The Bills have eyes

Wrote this for the Indo about the Leitrim village appealing for people to move there.

 

The idea of country living is one that resonates with us all. Deep down we all have the suspicion that urban spaces and their associated lifestyles are somehow eroding our soul. In our minds we dream of being one of the characters of Leni Riefenstahl’s mountain girl films, fleeing the corrupting wasteland of the city for a life of purity stuck up a hill with a goat. So the announcement from Kiltyclogher, a north leitrim village, that it was desperately seeking people to move there resonated with many city dwellers. The poor immobile thousands who take part in the live reenactment of the video for REM’s Everybody Hurts that is the M50 at peak times must surely drift off in their minds and think ‘I shall rise and go now to that village in Leitrim and build a wattle and daub five-bed detached mansion as there are no planning laws in the country’. But for anyone considering a move, there are some things you might want to consider.

Goodbye internet: There are degrees of country. A small town or village will offer you many of the amenities you enjoyed in the big smoke – public transport, council water/sewage schemes, street lighting so every evening walk doesn’t turn into the Blair Witch Project – without all the negatives – giant rats, hourly burglaries, increasing secularism. But then there is the country-country, out there in the dark beyond the last streetlight, and that is where things get complicated. While the city-dwelling flaneur may feel exasperation waiting in line for their frappucino or pickleback (it’s a shot of whiskey with a shot of pickle juice, obviously), nothing will ever compare to the white-hot rage caused by trying to use the internet while living in the country. A move to the country is, in broadband terms, like moving back to 2004. You used to complain about sluggish 10mb speeds, now you would sell your firstborn for something over 1mb. You’ve taken lots of nice photos of sunsets over fields but you can’t upload them because the upload speeds never go over 30kb. The sweet irony of this is that you need the internet more than ever, as your kids are now miles from their friends and you are miles from everything in the world. You feel so isolated that you almost consider switching back to the old version of the internet, Catholicism, with Bible stories instead of Snapchat ones, and hosting the Stations instead of your weekly Game Of Thrones-themed Google Hangout. Rubbish broadband isn’t the only difference from town to country, but it is the first one you will notice.

Hello vehicle: You may have felt you spent forever stuck in traffic when you lived in the city, but in the country you will spend even more time in your car, only navigating the shattered no-man’s land of potholes and subsidence that is Ireland’s secondary roads. In the city you can stroll to the shop for a pint of milk or to the pub for a pint of porter, whereas now you have to drive absolutely everywhere. You may think ‘well there’s always the bike’, but then you realise that the road is not wide enough for a bike and a car to pass each other, nor is it wide enough for a car, a milk truck, a combine harvester or a truckload of bales to pass. Incredibly, you might actually have been safer on a bike in the city, despite still facing a similar threat level to that of fighter pilots in the Second World War.

What’s that odour: The scents of the city are manifold – exhaust fumes mingled with overheating tarmac and the many flavours of vape juice being enjoyed by popcorn-lung aficionados. The country has a simpler odour – poo. In the city you come to believe that your food comes from supermarkets – in the country you are constantly reminded that food comes from the land, and that land sometimes needs nourishment in the form of poo, which was cleverly rebranded as slurry. You may feel like complaining about the smell, but remember that this is like moving in next door to a fat rendering plant and then complaining about the smell of fat being rendered. Also, the fact you now have to look after a septic tank means you don’t really feel like sitting in judgement on the poor cows. It is also why you give a sizeable-yet-shame-filled tip to the poor lads who come to drain it twice a year.

Power cuts: If the power goes out in the city, tens of thousands of people instantly start harassing the ESB to fix it. In the country you usually walk outside your house and peer across a field to your neighbour’s place to see if they have the lights on. If they don’t, you go back inside and tell everyone to stop flushing the toilet, as no power now means no water. This is because you now live in the country and own a pump and are learning the hard lesson that water is not a god-given right, but something that actually costs money. Who knew?  The biggest problem in a power-cut (apart from flushing of ‘solids’) is loss of your already patchy internet, as you now can’t even tweet about how you are basically living in Black ‘47 and no human has ever suffered as you have for the 25 minutes before the power comes back.

