Monday, 19 September 2016


                                     Learning to drive takes all the excitement out of life.

I HAVE discovered that the most effective way to tone tummy muscles, is to be the qualified driver in the car with a learner.

I sit, doing my best not to be a nervous passenger, as the eldest shudders into gear and we are suddenly motoring along the widest, quietest road we can find.

"You're doing really well," I say, when she manages not to cut out every time she slows down. "Coming to a yield sign now, so that means stop. Any time now. This side of the white line." I practise keeping my voice calm and encouraging.

By this stage, my muscles are clenched so tightly, my tummy has almost disappeared into my spine.

I have no idea what the average learner-driver age is, in other European countries. But I know, thanks to my love of American movies, that youngsters often drive to school in the US. 

Which, given the size of the country, and the vast distances people regularly have to travel, is hardly surprising.

Public Transport is tragic

But Ireland is a small country. And you would imagine that owning, or indeed knowing how to drive a car, isn't high on a young person's list of priorities. You'd be wrong.

This is largely because public transport is tragic. We happen to live in Dublin, not far from the Dublin train (DART) which runs along the coastline, from Greystones on the southside to Howth on the northside of the city.

Generally speaking, our bus service isn't bad. There's also a relatively new tram service (LUAS) which is currently being extended.

That sheer rush of adrenaline when you manage to dodge death

None of which is good. Let's face it, if public transport is alright, then why bother lacing yourself into your runners to walk to work?

Or hop on a bike to experience that sheer rush of adrenaline, when you manage to dodge death, in Ireland's totally ignored or non-existent cycle lanes?

Happily, if you live outside the major cities, your fitness levels tend to be better. Here, public transport is hit and miss. If you can't drive, you rely heavily on private bus services and the good will of family and friends with their own wheels.

Or you take to the roads as best you can. And when we say roads, we mean that literally. The Irish countryside is full of picturesque little places, unsullied by unsightly footpaths.

Which is fine, if you remember to walk in the direction of oncoming traffic and wear bright clothing.

Nothing like living on the edge

And there's usually a hedgerow where you can burrow with your bike, if the road is a bit narrow for both you and that speeding car. Nothing like living on the edge to hone those reflexes.

But here in Dublin, bus drivers are doing their bit for the health of hundreds of thousands of Dublin people, by striking right through September and October.

In fact, between now and the end of October, commuters will experience 13 more strike days. About 400,000 commuters are affected by the strikes.

Although given the fact that many will have used up all their annual leave as they can't get to work, can we call them commuters? A pedantic argument, maybe.

The drivers are striking over pay. Dublin Bus says that stoppages have cost it about €4million so far. And the department of transport (Dublin Bus is a public company) is refusing to budge.

*Meanwhile, homeless charity Focus Ireland has spent almost €20,000 on bus fares for homeless children this year, despite a government promise to pay for public transport for families in "emergency accommodation". (Irish Times, 17/9/16)

All the more reason why everyone should just walk

Which means that for the hundreds of families living in budget hotels and hostel accommodation, things are even more on the edge than before.

Tough enough for a child to get to school when they're living miles away, in a single room with their whole family. Tougher still when there's no public transport running that day. But at least the difficulties in getting there become academic.

Which makes the argument for rising early and walking instead, all the more compelling. What's five miles when you're a child? Or ten miles when you're a nurse or a factory worker or a mechanic or a teacher?

And for the lazy, there's always the option to drive. If you're lucky enough to own a car. If you've managed to pay for all those driving lessons. And passed your test. And can afford the insurance, tax and petrol.

Details, right?

The eldest is in her early 20s. She saved for her own lessons and car insurance. She practices in the family car.

She's one of the lucky ones.

As for her parents, we'll just have to continue walking for the fun of it. For the whole fitness thing, you know?

And resign ourselves to those ugly footpaths. No living on the edge (should that be walking on the edge?) for us.

But you can't have everything.


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Monday, 5 September 2016


              Cats' eyes: prepare to be hypnotised to perform random acts of kindness.

THERE are three cats sitting on my doorstep when I stumble down to breakfast during one of the last days of summer. 

They are peering into the kitchen, making cat noises and looking lost.

I stop and stare at them. They stare right back. Strange, I think. Very strange. I don't have three cats. In fact, I don't even have one cat.

Yet here they are.
       'Who owns the cats?' I ask nobody in particular.

       'Yeah, forgot to tell you about that. They were doing a three-for-two at the local cat shop.' The middle child is deadpan.

