Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.


They say Baileys is the drink for people who don’t like alcohol. In an odd way it reminds me of the ham made from turkey they give you when you’re in a predominantly Muslim country in the Far East. You want something what’s considered bad for ye so they invented an unsuitable compromise. Well frankly, turkey ham tastes like the reconstituted scrotal sac of a decaying horse, or so I imagine. Baileys is that guilty secret of a confirmed drinker. You might publicly denounce it as heresy but ye’ll drink it if offered and sure if there’s nothing left in the house, you’ll gladly welcome it’s comforting sickly sweetness. The majority of ye will also know that it helps make a damn fine cheesecake as well.
One of my earliest blog entries described my apparent ineptitude in the kitchen. I’ll admit to being a little disingenuous in that post. I can cook but only when I put my mind to it. It’s a spontaneous thing really. Daily dinners don’t count as they have to be done or no one eats in the family. I have to suddenly brave the creation of something, generally a concoction that I’ll have a craving for at that exact moment in time. Weirdly it’s usually on a Sunday and involves desserts, or food of a sugary confection. 
My last attempt at a meringue was a success. Huzzah! It was pointed out that it more resembled a Pavlova but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to the delicate process of adding sugar to eggs and fluffing them up into a whippy goo. Hell I even threw in some blue food colouring for increased bada-bing. A little dash a cream and some berried fruits and voila, 500 calories (conservative guesstimate) on a plate. That particular day though was like the old story about waiting for buses. Yup! The true spirit of culinary adventure took hold and the end product was a cheesecake, which in the grand scheme of things, was bloody tasty, if admittedly not 100% perfect.
Our next door neighbour gave us a recipe for a cheesecake, albeit not your traditional method of creation. This one’s baked in the oven as opposed to setting in the old Frigidaire. It’s called baked cheesecake. Seriously. No word of a lie. I could give the recipe but that would involve typing here at the keyboard for longer than I want to. Being a lazy bastard in lay mans terms. However I will say that the ingredients are virtually identical to your standard cheesecake and similarly ye can add yer own flavourings to suit your mood. As mentioned up above, Baileys is a good one, guaranteed to appeal to the palate of lovers of all things dessert. With nary a drop of the creamy booze in the house, I plumped for rum and whiskey. Oh yes! Let the good times roll.
Honestly speaking, I regret not putting more of the bloomin’ stuff in it. The kick was missing. It was delumptious but could have been better. My favourite ice-cream is rum and raisin so I’m tempted to try that as my next foray into the land of the cheesy cake. What’s ideal about this recipe and cake is that it’s simple and undemanding, perfect for a baking novice. It will allow for a certain level of experimentation and barring a complete brain fade in the flavourings department, should never taste truly pants. 
Next expedition may well involve a chocolate pie made with Dime bars. The afore-mentioned neighbour dropped round a piece that she threw together yesterday in  baking tray she had borrowed. Just imagine Homer drooling and you’ll understand why this pie will have to be attempted. I almost wept when I took my first bite. Marie Antoinette was right you know. 

April 12, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am | | 1 Comment

Kickin’ Fitba’