Céad míle suspicion: With your Dublin reg, jackeen accent and big city confidence, it will be assumed that you have moved to the country under the witness protection programme, or are just on the run from one of those drug lords with stupid nicknames, like The Marsupial, or Fathead. You think your move is going to be like Green Acres or Cider With Rosie, but your interactions with the locals will be more like the warm reception given to the war hero in Ryan’s Daughter, or the wealthy investor in The Field. Why not endear yourself to the locals by putting up signs along the road about speeding, complaining about the smell of slurry, or the noise of crow bangers, or threatening to shoot the next cow you find in your garden? That should keep the numbers down the next time you host the Stations.

Country living is not for everyone. Life is just as hectic, but in different ways, much like in Withnail & I. People are the same wherever you go, so while the notion of escaping the rat race to north Leitrim might sounds appealing, you turn your back on all the many positives that city life offers. After all, if urban living was such a nightmare, two thirds of our population wouldn’t be crowding into it.

Le quo

Nobody does formal anymore. So here’s a thing I did for the Indo on that theme:

 

The French are a stylish bunch. Perhaps it’s the tan, the teeth, the hair, but they can switch from haute couture to pret a porter with enviable ease. Just look at their First Lady.  Brigitte Macron was recently photographed casually dressed in jeans whilst deep in conversation with Bono and Rihanna at the Élysée Palace. Her bold, relaxed look shows that we have finally entered the Casual Age.

Decorum and its tedious formalities are now a thing of the past – no more will we be shackled to the kitchen table writing thank you, Christmas or birthday cards, as a casual ‘cheers’ or belated ‘like’ on Facebook now covers all. This is great news for Ireland, a nation that struggled with formality, as evidenced by Ronan O’Gara’s encounter with Queen Elizabeth II, when he suffered that social crisis of not knowing what to do with his hands, so he stuffed them in his pockets, like a disinterested car salesman who had already hit his monthly target and didn’t really want to have to talk to anyone.

So we can all relax, and undo the twine holding up our trousers a little. But what if we relax too much? How do we navigate this potential minefield of relaxed weddings, funeral selfies and tuxedo T-shirts? Let’s look:

