightly out of breath, perspiring profusely at his temples and a glamorous assistant greets him with a smile. “I’m looking for a present for my wife,” he says. “Certainly, what size is she?” “Oh… er… about your size.” It was a maternity clothing shop and the assistant wasn’t pregnant.

Actually, assistants are another issue. Those geared towards selling things to women tend to be overtly, intimidatingly glamorous women themselves. They also view male shoppers with a high degree of suspicion. If you try to buy underwear, they may say, “can I help you” but they still give you that look that says, “are they for your wife? Sure they’re not for your mistress you lecherous, fornicating pig?” Or maybe that’s just my paranoia.

“Yes, what type are you looking for?” Well, nice underwear. “OK, what about the briefs? High leg?” They’re pretty high, yes. All the way up to her waist, I think. “Bra size?” About… out to here.

There’s a whole language we have to learn about buying these items, a language that women have been speaking since they first noticed bits of themselves were changing shape – what hope have we got in a cold, December lunch break with queues going out the door in every shop?

Jewellery? That’s a laugh. Never mind the fact that buying a nice, affordable rock from the Argos catalogue would result in GBH, the alternatives are a matter of taste – and salary. How do those romantic heroes in the movies who present the girl with a ring always pick exactly the right size? How do I choose something that doesn’t look inexpensively delicate or so chunky that Fiddy Cent would consider it ostentatious? No, I’ll leave it.

Now, what was it she was saying during No Frontiers the other night? The one where Kathryn Thomas was swanning around on a beach in Barbados – there was something the Mrs was hinting at. Was it the swimsuit or the hammock? I know, it was the snorkelling gear. And a spa treatment, that was the other thing she mentioned. I saw those in Boots, I’m sure. Are they only for feet or can you treat your head in it with that avocado sludge as well?

A few years ago in my previous job, the boss called me into his office one December afternoon. He offered me a chair and shifted around uncomfortably in his own. He sighed heavily. “Can I ask you something? I’m not trying to steal your idea but… what are you getting your Mrs for Christmas?” Quite a few things, actually. A watch, some DVDs, books, smelly stuff, things I know she’d like but not necessarily want. “Right,” he sighed again, having glazed over. “I really don’t know what to get for mine.” What did you get her last year? “A nose hair trimmer.” So you’re the romantic type, sensitive to her needs. I’m sure if you listen carefully, she’ll be dropping hints. Get her something to stimulate her senses – again. “OK, I’ll have a think, cheers.”

After work on Christmas Eve, we all piled into a local pub. The gaffer walked in with a large, oblong piece of first-form woodwork wedged under his arm. What’s that? I asked. “A spice rack.” Is that what you got her for Christmas? And only today? “It’s what she wanted.” There aren’t any spices in it. “She’s got loads at home, just nothing to put them in. You don’t happen to know if Centra still have any wrapping paper, do you?” A couple of our colleagues began tittering and he became defensive. “She only had two things she wanted, a spice rack or,” his voice trailed off slightly, “a wine rack.” Hang on, she wanted a wine rack? “Yeah.” Which you could have filled with loads of really nice wine to, you know, stimulate her senses, like we discussed. “Sigh.” But you got her a spice rack. With no spices in it. “F***! F***!”

He’s now married to someone else. “S’pose, on reflection,” he says now, “it’s easier to see why we didn’t last. Plus, she kept farting.”

Hold on, if I was able to give him advice on buying presents all those years ago, why can’t I advise myself the same way? Take it calmly and, more importantly, try to start shopping earlier than the last-possible day before Christmas.

OK, I’m going to hand this essay in now. I doubt my editor will give it any more than a C+, it may even warrant a big red, festive “SEE ME!” across it, who knows? But I’m also posting a copy to Santa – hopefully he’s been listening to all women’s frequent bouts of subtlety and is ready to help us deaf, stupid, uncaring and terrified men make this Christmas a pleasantly surprising one.

What’s blue and upsets older people?

Posted in Grave News on December 12, 2008 by Johnnie

That’ll be the “festive” December/January edition of Senior Times, which comes with the reassuringly seasonal front-page headline “Road To Nowhere”.   Pass the humbugs, why don’t you?


Oliver Postgate 1925 – 2008

Posted in Dearly Departed, TV on December 11, 2008 by Johnnie

the-clangersI’ve known and loved Oliver Postgate all of my life.  He’s been in my living room since I can remember and, thanks to Nick Jr Classics, his Clangers are still there too, beaming whistles and soup slurps from their little hollow planet.  If my mum ever looked for someone to blame for my overtly fertile early imagination, I always pointed her in Mr Postgate’s direction, albeit while urging her to show some respect and affection.

British do-gooders so often wring their hands about what nonsense fills children’s heads from hours spent in front of the TV, to the point of telling them to drastically reduce their viewing.  Recent targets have included Teletubbies and In The Night Garden, programmes which came under intense scrutiny, not because children would actually go mad watching them, but because adults don’t understand them.  For crying out loud, the TV is the best place to start a child’s imaginative journey.  No matter what we think about the wonder of books, nothing gets playground chat going like something wonderful, spellbinding and adventurous on TV. Cheerfully, such do-gooders were in still short supply during the 1950s and 1960s, or we’d never have had series like The Prisoner,  Doctor Who or The Magic Roundabout.  Or, indeed, anything by Oliver Postgate.

Take The Clangers, for instance; telling the uninitiated about about a planet of pink, whistling, cave-dwelling, knitted mice who recycle interplanetary junk and eat blue string pudding and green soup taken from wells by the Soup Dragon, does sound like the workings of a cheesy Wotsit ‘n’ vimto-inspired hallucinatory dream.  Except it wasn’t, it was wonderful; and, here in 2008, it still looks and sounds wonderful.

