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 and how I hate them. Expect zero lolz.

 

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

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.