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.

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

ryan.gif

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.

 

 

 

Authoritarian

I did a steaming hot take on the Clinton/Patterson book for the Indo, and here it is: 

 

When it was announced that Bill Clinton was writing a book, most people assumed it would be a cross between 50 Shades and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sadly, our hopes of a steamy memoir about Slick Willy Clinton polling the electorate were dashed when it was announced that human bestseller machine James Patterson would be co-authoring. Patterson is what you might call box office, one of the most successful – and richest – authors in the world, even if he has his critics – as horror maestro Stephen King bluntly put it, Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very successful.

So the book will be a hit, no matter what, even if the title – The President Is Missing, which according to the publishers is about a president that goes missing – doesn’t suggest a gripping, unputdownable page-turner. But not every politician has had success when dabbling in the creative arts.

Painting – Churchill painted to alleviate depression, Hitler was a failed artist, and Franco was  better than you would think. But beyond all those were the paintings of George W Bush, whose portraits of world leaders – and himself in the shower – were startlingly poor. Of course, art is completely subjective, but when a 14 year old entrant in the Texaco Art Competition makes W’s works look like a potato print, it is time to retire the easel. However, he did exactly the opposite – he released a book of portraits, this time on a subject that meant nobody could criticise his work: War veterans. Frankly it was the least he could do after starting a war himself.

Acting – It should set off alarm bells for all of us that so many actors become highly successful politicians. Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Glenda Jackson; it is a surprisingly smooth transition from pretending to be someone, to being a politician. Perhaps the oddest transition was that of Illona Staller, known by her stage name la Cicciolina. The Hungarian-born model (and porn star) stood for the Green Party in Italy and served one term, one of the most memorable moments of which was when she offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace in his country. Perhaps if George W had painted that scenario he might sell a few more copies of his book.  However, he would have to compete with the talents of conceptualist artist Jeff Koons, who married Staller and created a series of massive portraits of he and his wife engaged in explicit sexual acts. So politics isn’t all paperwork.

Music – Wyclef Jean ran for president of Haiti, Youssou N’Dour ran for office in Senegal, Sonny Bono became a US congressman, and our own Bono seems to have more influence with world leaders than our politicians do. It’s not surprising to see idealistic musicians attempt to turn their lyrics into actions. And then there’s former TD Paul Gogarty, who brought his baby to a Green Party press conference calling for a general election, and on another occasion shouted ‘f**k you’ across the floor of the Dáil at Labour TD Emmet Stagg. If he was to record music, you would assume it would lie somewhere between The Sex Pistols and the theme music from In The Night Garden. But Gogarty’s project, His Sweet Surprise, is a very sweet surprise – synth-heavy pop songs with catchy choruses. His time in politics may have been brief, but his music (and swearing) definitely made more of an impression than his party colleagues, such as the lightbulb guy or the other guy, you know, the one who cycled everywhere.

Writing – Clinton’s foray into writing is unusual in that it is a work of fiction. Most former presidents just churn out a memoir or three, along with several impassioned books on how they could make the world a better place if only they were still in charge. The only previous work of fiction Clinton was affiliated with was the Chinese counterfeiting of his memoir, the imaginatively titled My Life. The Chinese version of it – which came out before the book was actually released – featured countless anecdotes of Clinton talking about how great China was and how their technology was vastly superior to America’s. It also included a scene in which Bill informs Hilary this his nickname is Big Watermelon, which somehow seems entirely plausible.

But when it comes to forays into the world of creative writing by politicians, few come close to our own Alan Shatter. His one novel, Laura: A Story You Will Never Forget, shot to prominence when a complaint was made to the censors office about it. Fittingly for a man born on Valentine’s Day, Mr Shatter included a few scenes of the protagonists engaging in the physical act of love – which is what they called sex back in 1989 when the book was first published. After the complaint to the censors board and subsequent furore, the book was republished, proving that the old adage of ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is true in the arts, if not in politics.

While Mr Shatter is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant minds to have graced Dáil Éireann in modern times, one does have to wonder if the much talked-about sex scenes in Laura would have been better if he was a little less brilliant – perhaps a little less mind and a little more body would have turned his well-written, sterile prose into top-notch filth. He does, however, get bonus points for including this classic Irish chat-up manoeuvre:  “She knew that she had been foolish for not taking the necessary precautions herself, but Brannigan had assured her that he always withdrew in time and that she was not at risk.”

It was either that or tell her his nickname was The Big Potato.

