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.

Scarla Poochie, Iceland flights, oasis reunion, adam clayton

Somehow I still have a weekly column in the Indo. My folks would be proud and probably slightly ashamed, as they usually were.

 

I haven’t had the most glittering career, but I am comforted by the fact that while I may not have scaled the giddy heights of high office, at least I’m not Anthony Scarramuchi. The Mooch, a modern day Icarus (or possibly Dickarus), apparently flew too close to the giant orange orb currently occupying the Oval Office. He spent a mere ten days as White House comms director, during which time he actually managed to be even more zany than his predecessor, Sean ‘Spicey’ Spicer.

Looking like a Mafiosa version of Steve Guttenberg, Mooch’s lack of understanding of the role became apparent just a few days in when he gave what he claims was not an interview with the New Yorker, in which he ranted in the style of Scarface’s Tony Montana about killing leakers and how Steve Bannon attempts to fellate himself. It is presumed it was a metaphor, as Bannon doesn’t look like he could tie his own shoes.  

The question now is, who will they get to replace him? The world waits with baited breath to see what deranged goon President Caligula hires next to oversee America’s steady descent into madness. I hear OJ Simpson might be available soon.

The news that WOW Air are suspending their Cork-Iceland flights came as sad news, although hardly surprising. Why would you want to go there when you can have all its benefits in our beloved capital city, Dublin. Marvel at nine euro pints, gasp at the Northern Lights of O’Connell Street as you stumble back to your hotel at 3am, and be enthralled by ancient geysers blowing hot air about Dublin’s superiority in the GAA. You can even bring back a memento of your trip with a tasteful bag for life full of traditional Icelandic party food, as recommended by Peter Andre and Kerry Katona. Sher where would you be going.

The will-they/won’t-they saga that is the possible Oasis reunion drags on, to the point where you have to say that surely it is time to let it go. Some moments are best left in the past, as evidenced by my friends who went to the Guns N Roses reunion gig in Slane. Twenty years ago they didn’t have a care in the world, crowdsurfing and moshing like there was no tomorrow. This time round they complained about site access and wait times, as infrastructure and well planned logistics became more important than chugging pints and forming human pyramids. The message was clear: Rocking out is great, but so is lying on a sofa eating nachos watching Love Island.

By the time I’m 57 I plan on having an empty nest. My youngest child will have turned 18 and I plan on drop kicking them into an unforgiving world and turning my house into an Air BnB or possibly a cannabis grow house, depending on which is more tax efficient. It was a thought that crossed my mind when I heard that Adam Clayton and his wife had a baby. Clayton is perfect dad material, as through his time with U2 he has learned how to deal with youngsters (Larry), how wrapping up warm and wearing a wooly hat is important in all weather (Edge) and how to deliver a long, tedious lecture about personal responsibility to disinterest teenagers (Bono).

I often see my role in my house as being like the bass player in a rock band – my wife is the vocalist (obviously), my feral sons are like Animal from the Muppets on drums, while my teenage daughter is on lead guitar, performing screeching solos any time anyone tries to get her to keep time. I’m just there in the background, dum-de-dumming away quietly, apart from the occasional prog-rock style solo when electronics are left on overnight. Despite my less than stellar role in the family, I think that this period of my life is my Joshua Tree, when I am my best self. I’m sure that despite my idle thoughts of the bliss of an empty nest, come the time I will be desperately trying to get the band back together and roll out the classics, like The Time Dad Thought He Had Broken His Arm In The Waterpark And It Turned Out To Just Be A Bruise, or Dad’s Attempt At Lasagna Makes Everyone Sick. Hopefully they will want to get back together, even once or twice a year, and they don’t sue me for royalties for turning them into fodder for a column.

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.

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.