Libraries win Prizes

In these increasingly currency restricted times it has become necessary to find some forms of free entertainment. One of my favourite forms of free entertainment is the Library. My Library is not just any old Library though; my Library has won a prize.

Bizarrely enough, especially when it is considered quite how many basic things the Irish manage to get as wrong as it is possible to get them without a lightning rod (Irish potatoes, anyone?), my local Library is really quite good.
Back in my childhood, my local Library was a tin hut filled with Catherine Cookson and Stephen King novels. It also had roughly 18 copies of Watership Down because Richard Adams lived three doors up and presumably gave them a discount. The Librarian was an ancient harridan who was so unsuited to her job that she not only filed Bridget Jones’ Diary under J, but also kept their copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover beneath the counter.
Once I returned to the homeland I was delighted to discover a vast Library spread over many floors and usefully positioned next door to Iceland where I could buy frozen unnamed meat. Cardiff Library was not the best place to find interesting and readable books but it was a great place to find a band to join.

It was with some trepidation that I approached New Ross Library when I first moved over. I had driven past it several times and was deeply alarmed by its corrugated iron walls and Car Park carpeted in broken glass. Once inside I shuffled up to the counter and asked what would be required to let me join. They asked for my name and address and invited me to pick myself out a swanky Library card from a choice of six. I was thrilled. In the UK I’d had to fill out long forms in triplicate and promise to be a good and upstanding citizen who would not bring the Library into disrepute.
The second thing that shocked me was the staff. They were human. They were, dare I say it, nice. The Head Librarian always asks after my Mammy if she sees me, which more than makes up for her calling me Theodosia (a name which is three syllables too long for everyday conversation).
The third thing that shocked me and which continues to shock me to this day was the selection of books. They were really good.

Recently, the Library has been trying to improve itself even more. There were plans for a mezzanine floor above the office but I’m given the impression they got half way through the work before anybody twigged that it wasn’t going to work without spending a great deal of money re-enforcing the floor. Instead they built themselves a new porch with a fancy automatic door and a new sign.
The new sign is very classy. It is green. The writing is in white. It also features something I had never previously assumed one would need on Library signage.
Braille.

It’s not that I don’t think blind people use the Library. I’m sure the blind population of New Ross avail themselves daily of the fine selection of audio books. I just feel fairly certain in my mind that any blind person in a library is going to require some assistance from somebody who is not blind and so, therefore, is probably already aware that they are entering the Library. I could be wrong of course. Maybe there are people who like to play Audio Book Russian Roulette. We all have to get our kicks somehow.

Anyway. The award was from the National Disability Authority and it was given for Excellence Through Accessibility.

Good to know the Braille achieved something.

Happy Birthday Robbie Burns

Ask any English or Welshman of your acquaintance and they will gladly confirm what I am about to impart: The Scots are weird.
Normally I would never dare to make such a sweeping statement about an entire nation and certainly never about one whose people will happily kick themselves in the head if there is nobody else’s head available. Fortunately though, today is a day when I can safely make such a sweeping statement because today is the day when all the Scots are safely horizontal from a combination of whiskey, haggis and really bad poetry. Yesterday was Burns night.

Robert Burns, for those of you who are too lazy to look him up on the Journalists’ Friend, was apparently a Scottish poet. I say apparently because his poetry is written in the low Scots dialect which is incomprehensible to anybody south of Carlisle and so we only have their word that it is, in fact, poetry. He is most highly regarded in Scotland due to being the only Scottish poet anybody has ever heard of.
To celebrate his birthday, the Scots will gather in any place they are confident of not being thrown out of where they will drink and recite poetry at a haggis. As if that wasn’t enough of an affront to the noble beast, they then eat it.

Haggis is one of those dishes born of the necessity to use up every single part of the animal. Basically you take anything that a surgeon can’t identify, add some rusk or breadcrumbs and any herbs you can find which will disguise the taste, put it in a stomach (I believe a sheep is usually the unwilling donor) and boil for the length of time it takes for you to become hungry enough to eat it.
Believe it or not, haggis is not the worst dish the Scots have ever come up with. As far as delicacies of the British Isles go, it is fairly normal. I’m never going to be thanked for pointing it out but sausage doesn’t get made with prime pork loin. It’s why it tastes so good.
Instead the very worst of Scottish cuisine is the unholy trinity of deep fried Mars bar, deep fried Bounty bar and deep fried Pizza. If anybody ever invents a time machine, forget going back to doink Hitler on the forehead with a spoon, go back and find out who introduced deep frying to the Scottish nation and prevent them from doing so by any means necessary.