Way back, when you could accuse the local slapper for being a witch if she refused your advances and you threw your daily ploppings out into the street, I borked my knee playing footie in the front garden. Dewy grass has always been looked upon with suspicion since. I was 15 or 16 at the time and looking forward to playing in my first Open Week as a competitive juvenile delinqu….I mean, golfer. (I doubt if juvenile delinquency was even invented in the 1980’s and hoodies back then were reserved for the monks). Up until that point in time I actively played football, both gaelic and less-culchie version, at school and whilst not being terribly effective at either, enjoyed hurling myself about a field with youthful abandon. Then the knee thing happened and whether it was a self-conscious thing or not, the enthusiasm for physical sport diminished. It wasn’t a terribly gruesome injury but it did necessitate gallumping around on crutches and regularly lifting pound bags of sugar strapped across my right foot for 6 weeks. None of yer underwater recuperation for this Irish lump. Shortly after it had healed, I went to Rosses Point in Sligo with an old friend of mine from school, the journey taking what seemed like 4 hours. Stepping out of the car when we reached Ryan’s Hotel, my leg took the rest of the evening to straighten itself out, something, at the time, I imagined it never would. Therefore I can only assume that a deep-seated fear of a similar injury re-occurring took hold and my non-existent potential as a professional footballer subsided, never to be re-discovered.
Now that was a long-winded way of saying I’m not a running about a field chasing a lump of leather type of person. Watching football? Yes but getting involved in an actual game? No way Jose. Except for this week. And whilst the mind thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the avuncular heap of slightly overweight flesh that carries me about today, didn’t. It was my nephew’s eighth birthday and my own mother hosted a small party for him and his muckers from school. We were down in Carlingford, where I grew up, for the day in order to assist with controlling the mayhem that normally accompanies such gatherings. The goalposts were mercifully easy to assemble, although unfortunately, a little on the minuscule side. The vertically challenged would have struggled to score goals in them things. The general field of play was determined and we waited for the guests to arrive.
It’s remarkably easy to forget just how haphazardly young folks throw themselves into a game of football. You tend to have a ball with everyone stuck within a 3 foot perimeter of its position on the pitch. For the most part, this was the case except for one major difference. The tackling was ferocious. A short while after I had left university I undertook a spot of substitute teaching for the Ma whilst she was recovering from an ailment of some sorts. It lasted 2 weeks and, not being their regular teacher, the lessons and pupils were less stressful than I have previously imagined. PE was exactly as I had described it above. Hordes of 8&9 year olds, all running after the ball, trying to give it a whack, the direction of said whack being entirely irrelevant. It was all fairly harmless yet something has obviously happened since that time which has added a more focused element to the chaos. (I’m wagging my finger in the general direction of SKY on this one). Putting in mildly, when it came to snaffling the ball from another player, the tackles were vigorous and just a tad over-exuberant. “No fear” is the expression that springs to mind. Luckily there were no broken limbs either.
The last time I encountered such physical endeavour on the football pitch was back in 1995. I’m going back on myself here a little as I did initially say that I avoided “playing” fitba, preferring instead the leisurely meandering of the golf course. However that’s not 100% accurate. In 1995 I used to frequent Robinson’s Rockbottom in Belfast on a Saturday night. Dirty, greasy shithole that it was, I bloody adored that place. Rock and Metal, Shots and Pints, with a bloody big Harley Davidson on the back wall. Not a Limp Bizkit or a Slipknot in sight. If heaven were in fact a real place and not some mumbo-jumbo paradise invented by some beardy blokes in dresses 2000 years ago, Rockbottom would have been its earthly equivalent. My Sunday afternoons, following the previous evening’s alcoholic entertainment, involved a primeval game of footie in a grassy clearing in one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious estates. There’s not many with an Irish dispensation who can say they’ve mingled with residents of Rathcoole without having to visit the Royal afterwards. 
Those games were remarkably skillful despite the large number of flying tackles and studs up challenges that were on show. I learned pretty quickly to volunteer for nets. On the rare occasions I was required outfield, I adopted the traditional goal-hangers position for the terminally clump-footed. Even to this day I’m still amazed no-one ended up in A&E considering various areas of the pitch had more glass than a tomato farm. Although perfectly amicable, I’m pretty sure no-one would have been too disappointed had the Paddy gashed himself a little. Then again, when in Rome, don’t feed the lions.
Naturally enough there were a few tears this week as the game progressed, mainly involving uncomfortable grass burns and scrapped elbows from the pebble-dashed wall on one side of the pitch. Children’s parties rarely finish without a little gowling from one guest or another. Mind you, waking up the next day and wondering who had replaced my legs with concrete pillars, was excruciating in itself. I’ll readily admit to being perfectly aware that a paragon of physical perfection I ain’t, but the simple fact that if an eight year old can floor me with a hearty lunge, then I need to lose a few pounds here and there. Oh and everywhere else too.  

April 9, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Sport, Times Past | , | 1 Comment

When YouTube was an Insult.

