Archive for February, 2009

Give Up Yer Aul Shopping

Posted in Ecumenical Matters on February 27, 2009 by Johnnie

nosundays

And so it came to pass that a senior member of the Catholic Church in Co. Galway got mildly peeved about Sunday trading.  Fr Stephen Farragher, who works (except, presumably, on a Sunday) as administrator to the Tuam archdiocese, has suggested shops shouldn’t be open for very long on the Sabbath, and also advocates a return to the old monochrome times, when Sunday was a day of rest.  So, no doubt, he doesn’t want priests to be paid for being on duty on this day, he won’t need any electricity or gas to be piped into churches, won’t watch telly or listen to radio in the evening, and won’t want newspapers for sale on Sunday afternoons or, indeed, available for publication on Monday morning.  Sometimes I wish I lived in Cloud Cuckoo Land too, it seems so much more serene there.  Mind you, with the recession here and biting, there’s the prediction that there will be a flock of people turning (or returning) to God – basically, and ironically, because they want something.  In that regard, surely the very fundamentals of Christianity have failed miserably.  Meanwhile, in the real world, where the rest of us live, it probably is best to spend your money on keeping businesses like your local convenience shop, Woodies and IKEA afloat on Sundays (the one day of the week when most working people can actually get to the shops), rather than throw your hard-earned pennies into the coffers of an utterly outdated, hypocritical and out-of-touch institution.

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Masterchef – It’s Final Week

Posted in Food & Drink, TV on February 24, 2009 by Johnnie

greggsthebaker“Pointing out the obvious in clichéd soundbites DOESN’T  get hammier than this..!”

An army marches on its stomach (and apparently plays hide-and-seek behind the heather too), especially a Scots one, but that’s no excuse for putting the three finalists in charge of their dinner in the open air of the Scottish Highlands, on Masterchef (BBC2) last night.  As 30 armed-and-starved men from The Black Watch menacingly approached the chefs’ woodland base from the purple-hued hills, our three heroes battled it out with huge trays of belly-filling stodge, being cooked over a fiery hole in the ground or in an oven made out of an oil drum.  They were under pressure as it was (the programme’s director seemed to be heavily implying, for the sake of drama, that they’d all be shot if dinner wasn’t ready by the time the soldiers had trudged to their tents), but there can’t be much in life more distracting than having Gregg Wallace and John Torode prodding them with irritatingly obvious questions, much sucking through their teeth and then making prematurely dire forecasts about their punctuality straight to camera within earshot. 

Much as I admire self-styled ‘vegetable guru’ Wallace, I hoped the contestants would end up stuffing an apple in his mouth and sticking him in the oil drum; to make it more pleasant for him, maybe they’d smother him in his beloved toffee first.  And while they were at it, lift the grill off the open hob and stick his Australian colleague into the fiery barbie-pit.  Actually, there’s a series-winning meal in itself:  Roasted Sticky Toffee-Apple Wallace, served with Celeriac Mash (naturally), with a side order of Torode-In-The-Hole.  It’s going to be a fun week….

Oh no, the recession’s going to be THAT horrific…

Posted in Grave News on February 24, 2009 by Johnnie

golfclown1At last, an unexpected and very welcome side-effect of the recession: it seems business at Ireland’s golf clubs is going to be down by around 25% this year, according to a report in today’s Irish Times.  It also appears that all those excuses fat excecutives used to make about conducting their “business” on the golf course were, as the rest of us already knew, absolute tosh after all, otherwise clubs would be busier than ever.  Top hole, chaps.  How dreadful that you’re all scrambling around trying to find something constructive to do now, instead of the world’s most pointless exercise.  Good news for the home decorating industry though – maybe now, former golfers can sit watching paint dry for the best part of a week.  But it’s really bad news for manufacturers of golf bats, plus-four trews and vomit-inducing knitwear.  In fact, the knitwear industry’s best hope is to stop making bright orange or yellow v-neck golf sweaters (and, of course, the cream polo-necks which are, for some nonsensical reason, worn under garish v-necks by tasteless golf geeks) altogether, and instead concentrate on making chunky, ready-stinky jumpers for the forthcoming outbreak of new, whingeing singer-songwriters, which is bound to be along any second.  Of course, these singer-songwriters will be made up of the offspring of formerly-golfing executives who are now experiencing a sharp decline in their fortunes.  Until that happens, let’s just hope there’s 25% less golf on telly this summer…

