A week is a long time in travel.
Even as the dust settled over last week's leader's debate, and before the minor interesting news that Louis Theroux was Nick Clegg's fag at Westminster, an Icelandic volcano decided to erupt, causing travel chaos across Europe.
We know people who are stuck in the UK, unable to get home to Canada, people that are stuck in Portugal, unable to get home to Edinburgh.
I've just heard that the couple at work who got married at the weekend are coming back in to work later this week, as they can't get away on holiday. Two of the guests from their wedding are due to be staying in our flat in Ireland for a few days - but only if Mr Twinky can get across to change the bed, check the flat and get the keys to them.
It's looking likely that he won't be able to go, although they might take a ferry. That will be... fun...
Armageddon days are here. Again.
Bullying is a tough one. Oh yes it is. It's absurdly tough to define, for a kick off. Clearly there's an element of intimidation in there, there's possibly a repetition, possibly an element of premeditation and cruelty.
My problem with most definitions of bullying is that they're not objective - they are almost entirely defined by the victim of the bullying. I feel bullied, therefore you are a bully - regardless of what you intended to do.
I think of a situation in a previous job, where one of my colleagues was convinced that she was being victimised by a senior manager, and so looked for signs of him bullying her and used each of them as a reason to build her case - regardless of whether his actions were intentional or accidental, or in some cases innocent. An external observer, on the other hand, might have seen her building a whispering campaign, attempting to undermine him, and almost an obsession with finding ways to destroy his career. In the end, I would be hard pressed to say which of them was bullying the other.
My own experiences of bullying are rather different. I was bullied at school, and a couple of times at work. At school, there was a strange symbiosis. I was clearly the victim of bullying, but it was relatively minor and my bullies almost sought my complicity in the bullying. I could talk to them, in some cases befriending them as the bullying continued and dissolved. I've found myself wondering if the bullying wasn't, perhaps, looking for attention or even affection.
At work, I was only ever bullied by women, which is interesting in itself. There were various reasons for it, but usually it started because I failed to jump at their request on one or more occasion - and this led to a few lengthy campaigns against me, one of which caused me stress-related illness in my 20s. In all cases, there was very little I could have done to avoid the bullying, but I think that the interesting thing is that it was triggered. It was almost like I didn't jump once, and then they decided to systematically destroy me. And the most annoying thing is that I took it. I couldn't confront it because then I would be as bad as them, so I took it, worked around it and eventually walked away from it. I think I reasoned that workplace bullying is incredibly hard to prove, and that I would have a tougher time handling it.
Bullying is insidious, guerrilla conflict. It is the smile and the stick. The bully needs the victim, and sometimes the victim needs the bully.
Are you the sort of person that spends all day worrying? Bills to pay? That perfect present to buy?
Do you find yourself constantly wishing there were more hours in the day, as your "to do list" gets ever longer, and you find yourself frozen in to inactivity.
I know this feeling, my friends. We all do at some point. I like to call it "listlessness". Not because that's the real meaning of the word, you understand, but because I've been on so many motivational courses and stuff that I really need to redefine words rather than use perfectly good ones. Fantastic.
Anyway, I found a way to get rid of that worry about inactivity, that listlessness if you will. It was when I realised that no matter what was on my list, absolutely none of it actually mattered! Yes, on the day that the alien terrorists invaded I finally got my life sorted out!
How cool is that?
The flip-flop is an appropriate shoe for a beach, or ideally for a short walk to a beach, where it can be slipped off and concealed. It is not a city shoe. This is why.
Top ten abbreviations found in Personal Ads.
The people who live across the car park from us are mainly students. They've mainly got flats with small balconies, upon which they leave their rubbish. In fine weather, their doors are often open, and we can hear their music and smell their comedy cooking efforts.
The people who live across the road live in tiny houses. They've all got kids, and the kids have nowhere to play but the street, and their favourite games seem to involve ringing our doorbells and then running away.
These people piss me off.
After all, I should have the right to live in my comfortable home without anybody else's lifestyle impinging on mine, shouldn't I? I may not be English, but surely my home is my castle. Et cetera and so on yah yah yah never mind rant bugger.
The streets of Dublin are full of beggars. Ample Eastern European Women, in brightly coloured dressed, a child perched on their hip and a polystyrene cup in one hand. Well dressed children sitting on the ground under cash machines. Ocassionally, a Big Issue seller. The brightly tabarded volunteers who wave clip boards in your face and get paid for every signature they get on their emotional blackmailing list. It's easy not to care about them either.
I know that I have absolutely no right to feel this way. The world is full of people born in to different environments, different regimes and different sets of rules. This isn't their fault, and it isn't my fault. It's just the way things happen.
But the accident of birth is just that - an accident. As I've grown up I've learned that there are many fundamental differences between the way people in different parts of the world think, or are taught to think. The world is full of imperialists, of separatists, of irreconcilable faiths and bizarre racial stereotypes. But at the individual level we are more alike than we are different, and in a real sense I believe that we are all brothers (and if you're being pedantic, sisters).
I'm lucky enough to live in a developed country. I live in a comfortable apartment, and at the end of the day when I close the door the rest of the world pretty much ceases to exist. I'm lucky enough to know that I am bloody lucky. I'm lucky enough to be able to relish diversity, to embrace it, and not to feel threatened by it. Every time I'm annoyed by ambient noise, I try to be grateful for the fact that we've got a really good Chinese restaurant around the corner from us. I genuinely try to see every problem with society as an opportunity for society to evolve, and I wish I could encourage others to do the same. I recognise the fact that I may dislike the people who play loud music over the car park, but that doesn't mean that everyone who lives beyond my doors is an arrogant self-centred piece of shit.