It’s Friday evening and I’m feeling nostalgic. Hey, you cannot deny it doesn’t happen to you too every once and a while. People say you shouldn’t live in the past. Well tonight I say they are talking from their rear ends. Things that make you happy should never be forgotten and should be revisited at any available opportunity.
What’s brought this on? Well every now and then I feel duty bound as a responsible parent to introduce the Wee Lass to my favourite music, both modern day and from times past. Oooh, some might sense an incoming warm front of self-indulgence but I ask ye to bear with me on this one. I’ll not deny that I’m a rocker at heart, a sucker for some riffing and twiddling solos that go on for longer than is truly necessary. This blog post is categorised under “I Am What I Am” after all. However there’s more to these bonding sessions with the Wee Lass than big hair and spandex trousers. I’m also rather partial to your old-fashioned, song and dance laden, Hollywood musical. It’s the drama student still refusing to shuffle from this mortal coil.
Yup! There’s more to film than Pixar and Disney and I feel obligated to inform the Wee Lass of this unavoidable fact. I’ll trade you my song and dance numbers for your CGI any day of the week. The ideal song or perfect routine in a movie will give you much more emotional bang for your bucks than any special effect ever will.
If it wasn’t for YouTube many of these memories may remain just that. I would venture the opinion that YouTube is the success story of the Internet. Maybe not from a business or legal angle but definitely (or should that be defiantly) from an emotional one. Through its medium we can relive those periods in our lives where we felt happiest or even just relive personal favourites from the world of entertainment and all its forms.
Over the next few weeks the plan is, via the medium of YouTube, etc,  to get people discussing what are their favourite moments in particular categories of entertainment. Tonight I’m going to start with songs and dances from the movies. I had intended initially to start with “cover versions” but I’m holding back on that one until I’m 100% sure what my own particular favourite is in that area. So dig yer tap shoes out from your closet and don your glad-rags for a trawl through the highs and lows of film musicals.
When navigating the vast expanse that is YouTube for snippets of tonight’s topic I’ll always revert to this one. Mainly because it makes me laugh. I never cease to be amazed at the sheer brilliance of what this man does and the inventiveness of the routine. It can be no coincidence that it’s also the one the Wee Lass always asks to see. Enjoy the clip below and include your own favourites in the comments. Let’s all reminisce and, I promise, the show will go on.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Bringing Up Baby, I Am What I Am, Times Past | , | Leave a comment

What’s On Your Mind? – Revisited

Last month I vented forth on the inanity of Facebook. For the most part I vehemently stand by my original opinion, albeit now, with a slight amendment. The reason for doing so is inherently selfish and I cannot feel ashamed nor guilty about it. Accusations of hypocrisy will be taken on board, mulled over, chewed a while, swallowed and removed via the appropriate canals. Every so often a little spot of verbal sparring does no one any harm, so as always, I’m happy to correspond to any contradictions pointed out.
Recently I’ve been adding some old muckeroos and muckerettes to my friends’ list. It’s nice to know they’re all still knocking about and keeping well. One of them has, bizarrely enough, even scaled one of the highest mountains in the world, something which I had casually and unknowingly remarked about in my initial blog post. I’ll readily admit that as I received each friend invitation and acceptance e-mail, a fond memory came with them. IF you’re prone to the occasional moment of sentimentality, then Facebook can offer you a brief moment of comfort in these troublesome times. However, I will also admit to being delighted at the increased size of my friends list as it means a potentially larger number of individuals reading this blog.
A mercenary tactic? Well it would depend on your viewpoint. I genuinely don’t believe it is. The best critics of anything you do in life can be your friends or family, a lot less likely to pull their punches. True, they might also take the opposite route and be untruthfully kind but as someone who aspires to write more and to develop a unique style, a larger reader base is confidence-building. 
Any budding writer’s output will not be to everyone’s taste. We all like different styles of writing and varying subject matters. There are many out there who find Henning Mankell’s work hard going, particularly the non-Wallander novels, yet I believe he’s the most interesting detective in modern literature. Stieg Larsson is accused by his many detractors of blatant misogyny but like the more abundant fans of the Millenium trilogy, I understand he held the opposite view of women and tried to highlight the many injustices they suffer at the hands of men. I’m not intending to compare anything I ever write to their works. Rather it’s an acceptance that not everyone will find the humour in my posts nor agree with my political views. Hell, some of them might even find Dancing on Ice quality entertainment. That’s their choice.
Facebook is a means to an end. Where that end will be I have absolutely no frickin’ clue but the journey will be fun. Although the blog title “Smirking From Home” may convey images of a sad, greying 30-something, sitting at a PC, spewing invective at the modern world, I’ll point people towards the byline. It is about turning my ideas into words. Rantings and ravings, musings and mullings, all rattling around inside this big haired noggin. Like a damn good trump, better out than in, even if the side effects can be messy.
Baby wipes can be provided if you’re prepared to take the plunge. 