I’m not averse to experimental cookery. Until I was tall enough to reach the stove I had very little choice in the matter due to Mammy’s predilection for substituting similar coloured ingredients should she have run out of the needed foodstuff. Fortunately she also liked to add a good hour onto the cooking time of any instructions so everything tasted much the same by the time it reached the table. I’m not joking when I tell you that I was 19 before I realised a Chicken Kiev wasn’t supposed to be mysteriously hollow on the inside.
Learning to cook is a vital brick lying in the middle of the road to Adulthood. Some may say it is never a good idea but I say where would we be without the ceremonial rite of passage that is getting drunk and attempting to cook whatever you have in your cupboards at the time? Without the Antipodean Meat Pie and Mushy Pea combo, that’s where.
Once upon a time in my student days I can remember attempting (in rather cash strapped desperation it must be said) to make a meal of Alligator Jerky and microwave popadoms. I wasn’t drunk at the time but it probably would have turned out better if I had been.

Maybe next time I’ll try deep frying it.

Let there be (Government Approved) Light

Good things come into my life. I know this. Unfortunately they are very often followed by the removal of said Good Thing, most usually once I have spent some time getting to grips with it and reached the stage at which I wonder how I managed without it in the first place.
So it came to pass that the Gods of Broadband unleashed a plague of Fail upon my modem.
To begin with I assumed it was the wind. It’s usually the wind. Wind is the first of The Five Afflictions which remove electricity from the lives of me and my neighbours. If it isn’t the wind it is down to fire, flood, lightning or pigeon.
While the plague of Fail may have begun via the wind, I suspect its total and catastrophic failure may not have been helped by my manually resting the modem 10 times in half an hour in an effort to make it go. Anyway, the nice man in Nepal assured me a new modem would be with me within 3 to 5 working days and please could I send the old one back to the offices in Dublin so they could find out what broke it.
After 3 to 5 working days the new modem duly arrived but still didn’t work. BT have asked Eircom very nicely if they would possibly mind rounding up a couple of their engineers and sending them down to the exchange to fix whatever has broken. Knowing Eircom as I do, this may take a while. Given that you are reading this, it is probably mended.

Obviously I am quite pleased with my lack of interweb. As it turns out, every time you search for something on Google, a baby seal gets clubbed to death. Think of that next time you idly look up the principle exports of Bolivia simply because you are bored.
I, of course, could have told you this ages ago. I recall an article in the half tree that is the Sunday Papers about the New Face of Eco protesting. The New Face of Eco Protesting turned out to be an intensely middle class blond girl who will need to eat more pie if she wishes to be able to stand upright in a stiff breeze. One of the things she spoke winningly about was the utilisation of Facebook in the spreading of the Word and in the organisation of various Eco friendly protests. At no point did she or any of her youthful chums seem to deduce that encouraging a couple of hundred people to log on to Facebook every day is possibly not the best way to actively curb carbon emissions.

The Government are very keen to reduce carbon emissions. They have decided the best way of reducing carbon emissions is to make us all sit in the dark feeling depressed. To aid them in this plan, we are no longer allowed to buy 100 watt light bulbs.
While I appreciate the effort to do something as oppose to nothing, I’m slightly disappointed that this was the best they could come up with. On the face of it, if every household replaced their 100 watt bulbs with 60 watt bulbs, the cumulative effect over a year would probably save the same amount of energy it takes to boil a kettle to make me a nice cup of tea; except I’m not certain that it does.
In my house we tend to turn the lights on when it is dark. The lights we turn on when it is dark are lamps. Lamps shouldn’t have 100 watt bulbs in them. If we have the overhead light bulb on it is because we need to see what we are doing except now we can’t see what we are doing because of all the 60 watt bulbs. I suspect we will have to strap a miner’s torch to our foreheads just to peel the potatoes from now on.

Help is on the horizon. Rather cunningly, the Eco Boffins have invented for us an Eco Friendly light bulb. It gives 100 watts of light but only uses 20 watts of energy. It also has a lifetime 57.593 times longer than your common or garden variety of bulb. If you replace every single bulb in your home, over the next 12 years you will save yourself possibly four euro and twenty six cent on your electricity bill. That’s enough the buy a majority share in the Anglo-Irish Bank and a KFC on the way home.
On the downside you can’t put them in most lamps because they either don’t fit in the lamp shade at all or they project an inch over the top of it and look distressingly ugly.
They are also intrinsically flawed.