"You can't come of us has a cat allergy."
Hilarious. I look at them a bit more closely. I recognise two: they belong to a neighbour. The third is a huge tabby. No collar. I'm not sure I've seen it before.

       'I'll have some breakfast. Maybe they'll just go away.'

       'Maybe they'd like some breakfast too.'
       'Maybe they'd like to catch their own. Like one of those smaller, recent visitors to our garden. The one that rhymes with cat.'
       'You're so mean, Mum.'

After my oatmeal, I go to inspect the doorstep. The neighbour's cats are gone. The tabby is still there. I open the door slightly and he (I've decided it looks like a he) sticks his nose in.

       'Sorry, you can't come in. One of us has a cat allergy. And you'll have to move, because I need to hang out the washing.'

       'Mum, who are you talking to?'
       'Er, the cat.'

I manage to get past him, but as soon as I step into the garden, he starts to rub up against my legs. I almost fall over. Clearly, this is a domestic cat. He's also a persistent one.

But most importantly, he's also lame. He's walking with a limp.

Of course! I mentally smack my forehead. The tabby is stuck in my high-walled, tree-lined back garden. He obviously got hurt and now can't get home. I finish the laundry, carefully scoop him up and bring him out to the front garden.
       'There you go. So, er, off you go home now.' I make an expansive arm gesture. The cat looks around and then looks at me. Like I've just killed his mother.

I go back into the kitchen and stutter to a halt.

Confused, I close the door. Ten minutes later, I open the front door again. The cat is nowhere to be seen. I walk out and hunker down to look under the car.

Not there either. He's obviously on his way home, I think. I congratulate myself. I've never had anything to do with cats, but it's such a good feeling knowing I've helped one in distress.

I go back to the kitchen and stutter to a halt. The tabby is sitting on the doorstep again.
       'Well you're obviously capable of jumping walls!'
       'You talking to the cat again, Mum?'
       'Look up the website for the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will you?'

As the middle child searches for the site, I try to ignore the piteous noises coming from the cat. I phone my mother.
       'Whatever you do, don't feed it. It'll expect you to feed it forever,' she says.
       'Right, thanks.' I put down the phone and meet his green eyes. They're hypnotic. In a minute it'll have me thinking that he lives here, and the person with the cat allergy will just have to move out.

They can be lactose intolerant.
       'Oh this is ridiculous, he's clearly starving.' Although he doesn't look starving. He actually looks quite well fed. A minor detail. I pour him a saucer of milk and put it outside the door. The cat gets stuck in.
       'Never give stray cats milk. They can be lactose intolerant,' says the middle child.
       'What?? Where did you hear that?'
       'It's on this website.'
       'Oh God, what have I done? I've probably killed the cat.'

She scrolls down.
       'No, that won't kill it, you're fine.'

Whew! And while I'm at it, since when are cats lactose intolerant? That's like saying Santa Claus is lactose intolerant. Everyone knows the man loves milk!
       'You should leave out a saucer of water.'
       'Right.' To make up for the dairy mistake, I pour a whole container of water. The cat looks unimpressed.

Later that evening, I smuggle out some more food to him. Proper cat food this time.
       'What'll you do if he's still there in the morning, Mum?'
I sigh.
       'I'll have to bring him to the local vet. He'll be able to see if he's chipped.'

The night is warm and soon the cat disappears to do whatever cats do at night. 
When I come down the following morning, there's no sign of him.
I refill the container with fresh water.

Just in case.


A warm hello from Dublin,

And a huge thanks for dropping by to read today's column. Please leave a comment: I look forward to chatting.

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Monday, 22 August 2016

#Life, the #Universe and my Attic.

                               Beware of decluttering: sometimes it's just about moving the mess.

QUESTION: How much can you cram into your attic before your upstairs ceiling falls down?
ANSWER:    I hope I never find out the answer to this question.

It's that time again. Summer is almost over. The new academic year looms. In my house, September is a new beginning.

Which means Autumn cleaning. More to the point, August decluttering.
I stand in the playroom and look around, feeling helpless.

It's a feeling I get every time I enter. Because it's the one room in the house that's impossible to tidy. Impossible to declutter.

Toys can be passed on...ever try to declutter books?

The fact that the offspring put away their toys a long time ago - the room houses hundreds and hundreds of books, a computer, a piano and some chairs - makes no difference.

If anything, it makes things more difficult. Toys can be passed on to younger cousins, friends' children.

Ever try to declutter books?

So, I do what I always do in this situation. I issue a general warning about throwing out anything I find on the floor. My children cheerfully ignore it. And I make a silent promise to myself to try not to go in there for another few weeks.