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Communicating, I Am What I Am | , , | Leave a comment

DIY: The Manly Way Part 1

When it comes to making life easier for yourself, product promoters will try to tell you that having a gadget for a particular task should fit the bill. Our house has it’s fair share of technological and electrical gizmos, the majority of which are gathering dust somewhere. From onion shredders to power washers, the list is unfathomably long. From my point of view this lust for gadgetry derives from having a dislike of anything which requires manual dexterity or hard labour. Why give yourself wrist strain when you can use a cordless screwdriver instead? It’s a known fact that screwing something onto a wall will invariably involve twisting your body into bizarre contortions in order to achieve success. 
We’ve all had our fair share of DIY disasters. The clue’s in the name itself. If we wanted to expertly assemble cupboards or mount curtain poles we’d all have left school at 16 and became carpentry apprentices. Actually I’m being a little facetious here. A lot of people I know are extremely capable of a spot of DIY and look upon these tasks as a challenge to be overcome, usually with resulting success. It’s just me and my two left thumbs. Oh, and an inherent dislike of assembling stuff. Despite this, I have, as part of my responsibility as a houseowner and parent, have undertaken some “projects” about the house, with mixed outcomes. 
 Last Summer, the curtain pole in the bedroom decided to leap dramatically from the wall, spewing dust and various bits of masonry everywhere. The feckin’ thing took an age to put up in the first place and even then it always felt inevitable that there was going to be a disaster. So it was no great surprise that it did. Hateful a job as it was, I consoled myself with the knowledge that a case of rinse and repeat would correct the problem and the neighbours would no longer have to bear the sight of my bare arse as I changed my keks in the morning. I bet their Cheerios tasted funny during that time. To cut a long and painfully stressful story short, 4 weeks later we had a new curtain pole. Drilling holes in obstinate walls was never my forte but even I managed to create half a dozen of the bloody things, the unused ones now stuffed with parrotfood. B&Q did a roaring trade in screws, drill bits and masonry glue and the neighbour’s children now possess a vocabulary in various shades of blue. Remarkably it hasn’t fallen down yet although I’m not getting too comfortable just yet.
Despite being a drilling novice I once managed to attach a retractable washing line to the back of the house. Naturally it has since fallen down, but the blame for that rests squarely with the wee lass who had decided to train for the London 2012 Asymmetric bars. Honestly speaking, I’m not dreading re-attaching the line. For some bizarre reason I found that drilling into the outside wall was a lot easier than the one inside the house. One of life’s little paradoxes I presume, the dime bar of DIY. I wouldn’t recommend undertaking a similar project if you’re the owner of dentures. You could always use the masonry glue I suppose.
Every Summer when we, well I say we but really I mean she, as in the good lady herself, attempt to clear out the shed, it never ceases to amaze the alarming number of tools and gadgets we possess. The bright blue plastic cupboard on wheels, originally intended for the bathroom, is awash with screwdrivers, hammers, cheap Stanley knives and who knows what else. Yet when it comes down to finding the relevant item for a job in hand, the obligatory phone call to a neighbour is required. Either that or another trip to the father-in-law’s garage. A man dearly missed by us all, my father-in-law was Mr DIY and possessed every known tool available to mankind. IF World War Three had ever broken out suddenly we knew we could have relied on him to knock up a fallout shelter out of old furniture, some paving slabs and a few rolls of string. MacGuyver had nothing on him. No job was too innocuous nor too daunting and he had the equipment always at hand. There’s none like him and unlikely to be in the future as us males become more DIY deficient as the years go by. We’re losing many skills which were virtually essential amongst the older generations. I doubt if the latest iPhone has an application for assembling computer desks.
As the harshest Winter we’ve had for decades shows signs of disappearing and the trees, normally ablaze with blooming blossoms by now, showing new signs of life, the impending doom of cleaning up the garden approaches. Manual effort again, you see. The paths are manky and the grey muck of winter has splattered the outside walls. Time to produce the power washer. It’s in the shed somewhere.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am | , | Leave a comment