I'm lucky enough to live in a developed society, but it's not my own society. I'm a legal immigrant, an economic migrant working in a multicultural office in a multicultural society. Good for me.
This morning, I saw two small feral children walking to School. I'd put their ages at eight and ten, although they could have been anywhere from four to thirty-seven.
Our route takes us along a long lane, which only has pavement on one side. The lane is narrow, and has casrs parked all the way along it. There is just enough room for a car to pass through the free space. The feral children were walking along the road towards oncoming traffic, kicking cans and generally obstructing traffic.
Younger feral child was a cheery thing, and ran ahead, giggling. His companion was the spawn of the devil himself, a ratkin of a child whose sneer spoke of decades of torment and loathing.
In a few years time, he will start smoking, and the years will drop off him and suddenly he will look eighty years old and satan will perch on his shoulder, glaring through his eyes and pulling his teeth in to strange new geometries. Which is nice.
At home, a stack of videos is building. Thoughts and fancies picked up, considered, noted, and then forgotten. Entertainment that enticed when it was advertised and anticipated doesn't grabthe attention without the glitz. The obsession's in the chasing and not the apprehending - the pursuit, you see, and never the arrest.
She's sitting in a corner, but not a dark one. It's the one where she can watch the door, see who's coming in to the pub. She's got a glass of water, maybe, and she grips it with both hands. It's a small barrier, but it's not her only one. She's hunched up, almost in to a ball. She wants the world to keep away. The world doesn't disappoint her.
She's made an effort, though, that much is clear. She's got lipstick on, and her hair is brushed in to shape, although it wouldn't be fair to call it styled. Her mouth is small, her lips tight, and her nose turns up slightly at the end. She's wearing a blouse, tight over her breasts. It's a flimsy lacy thing and the dark shapes of her nipples are visible through it. Her skirt is cut above the knee, in a simple black cotton. Below it, her legs are bare, and her shoes are red.
She is not pretty. Her legs are bruised, her hands are calloused. She looks exhausted, and her face only breaks into something that might be a smile when someone new enters the pub. For a moment, perhaps, it could be him. But it never is.
We watch her. We're trying not to, of course, because we don't want her to notice us. We want to be wallpaper. She doesn't see us, because we're not important to her. Her nail varnish is applied patchily, on bitten fingernails and bitten toenails. She has a bruise on her knee. The plastic bag on the floor beside her is stuffed with clothing.
Suddenly, I realise that she can't be older than fifteen.
She's not waiting for her boyfriend.
She's not waiting for a blind date.
She's not a working girl.
She's alone, though, she's definitely lost herself somewhere along the way.
She finishes her drink, picks up her bag, and strides out, storm clouds around her. Out of the pub, out of my life. Her future is not good.
I finish my beer and turn back to my friends.
If you're a human being, the chances are that at some point you'll get in to correspondence with a large company about something fairly straightforward. It'll be something that they deal with every day, and something that - probably because there are forms involved - you can't do over the phone.
Beware. You are stepping in to a minefield, and one that good people have spilled (metaphorical) blood over. You're getting a 'Standard Letter™'.
The thing about Standard Letters™ is that they're not read by anyone before you. They're generated by a computer, and computers are stupid. So the computers are carefully herded together and trained by people who train computers based on specifications by people who know what they're talking about. People who know what they're talking about are stupid too.
Virtually everyone in the company will have seen the Standard Letter™. Everyone will have an opinion. All opinions will differ.
Someone in Customer Service will like the phrase "In order to expedite your application, you should complete and sign the attached pro-forma and return it to us at XXXX." People in Customer Service areas love wordy shit like that. That's because they think it makes them sound efficient and business-like, and that's going to impress you. To be fair, though, it's only junior staff members who feel like that. The senior members of staff have all been on courses to learn about Plain English, but they never look at Standard Letters™ until right at the end of the process (if at all), because they're far too busy having meetings, briefings, and lunches.
Someone in Marketing will take one look at the Customer Service proposal and panic. Probably because they see the word expedite and have to reach for the dictionary. They'll suggest replacing it with something like "If you want to apply for the exclusive Pandrop™ MisterCard, just fill in the form and send it back to us using the reply-paid envelope today!" This is better, I suppose. It adds a bit of salesmanship to the whole thing, mentions the product name, sells the exclusivity, and adds an exclamation mark, which can only be a good thing, surely?
Legal won't like that, though. They'll question a couple of things. Mainly the words "exclusive", "form" and "today", which they would want backup for. Who do we exclude? How do we exclude them? Is there a footnote? Where is the form that is referred to? What happens if they send the form tomorrow? The new version of the sentence will read "If you want to apply for the Pandrop™ MisterCard, please fill in the attached form and return it to us using the reply-paid envelope to reach us no later than [insert date here]."
The programmers wade in. They don't like [insert date here]. They don't care what the words in the Standard Letter™ are, but as soon as there's something in the Standard Letter™ that means that they have to test things, and that takes time, costs money, and gives them scope to make mistakes. They don't like that. They suggest replacing [insert date here] with "two weeks from the date at the top of this letter". Someone screams, someone has a nervous breakdown, and someone suggests setting up a working group or having a meeting.
Eventually, the letter is in a form where it's satisfactory, although nobody is entirely happy with it. Customer Service think it's making them look dumb. Legal think it's open to challenge. Marketing think it's under-selling stuff. The whole thing goes to the customer, who scrunches it up and throws it in the bin.