But there is a certain satisfaction that comes only from getting rid of stuff. Like an itch that needs to be scratched.

Grimly, I head upstairs, pull the ladder down from the attic and climb into the rafters.

How on earth do I still have baby clothes?

Not for the first time, I curse our decision to partially floor this space when we first moved in. The roof's eaves are high enough that a person can stand in the middle of the room.

All around me are dusty shelves and cupboards, bags and boxes, filled with Christmas decorations and baby clothes. How on earth do I still have baby clothes? I passed everything on to friends.

I delve into the nearest bag and unearth a tiny, hand-knit sweater. The stuff I could never bear to give away. In a box, I find old records: Duran Duran, Elvis, The Clash. A mad mix of a couple's past. 

There are more suitcases than one family could ever possibly need. At least one has a broken handle. Why didn't I throw it out?

From the landing below, there's noise and chatter. Then: "Are you okay up there?"

I reach down and grab the new memories.

I feel like answering no. I'm definitely not okay. I want to transport everything to the nearest charity depot. I want to throw all the rubbish into a massive skip.

"Yeah, fine."
     "You don't sound fine."
"No, just having a look, you know."
     "So, I've been clearing out my room and I've got a couple of bags here."
"Great! I'll be down now."
     "It's okay, I'll pass them up to you."
"You're not getting rid of them?"
     "I can't. I have to hold on to this stuff. I just don't have room here. Sure there's tons of space in the attic, isn't there?"

I look around.
"Yeah, pass it up."

I reach down and grab the new memories. School diaries and yearbooks spill from the top of the bag. I put them back and close it as best I can. There doesn't seem to be any more room on the floor. So I put them on top of the growing pile.

Disheartened, I climb back down the ladder. Before anything else can find its way to a new home right above our heads, I push it back into the attic and close the door.

The middle child beams at me.
     "Look at my room! I've cleared two shelves!"
"The two bags?"

She nods. I smile and go downstairs. There's half a lifetime of stuff in that attic.

But today is not the day to throw it out.


A lovely big hello from Dublin,

And a huge thanks for dropping by today. Please feel free to leave a comment - I look forward to chatting.

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Monday, 8 August 2016


           Advertising: The product matters less than the idea that happiness can be bought. 

THERE'S an ad on Irish radio at the moment, which annoys me so much when I hear it, I have to turn off the radio immediately. 

The ad isn't the most obviously annoying one doing the rounds. It's not loud, or garish, it's not delivered in a fake foreign accent (aargh!) and it doesn't demand that you get to a particular shop RIGHT NOW or EVERYTHING WILL BE GONE.

Instead, it's pitched at a particular niche. A modulated, middle-class female voice kicks off mid-sentence, as if you've just stumbled upon her rather annoying conversation with herself.

The ad, like all ads, tries to sell happiness.

She lists some of the wonderful (expensive) items that you can buy in this store, and intersperses with mad little things about the season and the weather and all the delightful things you can be doing when you've re-mortgaged your house to buy out half the shop.

In other words, the ad, like all ads, admittedly, tries to sell a lifestyle, an idea. It tries to sell happiness!

What makes it more annoying than other ads, though, is how coy it is about it all. There's a certain part of me that can almost handle loud, pushy product advertising. "Buy this now, or be a complete loser for life."

This one however, is all about subtlety and seduction and soothing tones.

It has, unfortunately, the opposite effect on me. I hear it and think, God, we've really lost the run of ourselves. Or words to that effect. This is a family-friendly site!

There's another ad a bit like it. This time, delivered in a chocolate-smooth-with-just-a-hint-of-roughness-around-the-edges male voice. It goes a bit like this: "You've always dreamt of owning this car. Now is the time."

If they were really big, then they were massive.
Hello? The time for what? To borrow to the hilt in order to buy something, that's going to instantly depreciate by thousands, the second you drive out of the forecourt? Trust me when I tell you this is an ad for a luxury marque. I mean, why else would you dream of it?

And am I the only one who's never, ever dreamt about a car?

But back to shops. It isn't that long ago, that shops in this country were just that: shops. They were not stores. Even the big ones weren't stores. They were just, well, big shops. If they were really big, then they were massive.

The word massive, of course, has a couple of meanings in Dublin.
        "Ah missus, your skirt is only massive," actually means "your skirt is quite lovely." But I digress.

In big shops (the sort where Santa Claus would establish his grotto every December, long before malls, and Santa popping up just about everywhere) there were departments. Women's clothes would be one department, children's toys would be get the idea.