Don’t Be Cruel…

Posted in Grave News on February 18, 2009 by Johnnie

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Just to make absolutely sure the public are firmly on the side of our over-abundance of taxi drivers, they rolled out the big guns on TV3 News last night.  Step forward this big hunk o’ love, Derry “Elvis” Coughlan, a man who firmly belongs to the Ted Bovis school of Presley “tributes”.  Like his colleagues, Mr Coughlan just can’t help believin’: that the taxi regulator is the Devil in Disguise; that regulation needs to be All Shook Up; that the protesters must employ A Little Less Conversation and more action; that cabbie morale is Way Down;  and that the protesters must never Surrender.  It’s now or never, so.

Carry On Comic Strips

Posted in Art, Grave News on February 12, 2009 by Johnnie

Oh, how corrupted we’ve all become…

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LoisLame

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The Valentine’s Massacre

Posted in U Lads on February 11, 2009 by Johnnie

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Originally published in U Magazine, February 2008

If there’s one thing most women desire of their men, to show them just how loving, caring, sensitive and thoughtful they are, it’s a spontaneous display of romance. Presumably that’s why St Valentine’s Day was invented – it’s the most heralded, advertised, hyped and commercial piece of romantic spontaneity most men can muster.

On this special day, we are wont to spoil our entirely suspecting ladies with lavish gifts, like silk heart-shaped cushions, genetically modified flowers, handmade child-labour-intensive chocolates or fluffy cashmere Dyson cosies. Instead of the usual takeaway, we’re prepared to go the extra yard and find an inviting chipper with seating. Nothing but nothing brings out a man’s romantic ineptitude quite like Valentine’s Day.

If love is, as Plato suggested, a grave mental disease, then Valentine’s Day is organized, commercial Bedlam where men are concerned. While women’s hearts are a-flutter with sugar and spice and all things fattening, men’s hearts are heavy and in grave danger of seizing in fright.

In many ways, Valentine’s Day is more fraught with worries than Christmas, largely because it’s not a public holiday. Time away from work means that the disappointment brought on by ill-chosen Christmas presents can be smoothed over and eradicated by the time you go back. But with Valentine’s Day gifts, there’s that horrible, panicky feeling that women will be comparing notes with their colleagues, possibly whilst awaiting a sizeable delivery of flowers – and men who don’t come up to scratch will be forced to face the consequences of their shortcomings later.

After all, what does Valentine’s Day really mean to men? As anyone who’s familiar with top-selling loo-read The Incredible Book of Vatican Facts and Papal Curiosities will tell you, the Vatican dropped St Valentine from their official liturgical calendar in 1969 – so even that society of men don’t know what to do with it. It has long since been left for well-known charitable organisations Hallmark and Interflora to pick up the celebration – and for us to pick up the tab.

So what exactly can the hopeless non-romantic do that will make a difference on a day which demands more sincerity of our hearts than any other day of the year? Well, convention dictates he firstly buys a card.

Sadly, this is a minefield. Faced with an infinite selection of soppy-looking pink cards, a man can easily panic and end up purchasing an unpostable, barn-door-sized cardboard effigy of a teddy bear or loveheart, bearing some toe-curling, stomach-lurching verse, written, in all optimism, by some friendless, lonely, bifocal-wearing sap in Kansas. Only when he gets it home does it dawn on him that no one in their right mind would want to receive such a thing.

Perhaps, he may think, it’s a better idea to make his own card? Well, only if you’re reasonably artistic. I once received a spine-chilling homemade Valentine’s card from some lovelorn nutcase, a tatty, soggy piece of folded A4 paper that reeked of Tramp and Copydex, and bore more resemblance to a kidnap ransom note than any token of romance. Beside a few lines of syntax-free verse, pledging undying lust and an overdue requirement for a thesaurus, there was a stuck-on, cut-out heart that would have looked more at home on a butcher’s shop counter. In no way was it going anywhere near my mantelpiece.

“Say it with flowers”, the advert used to say. Say what, exactly? “I haven’t the beginnings of an idea”, perhaps? The difficulty here is that men are the ultimate last-minute buyers and last-minute flowers always look, and make the recipient feel, like an afterthought. It’s good for Spar and Esso, whose floral buckets do brisk business around the 6pm mark, but it’s not good for the hapless male who then has to present them to his beloved. Or ex, as she might start calling herself from then on. Either you make an early call to Interflora or it could later result in a call to Interpol.

