The New Sofa and the Gap where it No Longer is

It is not an easy task to buy something in Ireland. In other countries all you need to do is proffer the correct amount of the local currency and remember to carry your goods away with you. In Ireland, the first stage of any transaction involves the sales person trying to talk you out of buying whatever it is you are trying to purchase.

When He Who Knows Everything bought some motor oil, the lady at the garage did her best to convince him to get the low quality stuff because it was cheaper. The bloke at the plumbers’ merchant tried to get me to “save” €60 by buying a less powerful shower pump. He remained unable to accept my certainty regarding the amounts of kilowatts I need in the morning. Even now I expect he thinks of me from time to time, regretting he didn’t try that little bit harder to dissuade me.

Buy something costing more than several hundred euro and it becomes an entirely different story. For a start, anything costing more than several hundred euro will have had several hundred more euro added on to the price to reassure you that you must be very special indeed to be able to afford such a piece of tat. The price of furniture, in particular, is outrageous.
There is also no prospect of bargaining. In the UK, if you are spending a large amount of money, there is usually some room for negotiation either in price or benefit terms. In Ireland, asking what can be done on the price invites the type of look usually reserved for what you scrape off your shoes.
After much thought, I have come to the conclusion it is to do with self esteem. The Irish enjoy paying a premium for badly made, veneered chipboard furniture because it shows everybody else that they are rich enough to afford it. Here I am regarded as scum because I stop about covered in mud and wearing a Barbour wax jacket which has belonged to three people previous to myself; were I in the UK it would be recognised for the badge of distinction it is.

Anyway. Some time ago it was decided to remove the fireplace in the sitting room on account of how, whenever the wind had a direction, plumes of smoke would fountain into the room and cover everything in soot. A stove was duly chosen and a crowbar taken to the existing marble edifice. Apart from a slightly sticky moment during the dismantlement when HWKE and I realised what we had thought to be a mantelpiece in three parts was, in fact, a mantelpiece in four parts and the noise we were hearing was the separation of silicon prior to the fourth part falling onto our toes, it went very well. The new stove is great.
Now that the sofas were no longer consigned to a dusting of black most evenings, or to getting covered in Cat hair, it was decided it might be nice to get some new ones and redecorate the whole room. What we failed to realise was quite how high the premium on a sofa bought in Ireland was.

I don’t mind paying a lot of money for furniture, but if I’m paying a thousand euro for a three seat sofa, I expect the sofa to be worth that amount. Over here, they just aren’t.

After much debate, Mammy and I chose a sofa from a local shop and arranged for it to be delivered at the distant point in the future when the stove had been installed. Once the stove was installed, the sofa was delivered.
Helping the bloke to carry it in (he didn’t have a mate with him) I didn’t notice anything wrong and once he had gone, I got back to whatever triviality I was occupied with. It was only later when I walked through the hall that I noticed it; the smell.
It was dusty and damp smelling. It was an old people smell. It pervaded the whole of the downstairs. It was not good.

Valuing fairness, we gave it 24 hours to dissipate, but it got worse. We rang the shop who spoke to the man in charge of these things. He told us it was the smell of the fireproof spray the manufacturers put on it and instructed us to give it a week in the presence of baking soda. I had always understood it was required to use fireproof fabrics rather that applying a spray afterwards but who am I to doubt the word of the Warehouse Manager?
While the smell did get better, whenever the fabric became warm it could be smelled in the room. For a long time we debated because they were very comfy, but eventually we called the shop and requested that they be taken away again.

It’s hugely annoying and incredibly typical of the shopping experience in Ireland. These sofas were made in China, shipped over and stored in the warehouse for who knows how long. Instead of being properly upholstered, the fabric covering was affixed with Velcro. For this, in the sale I might add, I was expected to pay fifteen hundred euro for a three and a two seater sofa. This was a good deal.
In the UK, you can go in a shop, order a sofa in a size and fabric of your choice and have it delivered direct to your home from factory in which it was made in six to eight weeks. The sofas are made in the UK yet they don’t cost anything like the amount the sofas cost here. It’s ridiculous.

