Merry Christmas

It’s not that I’m a useless lazy wench incapable of organising my way out of a paper-bag let alone the biggest event of the year, but I must confess, I am not yet totally sorted out.
The trouble is, when you are standing at the top of the ladder at the top of a flight of stairs, turn around and see the 20 odd foot drop behind you, one becomes rather more concerned with not experiencing a messy death from height rather than making time to ice the Christmas cake. Having avoided the aforementioned, one becomes rather inclined to tea based reward rather than any of the hundred other things on the increasingly ominous To Do list.

However, Christmas is not about getting things done. I am a hippy and understand this. Not for me the last wild-eyed dash around the shops in commercial desperation; I am perfectly happy if I get the chance to just drink tea, heckle the Queen and give the Cat enough turkey to make her sit really still for a very long time.
Unfortunately other people are not so keen on this philosophy and insisted that I had to help He Who Knows Everything bring the tree in and then help Mammy and Strider decorate it. I offered a decorative stick but was rudely rebuffed.

They were quite right to insist of course. The tree is lovely and smells divine even if they did begin decorating it in my absence and went for a tasteful and colour co-ordinated look which was too late to change by the time I turned up to help.
Throughout our childhoods, Strider and I held a yearly battle over the Christmas tree scheme. She always wanted to do it tastefully in red and gold whereas I fought tooth and nail to have every decoration we owned placed upon it, including the naked plastic cherub with the satanic expression. In later years when we began buying a real tree, I would have the 4ft plastic one in my bedroom. The cat would spend all Christmas attempting to ascend it in the hope of destroying the jaunty pantyhose fairy on the top but I maintain repeated fallings over added to the Look.

Strider and Mammy rejected both my purple fluffy fairy lights and my white fluffy fairy lights. They have even rejected the Lights Which Do Things but this is probably down to my unfortunate habit of switching them to Caffeine-Overdose mode. Instead it is simple and elegant and won’t take 4 hours to remove everything once January rolls around. I am most disappointed.
They did, however, allow me to do the grand Switching On. Strider said that because I’ve done TV I am officially a Z list celebrity and that I should be glad of any gig I can get.

He Who Knows Everything is my only ally in rubbish Christmas decorativeness. He has stung some fairy lights in a tree near the fence. He said he was going to put them on the well-house but saw the tree and changed his mind.
I like them very much. If you squint really hard they look like a dislocated rabbit.

To all of you, my very best wishes for peace in your lives and happiness always. Where ever you are, whoever you are with, make your moments enjoyable.
Find the people you love and tell them so. Find something to love about the people you don’t. Let go of bad feelings and imagined slights. The benefit of the doubt can be given for free.
Extend your hearts to those in need. Preserve a space for yourself. Endeavour to do more even if you think you can not; you can do more than you imagine with a word or a gesture.

Show only the best of yourself to the world.

Nadolig Llawen, Happy Christmas

Give yourself something Nice this Christmas

There are many things my Mammy does which cause me mystification. Only today she was sorting the 18 identical white milk jugs which live in the back of the plates cupboard and putting them in a different cupboard. I didn’t ask her why she was bothering because I know from long experience she would have claimed she wanted everything to be sorted out “for Christmas.” I’m not convinced the 18 identical white milk jugs care which cupboard they spend the yuletide in but who am I to question the logical workings of Mammy’s head? Much less to ask her why she isn’t doing something that would actually prove useful and give me one less task to complete; putting the sofa covers in the washing machine for instance.

One thing in particular which causes total mystification is her habit of repeatedly leaving messages on other people’s answer phones.

I’ve never fully accepted the answer phone as a gadget which can be usefully inserted into my everyday life. Although I have one, more often than not unanswered calls get shunted to the mysterious Eircom mailbox which I haven’t set up to receive messages because I am unwilling to crowd my brain with the superfluous knowledge of how to do so. I have an answer phone which will do the job for free. In any case, my telephone is supplied by BT, not Eircom, hence the mysteriousness.
When I do receive a message it is usually delivered at speed and so garbled I am unable to tell whether I am being invited to join a civil war re-enactment society or sternly told to renew my car insurance. I don’t really want to set up devices to enable more confusion to be delivered into my life.

Mammy seems to enjoy leaving messages for people. When I was a student, I would regularly arrive home to find two messages from her on my answer phone, the second of which would be “I’ve just left a message on your mobile as well because you’re still not answering.” I never had the heart to tell her how irritating it was.
For all I know she believes that if you are away from your phone and a message is left for you, a bell will go off in your head and you will instantly become compelled to run to the phone, hear the message and return the call that instant. Then again, maybe that is how things are and I’ve just been left out of the loop.