Now there are department stores with franchises. Loads more choice. And you can find nothing.

But it hardly matters. Because shopping - like the ads that entice us in to these stores - has nothing to do with buying what you actually need or even want.

It's about creating an experience, a feel-good factor, a smile on your face when your wallet is empty and your arms are heavy with stuff you'll never use.

I've fallen into the trap often enough myself. I have a white Summer dress hanging in my wardrobe. The sort of dress you buy when you are twenty and tanned. And wonderfully thin. It even has bikini straps.

I bought it in a rush of happiness and complete and utter self-delusion.

I've never worn it. Mainly because it is the same colour as my skin. Not a good look.

But I can't bring myself to throw it out, because I only bought it a few years ago, in Spain. It was hanging outside a cute shop, full of artfully-arranged, eclectic, beautiful things. I bought it in a rush of happiness and complete and utter self-delusion.

The practical side of me has decided I might dye it. Although then, it'll probably just be a blue dress with bikini straps hanging in my wardrobe. Mocking me.

Meanwhile, the best stuff is never advertised. I don't mean walks on the beach or hanging out with friends.

When was the last time you heard an ad for a playground? Or an art gallery? Or a library?

Do retailers only advertise things we don't need?

But surely that's a cynical step too far. I mean, who doesn't want happiness?

Or picnic blankets? Or storm lanterns? Or silk flowers? Or scented candles? Or a new sofa? Or throw cushions?

Actually, I quite like throw cushions....and storm lanterns.

That's it. I'm just never turning on the damned radio again.

Hi there,
Many thanks for dropping by today. Please feel free to leave a comment - I look forward to chatting.

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Monday, 25 July 2016


                              Getting around in Ireland: Be prepared for interesting directions.

ARE YOU PLANNING on coming to Ireland this year? Then prepare yourself for slight possibility that you may never leave.

The reason has nothing to do with our charming cailíní or wonderful old pubs.

It's because when you're driving around Ireland, you'll find yourself having to ask for directions. Surely that's the normal way of things, I hear you say. Ah yes, but if you've never heard an Irish person give directions, you're in for a rare treat.
Tourist: "Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to (insert wherever it is you're hoping to go!)"
           Local: "Ah now, I could direct you to there no bother, but you're starting from the wrong place."
           Tourist: "Right, so where do I need to start?"
            Local: "Arragh, from the right place of course. Where was it you started? You need to go back to where you were, and start again."

Unreadable place names

It doesn't help that our signposts still leave a lot to be desired - and even when they're there, you won't be able to read any of them.

Why? Because we have some of the most unpronounceable place names in the whole of Europe.

Picture yourself on the beautiful West coast of Ireland. Perhaps you're visiting Galway, the famous City of the Tribes. And you've heard that Muckanaderawlia (bear with me) is a lovely little village to visit in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region).

Except when you get there, how do you know? The signpost reads Muckanagherderdauhlia. It happens to be the longest place name in Ireland.

Worse, if you get talking to the locals, they might use the Irish, Muiceanach idir Dhá Sháile, which translates literally as 'Pig-shaped hill between two seas.'

In case you were wondering, like.

It isn't even the funniest of our place names, though. And there's a few in the running for that particular accolade.

Newtwopothouse grows the best grass in Ireland

Nobber, for example. It's in County Meath, and it comes from the Irish 'an obair', meaning 'the work.'

Cockhill Road, Stamullen is another Meath example. It's up there with Shercok, a town in County Cavan, and Kilcock, in County Kildare.

Not to mention the unfortunately named Muff in County Donegal. Apparently, the name comes from a mispronunciation of the Irish 'Magh', meaning plain.

Then there's Newtwopothouse in Mallow, County Cork, which is, wait for it, famous for growing the best grass in Ireland. The normal sort. Enjoyed by sheep and cows.

They're not all long names, of course. Some of my favourite are Inch and Ovens, both in Cork and Camp in County Kerry.

For the religious, there's Rosary Road and Lourdes Road

Dublin place names are just as mad. We have Lazer Lane, Lad Lane and Coke Lane. (Would I make this up?)

And as a stark reminder of our colonised past, there's Protestant Row and Little Britain Street.

In times gone past, we would also have been a hugely religious country. Why else would we have proudly named streets Rosary Road, Ave Maria Road and Lourdes Road.

On the flip side are slightly more violent names like Kill (County Kildare), Swords (Dublin) and Kilbrittain, County Cork.