Some of the flaws I don’t mind. I don’t mind waiting for them to warm up before they get to full brightness. I don’t really mind the faint humming sound they produce. I do, however, mind the harsh, unflattering, headache inducing light they produce. It’s as bad as the “daylight” bulbs. If I wanted daylight, I’d go outside.

To show willing, I’ve installed an energy saving light bulb here in my study. It’s awful. It makes the room look as though somebody has turned the contrast dial to maximum. I’m certain the shadows are secretly plotting some kind of coup.

So, if you are an Eco Boffin I would really like it if you could invent for me a better Eco Friendly light bulb please. Failing that, a device for the vaporisation of whoever had the idea to implement them into my life will be just as acceptable.

A Lady of a Certain Age

Every day is special. Try hard enough and you can find a reason to celebrate the day you are alive in. Today, for instance, is special because the Long Tailed Tits returned to my bird table, because ER is on and because my Cos mentioned over dinner that she respects every single religion, “Even Judaism.” It could also be considered exceptional because I awarded myself a small prize for shutting my mouth very firmly at that point and not reopening it until I was ready to fill it with Yorkshire pudding.
Today, though, is an enormously special day because it is my Mammy’s birthday. If that wasn’t special enough, it is a most special birthday indeed because Mammy is now officially an OAP. Please contain your enthusiasm as I confirm that yes, my Mammy is 60 today. Happy Birthday Mammy.

For many people, such a milestone would be rather depressing but Mammy, as I am sure you are aware, is not many people and has thus spent the last year in a state of mounting excitement. All of her life she has worked hard and paid her own way. Now she can finally begin leaching the government for every penny it is worth. Mammy has her pension.
Amongst the other benefits now available to her is free bus travel, an OAP discount at The Codfather chipper near Strider’s and 10% off at B&Q on a Wednesday. It has taken many years but at long last, my Mammy is of some practical use.

Mammy loves being a pensioner. Her cries of “Help me up, I’m a poor crippled Mammy!” have been replaced by “Help me up, I’m a poor crippled pensioner Mammy!” She has bought herself a foldable walking stick which nobody can work out how to fold up. Whenever we try it springs apart in a lively manner not entirely unlike the time the cat fell in the bath.
She has also bought herself a fetching pink shirt. She doesn’t like it and intended to take it back to the shop but found herself wearing it despite my heartfelt entreaties not to.

To celebrate her birthday, Mammy wanted to go to the farm and set fire to things. Then she wanted to cook sausages on the barbeque and eat them in proper sausage buns with plenty of brown sauce. Yesterday was another wet one and she was rather concerned that everything would turn out to be too wet to burn but I reassured her that combustion on this scale is merely a matter of petrol. Unfortunately, while the rain had stopped by this morning, the wind had not and in the interests of not causing large amounts of fire related damage to the surrounding buildings, we put that plan on hold.

Disclaimer: If any of the Garda or Environmental Helicopter people are reading this, I would just like to make it clear that we don’t burn things recklessly or have bonfires and if we do it is only because of the dry rot which makes it totally legal. I checked.

Lacking a celebratory conflagration, we initialised a backup plan. We plied Mammy with drink and rented Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull from the video shop. I have to say, it was great.
When it was released I seem to recall everybody claiming it was rather rubbish. To be honest, it was rather rubbish. The storyline was ridiculous; the girl was annoying and pointless; Cate Blanchet was doing her best but we all know that a boiler suit looks good on nobody; nevertheless, I loved every hackneyed second of it. It was definitely an Indiana Jones film.
We also took Mammy to see Slumdog Millionaire at the cinema yesterday which is also great. Be prepared, it is quite cheesy but who cares? It has a fantastic soundtrack and brilliant photography. Danny Boyle is always interesting even when the end product doesn’t quite work. This is definitely a Danny Boyle film and it definitely works.

Brrrr

My talents are many and varied but something that is currently beyond me is the ability to know what you lot are all looking at when you take a peek through the nearest window. If you are, like me, in the northern hemisphere, chances are when you look through your window today you will be seeing a cold landscape into which you are reluctant to venture.
Currently I am experiencing a rather blustery day. It is very wet. It is very windy. It is really quite cold. I also have no heating.

In rural Ireland, we don’t have sensible things like a mains gas supply. Instead we have LPG canisters available from the garage to run the hob from and a big tank of kerosene to run the boiler. The problem with this is the necessity of remembering when the last time Seamus came to fill it up for you was. I am not terribly good at this.
To be fair, the tank was checked before Christmas when it was half full but then there was a cold snap and now the tank is almost empty and Seamus won’t be able to come by with his tank of liquid until he has visited the 64 other people who have got themselves into an identical situation.