My first knowing introduction to Postgate was via Noggin The Nog, the cod-Norse mythological saga with the vaguely forbidding voiceover and sinister bassoon music, courtesy of Vernon Elliot, whose music also soundtracked The Clangers. Noggin The Nog still provides food for my imagination; even the idea of watching it as a three-year-old, taking my first exploratory steps into the limitless possibilities of the imagination, is inspiring.  I want my own children to experience the same sense of wonder I did in front of Noggin; maybe Santa can track down a DVD for me – not for my own pleasure, you understand.

Newer generations have been charmed by Postgate’s later work, chiefly Bagpuss and the ’70s revival of his first animation from the ’50s, Ivor The Engine; but, for me, Noggin and The Clangers were what my very young childhood was all about.  Thanks for the memories, Oliver Postgate.  Rest in peace, and assured that some lifelong fans want to pass on your life’s work to the next generation of fertile imaginations.


Peppa’s Revenge

Posted in Food & Drink, Grave News on December 9, 2008 by Johnnie

peppa_pigThe full horror only began to dawn on hungover shoppers on Sunday morning.  Men dragged out of their beds by their wives for Christmas shopping, lured by the promise of “a fry” when they got to Dundrum, saw the annihilation of breakfast taking place in front of their eyes, splashed across their Sunday Worlds. Pig was off the menu. One distraught LUAS passenger  actually likened it to the famine. That was certainly how it looked as they filed past the breakfast counter with their trays, like extras from Oliver!, gazing at scrambled egg, hash browns, tomato, beans and mushrooms.  “No sausages, no?” came enquiry after enquiry from disbelieving punters.  Such was the absolute desperation of sausage lovers, that the saintly Linda McCartney’s vegetarian versions were the order of the day in my local SuperValu. Civilisation as we know it had crumbled, and quickly. What is it about eating crap that sustains the nation? The health pages of any publication you care to mention go on at length about people being obese and minding what they put inside them; yet no one really knows what odds and sods end up inside sausages, do they? They simply trust that someone somewhere is regulating it and ensuring it won’t poison people.

What’s even more obvious is, no one in the farming or food industries seems to give much of a monkey’s what anyone feeds pigs.  Every day we open our papers, there are farmers on the moan about the injustices of farming, but can they honestly say they make their livestock’s short lives even bearable?  This is just something else for these selfish capitalists to make placards about.  But now the government seem to hope the EU are going to dole out crisis money because no one else here wants to carry the can. The EU should tell them where to sling their meathooks, until such a time as everyone involved in this sorry, sordid industry cleans their act up from top to bottom. And that includes the government. I know it’s been said before, but is there any government accountability at all in Ireland?  Everywhere you look, there are big piles of shit, created by government neglect, all waiting to hit a fan near you. And all anyone ever does is point the finger elsewhere.

Naturally, as a vegetarian of 25 years’ standing, my sympathy is with the pigs. To the junior members of my household, who are staunch fans of Peppa Pig and Babe, piggies are loveable creatures and not food, and I wholeheartedly agree.  I’m not preaching vegetarianism to others, but out of this whole sorry business, maybe people ought to think a little more carefully about what they put into their mouths; not just about the food and its contents, but about the scruples of people who are producing meat and offal products and those who are, nominally at least, there to maintain their standards.

U Beauties!

Posted in Grave News, U Lads on December 5, 2008 by Johnnie

UMagWhichHasAnUnmissableLad'sColumn.Honest.The ever-wonderful U Magazine just got even more wonderful.  Last night, it won the PPA Consumer Magazine of the Year 2008 award.  Congratulations to all the lassies in the office, especially my ed Jennifer Stevens, and deputy eds Shauna O’Halloran and Martha Connolly (and of course my long-time colleague Nathalie Marquez Courtney who is now at Kiss magazine), all of whom do their best to put up with me on a fortnightly basis, even though they don’t have to. Mind you, they don’t let me visit them either; hardly surprising, really, why on earth would they let a bloke in who wasn’t Mr December from the Dublin Fire Brigade charity calendar?  I trust there will be one or two girlie cocktails consumed this evening in celebration; meanwhile, I will sup a celebratory Limoncello from the comfort of my Father Jack armchair…

I Always Wanted To Go Into Space, Man…

Posted in Grave News on December 4, 2008 by Johnnie


…and seeing this picture just reminded me.  Taken in September 2007 from the International Space Station, which was over the  coast of eastern Honduras at the time, it shows the truly awesome size and force of Hurricane Felix from the relative tranquility of space.  Terrifying and beautiful all at once. We humans, for all our proven destructive potential, we really are tiny, aren’t we?

Postman Splat

Posted in TV on December 2, 2008 by Johnnie


RTÉ’s Late Late Toy Show is one of those Irish traditions that people who aren’t from here scratch their heads over intially but then get into as soon as they begin watching.  I started watching at the latter end of the Gay Byrne era but I find the whole Pat Kenny experience somewhat irritating.  He’s not fatherly, avuncular or remotely Santa-like in his dealings with the children, and watching him (not) deal with the Top Gear team on last week’s ‘spectacular’ was (with apologies to Richard Hammond) a bit of a car crash.

Still, you can’t argue with tradition; so many people who are now parents remember the excitement of that special Friday, staying up late with a snack and feasting their eyes on all the toys they probably weren’t getting, and naturally they want their kids to experience the same buzz.  A colleague’s 3-year-old daughter was promised all last week that she could stay up to watch, and her mother duly sat her down with a goodie bag in front of the telly, all prepared for the delights to follow.  On to the screen comes Pat Kenny to welcome all to the Toy Show.  “Is this it?” asks the youngster.  “Yes,” replies her mother.  “I don’t like him,” groans the wee one.  “I want to go to bed.”  Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.