Warning: Certain people may find this story to be in poor taste. However, it's true.
For the first time in ages, everyone in the office went out for a drink together. This was supposed to be a motivational thing, so management went for the full credit-card-behind-the-bar treatment, and their staff got merrily happy as a result, and overdosed on fried goods from greasy platters.
The venue for the evening was Davy Byrne's, in the basement of the Conrad hotel. For those of you who don't know it, it's wirth cgiving a description. The main part of the bar is, as I mentioned, in the basement. There's a section of the bar that is slightly raised - up a couple of shallow steps, and this opens out on to a concrete patio, and the patio is accessible from the main street. All of this is important, so that's why I'm bothering telling you so.
It was an evening of lighthearted debate, where we discussed such topics as the difference between "This Friday" and "Next Friday" and "Friday Week", or whether or not Tuam is a city, or even whether it was possible to take an immediate and permanent dislike to someone. Happy banter. As the evening wore on, the lightweights departed, and we dwindled from four rambunctious tables of roistabouts to two single tables of reprobates. At one table, civilised human beings, at another, salesmen.
The doors slammed open, and in came a group of people who parked themselves at a table next to us. The bar was pretty much empty, but these people decided to sit right next to us. Perhaps it was because of the joy of our auras, perhaps it was because they were all rollingly drunk, and perhaps it was because two of them were in wheelchairs. I suspect a combination of these points.
One of the people in a wheelchair was especially drunk. She was drunk, and she was singing. She was drunk in the way that you never really want to see a woman being drunk, hugging everyone, telling them that she loved them and they were her best friend, belching, and singing "Danny Boy". That kind of drunk. The sort of drunk that a spinster aunt might get at a family wedding when she sees the childhood sweetheart that she hasn't seen for twenty years. He's been through two divorces, has four children by five different women, he's got two more chins than the last time she saw him, and has gone up three belt sizes, but she's all over him, pawing, in the hope that maybe - just maybe - some of the passion that she felt when she was seventeen (and he never felt) might be rekindled, and then she throws up. On his shoes. But I digress.
After the third round of fecking Danny fecking Boy, I'd realised that I had taken an immediate and permanent dislike to her. But obviously I wasn't hugely bothered by her, as I still pulled my chair in so that she could get past, and let her roll past, and turn to go down in to the main part of the bar.
I don't know if she was going to get a drink, or going to the bathroom. I don't know if she realised the steps were there, or if she thought that she was tough enough to handle them. I just know I heard a THUD. Flat on her face, chair on top of her, blood everywhere, and lots of people rushing around. Ambulance within five minutes, and the blood cleared away within ten. Back to normal, back to bickering.
There is a moral to this, somewhere, and if I squint hard enough, I can just about see it. It's probably something about the litigious culture here in Ireland. She could sue the bar for not marking the stairs clearly, or for letting her drink when she was already clearly heavily intoxicated. That's kind of scary. Or maybe the moral is about being drunk in-charge of a vehicle, and how lcuky it was that she only injured herself. Or perhaps it's a lesson to me to be careful who I take an instant and permanent dislike to, because of the risk of feeling a little guilty if something bad then happens to them.
Or maybe it's just the image of it. There's something almost graceful about it...
Once upon a time, junk e-mail was probably a good idea.
Now, I don't mean it was a good idea for the recipient - it would have been a right royal pain in the arse for the bulk of recipients, but it's got a lot of benefit for the company sending out all the spam -
Of course, it's now expanded to the stage where e-mail is virtually useless as a result. I operate three e-mail accounts at the moment, and emptied them six hours ago. Since then I've got 21 mails in the box that's completely devoted to junk, 5 mails in the box that contains a mix of junk and copies of comments on this site, and one in my actual live inbox. And that's a test message from myself. I used to get much more mail than I do at the moment, but I couldn't really cope with much more than I get now. But I'm digressing.
I tend to digress fairly regularly. There's probably some psychological reason for this. But that is another digression.
My point was: Legitimate bulk-email has expanded to the point at which it has ceased to have any value for the sender, as the recipient is now armed with a huge array of avoidance tactics. Any bulk-email that evades these tactics must have resorted to some sort of underhanded trick, and is therefore going to damage the reputation of the sender. This wouldn't be an issue for pornographers and drug-peddlers, but would be an issue for, say, a charity.
Charities, however, have shot themselves in the foot in a very similar way. By 'Charities' here, I'm referring to a couple of them, but in the main I mean 'Charity X'.
Charity X is an Irish charity, formerly known as "Africa Charity X". Presumably in an effort to extend their global reach, and to reach a wider audience they dropped "Africa" in 1971. They're also active in the UK, but I don't know if they're as irritating there as they are in Ireland.
Their irritation comes in two forms - neither of which is unique to Charity X.
Firstly, there's the television advertising. Tear-jerking adverts with a soft voice over (presumably a Nun), and ending with a suggested regular donation. "For just Twelve Euro a month, you can help eighty-five people a day have running water, their eyesight, central heating and you can keep a dog in bones and marrowbone jelly", or words to that effect. Completely undermines the guilt-tripping by pinning it down to hard numbers. They don't want you to give what you can any more. They want your bank details so they can set up a direct debit.
Now I know why they do this. Absolutely. Presumably, For every nine people like me who vow never to give them a penny, there is probably one granny picking up the phone and reading out her pin number. Presumably it works, because they keep on showing the adverts. It's emotional blackmail, though, right down to a price on the emotional ransom note.