  1. Funerals: You have lost a loved one. You are heartbroken, but this is still an opportunity for you to create some content. The general consensus is that taking selfies at funerals is probably not ok, even when your post is signed off with a touching message like ‘smdh’ (shaking my damn head) to show how grief stricken you are. Even in today’s relaxed world, leaning across a coffin with a selfie stick to try and capture grandma’s pan-stick coated death mask while you do ‘peace ‘n’ pout’ is still a no-no. Perhaps try to limit your snapping to the church steps, as you attempt to channel ‘soft grunge’ looks for your Instagram followers. But some things don’t change, so as always you don’t want to go too formal in your funeral attire here, lest you look like someone who thinks they might be getting a little taste of the estate, despite most of it being headed straight for that nursing home where grandma spent her final decades. You know, the one down the road from your house that you never visited.
  2. Weddings: Wearing jeans in the Elysee Palace is one thing, but it’s not like she was hosting a world leader, despite what Bono might claim on his CV.  Weddings are still formal events, and thus showing up to one in your best indigo jeans is improper and impractical, as once you embrace the bride your jeans will leave a Shroud Of Turin style print across her lower half. Of course, it’s entirely possible she is wearing hotpants, what with it being some sort of permanent casual Friday nowadays. Another sign of our impending social apocalypse is the rise of the wedding barbecue. No, not the one held the day after – an actual BBQ on the day, held instead of a five course banquet. Of course this sort of thing will never take off here, for even if you followed the example of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, and commissioned ten thousand terracotta statues of the child of Prague to be buried in the back garden the day before the big event, it will still absolutely hammer down rain, as this is the perfect storm for inviting rain – a barbecue on a wedding day in Ireland.
  3. Birthdays: Gone are the days of the birthday card, or even having to remember when a person’s birthday is, as Facebook has annihilated any real bonds of friendship you might have once enjoyed. Ever since MySpace allowed you to rank your top friends, your closest pals have become feuding chieftains trying to gain the succour of you, their digital warlord. Come your birthday, the automatic Facebook reminder goes out, and everyone piles in to wish you a very happy birthday, all 780 of your friends, even though you are fairly sure you actually only have two actual friends, and both of those are analog ones who send you a humorous yet highly insulting card from the other side of the world. The Facebook birthday wish is a godsend to the cheapskate – ie, most of us – as you no longer have that uncomfortable moment when you realise you should probably stick a One4All voucher for a tenner in with the card. As usual, America is the world leader in casual birthday wishes, with new chief of staff Anthony Scaramucci congratulating his estranged wife on the birth of their son via text message. America is also mastering the art of the casual goodbye, as President Trump announced that Reince Priebus – who despite his name is apparently human and not a type of neolithic crustacean – was departing office via three tweets. Hopefully when he nukes North Korea he will let us all know via DM.
  4. Introductions: When people hear this word they most likely think of Plenty Of Fish, Tinder or Grindr, but there was a time when people were introduced face to face in a formal setting rather than being introduced groin to groin in a Holiday Inn. First impressions still count –  when meeting someone for the first time, do attempt to make eye contact and attempt some sort of hand gesture, perhaps a firm handshake, limp high five or awkward fistbump. Open by asking them how they are, before launching into a probe of their online influence, platforms they use, and whether or not you can use them to leverage your brand. Remember – a stranger is just a follower you haven’t muted yet.
  5. Work: The rise of the tech start-up has shifted all the rules about how we work. Apart from the meaningless Nadsat that now makes up management speak (hey Chad, some great blue sky thinking with that ultraviolence, real horrorshow!), we no longer know what to wear to work – the seat of that Penney’s three-piece suit won’t withstand daily trips down the slide to the canteen, nor will it withstand you struggling to get out of an oversized beanbag after playing Call Of Duty during what was meant to be a business meeting. Dress like you did in college, for, much like in college, you are not being paid, but are rather subsisting on ‘start up moxy’ and Red Bull. But be warned – modern workplaces are so relaxed that it is easy to get confused. If your work compound has all sorts of perks, like on site gym, full restaurant, healthcentre, and creche, you might not be working for Apple or Google and might have accidentally joined a cult, or at least a cult that isn’t either Apple or Google.
  6. The Dail: So you have been elected to the second highest office in the land (the highest is the local GAA county board and/or parish council, obviously), and are burdened with the knowledge that our people struggled under centuries of hardship just to get to the point where we could take part in the democratic process. To honour their fight, and show respect to this high office – and fittingly high salary – that you now hold, what do you wear? Well, have you considered a sleeveless T-shirt? Possibly a faded, slightly tatty one, the sort of thing a charity shop wouldn’t take? Because our countless fenian dead would like nothing better than to see our parliament filled with people who look like Balearic rave wizards. Honour their sacrifice by dressing like a homeless shaman, despite earning three times the average industrial wage.

Brigitte Macron’s jeans may signal a relaxing of the old order, but in a very French, very stylish way. Somehow it seems unlikely that Michael D will be answering the door of the Aras in a tracksuit any time soon, or that any of us showing up to an interview in a Minions onesie will get us a job. As digital interactions supplant human ones, there is even more value to be placed on going to the trouble of writing a card, making a phone call, or just having manners. We may not need to doff the cap to all and sundry, but even in the age of informality, showing a little bit of respect will never go out of style.

Game Of Thrones, Alan Moore, Chester Bennington, Phil Collins

Last week’s column, today!

 

American Psycho is a difficult read. From its initial release more than a quarter of a century ago, it has divided readers with its jet-black satire, misogyny and violent nihilism. However, for many readers, it is the passages about Eighties pop music that can be the biggest challenge. At certain points in the novel, the protagonist directly addresses the reader with page after page of dull analysis of the music of Huey Lewis, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.

Reading A Song Of Fire And Ice, the series of books later adapted into TV juggernaut Game Of Thrones, is a little like this. Interspersed between the psychotic violence and political intrigue is a level of detail that, while enriching the realism of a book that needs sorely needs it given that it is filled with dragons, is intensely boring. Passages are given over to describing the stitching on tabards, ironwork on swords, and other details that you can’t help but feel are wasting time that could be spent reading Madame Bovary, or perhaps just reading more chapters about dragons incinerating people.  