It’s no wonder the Irish economy is in its current crisis. For years, the Irish have delighted in spending more than a product’s worth – the traders have yet to cop on that those times have passed.
I like to spend my money in Ireland and with local businesses if I can but to be honest, I don’t really want to give my money to a company who remain unable to provide good service, reliable products and a competitive pricing structure.
Sorry Ireland, I’ll be sticking with what I’ve got until I can import from the UK.

Welcome To The Blog

After months of attempting to make a decision on this matter, I have finally given the blog a cosmetic overhaul and applied a shiny new template to it. If you are looking at your screen now, you will be able to see it. Nice, eh?

The main reason it has taken such a long time to knuckle down and get this done was due to my innate indecisiveness. Some days I can be rendered unable to decide if I want a cup of tea or not; choosing a blog template from the millions available on the interweb was always going to take some time.

Of course, it was never as simple as going out and choosing a template, if such a thing can be said to be simple. I have a long list of things I demand from a template I am receiving for free. Firstly, it was vital that the new design represented the philosophy of the blog through colour, layout and number of columns.
Therein lay the first hurdle.

A hundred years ago or more, when I created this blog, I gave much thought to the title. I didn’t have any particular theme I wanted to write about, I just wanted to give a faintly humorous account of whatever I was doing or thinking about that day. Secretly, I wanted it to read like a columnist in the G2 section of the Guardian.
So I gave it the name you see at the top: A Trivial Blog For Serious People. It has served me well. It perfectly encapsulates what the blog is about. It is a sly dig in the ribs to those who get the reference but doesn’t alienate those who don’t - it is a play on the subtitle of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Ernest.
That, really, is how I wanted to blog to be. I wanted people to be able to read it and follow it without any prior knowledge, but I also wanted to get in layers and references that others would enjoy. I don’t mind that I am probably the only person here who notices a Noel Coward reference. One day, somebody who is not me will notice when I do that. I am sure of it.

Something I didn’t consider when I came up with the title was whether or not it would fit in the header space of a blog template.

The second thing I felt necessary for the blog was space for the explanatory introduction. One of the great challenges in communicating through text is ensuring people understand when your tongue is in your cheek. Anybody arriving here blind might take a single look at the title and assume there to be gravity where I have not sought to have any. Clearly either the explanatory note, in a revised form, needed to stay or the template would need to have the necessary whimsy.

Even with a vague idea of my requirements, it was hard to find something suitable. I must have looked at well over a thousand and while I found plenty I liked, it was difficult to find one which was right. The biggest problem I had was finding one which was sufficiently gender neutral. There are a lot of really pink ones out there.
For a while, the way forward seemed to lie in one of the “Messy Desk” templates. I have a messy desk. At the moment it contains binoculars, the instruction leaflet for my new angle grinder, a DVD of Gregory’s Girl, a leprechaun pen which doubles as a bubble blower and a pot of Vanish Oxi Action Multi. Unfortunately, as many of the “Messy Desk” templates contain more conventional things like iphones and notepaper with coffee rings, I didn’t really feel they were suitable.
Eventually, I did find one I liked. Mainly I liked it because it was called “Hello Sailor”. It had a very nice illustration of a red haired young lady showing rather too much leg. It could have been an illustration of me if I had a bottle of hair dye and laid off the cake for a few years. For a while I thought that would be the one I would go for but eventually decided against it. Not quite what I wanted, you see. I prefer to show off cleavage in public.

So I came back to it, whittled my choice down to a mere 14 and tried them all out until I decided on this one. It’s clean and professional and provides links to the forthcoming About, Contact and FAQ pages (I’ll let you know when I get that one up).
I got this template from http://www.btemplates.com although it is available from a number of websites. Btemplates seems to have the most comprehensive list of what is out there.

There’s some tweaking to do with widgets and links but for now, Welcome to the New Layout.

The Racism Problem

It is a thankless task to be the BBC. You provide people with a myriad of television, radio and website goodness and all they can do is complain about the price of the licence fee and offer statistics regarding how many repeats you show.

I, for one, love the BBC. If the BBC were in renal failure, I would happily offer them my kidney. Television is an expensive medium and I am happy for auntie to show endless repeats at unsociable and daytime hours rather than creating something original for eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning when I’m not watching the telly.
It is all very well for people to draw up numbers and claim that however much of the output are repeats; I spend less than 15% of my week in front of the telly – less than 5% actually watching something properly. The Beeb could announce a suspension of programming between the hours of eleven pm and seven pm the following day and I probably wouldn’t even notice. If you feel the need to complain that a third of the programs shown across the four channels are repeats, maybe you should address whatever issue it is which keeps you in front of your television for 66% of your week instead.