Another thing to remember as you're motoring around our little country, is that the signpost will have the Irish name on top, the English underneath. Bear in mind that how you pronounce it, won't compare with how it's actually pronounced, and you'll save yourself frustrating conversations with the locals.

However much you might be tempted however, do not rely on Sat-Nav. During one of our recent 'snows' - don't get me started on how the country grinds to a halt when there's a few flurries - some visitors were driving through the Dublin mountains.

Mindful that Dublin people themselves, get lost in those Dublin hills, they were relying on Sat-Nav.

It was all going beautifully until they found themselves in the famous Sally Gap, unable to move because they were snowed in.

Luckily, they were just about able to get a signal on their mobile phone.

The motto of this story? Never trust Sat-Nav. Or signposts. Or directions from the locals.

Best thing really is an open-ended ticket.

That way you can just leave when you eventually find your own way.

Go n'éirigh on bóthar leat.*


*Old Irish expression literally translated as May the road rise with you, but simply meaning: Good Luck.

Dear reader,
Huge thanks for visiting today. 

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As a bonus for July, the Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type is just HALF PRICE on Smashwords. So you can download it in ANY FORMAT onto ANY E-READER. Enjoy. <3

Have a wonderful week,
Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,

Monday, 11 July 2016


                                    Ice-cream: It's a long way from chocolate cones we were reared.

ICECREAM has become a matter of hot debate in recent years in this country.

No doubt, it all began with the Celtic Tiger. The big cat began to roar, and even the more modest of us, had money for the daftest of things.

A second home in Croatia still a bit out of reach? Never mind, we could still afford to splash out on highly over-rated, over-priced, artisan brown bread ice-cream.

No kidding. Brown bread ice-cream became a thing for a while. It probably still is. Goodness knows who dreamt it up.

Then came the crash. And suddenly we all started to rediscover HB ice-cream. It was good enough for us when we were growing up, and we were happy to realise that it still was.

That said, once we'd tasted wonderfully crazy, American ice-cream (cookie dough, really??), posh Italian gelato and our own Murphy's salted ice-cream, there was no way to make our high-brow taste buds forget.

But Pistachio is not the only flavour. And the iconic HB is once again having its moment in the sun.

Ice-cream was for the Summer and the sun

Of course, unlike now, when we've managed to rebrand ice cream for every possible occasion, ice cream, back in the day, was for the sun. 

The huge HB factory in Dublin, wasn't too far from where I lived. To a child, it had a Willy-Wonka appeal. Groups of kids would hang around the gates, hoping workers would appear with free samples. 

Apart from the pre-wrapped ice-creams and ice-pops (popsicles) in the local newsagent, we could buy slices of vanilla ice-cream, cut from a block, and sandwiched between wafers.

The thickness of the slice didn't only depend on how much change was in your pocket, but on the generous eye of the woman behind the counter.

Home-made Irish 'milkshakes'

When the weather got really hot, penny-watching parents bought a pint block and a big bottle of lemonade. Taylor Keith, or TK red lemonade was a firm favourite in our house.

Irish 'milkshakes' were made by putting a slice of ice-cream into a tumbler of lemonade. The fizzy combination of sugar, milk and cream defined a Summer's day.

I give it a nostalgic mention, only to be met by horrified stares from the offspring. One of them recently discovered frozen yoghurt. There's no going back. 

So, if you are in Ireland this Summer, and you want to find the best ice-cream our little country has to offer here's the Irish Mirror Top 10 Ice-Cream Parlours.

Meanwhile, one type of ice-cream is as popular today as ever. At the first hint of warmer weather, we start to queue outside traditional ice-cream shops and roadside vans for the much-loved "99".

Machine made, soft-whip with a stick of Cadburys Flake in the top. Sophisticated it isn't.

And all the sweeter for it.

Hi there,
Huge thanks for visiting today. I'd especially love to hear what you're doing this Summer. Please leave a comment below and I promise to reply.

If you enjoyed my column, please feel free to share it (check those cute little buttons below).

Why not follow THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE via Email? (See the Follow by Email box to the right of this post).

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No spamming - I promise.

As a bonus for July, the Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type is just HALF PRICE on Smashwords. So you can download it in ANY FORMAT onto ANY E-READER. Enjoy. <3

Have a wonderful week,
Thanks again for reading,
Hugs & xx,

Monday, 27 June 2016


                                      Al Fresco dining: our European neighbours have this nailed.

SOMEBODY is drilling right beneath my window as I wake, ridiculously early, on Saturday morning.