The second irritation is posting half a dozen people with clip boards at one of Dublin's busiest junctions every Saturday. You can spot them from half a block away. Blue tabards, fake grins, jostling for space with the people who want to give away free samples of some product that makes you stop smoking instantly, a junior orchestra playing simple arrangements of church classics, four urchins yelling out Irish ditties, the bloke that makes flowers out of wire, the dancing leprechaun conmen, four horses and associated carriages, two hundred motorbikes, a man painted silver standing very very still, a string quartet and twenty-thousand shoppers, all trying to get in to Habitat before the rain starts.
And they jump out at you, vying for your charity donations, along with the Russian women with their babies dangling from their hips, the drunkards looking for a few pence towards their next can of lager, and your good old-fashioned, traditional Big Issue seller. And you try to be polite to them, but every time they push that clipboard towards you, you feel less inclined to give them any money. Ever.
Certainly you'd never want to give them your name and address. I feel harrassed enough by these people without giving them my name and address as well.
As ever, I feel kind of sympathetic towards the individual collectors. It can't be a great job, can't pay well, and they can't see it as a career, or even necessarily something they believe in. But they are the human equivalent of email spam. And while we all have psychological barriers in place that allow us to walk down the street without stopping and giving money to absolutely everyone who asks for it, their continual bombardment leaves me more inclined to give my money to someone else.
Twilight falls over South Central Dublin. Turning the corner from Harcourt Street I see a figure at the far end of the lane darting in to a doorway. I only glimpse him for a second, but I recognise his lanky frame. It's him. My early evening dinner date.
I walk past the restaurant, uncertain of where the doorway actually is. I peer inside, hoping for a glimpse of him, so I can walk in with confidence, say to the waiter 'It's okay, I'm with him', and take my seat without losing face. But I can't see in. I take a deep breath and push open the door. A blast of warmth hits me, and my glasses mist over instantly. I barely notice the waiter as I am ushered to my seat and presented with a laminated menu.
Conversation is simple - "How was your mum?", "How was work?", "What else did you do this afternoon?", and the food is actually pretty good. Despite what one might expect, Dublin's not that great for seafood restaurants, with most places only having one or two unimaginative dishes alongside their steaks and chicken and pork. Behind me, the world happens.
An English couple in their fifties or sixties, with a girl who can't be more than eight. She calls them her grandparents, and we have no reason to suspect otherwise. They're all on holiday, clearly, as they treat themselves to exotic food - steak and chips for the grandparents, just chips for the girl. She pulls faces at my companion, and turns down orange squash because the chemicals in it make her hyper. Instead she has fresh orange juice, and claws awkwardly at the pulp. She likes the chips, though. Her grandfather steps outside for a smoke, and then returns to the table and rolls up three new cigarettes, slowly and methodically.
Two women rush in, out of the rain. One older than the other, but they seem to be friends rather than mother and daughter. They flap an umbrella, and walk it through the restaurant, dripping on the flagstones. The waiter turns down the lights - it's getting darker outside and the restaurant is changing mood for the evening crowd.
There's a fuss behind me. The older woman has rushed out of the restaurant, and is standing outside. At first I think she's gone for a smoke, but she shows no sign of lighting up. She's facing away from me, and seems to be gasping for breath. Or crying. Her companion is apologising profusely to the waiter, who clearly knows more than I do about what is happening - he's helping her with her coats and umbrella, and saying that he quite understands. The woman outside is upset. The woman inside is concerned, and slightly disappointed. The rain has slowed to a drizzle.
A man rushes in, gives the waiter money, rushes out again. We keep our heads down, eat our fish, drink our coffee. We stay calm while all around us, life happens, busy and crazy, fragmented and beautiful and joyfully heartbreaking.
I'm picking up some cream yesterday afternoon, for the pasta that we were going to have for dinner but didn't, when a small lady pushes past me in the queue at the convenience store.
"Sunday People," she says. "It's for the convent."
The guy behind the counter checks that is all she's taking, but lets her go. No money exchanges hands.
"Do they have an account with you?" I ask him.
"Not so far as I know," he says. "I've always been too scared to ask her for money."
Now remember, kids, you may accidentally trip over a nun anywhere, on any day of the week. Nuns are out and about in the streets on Monday to Saturday. They're not just Sunday people.
In this way, there is only one brand of mayonnaise. Others try to be like it, and fail. Most resemble the excruciatingly unpleasant "Salad Cream", which has cherry tomatoes everywhere gently rolling across plates to avoid it.
The only real competitor to Hellman's in the mayonnaise stakes is home made. I'm a great believer in home made produce. Jams taste better. Home made honey is fantastic. Chutneys are more diverse and imaginative. Mayonnaise, however, is only ever almost as good as Hellman's. Hellman's is like real mayonnaise, but better. Even the low fat version's good.
However, if it squirts out of a sandwich on to your crotch at lunch time, it's a real bugger to get out. Especially if you don't notice it for half an hour. Apparently.
Sunday morning, in the newsagent. I've put down my paper, my carton of fruit juice and our two bars of chocolate for our Sunday night treat, and I'm pushed out of the way by a tiny missile woman.
She can't be taller than four foot six (54 inches, 137cm), she is blunt and explosive. I couldn't tell you what age she is, except she's at least sixty, possibly ninety. Her face is deeply lined, and her hair is thin and dark - it's hard to tell where her hair line is, or to make out the lips around the wrinkle that I'm guessing is her mouth. She pushes me aside and I stagger slightly, and she throws twenty euro at the cashier.
- Ten Silk Cut. I'm in a hurry.