Cities, Eurovision, giant rats

Column Watch – week three. The mood is tense. Somehow it hasn’t been cancelled yet, but this one might do the trick: 

 

We are flocking to cities. According to the data provided by Census 2016, nearly two thirds of the population of Ireland now lives in an urban area, with 25% of us living in Dublin. Perhaps it is the lure of The Pale’s high quality broadband,  Starbucks and Subway on every street corner, or the fact it has every mode of public transport short of a monorail, but we are heading in our droves towards its bright lights. However, there is a downside.

The Japanese understand the negative effects of too much time spent in cities, as the greater Tokyo area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. The Japanese  have a word for healing the soul through a return to nature – shinrin-yoku. Its closest translation is ‘forest bathing’, or simply the medicinal benefits of taking a walk in the woods.

It is one of many Japanese words that have no direct translation into English, another being Shogania  –  or ‘a situation that can’t be helped, and also is out of our control’, much like our epic losing streak in Eurovision.  

Japan aren’t in the Eurovision – but it can only be a matter of time. The presence of Australia in the competition is an open door to all of planet Earth (and much of our solar system) who fancies having a go at music’s zaniest song contest. This year’s spectacle even featured a streaker, draped in an Australian flag, baring his backside, presumably as an allusion to a nation from the arse-end of the globe taking part in what is theoretically a European event.

The culprit turned out to be a Ukrainian who has made a name for himself in the worst currency of all – pranks. The ancient art of pranking had died a well-deserved death until YouTube came along and made upsetting children/the elderly/cats into an actual career for the chronically annoying. But Vitalii Sediuk, the man behind the behind, made a rookie error – he chose to try and make his mark on a TV event that looks like an explosion in a fireworks factory. For all his ‘hilarious’ efforts, he ended up a vanilla also-ran on a night of giddy, deranged cabaret.

But beyond the buttocks, dancing Harambe and yodelling, the most striking thing about the competition was how eerily familiar the songs sounded, from Germany’s take on David Guetta and Sia’s Titanium, to Moldova’s Saxobeat-aping take on the sax solo from My Lovely Horse. The winning act, a young psychology graduate from Portugal, made a plea for ‘real music’, which would suggest he didn’t take much notice in college when they covered passive aggressive behaviour. Salvador Sobral’s lofty stance was a bit rich, coming from someone who came seventh in Portugal’s version of Pop Idol, singing a song that sounded like a knockoff from the soundtrack to LaLa Land. However homogenised the music seemed, it was nice to hear Sobral singing in his native tongue, especially for some Portuguese speakers who have taken up residence in Ireland.

The awkwardly titled coypu is native to Brazil, but has settled right into the grassy savannahs of the Lee Fields on the edge of Cork city. Also known by the less appealing name of ‘swamp beaver’ (or the terror-inducing ‘giant river rat’), they have a thick, dark pelt and bright orange teeth, much like a 1970s TV presenter.

The coypu have fit right in Cork – AKA Ireland’s Brazil –  with its subtropical climate, passionate footballers, lilting dialects and oppressive Catholicism. While the coypu pose no direct threat to humans, and are noted for being friendly – or as friendly as one would want to be with a giant river rat – they have caused extensive damage in other countries, devouring aquatic plants, collapsing riverbanks and generally freaking people out by virtue of the fact that they are, as already stated, giant river rats. Although if building on swamps and collapsing banks is their forte, they could always go into property development.

The important news about our newfound fauna is, of course, that they are edible. Their meat is low in cholesterol and they are bred for food markets in countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as ‘a poor man’s meat’, which is really only a negative if you consider how poor the average person in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is.

A recent upsurge in their popularity (as food, not friends) has been noted in Moscow, where a hipster restaurant has put them on the menu as burgers and hotdogs. The meat is described as being ‘somewhere’ between turkey and pork, a flavour description so vague that it is somehow less appetising than the entire concept of eating a giant river rat.

But Cork tastes are exotic. Thus, given the Rebel City’s love of tripe and drisheen washed down with Tanora and Beamish, chowing down on a massive rodent should be no bother, especially when it is cost effective. Like most city dwellers, Corkonians have a crippling addiction to dining out and overpriced coffee, leading to a state that the Japanese call Kuidaore – or to have bankrupted oneself buying good food and drink. So the next time you go wandering the banks of your own lovely Lee in pursuit of some shinrin-yoku, it might be an idea to bring some condiments with you.