Which couldn't be right. It's a Saturday, after all. And this is suburbia. A quiet, little village by the sea, no less.

I revise my thoughts. I was out last night. How could I have done this to myself? No more sparkling water for me. Ever.

So, not that either. I stumble from the bed and over to the window. The noise is coming from next door: our neighbour is strimming. It doesn't go on for long. Within half an hour, everything that can be, has been strimmed, and he has moved on to mowing. I throw the covers over my head and count daisies as I drift...

Give us a bit of sustained sun and we lose the run of ourselves

It's only to be expected, of course. Give us a bit of sustained sun on this island, and we lose the run of ourselves. A bit like offering limitless sweets to a child.   

Because we never know when we'll see the next bit of sun. So it doesn't matter that it's 8 0'clock on a Saturday morning. If those hedges need strimming, by God they'll be strimmed. It could rain in an hour! And even if the sun pops out again later, you know you'll only have half an hour to barbeque.

It's only when we've had about a week of tee-shirt weather, that we start getting notions. We've seen enough Italians scoffing their spaghetti and Spaniards polishing off their paella, al-fresco, to crave posh outdoor living too.

Never mind that there isn't actually any room on our pavements to bring our cafes and restaurants outdoors. If the French can do it, why not us?

What we forget, is that when our European neighbours take to the streets, it's all very ordered. As you sip your café au lait on a Parisian boulevard, the most you'll ever have to do, is tuck your Louboutin-clad feet out of the way for Madame de Vichy and her petit poodle.

Cappuccino with extra marshmallows

But try quaffing your cappuccino with extra marshmallows in Dublin, and you'll find yourself at the wrong end of an irate mother with a double buggy, an older child hanging on to one side, and their Labrador tied to the other.

Pubs are a different matter entirely. Even in Winter, special occasions like matches demand that we stand outside, pint glass in hand, saluting passers by. On a sunny evening in our village, it's quite normal to see locals cooling off outside the pub, stools pulled up to old fashioned oak barrels. Lobster coloured limbs.

It's not the only difference. No matter how hot the weather gets in France, you won't see French kids ditch their Dior to jump into the Seine.

Whereas every time the temperatures hit the teens on this island, Irish children the length and breadth of the country strip off and terrify the local wildlife, as they cool down in the local rivers and canals.

Garden parties also take on a whole new meaning. Forget croquet, boules or strawberries and cream. The only garden parties I've been well, party to this year, have involved Larry the clown and his audience of twenty shrieking nine year old girls.

And the all-day barbeque where every song that U2 ever recorded, was played. All day long.

Neighbours - sharing the music and laughter and even the shouting

I wasn't at either of them. But in a way, we all were. All the neighbours, sharing the music and the laughter and even the shouting.

Mow daisies while the sun shines. Slap a bit of sunscreen on that pale skin. Buy some ice cream. Play some music.

Bain taitneamh as an Samhradh.* Vive la difference.


*Irish for: Enjoy the Summer.

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Monday, 13 June 2016


                           The Leaving Cert: Arguably the most difficult exam you'll ever sit.

THE 2016 IRISH State exams began last week. Tens of thousands of our youngsters are currently into week two of one of the most daunting exams they will ever have to sit.

But whatever about sitting the Junior Cert at the tender age of 15, the Leaving Cert a few years later, is far more terrifying. I know, because I once sat it. Eons ago.

Worst. Exam. Ever. 

It kicks off with English. Two papers of essay writing, poetry, comparative studies, comprehensions, Shakespeare... After the English, it was all downhill for me.

The low point was the maths. You know the type of thing:

Question: If it takes one man ten days to dig a hole, and the first day he digs out one metre of dirt, and that increases twofold each remaining day, how much dirt will he dig altogether? 
Answer: What sort of fecking eejit is he, digging that hole by himself?

A group of Irish comedians put together a
wonderful sketch recently, poking some good natured fun at the types of Leaving Cert student.

The finding-yourself-naked-in-front-of-a-roomful-of-people dream.

Meanwhile, the vast bulk of our little nation's 17 and 18 year olds have two more weeks of exams. Two more weeks of last minute swotting, hoping that the topics they've studied will appear on the papers. But nothing is predictable.

Except the Leaving Cert Weather, obviously. No sooner do the secondary schools finish up for the summer, and our exam students gear up for the state exams, than grey drizzle gives way to blue skies and temperatures soar.

I remember the weather during my own Leaving Cert. It was about the best part of it. 