The cashier obviously knows her, from the way he's smiling at her. He takes her twenty, gives her the cigarettes, and rings the purchase through the till. She starts opening the cellophane as soon as she's got her hands on the cigarettes, her hands shaking with age, infirmity and anticipation.
- I'm in a hurry - she repeats - I don't want my sister to find out I've been smoking.
Her change arrives, and she grabs it with one of her claws. The cashier rings up my purchases again. She's managed to tear off one piece of cellophane, which she throws down on to my newspaper, as though she's disgusted with it. She mutters an obscenity.
I don't know why she's shaking. Is it the fear of discovery, the excitement of the illicit, or the fact that she's done this too many times before. I don't understand her at all - on the one hand she has the balls to push in to the queue, regardless of the fact that I am taller and heavier than she is, and she has no idea how I might react. On the other hand, she is clearly in fear of her sister, who I imagine as a slightly smaller, greyer version of herself - but with a machine gun. Desperation, perhaps?
She still hasn't finished unwrapping her illicit tobacco. I pick up the newspaper, the juice, and our two bars of chocolate for our Sunday night treat, and leave.
My boss is moving house today. This means that he's out of the office today. So far he's only called me once.
He had a really bad day yesterday. He was on a high at lunch time, but by five, some of the basic assumptions on which he had built his optimism had come crashing down around his chubby little ears. I took pity on him, and helped him out. We were both working late last night.
But when I left, I left work behind me. I knew that I could go home, unwind, and watch endless programmes about houses.
I ended up watching Bargain Hunt, which came from a street in Dublin that's just up the road from me here, but that's another story. And the Miller's Tale starring Billie Piper as a shite singer married to a man old enough to be her father. That's another other story.
Boss, however, was squirming. On the phone to Mrs Boss, who was understandably nervous about the move.
- No, Mrs Boss, I have had a really bad day.
- No, it's really not like that. It's not my fault, it's just things that have happened.
- No, I'm not trying to ruin the move.
Excuse me? Ruin the move?
I thought moving house was supposed to be one of the most stressful events that a human could endure. Up there with dropping the soap in the school showers and trying to get a haircut at Tony'n'Guy. Marginally more enjoyable than getting your crotch waxed by a stocky hirsute gentleman dressed mainly in leather and answering to the name "Sir".
In other words, the sort of thing that you only normally put yourself through if you have to.
It appears to be different here in Ireland, though. Here, the leprechauns help you move.
The night before you're due to move, they turn up in droves. Some come in little green jalopies, some crawl out from behind the sofa - which, to be fair, is where you left them. They sprinkle their magic dust on your eyes as you sleep, to ensure that your slumber is undisturbed. Then, as your bog standard leprechaun is only an average of six inches tall, they use their time honoured transformation technique involving stimulation of the blood flow through acupressure to make themselves bigger. Once they're big enough, they wrap all of your furniture and stuff with brown paper and push it up a rainbow, before letting it slide gently down the other side and into more or less the right position in your new home.
At least, that's what I was told.
Following yesterday's disturbing revelations about the interactions of certain medications, I took a different route home.
You probably don't know Dublin that well, but like any city of a certain age, it's divided in to areas that used to be villages in their own right. Every year, incidentally, these villages compete against each other in a horse race around Meeting House Square, but that is a different story for a different time. Last night I chose to walk home through no-man's land. They call this no-man's land the Muesli Belt.
Too far out of the centre to count as the centre, not far West enough to count as the Liberties, not far South enough to be Portobello. It is the area with no name, just some terraced houses, an interior design shop for no obvious reason, and a building supplies shop, of which more later. It's a sleepy area, with relatively few smashed-up cars, and a preponderance of snails, both regular and homeless (I'm informed that these are sometimes called slugs). A leafy few streets, with plenty of trees with low hanging branches, perfect for picking up spiders and insects from, deliberately or otherwise.
Verb. To return, to come back, to return to a previous state.
Pet hate of the day.
Working, as I do, in a glorious institution full of pomposity, this is a word that I see abused more often than I like. E-mails forwarded to me often have the following 'sentence' typed at the top.
Please revert to Xander Harris (or whoever) by close of business
Putting aside the fact that 'close of business' or 'COB' means any time between five and seven, I am physically incapable of doing this. Usually, I substitute the word 'reply' or 'respond', which is superficially similar, but means something very different.
Sometimes, I would even 'get back to' someone's e-mail. But if I did so, I would have to acknowledge that in doing so, I was using a colloquialism.
We went back to basics.
We went back to the board with a new proposal.
We went back to the Zoo and fed the animals.
Most of the time, I relish the english language with its fluidity and ability to evolve. But some of the time, its abusers annoy me intensely.
Let's start with the first good thing about the trip to Barcelona. An armpit.
I can't remember which flight it was - there were so many, after all. I can't remember the name on the badge of the flight attendant involved. But it was British Airways, he was possibly Spanish, and he was wearing a short sleeved shirt. Every time he reached overhead, be it to close a locker, or to indicate which way to panic in the event of an emergency, I got a glimpse.
Up the sleeve.
Into the hairy hollow of his arm pit.
I think I've mentioned before, but I find the sight of a gentleman's armpit to be uncannily arousing. A stolen glimpse even more so. And it's not a desire thing. I had no urge to bury my face in it and inhale, for instance. No whim to tickle him irrepresibly. Not even a thought of smearing him all over with honey and leaving him staked out in the desert.
But nonetheless... armpits. Very, very odd.
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
Oscar Wilde, here pictured on a rock, should not be confused with the actor 'Wilde Oscar', who together with his wife makes specialist entertainment for consenting viewers above a certain age.