For those who watch the show and never read the books, I quote Wildling character Ygritte — you know nothing. Nothing of the countless hours spent dragging your weary eyes through page after page of descriptive prose about the various qualities of a suit of armour, nothing of the interminable wait for the next book, and nothing of the fear that George RR Martin won’t actually finish the last two novels before, much like one of the characters in his books, he keels over dead, leaving his readers in limbo. It isn’t some elitist approach, where I tell you the books are better than the series – in fact, I would say they are at least equal. GRRM himself seems to think the same, since he has revealed the endings and major plot points of the final two as-yet-unwritten books to the producers of the TV show, which at least means that if the worst happens, we can get closure via the TV series without wading through entire chapters on needlework.

While Martin embraced the adaptations of his work, not every fantasy/sci-fi author is so open minded. Alan Moore’s sprawling graphic novels From Hell, Watchmen and V For Vendetta may have brought respect from the literary world, but their adaptations into film brought scorn from critics and, strangely enough, Moore himself. He washed his hands of many films of his work, refusing a credit and thus turning down a potential sum of several million dollars, countering that you cannot put a price on empowerment like that: To just know that as far as you are aware, you have not got a price. Moore – who has just announced he is starting work on the last chapters of his League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, part of which was also made into a really terrible film – may be a great British eccentric, but he seems to have figured out modern life’s great revelation; that money isn’t everything.

Chester Bennington’s death came as a shock. Aged just 41, the lead singer of Linkin Park had enjoyed some of the greatest success of any hard rock band in the last 20 years. On the outside, he had it all. But our idea of ‘having it all’ is largely shaped by the same capitalist nightmare that Brett Easton Ellis bloodily skewered in American Psycho – where money equals happiness. Ellis depicted a world without depth, where business cards and nouveau cuisine were all that mattered, soundtracking it with music that he found to be vacuous pop.

Little wonder then that Phil Collins was not best pleased by the inclusion of his music in the novel as a symbol of soulless commercialism, telling Q magazine: “”I didn’t read it. At the time, I just thought, ‘That’s all we need: glorifying all this crap. I’m not interested’.”

On the upside, Phil did like the film adaptation, saying that he thought it was ‘very funny’. Given that his classic track Sussudio is used in a scene where Jared Leto gets an axe buried in his head, we can probably assume he isn’t going to be releasing an album of 30 Seconds To Mars covers any time soon, or that Leto will be taking the lead role in a reboot of Buster. We live in hope.

Sportz, Dr Who, piano bars, robots

Completely lost all sense of who I am and what I am doing with this column, but here’s this anyway:

 

It’s been a busy season for us non-sports fans, as we struggled to avoid the all-encompassing maelstrom of the Lions tour. Normally we can avoid sports chat by simply explaining that we don’t have any real interest in sport, even though that usually is received with the furrowed brow and slight look of disgust that greets a statement like ‘I’m not into sports but rather do enjoy skinning live animals and making lampshades with them’.

An interest in sports is seen as vital to human existence, and especially so when the males of the species are involved. I have fond memories of going on a double date many years ago, where the other chap had obviously been told that I was not into sports, but was studying film in college. Clearly trying to find some middle ground that would normally be facilitated by sports, he spent 45 minutes talking about his favourite film; Event Horizon – a truly awful, derivative pile of space junk –  to the point where I really wished I could steer the conversation around to something less awful, like the repealing of Rule 42, or the finer points of sledging, or the Manson murders.

But big events like the Lions tour make sports chat unavoidable. You’d be there, nervously sipping from the office water cooler, when up pads a pride of Lions fans, ready to draw you into their yawning maw with the latest rumours out of the camp. Your eyes glaze over and you succumb to smiling and nodding and trying to chuckle at the right time, like one of the replicants undergoing the Voight-Kampff test in Blade Runner.