Because to this day, no matter how I try to suppress those memories, they surface regularly in the form of anxiety dreams. The one where you're just about to start your exams, and you haven't studied. At all. It's right up there with the finding-yourself-naked-in-front-of-a-roomful-of-people dream.

But back to the Leaving Cert. I had friends who never saw daylight for months approaching the exams. I clearly remember sprawling on a blanket in the garden, text books in front of me, sunlight and shadow playing across the page, as I sipped my orange squash.

How I ever got into college, remains to this day, a complete mystery.

Joking aside, when the results come out later in the Summer, and the points race begins for college places (points equals places) emotions will run high. Many will be disappointed. Why? The points race is supply and demand. And in a country with the youngest population in Europe, we have too little of one, and too much of the other.

The most important bit of advice is: fill it out. Followed by: send it in.

In Ireland, the Leaving Cert is a topic of much media interest and speculation, year after year. It begins months before the actual exam, when newspapers are sold on the strength of their exam supplements.

Later on, comes the 'How-to-fill-out-your-CAO (Central Application Form) supplement'. The most important piece of advice is: fill it out. Followed by: send it in. You'd be amazed. It's a stressful time.

What truly astonishes me, however, is that just as the Leaving Cert is about to kick off, one of our biggest national newspapers recruits up to half a dozen youngsters to keep an 'Exam Diary': a column that runs daily in the paper right throughout the exams.

Where do these kids get the time, the energy or the damned interest to write a newspaper column during their Leaving Certs? Either they're incredibly well organised, or they're absolute geniuses. I am in awe.

I am also quietly grateful. Eons on, I am grateful that it is not me who has to face that awful exam. And this time next year, most of this year's crop will be grateful too.

What they should remember, is that no matter how dreadful it is, there are lots of options once it's over. And sometimes not getting our number one choice, proves better in the long run.  

I wish all them all clear minds, excellent memories and lots of success.


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Monday, 30 May 2016


                                             Wanna be an extra in something? Move to Ireland!

THERE'S a lot of movie work for men in Dublin right now. Bearded, long-haired guys with bulging biceps and tattoos. The sort you might be a bit nervous about meeting, on your way home from a night out.

Which makes them perfect as extras for the new series of Vikings, currently being shot in Ireland. 

The Irish-Canadian production is into Season 4 and seems to be as popular as ever. Doubtless, it's a huge success abroad. As for us, when we're not enjoying the blood, sweat and naughty bits, we're busily pointing out the up-and-coming actors we sort of know: 'that fellah there, he's Annie's friend's nephew', or determinedly recognising every hill and waterfall in any given scene. 

Hollywood-scale movie studio

Meanwhile, there are advanced-stage plans to build a 180,000 square foot Hollywood scale movie studio, on Dublin's East coast. Apparently the new studios would allow for at least three large-scale productions to be filmed at the same time. Even Bono is lobbying for it, so it's looking good.

The whole thing is going to have a huge knock-on effect, of course. And I'm not about to waffle about the economy, because let's face it, what would I know?

We used to think highly of banking as a profession
I'm talking about the one resource we have in plenty in this little country: our kids. To be blunt, all this Hollywood movie stuff is turning their heads. No longer do they want to be engineers or nurses or accountants. Way too boring! They all want to be movie stars.

The reason I know this, is because such news travels very quickly on the parent grapevine.
          'He's so good at science and maths, and he's so bright. I thought he'd be a brilliant doctor. But no, he wants to be the next Will Ferrell,' one mother told me recently. Her son is only 10, so his aspirations, in fairness, may change.

That's another thing about Irish mothers. We all believe our children are very bright. If they're not getting 'A's on all their school tests, we tend to think they're not working hard enough.
          'Ah she's very bright, but she can be a bit lazy.' But I digress.

Another mum enrolled her three children in one of the big drama schools and signed them to an agency for ads and 'bit' work. She's hoping they'll all work it out of their systems.

Although acting might not be considered the most reliable of careers, most of us in this country used to think very highly of banking as a profession. And look how that turned out!

We'll need mansions with swimming pools. Indoor ones, obviously.
And we forget that for a tiny country, we've produced a not unreasonable number of Hollywood actors over the decades. We don't know about the rest of the world, but we're all very relieved when we hear authentic Irish accents replace the 'stage-Orish' of many an old Hollywood movie. No offence.  

In recent years, even I can see the seduction for youngsters. Given a choice between spending their summer holiday behind a shop till, or hanging out on a film set, charging around in bits of fur and war paint, chances are high they'll embrace their inner Viking and celebrate their fifteen seconds of fame.