How can you tell them apart?
Oscar Wilde: Long hair, more likely to say 'The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.'
Wilde Oscar: Short hair, more likely to say 'Yeah, oh yeah.'
Once, in the fair country, there lived a beautiful princess, called Izod. She wasn't particularly proud of her name, thinking it was probably a corruption of either 'Iseult' or 'Isolde' or both, and she much preferred those names. She lived in a chapel in the fair country, with her parents. Confounding expectation her parents (Diarmuid and Aoife) were both her natural parents, neither was wicked at all, and they all got on rather well.
On the day of her sixteenth birthday, she had a brief moment when she thought that she ought to indulge in some sort of argument with her mother, something that was a concrete representation of her entry into womanhood, and ideally involving a handsome prince with a big chopper. But then the moment passed. And anyway, she didn't like the idea of using red shoes as a metaphor for menstruation, because she thought that was tacky.
A year or so later, she and her mother decided to go shopping. This being the fair country, there was a limited range of shops available to them. For fine armour, you could go to the field of smiths, for instance. For diamonds and jewellery, you could go to the wrath mines. For high end consumer goods, one could visit strangely brown Thomas. Who was strangely brown. But princess Izod and her mother decided to go to Arnotts. It was to be their undoing.
As they were making their way back to Izod's chapel, they paused for a moment, by the bank of the river of life. And, as they sat on the bench that had been placed there - probably by some well meaning troll - they were converted into bronze, for no readily obvious reason.
After all, this was the fair country in a time of innocence and marvels. I suspect that this sort of thing used to happen all the time.
One of the highlight of the St Patrick's Day long weekend was the French Market. Or, as it might be called, the festival of ignorance.
It was embarrassing. Really embarassing. The market itself was great, of course. Some fantastic cheeses, breads and sausages on sale, and mustards and herbs that gave the air a distinctly European scent to it. And no matter where you looked, queues at the stalls. And also Irish people cheerfully ignoring the queues. Barging in merrily. Grabbing the produce that they wanted, squeezing it, returning it to the display. And where there were free samples, elbowing each other out of the way to get to them. Ah, happy memories of my rugby playing days (I think there were two rugby playing days in total before I was sent off for ignoring the game altogether and chatting with my mate).
The highpoint of the market came just as we were leaving, though. A lone woman, with a pram, with a board on top of it, and a heap of bananas on top of that. A local entrepeneur. Class.
Shaved heads are all the rage these days.
Well, technically, they were all the rage a while ago, and these days you're not really 'in' unless you've got something that looks somewhere between David Beckham, Fran Healey, Gareth Gates and Animal from the Muppet Show. But I digress.
There are two distinct types of shaved heads. There are chaps who have shaved their heads because they're thinning, or receding, or have some reason that they can't grow a full head of hair. And there are chaps who could have a full head of hair but don't because they choose not to.
The two are quite distinct in my mind, and you can tell which camp a man falls in to by leaving him a few days and checking the pattern of his stubble all over. If he's got a bald patch, then he's shaving to hide it. If he doesn't, then he's shaving for effect.
Interestingly, I find that one looks sexier than the other.
The Mathematical Bridge in Cambridge was built in 1749 by James Essex the Younger to the design of William Etheridge. It has subsequently been rebuilt to the same design in 1866 and 1905.
Newton had nothing to do with it, it's fastened together with nuts and bolts, and was never built without nails. It remains charming and unusual, however.
Well, that's the old myths debunked.
The Adelaide Road Condom has gone.
Perhaps it was cleaned up by Dublin City Council. Perhaps it finally decomposed. Perhaps it was salvaged for nutritional value by some shaggy-bearded vagrant, or an ample Eastern European woman with a small child nestled precariously on her jutting hip. Perhaps it was run over by a large van driving along the pavement, as is all too common along Adelaide Road these days. We may never know.
In a synchronous move, the light has gone out on the top of the Dublin Spike. Once jutting into the night sky, almost indistiguishable from a large crane. Now, little more than a danger to low flying helicopters. How things change.
Hopefully, though, it's only the temporary light. And hopefully, the permanent light will be more resilient. And on the day that they turn on the permanent light, I will celebrate in my own way. By leaving a soiled condom on Adelaide Road.
I noted two things on the way in to work this morning. One was that the Dublin Spire is clearly visible from Harrington Street, looking for all the world like a very thin radio mast. When it's formally launched they will take off the flashing red light that they have at the top, and it will glow majestically. Until something flies into it, or it's vandalised, or it just falls over of its own accord.
The other is, of course, the Adelaide Road Condom.
A small landmark, but one that I have noted every day for around six months now. Once a proud remnant of a moment of passion, filled with potential, this rubber remnant lies on top of a small square grille in the pavement. As time I have passed, it has aged badly - assailed by the elements, it has grown thin, but still recognisable. A small reminder of passion, even on they greyest morning.
And this morning - as I passed by, ready to give my best conspiratorial nod - a major change. The landscape of Adelaide Road has changed completely. It's moved about an inch to the West.
The forgotten erotic region. The wiggle in the walk. Hair hell.
The top of the leg... just below the crotch. Where the skin is thin, and sensitive to the touch. Where a gentle caress can be incredibly arousing, where the tip of a tongue can send tremors through the body.
Often forgotten about, this particular erogenous zone is causing me a few problems.
The short curly hairs on my right thigh have decided that they really want to be knotted to the short curly hairs on my left thigh. This usually happens when I am walking along the street, leading me to change my walk from a manly swagger to a more effete, tight-buttocked mince. While this perhaps led to more admiring looks from the young men at the bus stop on Harrington Street, it's not a comfortable feeling.