By the end of the conversation you all concur that you will be up early to watch the big game, while you secretly think ‘I will be up early for a Paw Patrol marathon with little people who will grow up as outsiders because their dad couldn’t teach them about sport’. But at least I will be able to teach them that a draw doesn’t mean everybody wins, it means nobody does. And that Event Horizon is a really terrible film.

Rejoice, people of the second city, for you are getting a piano bar. The latest addition to Cork’s nightlife will surely complement the aura of fading 1970s Americana created by the presence of about 20,000 donut shops in the city centre, whilst also bringing the je ne sais quoi of 1980s Leeson Street to the Rebel County.

Piano bars are a sort of nightclub for people who don’t like loud music, and who think waving your arms over your head whilst sitting down constitutes dancing. The venue, part of Rachel Allen’s new restaurant, will hopefully go down the same route as one of Europe’s great piano bars, the wonderfully titled Fingers Piano Bar in Edinburgh, a basement venue that welcomes you with its rich odours of urinal cake and desperation. There are few better places to enjoy an irony free singalong with Billy Joel’s classic The Piano Man, whilst also enjoying some mild frottage with a middle aged tax consultant. Fingers is the piano bar at the end of time, where it’s fin de siecle atmosphere comes off like a Graham Knuttel painting of an orgy at Mrs Dalloway’s. One can only hope that Rachel’s new venue attains this high standard of wanton sadness, or, failing that, that it offers good food in a nice atmosphere for those of us too old to go clubbing.

The announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor was roundly welcomed, with the exception of a few coots who screeched that ‘it’s DOCTOR Who, not NURSE Who’. Overall the news received a positive reaction, primarily because science fiction fans are a progressive bunch. Sure, they are reared on a diet of dystopian cityscapes where mankind stage their last stand against the dehumanising effects of technology, but they are also excited to see what the future holds, and accordingly embrace change.

Look at all the developments foreseen by sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke – everything from the cell phones, to the internet, to 3D printers. But just this week another one of his predictions – self destructive existentialist robots like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey – came true.

A shopping centre in Washington DC was faced with the grim task of fishing their new security robot out of the centre’s water feature after it threw itself in there. No cause for this bleak end has been suggested, although it’s quite possible it had to endure a double date in a piano bar where somebody assumed it would want to discuss Paul Blart Mall Cop for 45 minutes, when it just wanted to talk about the match. Or perhaps it simply couldn’t navigate steps, like one of those poor Daleks in Dr Who.

Allsuds

Somebody said something silly, so here’s this:

 

Kirsty Allsop knows a thing or two about home layouts. As the host of Location Location Location and Kirsty’s Homemade Home, she taught us all about where and how to live. So when she recently told us that having a washing machine in the kitchen was disgusting, we were a little taken aback.

Where is it meant to go we pondered; in the shed, with the dusty exercise bike and letters from ex boyfriends? Or just plonked in the garden next to the compost bin, so that when it goes into spin cycle it can roam free range around the lawn, possibly even nudging its way through the griselinia into the neighbour’s garden, only to tip over and disgorge its precious cargo of faded jocks into their coy carp pond?

Part of the confusion over where Kirsty wants us to stick the washing machine is explained by the fact that she is an aristocrat. Despite having a name that sounds like a brand of detergent, Allsop is actually the daughter of the 6th Baron Hindlip, making her the Honourable Kirsty Allsop. So while she may think we all have larders, back kitchens, ballrooms and vomitoria, her cries of ‘Let Them Eat Calgon’ have just caused confusion in this land of peasantfolk who feel blessed to have a kitchen, a living room with a giant TV in it, and, if you are very fancy, a shed with electricity.

However, there are some parts of the average household that are simply out of place in modern Ireland.