Fortunately, I have a backup plan. I have a plug-in oil filled radiator borrowed from John Who Knows Everything and a fire lit in the sitting room. Or at least, that’s what I was aiming for.
You see, flagrancy is not one of my many and varied talents. For many years I paid close attention to Ray Mears as he demonstrated how to burn half a Rainforest down armed only with a pointed rock, three blades of grass and a small aubergine. I nodded sagely as Bruce Parry showed me how to peal an armadillo and bake it in an oven built from its own intestines. Why then, do I remain unable to set light to a small pile of prehistoric compressed plant fibre?

The fault, I feel, lies not in my own inability to control flame. I believe it lies in the ancient hereditary regard of warmth as something frightfully decadent. Warmth is akin to comfort and comfort sends you straight to hell.
In order to prevent this eternal suffering, Brits invented firelighters. Firelighters are small lumps of white stuff saturated with a strong smelling flammable liquid. You put them on the fire and set light to them. They burn merrily for eight and a half minutes taking all the kindling with them before leaving you with a pile of smoking, unlit coal. Thus heat remains uncreated and as we wait for the hypothermia to set in, we comfort ourselves with thoughts of the everlasting joy which shall surely be our reward once death overcomes us.

Cold I can cope with, anyway. Cos can’t. Even before the heating went off she was sitting huddled on the sofa with eight jumpers on and yet she lives in a part of Canada that is covered in snow for 7 months of the year. If she can’t cope with the puny Irish winter, how does she manage over there?
While I can cope with cold, it turns out that my poor beleaguered flesh can’t. I am well used to having lavender fingernails and digits which don’t move properly but as long as I can still touch my thumb to my little finger in less than two goes, I don’t worry about it. My feet are another matter.
Being, as they are, far from my head and on the other side of my lovely lady lumps, I don’t see them that often. When I do they tend to be a worrying grey colour which I am sure is either dirt or very poor circulation. It’s probably a bit of both. A couple of weeks ago I woke up to find that my feet were their usual worrying grey but that the centre toe of my left foot was red and swollen and that if I spent 10 minutes poking it, also quite painful. I decided I probably had joint ill, which is what calves get, and thought no more about it. Several days later the experience had spread to all of my toes and was accompanied by strange itchy lumps on the undersides.
I complained to Strider who recommended I stop using James Herriot books as a diagnostic tool and look up chilblains on the interweb instead.

Chilblains are ulcers caused by exposure to cold and humidity which damages the capillary beds in the skin. Redness, itching, inflammation and blisters all feature. Sticking your frozen feet next to something hot in order to thaw them out is one of the worst things you can do to set them off, apparently. This probably explains their manifestation in my life. I have a habit of walking around outside on the decking in bare feet because I can grip with my toes and not fall over, bang my head on a chair and require 6 stitches.
Due to the chilblains, I am now required to wear either socks or slippers at all times that my feets may remain at a temperate level and further outbreaks avoided.

So, while I may have Chilblains, a complaining relative in situ and no heating, my carbon footprint is diminishing rapidly.

If only I cared.

The Broadband Revolution

I have often complained that if my interweb connection was any slower, it would be going backwards. It is with great sadness I concede that I am no longer able to do so. Broadband has finally entered my life and it is marvellous.

It was a few days before Christmas that the news was announced. After months nay, years of broken promises and blithe assurances that they would definitely get it done just as soon as the engineers re-emerged from the pub, Eircom have come good and performed the 10 minute task on my local exchange.
For reasons I don’t understand and am not asking for an explanation about, it is necessary to be within a certain distance of said telephone exchange. This led to many worried looks between myself and He Who Knows Everything. We were almost certainly right on the edge of the acceptable distance. Were we to be thwarted once more? Would I have to take matters into my own hands, crank up the JCB and remove the picturesque hill which stands between my house and a DSL connection?
Happily, we turned out to be within the required distance. BT managed to send us a modem as promptly as could be expected with Christmas in the way and it all worked after only one call to the nice Customer Service man in Nicaragua (You must unplug all telephones not routed through the special beige noise deleter thingies, apparently).

I am currently listening to BBC Radio 3 and feeling most grown up as a result. Donald Macleod and Bruce Wood are considering how Purcell responded to two very different reigns: the Catholic James II and the Protestant William and Mary of Orange. I quite like Purcell. The only times you ever hear Purcell on Dorsexburyshire FM is when they’ve run out of Mexican music or the when third violinist is from Sligo.
Earlier on, I was listening to Ray D’arcy on Today FM which, admittedly, I can do anyway but now I can do it without going all the way upstairs to get the Radio and spending 10 minutes adjusting the tuning. If I cared to attend my desk first thing in the morning, I could listen to Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2. I can probably listen to him at a time of my choosing with the BBC iplayer.