And there's only one way to resolve this problem.
It's not the fourth of July, but another year has gone by. And, as ever at this time of year, I am forced to think about wastes of gunpowder.
From the beginning of October, I have been acutely aware of fireworks. From the beautiful, well organised variety, down to the hand held variety, thrown by local youths at passing cars since October (skangers wi' bangers, apparently). I've wondered at the wisdom of celebrating bonfire night in Ireland, and I've found myself thinking 'what a good thing it is that I am not a dog of a nervous disposition'.
You see, when I was a kid, we had to keep our dog that we didn't own indoors on the 5th of November, and that was it. No other time. Certainly, you could be quite comfortable that if you heard explosions on Christmas Eve that it wasn't the people in the house two doors away setting off fireworks at ten at night. After all, that's just silly. And probably dangerous, given that they seemed to be shooting into the air, falling down, and exploding directly outside our window.
I mean, weeks ago, it was ages away, and now it is virtually upon me, and I'm completely disorganimated about it.
Every year it's at the same time on the same date, and some years I am oganimated, and some years I am completely flamboobled by it. This is a flambooble year. I'm so much at sixes and nines, that it has stunted my vocabulary.
Ufcawss, it's never quite that simple. I have a shiny new keyboard and mouse that I bought for myself, so I know that at least I've been looked after.
Next year, Christmas planning starts in June.
Stupid stupid stupid.
Tesco's John Burry said: "The potential market for our sandwich is enormous. You only have to think of how huge the ring-tone market is. There's no doubt many people will in future choose sandwiches for their music, as well as their filling."
Oh dear oh dear oh dear.
Oddverse's Skurvie Lepe said: "The ring-tone on a telephone serves a purpose. A ring-tone on a sandwich is just annoying. And if it's really annoying, it will mean companies banning musical sandwiches from the workplace"
What's a guy to do?
A few months ago, it seemed like everyone else was splitting up, or was moaning about their singledom. Relationships were rocky, and the end of the world was nigh. I'm not talking about myself here, obviously.
But over the last month or so, the tone of my inbound e-mail has changed. Life is suddenly full of prospects and promise. Love, apparently, is in the air. December is the month when good boys get themselves someone to hug for Christmas.
I'm not pretending that everyone I know is in a happy relationship. But birds are suddenly appearing, here and there.
Sometimes, I hate the lack of inflection in the written word.
I have the audacity to think myself something of a wordsmith, one who can craft sentences, turn them from the free-flowing rant into calm and clarity. Words can create images, can stir ideas that can never be captured on canvas or celluloid. At the heart of language is this dichotomy - a picture is worth a thousand words, but a word can capture ideas that can never be expressed.
All of us, every day, transform thought in to language. We dream in colour.
Much can get lost between the mind and the lips, the pen, the keyboard. Meaning fails, the listener understands something other than that which was intended. Meaning changes, sometimes in small ways, sometimes radically.
The lack of inflection, the lack of the tone that fixes the meaning of the words, sometimes more than the words themselves do, can lead to unintended confusion, anger, admiration, love.
There's no inflection here. There is no clarity. This is just one more link in a giant game of chinese whispers - silent, but nonetheless furious.
Out of this chaos comes understanding.
I'll be quick here, because I'm doing this from a pay-as-you-go Terminal at City Airport, and I'm short on cash unless I go and buy a book on How To Be A Corporate Citizen, or the other sort of rot that they sell here.
I flew in. I got a taxi to 'the city', and admired the beautiful, vacant curio that is the dome. I really admired the pineapple. And then I went to the office, where I admired the security guard. I know, I know...
And then, to get back to the airport, I took my first trip on the Docklands Light Railway. Like a rollercoaster, only less so.
For the first time, I found myself wishing that I lived in London. There were so many people on that train that I could have written about, if only I had followed them for another stop or two. The tired Japanese man in the suit. The two shaven-headed russians, with the big bags. The muslim woman who was looking at me, half curious, half smiling.
Benedic, Domine, nobis et donis tuis quae ex largitate tua sumus sumpturi; et concede ut, ab iis salubriter enutriti, tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus, per Jesum Christum dominum nostrum; mensae caelestis nos participes facias, Rex aeternae gloriae.
I was on an escalator, while shopping at lunch time. I remembered the smile on his face the last time that I had seen him. I was filled with the warm glow, the familiar realisation that not only did I love him, but he loved me. There was that 'wow' moment, and yes... I just called him to say I loved him. It was cheesy, and it was spontaneous. Ever done anything similar?
I once had a small, but easily treatable parasite infestation. There was no sign of infestation, but I knew that someone had picked it up from me. While feeling really, really guilty about this, I was chatted up in a bar by someone relatively attractive, but who came across as a bit arrogant and shallow. What should I have done?
Boxers or briefs?
On Saturday mornings, I love to eat eggs. This is a new discovery. Having grown up on a regular Sunday lunch of scrambled eggs, I grew to take them for granted, as a sort of bland non-food. But they're fantastic. What food did you only really discover as an adult?
It's 2002. In the year 2000, we were all supposed to be flying to work in hover cars, and our homes were supposed to clean themselves. What went wrong?
I've said before that I like suebailey.net, or possibly suezilla.com as it seems to be this week. Today, she remarks on the not uncommon phenomena of satanic sparrows.
in a pile by the door that leads to the room where the computers live, are the books which are waiting to be read. and top of the pile is ellis peter's the sanctuary sparrow. i know what the title of this book is. so why the elvis did i just read it as 'the satanic sparrow sanctuary'?