Now that everybody has a mobile phone of course, we can all be instantly accessible to everybody else.
Let’s play a little game. I bet you the junk on the left hand side of my desk (a number of free DVDs from the half tree that is the Sunday papers and a comedy pen in the shape of a fish) that the first thing you do when you get back to your desk, car, wherever, is check your mobile phone for missed calls or received texts. I will also bet you the junk on the right hand side of my desk (a beetroot jar of miscellaneous screws and my last phone bill) that when you receive a text on your phone you immediately read it and reply to it even if you are in conversation with a person who is standing directly in front of you.
Worse is when you pick up the phone and a voice tells you they had a missed call from your number. Is everybody seized of a fear that something is happening they aren’t a part of? Do they not understand that if I care, I will ring them back at another time? It is forgivable in plumbers and the like because it is a business but the rest of you might like to reconsider before making that call.
I once received a phone call at 11:30pm on a Sunday evening from a woman who said she’d had a missed call from my number. I explained there must have been a mistake because I hadn’t made any calls that evening. She replied it had been from Saturday morning. I was too bewildered and frightened to shout at her, but at least I now know there are two kinds of phone calls which arrive without warning at unsociable hours.

It is all the fault of the interweb of course. Just about anybody can become a feature columnist and amass a following in Utah. When you are spewing drivel into the ether, it is easy to believe you are somebody jolly important who should definitely respond to all text messages the moment you receive them because otherwise society will collapse. Don’t even get me started on Twitter.

How about this instead? Why not give yourself the gift of unavailability?

I dare you all to try it. Learn to not check your phone until you are ready to. If you are in the middle of something and it rings, ignore it. It’s okay to do that, really it is.
We’ve become so obsessed as a society, maybe it’s time we all understood that missing a phone call isn’t going to cause terrible things to happen. If somebody can’t get hold of you, it isn’t a disaster. They will catch up with you later. Nothing is that important that it will irretrievably collapse because you failed to answer your phone or respond to a text the moment you received it.

Unless you’re waiting on a new kidney. Then it’s probably important.

Far too much to do

It may come as a surprise to virtually everybody, but I exist in a near constant state of having a lot to do. While it may look like I’m lying on the sofa with a mug of tea reading Douglas Coupland, I’m actually skilfully avoiding all of the very busy things I ought to be doing.

In case you didn’t realise, Christmas is next Thursday and because I’ve been so busy I slightly forgot. Ireland follows the same Christmas tradition as the UK; when the doors close on Christmas Eve they stay that way. Everything stops until after New Years when we re-emerge somewhat more rotund than before.

Part of the problem is that I have been theoretically preparing for Christmas for weeks and so failed to notice its impending arrival. I blame making a Christmas cake. When you spend two months poring brandy over an eight inch square brick on a weekly basis, you become so entrenched in routine you forget it is time to dig out the apricot jam and royal icing.

Being so fond of chaos, I have a very long list of Things to Do. This week alone I have to go to Dublin, go to Kilkenny, get my hair cut and go to a jolly soirée at the invitation of Pat the Farmer. I also have to paint the walls of the hall and of the upstairs landing.
Before I can paint the walls of the hall and of the upstairs landing, I have to paint the ceilings because otherwise it will make the whole room look tired. Before I can paint the ceiling in the hall, I have to rebuild the section of it I destroyed.

To be fair, it needed to come down anyway for complicated reasons involving bureaucracy and the hall was already covered in dust from sanding the woodwork and there was a crowbar handy and… well… things just followed a natural progression.

The trouble with decorating is that it is necessary to slot it in around all of the normal everyday things one is expected to do like cooking and shopping and all the rest of it. Being Christmas, one is also expected to make longs lists of necessary items and then go out and procure them. I’m just glad I managed to get the pickles sorted.

I’ve worked out that I need to get finished by Saturday at the latest so that I can have a clean and get the tree up on Sunday for when Strider claims to be arriving. Monday I will have to be tackling the ironing, cleaning the oven and sweeping the chimney. Tuesday I will be doing the final shop and baking for guests. Wednesday I will be slumped in a heap somewhere and feebly attempting to wrap presents before cleaning the house again.

There is one way I can get all of this done.

Omit sleep.

How Not To Vote

I think it was Tommy Tiernan who best summed up the Lisbon Treaty Referendum. He said he had been under the impression that there were two ways to vote: Yes or No. As it turned out, you could either vote Yes or you could vote We Can Do This As Many Times As You Like Until You Chose The Correct Answer.