The main trouble the BBC has is that because it is paid for by the public, they tend to like input on the BBC decision making process.
Many complain about the yearly £142 compulsory fee. It may sound rather steep but when it is considered what the BBC provides for this amount, it is very reasonable. In Ireland the fee is €160 (about £150) and for that we receive 2 channels (both with adverts), three radio stations (one of which is in Gaelic, another of which I prefer to refer to as Dorsexburyshire FM) and a rubbish website. The only things they show on the telly are films made in the last 10 years and CSI. When I first moved over here, Judging Amy was the prime time offering. They still roll out Father Ted repeats every few months and the star of that has been dead a decade. I only had RTE for a fortnight and it was the closest to brain death I have ever been.

Over the last week, the main complaint has been double standards over a racist comment made by Anton Du Beke. He is a professional ballroom dancer and partner to one of the celebrities on the current series of Strictly Come Dancing (known in America as Dancing with the Stars, it basically takes people you’ve vaguely heard of and requires them to do ballroom dancing before getting praised/insulted by people who know about that sort of thing). You see, earlier in the year, the BBC sacked Carol “Daughter of Margaret” Thatcher for referring to a tennis player as looking like a golliwog. People are wondering why Du Beke is allowed to stay after telling his dancing partner, Laila Rouass, she looked like a “Paki” following a spray tan. Ms Rouass is of Indian and Moroccan descent. Both incidents happened off camera.

The trouble with racism is that sometimes we don’t realise we are being racist. I remember golliwogs from my childhood; you collected the tokens on the side of the jam pot and you could send off for a badge. It was only when I was older that I learned the cultural origins of the figure. It’s not a connection that ever occurs to me.
However, Ms Thatcher referring to somebody as a golliwog was intended. She was aware of the term and, having had it pointed out to her, defended her use of it claiming that she didn’t mean any harm by it.
Mr Du Beke, by contrast, has apologised to anybody who stands still long enough to listen. He appreciates that it is not okay to use such terms and you don’t get the feeling he is complaining behind closed doors about the outcry. Ms Rouass fully accepted his apology and is happy to continue working with him. At best, it was an unfunny joke which should never have been made.

I think we need to begin thinking more about the language we use. It’s easy to decry political correctness gone mad but sometimes, we do need think about how we use a language and what we say with it.
I’m sure nobody here would make bad taste jokes about Pakistanis, Indians, Black people or whoever. I’m also sure that the world is filled with people who are not racist people but who would think nothing of leaving me a message to the effect of “You can’t help that you’re Welsh,” yet some have. Would that sentence still be okay if you inserted the word “Paki” into it?

As it happens, I don’t mind people saying such things to me. They are free to do so, just as I am free to consider them knobheads. I can’t help but find it a little objectionable that if I were to point out their racist attitude to them, they would fail to get my point and tell me I needed to get a sense of humour (as Bruce Forsyth told Talk Radio).
If having a sense of humour involves finding the punch lines of moronic seventies sitcoms amusing, I’d be glad not to have one. We need to remember that it doesn’t matter if there was no racist intent, it is how a comment is received that matters. We should never trivialise anybodies feelings on any matter.
Respect the people you are speaking with, whatever their race, whatever their circumstances.

So, to help people re-address their attitudes towards these things, I have helpfully designed a short exercise designed to help understand what can, and cannot be considered casually racist.

Before you speak, ask yourself this: If I said this to the Welsh Rugby team, would I get away with my kneecaps intact?

Scaring the religious

He Who Knows Everything recommends that you should never ask anybody a question you don’t already know the answer to. It helps to avoid the kind of situations which prevent him from drinking tea and playing with his dead relatives. So, when he asks Mammy what she wants for dinner, he only does so because he already knows that the answer is pasta. He doesn’t ask why she emptied coke all over the bath, sink and toilet because he already knows there is no answer he wants to hear.

The trouble with questions is that very often you think you know the answer only to find a crazy haired individual giving unexpected ones. So it was that the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to call.