Broadband also means I can now spend the rest of eternity watching videos of laughing babies on Youtube. Previously if I had wanted to see such a sight, I would have had to drive to my hairdresser’s house and hit him with a tea towel in front of his son. This way is so much easier.
Looking at things I don’t want on Amazon now takes a fraction of the time that it used to. The Journalists’ Friend can stream fraudulent information into my brain at a near constant rate. People can ring me up at any time of the night or day and actually get through. There is no end to the possibilities.

In other news: Cos is slowly driving my brain into a state of near collapse. During every hour of the day and night she intermittently emits a highly pitched sighing noise. The frequency of the noises is directly proportionate to my levels of enjoyment and relaxation.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, trying to watch a tense and emotive television drama which is continually punctuated by small squeaky noises in your right ear.
“We have only four seconds to detonate the bomb or everybody in London will be killed!” *squeak*
“‘Alright Constable,’ she said, ‘but please be gentle.’” *squeak*

I have never been more thankful to not to be watching The Exorcist.

Obligatory New Year Resolutions Blog

There is something comforting about the diurnal course we tread through life, the gentle rhythms of day to night, winter to spring, Larkrise to Candleford and so on. It has always puzzled me, therefore, why we feel the need to take a break halfway through the Christmas festivities and start attempting to make ourselves into better people via the medium of list.

If there is a good time to consider where one is going wrong in life and make a plan of the best way to correct it, I have yet to find it. I’m sure there are people who like to sit at a desk with a pen and paper, vigorously underlining the things they write down and positively applying them to their lives. Obviously I don’t know anybody like that because if I did I would have to move to Hull in an effort to avoid them and I really don’t want to live in Hull.
It follows that the worst time of all to plan ways of improving what is going wrong, is halfway through a gluttonous week of celebratory goodness. Dropping the box of After Eights you have been scoffing at the stroke of midnight is only going to depress you and make it feel like Christmas is over. Christmas isn’t over until Epiphany and the last great calorific splurge of the Epiphany cake (which is, by the way, the only thing the French ever got right. It’s a shame they ruined it with the obligatory Gallic humoured “game” of slicing.).

I don’t usually make New Year Resolutions. I already fail to drink, smoke, swear (much) or take drugs. Promiscuity is my only available vice and, to be honest, that’s not working out so well in a Catholic country. Strider has told me I’m a Straight Edge but Strider says a lot of things.

I’ve thought about this and decided that in order to make resolutions, one must first identify areas for improvement. I understand that weight is the traditional area for girls to aim for a reduction in and while I understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle, it’s quite cold and I need my fat for insulation. As long as I can climb the stairs without getting out of breath, it’s all good. If you think about it, being chunky is probably saving me several tons in carbon emissions each day. I should probably get some kind of medal.

Careful observations suggest it is also traditional to remove something enjoyable from one’s life. As I’m a crotchety miserable auld wench who enjoys nothing, this is clearly impossible to achieve. I’m not sure I understand what the point of it is either. There are many ways to demonstrate strength of character without depriving oneself; a jaunt to the supermarket with my Mammy, on a Friday during half term, for instance.

The third thing people tend to resolute is the reversal of a less than agreeable aspect of their character. Now, I am very clever and good looking and, being very clever and good looking, I know there are many deep seated flaws within my character. Some of them I already attempt to change and the ones I don’t are the ones I am comfortable with.
Self righteousness, for instance, has long been cited by Strider as my second least attractive quality. The first, it goes without saying, is my face. The thing is though, I’m not self righteous. I have aspects of self righteousness combined with a lack of sympathy for anybody in a situation less serious than gangrene of the head. If you have a problem, grand so, come on down, I’ll do what I can to help. If you don’t, then please stop moaning and get a grip because you are letting the side down.
I suppose I could stop making deeply evil, snide and horrible comments and show a little more tolerance towards the deeply annoying. When Cos, for instance, said she believed John Edward was a genuine medium and that he had passed scientific tests and was very highly thought of by other mediums, was it really necessary for me to reply “I believe Hitler is most highly thought of by some of the words top dictators”?

I suspect that this New Year Resolution malarkey is going to take some more thought.


In other news: I thrashed Strider at Scrabble. I’m usually keen to play a nice game of Monopoly but we’ve all avoided it this year. It’s probably for the best. A small plastic house lodged in the forehead can often offend.