However, whatever about the prospect of longer lines at the till when we're buying all that sunscreen and salad for the
Irish Summer, it's the long-term outcome that worries me. 

When Hollywood finally realises that the smart thing to do is to relocate permanently to Ireland, we're going to need a proper infrastructure. Like mansions with swimming pools. Indoor ones, obviously. Let's keep it real here.

We'll also need people to put everything in place for the stars. And maintain them. Builders and electricians, hairdressers and beauty therapists, teachers for their kids (Irish teachers can pronounce any mad name an actor inflicts on their offspring, because most Irish kids already have unpronounceable names). And let's not forget doctors, dentists and lawyers. If we're to believe everything we read about actors, we'll need a lot of those.

The problem is, we won't have enough of those wonderful people anymore. Because instead of swotting the books, they'll be treading the boards. The next generation will be swopping science for Shakespeare, overalls for period costume. Why? Because Ireland is now the hottest place to be for aspiring actors and mega TV series.

In fact, if I fancy a change in direction, I might just check out some of those castings myself. Who knows, I might yet manage to land a part, playing 'astonished observer of Clooney's getaway' or 'fifth-lady-in-waiting to Anne Hathaway'.

A bit like going to a party without the booze: you know a lot of the people and you stand around and chat.

What's not to like?

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Monday, 16 May 2016


                                        Summer's here: Drop everything and make the most of it.

THE Irish Summer has officially arrived. And there's not a hint of irony in that statement.

In this part of the world, The Irish Summer is a thing. People talk about it in shops while they're queuing to buy their sausages for the barbeque.
     'It's to clear later on, is what I've heard. About a quarter past five, that rain is going to pass over completely. You'll have about half an hour then to cook all that stuff on the barbeque, but don't even bother cleaning off the patio table. You'll be eating inside.'

We did think that it had arrived about two weeks ago. But in fact, it only lasted a day. People went a bit mad. One radio broadcaster even reported that a little café in a Dublin seaside town closed unexpectedly. The hastily-scrawled sign on the door read: Gone to the beach.

You'll never get a straight answer from an Irish person

We never actually say that we're having a bad Summer, of course. Unless we're really having a bad Summer. Like the year where it rained steadily almost every single day for two months. Parents of young children spent the school holidays in the cinemas and shopping centres. Parents of teenagers almost had nervous breakdowns. Either way, it proved an expensive monsoon.

Mostly, we use euphemisms to describe our weather. We like to tell people that our climate is temperate. That's actually a word we're all taught in school, and our meteorologists throw around a lot. It means that there's no extremes.

We're never going to be dying of a heat wave in July, no more than we're going to have snow for months on end during the Winter.

Because we're all so used to this half-hearted weather, you'll never get a straight answer from an Irish person about the Irish weather.
     'The wife and I are thinking about coming over to your gorgeous country next May. What will the weather be like?' I heard an American man ask an Irish woman in an airport queue last year. From the woman's accent, I knew she was from Cork. They tend to get slightly better weather down there.
     'Where would you be thinking of going?' she asked.

There was a slight pause, and then the reply.
     'Well, we're planning to see the whole country. We'll have four days.'
     'You'll hardly see the whole of Ireland in four days, but usually the South-East gets better weather than the rest of the country. Although if you're up in Donegal, or out on the islands, and you get a bit of sun, you could be anywhere.'

The Irish Summer is always "middlin"

Two things. First, any Irish person will look at you as if you've grown another head, if you announce that you're going to see the whole of Ireland in four days.
Second, The Irish Summer is always middlin'. We're very cagey. God forbid that we'd lead you astray.
Prospective tourist: 'What sort of weather did you have in Ireland last Summer?'
Native: 'Middlin'.'

When pushed, we might be persuaded to say 'middlin' good' or 'middlin' bad'.
You will, of course, be left none the wiser.

So, here's the truth. If you're thinking of coming to Ireland this Summer, on any given day, you'll need the following:
1. Waterproof shoes.
2. Sandals.
3. Rain jacket and umbrella.
4. Sunglasses and possibly sunhat.
5. Warm fleeces.
6. T-shirts, shorts & sunscreen.

We don't, however, boast 40 shades of green for no reason. The weather service here is affectionately known as "Wet Éireann." This was Irish reporter Teresa Mannion's recent water-cooler moment.*

But right now, on Monday, May 16, the sun is shining. The sky is blue. Irish people the country over, are dusting off last year's sombreros, and exposing blue-white limbs.

The land of shivering saints and freckles beckons.

See you on the beach.

* Credit: RTE News.

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