Ireland is one of two countries in Europe who have yet to ratify the Treaty. The other is the Czech Republic and they said they’d sign if we did. The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty rests solely on Ireland’s shoulders. The peoples of Europe are right to be worried.
The Government are all for it. They would like nothing more than to waltz into Brussels and put their X on the line but unfortunately, they can’t. The ratification of the Lisbon treaty involves changing the constitution and the Government aren’t allowed to do that without a referendum. Their main problem is that when they had one, we all voted No.

Naturally, the Government were a little surprised by this. They immediately commissioned people who know about these things to find out why. It turns out that we were all worried that the Lisbon treaty would negate Ireland’s military neutrality, effect its taxation and legalise abortion. Even as I write, guarantees are being sought on these issues to placate the electorate in time for the next referendum when we will all be voting Yes (or else).

This is all nonsense of course. The people who know about these things didn’t bother to ask me what I thought of it all. It’s a shame because, as we all know, I have a great talent for telling people exactly where they are going wrong.

To be honest, I think it all began to go downhill when the bloke in charge of it mentioned he hadn’t actually read the thing. While I admire his honesty and enthusiasm for the project, it was not the best thing to mention to the electorate.
The Government pamphlet explaining what it was all about didn’t help either. I have mastered Calculus, The Perfect Victoria Sponge and Flat Pack Furniture Assembly but I couldn’t understand a word of it.
In some desperation I passed it on to He Who Knows Everything and begged him to explain it. He couldn’t.
With a growing sense of hopelessness the Yes campaign tried a new tactic: Voting No On Lisbon Will Embarrass Your Government In The Eyes Of Europe. I’m sure I am not alone in saying that I am more than comfortable with that.

I still don’t understand where the idea that Lisbon would legalise abortion comes from. I didn’t see it being used by the No campaigners. Maybe they were afraid it would strengthen the Yes vote.

Anyway. The Government has promised the EU that they will sort out the population, buy all the votes they can, explain things properly this time and secure ratification.

We may not be part of the EU much longer.

Dear Father Christmas

Dear Father Christmas,

This year I have given much thought to what I would like you to bring me. I suspect that even you are not immune to the credit crunch and so have kindly cut back on my superfluous desires. Rather wrenchingly have I crossed out a Sony SLR digital camera from the list on the grounds that it will give me something to buy if I win the lotto. Animal Crossing: Let’s Go to the City has also gone; as it is virtually the same game as one I already own, I will wait until I find a second hand copy at a bargain price.

Cutting back is just one example of what a kind and thoughtful girl I am. Throughout the year, I have remained good in accordance with our agreement; for instance, when the scary teenage boys and their father presented me with a framed photograph of their whole family as a “Thank you for allowing us to stay in your lovely home” present, I immediately displayed it in a prominent position upon my mantelpiece and did not shout “A photograph of your rubbish family? I wanted booze!”
I have also made a special effort not to tell certain people what I think of them, sometimes in the face of extreme provocation. I have encouraged Strider to be nice to our Cos because it will make Mammy happy. I have refrained from libelling people via the medium of interweb and have tried to understand the new rules of Rugby Union. I failed, but I tried.

This year I would like you to bring me a winning lotto ticket. Not a big one mind, five or six hundred euro in winnings will be fine. I would like to buy myself a Sony SLR digital camera. I promise to only use my powers of photography for good and not stalk minor Irish celebrities and their relatives.
I would also like to be able to eat lots and lots of chocolate and not gain shedloads of weight. This doesn’t have to be permanent, just for the few weeks over Christmas will be fine. Nobody likes a diet bore so really, you’d be doing lots of people a service by allowing me to eat all I want of peoples’ home baking. If the Karma Fairy objects, let the record show I am more than happy to accept this gift in the form of an overactive thyroid.
Finally, I would really like it if my soon to be visiting Cos could turn out not to be the racist, spoilt, selfish, emotionally ignorant cretin I fear her to be. If this turns out to be beyond your powers, please could you see your way to making the revelations of her character a little easier on my Mammy who is a kind hearted soul and doesn’t deserve any of it.

As a token of my thanks I will leave you some mince pies made with my special homemade mincemeat. You can leave in the stockings of children who have been Bad.

Lots of Love

Theo (Age 27)

P.S Don’t blame me for this. Ray D’arcy made me do it. He eats porridge and cares about road safety. Don’t be too harsh on him.