  1. The dining/ironing room: The dining room is great in theory, but in reality you eat standing over the kitchen sink, while your kids eat in their rooms, in front of the TV, or anywhere away from you, so you can’t see them blast peas out of their nostrils at each other, or feeding your terrible lasagne to the cat. Thus the dining room becomes a depository for a year’s supply of unironed clothes, and has all the class and sophistication of a cargo container loaded with fake charity collections, destined for Eastern Europe.
  2. The bidet: Now a relic of a bygone age, the bidet is not an object you stumble across all too often, unless you are buying a dilapidated starter home recently vacated by a dead person. The bidet started popping up in Irish homes in the 1970s, as the first whiff of the sexual revolution wafted across our shores. Irish people had no idea what this revolution actually entailed, but thought it best to be prepared anyway by having the cleanest arse possible, in much the same way you only wear clean jocks in case you get hit by a bus and end up in hospital. The bidet, like the toilet brush, asks more questions than it answers, and really needs its own bidet to clean itself with after use.
  3. Soft furnishing in the toilet: Again a throwback to the 1970s, when luxuriant plush synthetic fabrics were all the rage, carpet cleaners hadn’t been invented yet, and nobody really understood that the bubonic plague was being resurrected by having a carpet and velvet drapes in the toilet. Thank god for tiles and blinds, otherwise it would have been curtains for us all.
  4. The sacred heart: Sat up high in the kitchen, the sacred heart watches over your attempts at cooking, like a benevolent Mary Berry, quietly judging your collapsing souffles and crumbling marriage. Back in the olden times the sacred heart was vital for two reasons; one, Jesus needed to make sure you didn’t put too much sherry in the trifle, and two, the little flickering light was the best way to tell if there was a power cut or not. Now you know when there is a power cut because the WiFi goes and your children start talking to you for the first time in months.
  5. JFK painting: While the sacred heart keeps an eye on the kitchen, the JFK portrait is usually in the living room, as he was the patron saint of fun, so you don’t need to feel any shame having a drink and possibly attempting to flirt with an au pair beneath his squinty gaze. Morally, it’s the equivalent of having a framed picture of Dick Byrne from Glenroe in your living room.
  6. Ashtrays: Once upon a time you had to offer smokers an ashtray when they were in your home, in case they felt the urge to enjoy their delicious, obnoxious habit within the confines of your house, thereby shortening their life and damaging the health of everyone in your family, including the pug, who was struggling to breathe anyway. Now you welcome smokers to your home by making them stand outside in the icy dark, so they can get pneumonia or abducted by aliens. If you still have an ashtray in your home just for smoking guests, why not take your hospitality to the next level by offering them a tincture of laudanum or perhaps a toot on your opium pipe?
  7. Home bar: With all the drink driving legislation now making it impossible for a simple country person to have ten pints and four shorts before driving a combine harvester home whilst eating a steak at the same time, the home bar seems more and more practical. In reality, it makes you look like you have been barred from every pub in your province and thus are bitterly setting up your own pub, where you will drink mostly alone until your unclean taps give you e. Coli and you die alone, face down on a beer mat that has your own face printed on it.
  8. Entryway shoe storage: Having one of these inside your front door is a great idea, as we live in a country where, if it didn’t rain 300 days a year, we would be up to our knees in dog faeces. Every guest to your home comes with the gift of traces – or chunks – of dog turd on their shoes. However, even though you believe that the shoe rack gives your home a certain zen feel to it,  it actually makes your hall look like a poorly lit bowling alley, complete with moist insoles, lifting floorboards, and the faint odour of parmesan.  
  9. Fondue sets: Fon-don’t. A tin pot trough for government cheese or discount cooking chocolate that brings nothing to your home except mouth blisters and high cholesterol.
  10. Actual swimming pool: If it’s a medical necessity, you get a pass. Otherwise it is there solely so you can feel smug on the 12 days a year we get great weather on a weekend. The rest of the year it’s Davey Jones’s Locker for thousands of bugs and the odd rodent, unless you drain it and use it to store boxes and boxes of worthless AIB share certs.

Kirstie Allsop backtracked from her claim that washing machines in kitchens were disgusting by saying that if you had nowhere else to put them, then it was fine, which is like saying having a jacks in the kitchen is disgusting, but sher if there’s nowhere else to go then it probably makes sense. A washing machine in the kitchen isn’t a sign of sloth or an indication of a lack of food hygiene – it’s a simple necessity for most of us. Despite being an expert on location, poor Kirstie failed to notice just how out of place her comments were.

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.