Although a protestant atheist (the worst kind, surely), I am happy to oblige other people and their belief systems providing it doesn’t put me out. It’s the way my Mammy raised me. She taught me that when the religious people knock on the door, you should smile and accept the proffered pamphlet. In the UK the system worked marvellously; it took about a minute and everybody went away happy. Over here, they begin by asking if I have read the Bible and take a staggered step back when I tell them I have.
It’s very bizarre. Ireland is still a very religious country. Even people who don’t attend mass are keen for the kids to get confirmed. The majority of the schools are associated with one or other of the religious orders and you can see the girls’ uniforms were obviously designed by nuns. I can’t be the only person who has bothered to read the holy text but the reaction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses would suggest otherwise.

It began badly.
“Hello, I was here before…” He says, “I spoke to your… Mother?”
“Could have done.” I replied cheerfully.
“…Or… your… Grandmother?”
“Could have done.” I replied cheerfully.
“Oh. I’m Tom* and this is,” *pause and turns to silent companion* “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,” *turns back to me* “Have you read the Bible?”
“Yes I have. I’ve also read Richard Dawkins. I agree with him that religion is a scientifically untenable belief system”
“Right. Well, you know science has found that lots of what is said in the Bible is true. The order of creation for instance.”
“Oh yes, I know. The Bible is fascinating as an anthropological document. So much of what is in there has clear parallels with other cultures. The flood myth exists in many mythologies. The Chinese goddess Guan Yin bears striking similarities to the Virgin Mary.”
“Oh?”
“I just find it difficult to accept any document which has been decided by committee as a holy writ.”
“Committee?”
“Well yes. The protestant Bible has different books to the Catholic bible. There are also many other gospels in existence which are not included in the official table of what is and is not the holy word of God. After all, it was only several hundred years after his death that Jesus was declared to be holy and divine.”
“I… don’t know about that.”
“There are also many discrepancies and contradictions within the text.”
“Ah! Lots of people say that but when you ask them what discrepancies they can’t tell you any.”
“Check Dawkins. He’s got a list. I lent my copy to Strider otherwise I’d get it now and show you.”
“The Prophets of the Bible are true though. They knew the earth was round long before we did. If you read the prophesies you’ll see the prophets could predict the future.”
“Like Derren Brown and the lottery?”
“No. Not like Derren Brown and the lottery. That was a trick.”
“It might not have been. Anyway, the problem with prophesies is they have a get out clause. Any which aren’t true are just not true yet.”
“Hmmm. Do you know about the kingdom of god?”
“If I remember correctly, the kingdom of god is what we create for ourselves. It is in our relationship with God. We each create our own kingdom of god. It is in the world around us and in the way we treat ourselves and other people.”

As it turns out, my hippy protestant Jerry Springer influenced definition of things was entirely wrong. The kingdom of God is involves judgement and flames.

I’ve never been entirely clear what the core beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are. My mental index card for them reads “Operates on a pyramid scheme. Believes in finite number of places in heaven therefore not really interested in converting you.” After some further dredging I can come up with “Doesn’t like blood transfusions”. Having had a nice chat to Tom and his unnamed friend, I’ve been away and found out that one of their principle beliefs is that the end time is approaching and that we are all living in the last days.

While I appreciate the warning, I’m not going to be taking his advice on this matter. As I told them, ultimately I’m not a person who can follow the rules laid down for me by somebody I don’t believe exists. Even if I did believe in their existence, I will always end up doing what I personally believe to be right. It’s who I am.

It seems rather unfair that Jehovah’s Witnesses think we critics are unable to point to any discrepancies in the Bible. After all, they knew they were coming and had a chance to revise for our conversation. I was concentrating on understanding the Lisbon Treaty. If I’d been given notice I would have prepared a crib sheet with all of the things I forgot to mention.
For instance: The genealogical line listed from David to Jesus has different names (and a different number of them). It also gets drawn to Joseph. I always understood the point was rather that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father.

To answer my queries, Tom very kindly left me a pamphlet entitled “How We Know The Bible Is True” which addresses this very issue of discrepancies and contradictions. Who Cain married is one of the perennial ones, as in the bible there are no people other than the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. It explains the problem thusly:
“Cain married his sister, or maybe a niece.”

Nice.


*Not his actual name. I can’t remember what his name actually was.