The Deadly Qualities of Pork

It is with great cheerfulness I greet the news that the porkers, with whom I have been carelessly stuffing myself over the last few months, have up to 200 times the safe limit of dioxins in them. My liver has been behaving impeccably of late and a threatening poison coursing through my digestion is just the thing I need to remind it I can take it down any time I like so it had better continue that way.

Anyway. The Irish Government has announced that all Irish pork products produced since September must be destroyed. They helpfully announced it at 7pm on Saturday, shortly before donning their coats and heading for the door shouting “See you Tuesday, lads!”
I’m quite impressed with the government. If I was in power, I would have kept it quiet and allowed natural selection to solve the unemployment crisis. In theory you’d end up with a country full of vegetarians but luckily the Irish don’t do vegetarianism. They think it’s ungodly.

The current thinking from the people who like to get to the bottom of these things is that the pig feed supplied to some of Ireland’s 400 pig farms was contaminated by PCB. I’m not entirely clear why all the pork is now being destroyed but what I have read translated in my head to the abattoir chaps saying “We have no idea which porker came from which farm.” It sounds stupid enough to be true but I shouldn’t quote me.

The destruction of all of this meat is having vast and unforeseen circumstances. Builders across the country are weeping openly at the loss of their breakfast rolls*. They aren’t getting any work done at all.

I am laughing of course. I have spotted that I can probably sell all the imported British sausage clogging up my freezer on ebay Ireland for some astronomical profit. If I was really enterprising, of course, I would nip over to Pembroke to buy supplies before doing a round of the pubs offering to hook people up with a nice chipolata.

On the other hand, maybe I won’t. I don’t want people to think I’m a rent boy.

* Note for foreigners: A Breakfast Roll is a fry up presented in roll form. It is the working man’s elevenses. As the song specifies it consists of 2 eggs, two sausage, two rashers of bacon, two pudding (one black one white). If you are hardcore, you also have beans.

The Cat Radiator

A trend has developed in my locale for seriously cold weather. I’ve had to defrost the car twice this week already and I’m pretty certain that the frost on the turning circle is still there from yesterday.
If it sounds like I’m complaining it is probably because I am. I am really cold and from the magnificent heavens blazing merrily overhead, I’m guessing tomorrow morning is going to be another white one.

This cold weather is, naturally, making me worry about the cat. She is very old and decrepit and her behaviour hints at a dislike of the cold. She likes to sit on the granite hearthstone with her nose three inches from the fire and gets cross when I move her even though I explain that the smell of burning cat hair is deeply unpleasant. Best not to ask how I know that, mind.
Once removed she will stretch out on the rug and bake her stomach instead. During the day she likes to sit in a patch of sunlight and watch the birds. I thought she was feeling the cold due to her advancing years but she is more than happy to spend as long as I will let her beneath the bird table, in freezing temperatures, with her mouth open. She also likes clambering on the terracotta pots to try and get at the coal tits. Then she likes falling off them.

Of course, for every problem there is a theoretical solution and I saw mine in the Vitenary. A Cat Radiator.
The idea is that of a cat bed which cunningly hooks over a radiator to provide a warm and secure sleeping place for your sick or aging cat. Many years ago when I had my first cat, Tickles (which wins me the porn-star name competition every time), she had one and loved it. She, however, wasn’t an anarchic psychopath.

I know from long experience that anything purchased for my cat with be sniffed and rejected. She is genuinely more excited by her Christmas present when it is still wrapped up. When she was a kitten she was bought a wicker cat basket to sleep in but wouldn’t go near it. Instead she would go and sleep in the wicker ironing basket. When I bought a DVD player, she came to watch me plugging it in, climbed into the box and stayed there permanently for 3 months. Then she got out and never went near it again but I had to leave it on the sitting room floor for a couple of weeks in case she changed her mind.
This is what my cat does. She finds somewhere she likes to sleep and takes up semi-permanent residence there for an undisclosed amount of time before deciding she wants to find somewhere better. At the moment it is on the blue cushion on the brown chair in the sunroom. She prefers the cushion to be on somebody’s lap and will prance and meow to try and get you to sit there.

Since the Cat Radiator is a sound idea, I’ve been trying to work out a way I can make one at home for nothing rather than spending a lot of money on something which will ultimately be rejected.
There are two main logistical difficulties. One is how to make something that will hang low enough to the ground for her to get in and out of easily. The other is how to make something strong enough to take her weight. Should I ever manage to come up with a viable design (possibly involving copper piping and my rather nifty blue pipe benders) there will be a third logistical difficulty: teaching the cat to understand the purpose of the object.

I may just let her stay cold.