I believe that many people suffer from this affliction, mainly through overly rapid speed-reading. You pick up a word here, a phrase there, and then your mind sorts them into an order that seems to make sense. An order that bears some resemblance to something that you're secretly thinking about.
I can't say that I was thinking about setting up a satanic sparrow sanctuary this morning, but I've spent a lot of time trying to find one on-line this afternoon.
There appears to be one in County Wicklow.
They say that time can be defined as 'the thing that stops everything from all happening all at once'. And so, I''m going to take some time to unwind, and stop anything from happening at all. I'm flying over to Glasgow and Edinburgh for a long weekend. Should be good.
They're commemorating the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, with a fountain, that takes the form of a couple of rings of water. It's been suggested that the money spent doing this would be better given to charity, since a memorial so simple and pure and un-ostentatious is inappropriate in relation to the gaping chasm of loss that she left in the hearts of the millions of Britons who had never met her, but whose desire for blanket photo coverage contributed to her tragic death. One particularly evil suggestion is to replace the fountain with an underpass, under which people could drive at high speed.
Back on Tuesday.
A random statistic from the BBC declares that 267,961 people tied the knot in the year 2000. Now, call me old fashioned, but surely there would be an even number of people getting married. Unless one person got married twice to different people. Or he got married to a goat. Any other thoughts?
There's a link doing the rounds to things other people accomplished when they were your age, usually along the lines of how it makes people feel inadequate. So I went, and I had a look, and at 33, I don't feel inadequate. Let's run through the achievements.
So, this supposed site of inadequacy lists a grand total of seven (7) people who have done more with their life at age 33 than I have done. Of them, I've heard of four of them. I reckon that I appreciate the achievements of maybe two of them. Which isn't a good hit rate really.
Especially when you consider that there are billions of people on this planet. Or more than double that if you include dead people...
I've got major muchies, so I am stuffing my face with sugar free gum. And I don't even like it. The heady mix of Xylitol, Sorbitol , Manitol and Aspartame are doing nothing except numbing my mouth. Aspartame was one of the fallen angels that even Lucifer didn't like.
This claim to fame is shared by both Calcutta and Glasgow. Which is true? Surely Glasgow and Calcutta can't both have been the second city of the empire at the same time? Did they operate some form of time-share agreement? I wonder if we will ever know the truth.
Once upon a time Bob wanted cake. He'd heard that there was a company in Seattle that did good cake, but there was no way to get hold of that cake in Guatemala, where Bob lived. And to be fair, he didn't know that much about the cake anyway. He had his own local cake that he liked just as much as the cake he'd never tried.
Then the world shrank, and Bob found that he could get to Seattle in under an hour. So he went, and he tried the cake, and he enjoyed it. But he still couldn't get it locally. Instead, he placed an order and got it shipped. And he shared it with his friends, and they got their cake shipped from Seattle too. Soon, the Seattle Cake Company set up a branch in Guatemala and everybody was happy. Except the local cake shop.
Things started to get nasty. The local cake shop started bad mouthing the Seattle Cake Company - accusing them of unfair practices. Then some people started to get upset that the local cake makers had been forced out of business, and nobody was making traditional Guatemalan cake any more. The fact the Bob and his friends preferred Seattle Cake was treated with suspicion... had the boffins at the Seattle Cake Company indulged in unfair marketing practices to make Bob and his friends believe that they liked Seattle Cake more than Guatemalan Cake? Was it just the fact that Seattle Cake was cheaper?
It turns out that Seattle Cake was made in the Philippines, by pre-natal workers, who were paid a fraction of the cost it would be to make the cake in Seattle. But these pre-natal workers were supporting their entire families from the money they were getting making cake, and otherwise they would have had to sell their grannies to melt down for glue.
At this point Bob's head exploded.
Meanwhile, Bob's brother was complaining that his Region 2 DVD player wouldn't play Region 1 DVDs, but that's another story for another day.
Everyone is only attracted to fictional people. Even when they are in love with real people, they're really in love with fictional versions of them that they have written themselves.
I imagine that sometimes everyone needs to be a pure child. I imagine Janet Reno going home, tired, dropping her briefcase on the floor. Her husband pops his head out of the kitchen. "Eh-oh," he says. "Hugs!" she replies, spreading her arms wide. He rushes towards her, pauses a second from her face and pecks her gently on the cheek. Her lip starts to turn downwards, and he grabs her and bundles her up in his arms and hugs away the day.
Or maybe she has a labrador.
Nobody designs. All designers follow trends. Bollocks.
I'm prepared to believe that all stories can be reduced to one of seven archetypes, but I don't believe that stories are unoriginal as a result. I'm prepared to believe that all colours can be reduced to a simple number so that they can be displayed on a computer monitor, but that doesn't make paintings that are a single colour any good in and of themselves.
People create all the time. Even this derivative web page is creative. Honestly.
There is a photograph of a man with a stupid beard being used to hype mobile phones. Mobile phones are not just used by people with silly beards though. They are also used by inconsiderate people. People who bring them to work and leave them on the desk. Or wander around the office shouting down them.
The etiquette of mobile phones is as yet unformed, with the right-thinking believing that they are a boon to be used in moderation and with consideration, and the great unwashed believing that they are a god-given right and that nobody has the authority to interfere with your freedom to make personal phone calls in the middle of business meetings. This is what the people demand.
And the good news is that constipated men with huge orthodontist bills can use mobile phones too.