The same thing applies to restaurants, although the rules change here to put you at a disadvantage. Many have Valentine’s Specials, a crude way of upping margins, shooing in more punters elbow-to-elbow, and spoiling any hope of an intimate candlelit dinner because you have to raise your voice above other couples’ barf-inducing smooch-talk. But a carefully-chosen restaurant booking will at least show you care; leaving it until Valentine’s night means, at best, a dank tourist hovel that, under normal circumstances, you’d only take a woman to if you were planning to dump her.

As with everything, men are often hopelessly unprepared for this day, mainly because romance doesn’t come naturally to them anymore. They’re no longer thinking outside the chocolate box. Gone are the mythological days of naturally romantic poets, gallant knights and eligible Princes Charming who knew how to sweep a woman off her dainty feet with a chivalrous flourish – unless you spend your days watching Barbie DVDs, that is. Instead, cynicism has produced selfish, self-styled chancers, cads and boors, men too easily distracted by themselves, who think that making a huge token gesture is what’s required and who don’t just focus on the person rather than the day.

Valentine’s Day may simply have become another victim of our times; prices and people’s expectations both rising with perceptions of increased cash and decreased taste. It needn’t be the case. A successful Valentine isn’t about affordability, it’s one where the thought really counts, where time spent in preparation pays off in the most rewarding way; and very often, that means less is more.

Tokens of affection shouldn’t be dictated by anyone advertising gifts, dinner specials or weekends away, lovely though these may be. Who can actually put a value on someone making the effort to have the person closest to their heart feel utterly loved, worshipped and desired on a special celebratory day, by doing something unique to them? A home-cooked meal, a good bottle of wine, a nostalgic conversation about their own love story, a little surprise gift and some selfless sharing – it’s a day for time spent and a little imagination applied, more than any of the clichéd trinkets associated with the biggest retail opportunity between Christmas and Easter.

And please, please, no matter how tempting or easy it seem to be, steer clear of those appalling Love Songs CDs that get dusted off year in year out – how on earth could anyone feel in the least bit romantic, let alone sexy, with Celine Dion or Jennifer Rush screeching away in the background? A couple of glasses of full-bodied and your heart will go on with the power of love. No, honestly.

Cabbing It Up

Posted in Grave News on February 10, 2009 by Johnnie

cab2You really have to feel sorry for all those troubled taxi drivers who were protesting in Dublin yesterday, don’t you?   You see, they have no control of their working conditions (sitting down in a comfy seat and forced to listen to country music all day; “no rights, no negotiations, no say in working conditions” say the placards) and there are too many of them, apparently (“currently 26,843 licences, enough is enough” say the other placards).  So… taxi driving is no different than any other job, then.

There are many other questions to be asked of the taxi regulator first, surely.  For instance, can we have a system in place that stops someone (me) being charged five different fares for precisely the same journey over the course of a week?  Can we have more stringent procedures in place to root out sexist and racist drivers (especially ones who constantly complain about ‘African drivers’)?  Why do taxi drivers obviously available for a fare continue to ignore people (usually people not in a skirt) trying to get home on a rainy Friday night, even when they’re not drunk?   Why do they still not know their way around Marino estate when it’s been there since the 1920s?  More pertinently, why are licences ever given out at all before a thorough geography exam to establish the basics, as with “The Knowledge” in London?  And is it possible that current licence holders can be reassessed for their suitabilty for the job before any more licences are handed out?

But on the point of the supposed over-abundance of licences – surely people are being made redundant or having their hours or workload reduced all over the country because there are too many people doing specific jobs, when there’s not enough work or demand for the specific service to go around?  Why are taxi drivers a special case?   It’s not a specialist field, anyone with a driving licence can do it – it’s just that some are better, more punctual, quicker and cheaper than others.

I mean, arguably, there are too many freelance journalists and not enough publications to go around for us all too.   So that’s it [N.B. taxi drivers – sarcasm alert], I’m starting a protest march – who’s with me?  Let’s put an end to all journalism courses now!  Let’s stop people from becoming media savvy at once!   Let’s restrict the blabbing of opinion to the people presently employed in journalism – and, er, taxi drivers too, just for the sake of an argument.  God knows, we journalists will be putting ourselves out of a job if we encourage anyone fairer or better than us to come along…