A superfluity of Washing Powder

When one has a vitally important, home based activity occupying much of one’s time, the arrival of the post becomes a vital anchor in the day. There are few more enjoyable ways to procrastinate than checking to see if the post has come yet and, once it has come, opening it all and sorting it into Very Important Piles which need dealing with immediately. That done, you are allowed to have a cup of tea.
In my house, the post usually arrives mid afternoon just as I am growing bored and disheartened. Usefully, my post box is on the gate at the bottom of the drive but has no indicator of mail within, so if I grow really bored and disheartened I can take a short but bracing walk down the drive to check on it.

Last week, those nice people at Tesco sent me some helpful discount vouchers designed to save me money on things I already buy, as well as tempting me with offers for things they feel I might like to begin buying. It is an instructive insight into one’s life.
I, rather smugly it should be said, receive vouchers for fresh meat, fresh veg and posh bread. They are trying to tempt me with some Denny Delicious Traditional Pork Sausages. They won’t succeed. Irish sausages are awful. They are 8 to the pound. You can’t tell me that’s right.
Along with the discount vouchers, they provided me with four coupons, valid separately over a period of weeks, which give me €40 off if I spend €150. That’s a saving of just under 27% which is pretty good going. In addition to this, the last time I was in, the till roll spat out a voucher offering me €24 off if I spent €160. That’s only 15% but even so, you wouldn’t walk past it in the street would you?

Like all apparently generous offers, there was a catch. Each voucher could only be used in a single transaction and both ran out at the end of the week. Could I manage to spend €310 without wasting it on things I didn’t want or need? And, would I be able to break it down into two neat transactions once I reached the checkout? The challenge was on.

Clearly, this task was going to take a lot of thought. With my freezer full of imported British sausage, meat was off the list. Christmas calorific goodness would be a perfect way to get up to that magic number but if I bought it, would I be able to leave it unopened until then? Bottles of spirits for the festive revellers who descend upon me each year would easily achieve my magic figure but with He Who Knows Everything and Mammy in the UK, it makes far more economic sense for them to bring bottles back with them, thus avoiding the extortionate Irish tax on alcohol.
I would need to be canny and concentrate my purchasing on the Christmas goodness I wouldn’t want to open between now and then. Several jars of gherkins went into the trolley. They were joined by beetroot, ploughman’s pickle, red onion chutney, some red cabbage and Marmite. I dithered over the pickled onions. Should I grab a couple of jars, adding four euro to my total? Or should I leave this mediocre Irish brand on the shelf and have HWKE import some proper ones along with the Baileys? I imagined his happy face at Christmas teatime; turkey and beetroot sandwiches with a pickled onion on the side. I imagined him biting into the inferior Irish pickle and picked up the jar. I remembered the real meaning of Christmas and put it down again.

As €17.26 worth of preserved vegetables would be enough to see me and my family through a nuclear winter, I cleverly made my way to the toiletries aisle. 2 bottles each of shampoo and conditioner added another €30 to the total but did nothing to explain why, at that price, my hair still looks as it does.
Shower gel; facial wipes; mouthwash; toothpaste; the total was rising.
In desperation I went to find the bubble bath only to find it was on special offer and I could now save 43c. My heart sank.

The bread aisle was useless to me but I threw a wholemeal loaf in anyway. A couple of bags of sugar followed. I knew I would use it eventually.
In pasta and pasta sauces I stocked up on Tagliatelli and Coriander pesto. I’ve always had a theory that I could cook something really delicious with that stuff. 6 jars would be plenty to experiment with.
Tea and Coffee came to my rescue. I’d never realised how expensive the Twinings Assam is. Gleefully I built a wall of tea to separate the pickles from the pasta and bread. I headed down to mixers but was disappointed to find it was three for two on all Schweppes 1ltr bottles.

It was in the cleaning aisle that I really managed to load up. A giant box of Ariel at €18? I went for two. Firelighters? They’re always useful! Fabric conditioner, washing up liquid and bleach; all hideously expensive but all necessary at some time or another. In they went to the trolley.
I was somewhat foiled by the dishwasher tablets and toilet rolls. Both were on special offer but I purchased them anyway along with enough cat food to last the cat for as long as it takes her to decide that she hates Whiskers and wants Sheba instead. About 10 minutes then.

Gingerly I added up the rough tally I had been keeping. It wasn’t enough. What was there left that I could buy that would push my total up to the magic number?

Then it hit me.

I would buy some cheese.

It felt good as I scanned my items on the self-service checkout. The checkout minders gave me odd looks, clearly making a mental note not to accept any invitations to my place for dinner but I didn’t mind because the system works.

Pickle, anyone?