Under Siege

Finger pointing is generally frowned upon as being socially ignorant and insulting. It rarely accomplishes anything other than raising the hackles of the recipient even further, a sure-fire method of fanning the flames of futility where an argument is concerned. Once the finger is raised the defensive barriers slam shut and progress decides its’ had enough and goes on vacation for 2 weeks. In the meantime, the protagonists in the original debate continue finger-jabbing and the common man loses all hope in ever having a satisfactory outcome achieved.
I used to be a Union Rep whilst I worked in the financial services sector. The union at the time was Amicus which has since merged with other organisations to form the largest collective in the United Kingdom, Unite. Honestly speaking, it was a thankless task. The country was in the throes of an economic boom, one which we now know was a feckin’ great Trojan Horse, generously presented to us by Bank Plc. Unions  and their members were considered a nuisance but were generally accepted as the itch that could be lived with. Times were good so the itch could be controlled easily with a little dab of cream here and there and all of us continued on our merry way. Rarely was there a need to upset the apple cart. Unions were content with the minor issues in the corporate world and the HR departments and Directors across the country were just happy to have their staff under a modicum of control. Who was to know that the Garden of Eden was in fact located in Denmark?
Now it seems the world is falling apart. Unemployment is rising at a rate last seen in the 1980’s. Many people are facing financial hardships, admittedly caused by frivolous over-spending but primarily caused by unscrupulous lending practices by the bankers and their lust for gluttonous bonuses. Amidst the maelstrom, there are people fighting for survival, for their jobs, their homes and their families. I’m not convinced we’re remotely even near the end of the storm but like all economic cycles the boom will once again return some day. For now though we shall struggle on. As a union rep I always believed I was part of something special. Even in the days when everything was carefree and easy, we always had some issue or other to deal with on behalf of our members. The big movement at the time was trying to prevent the outsourcing of our own jobs to India, a fight which has since disappeared into the bigger picture.
I mention the Indian scenario as it has a major relevance in highlighting the blatant hypocrisy on display in certain parts of the media and the political establishment the past few days. The current cause celebre is the impending BA cabin crew strikes planned for the next two weekends. In one corner we have Unite, who have balloted their members on the basis of protecting jobs in the face of extreme cost cutting measures proposed by the company. In the other we have quite an array of scrappers all lining up to have a free potshot at unite and its’ members. Naturally one of these is Willie Walsh, a cut-price Michael O’Leary, only without the witty quotes. He states the strikers have a hidden agenda to destroy British Airways. Now to this untrained eye, that’s akin to turkeys striking for a better quality of birdfood. Yet as a highly-charged soundbite designed to cause Janet and Charles to spit their Earl grey over their copies of the Daily Mail, it’s incredibly clever. What better to provoke popular disgust at the strikers, than to pander to the literate numnuts of middle-England. We’ve all witnessed the power of the “horrified from Henley” brigade whenever their plumes have been ruffled. I can hear the tuttings from here.
Then we have the Government weighing in, calling the strikes “deplorable and unjustified“. The same Government which has decided to obviously pish in its own bed, deciding that they can probably do without the £11+million it gets in donations from Unite. Can this finally be the definitive proof that New Labour is truly divorced from its roots as a party of the people, the working man? Let’s all cosy up to whichever fat cat is in trouble this week and keep the defecting voters onside. Mind you, it’s not terribly surprising as we all sold our souls when the good times flowed.
Whatever side of the fence you might fall on is entirely up to you. That’s your constitutional right to do so living in a “free” society. However, I’d like to point out one thing to those out there who are the rabid, fervent supporters of everything they read in the Daily Heil. The next time you complain about some Indian called Sanjit or Meenu talking to you about the Market Value Reduction on your Bond, you are the architect of your own displeasure. Those bolshie unions, whom you are currently spewing over like fleas round a pile of manure, fought in vain to prevent those jobs moving to the call centres of Mumbai and Bangalore. Even when the circus was rolling in admittance fees, the ringmasters still outsourced their performers. You shrugged your shoulders and returned to your golf clubs and your places in the sun. No over-zealous sense of moral outrage to be seen back then. From that perspective you can keep your whines to yourself and consequently you have no reason for complaint this time either.
Apologies. I’ve wandered off down the road of polemical ranting. I hadn’t intended to but it takes a certain degree of discipline to maintain a focused mind on such a topic which is close to my political mindset. It’s incredibly frustrating to constantly have to contend with right-wing, anti-employee, smug disgust from the cloistered  denizens of suburban and rural comfort. Whilst I firmly believe in dialogue as the natural means to overcome all issues, there comes a time when the ordinary people amongst us have to make the decision to get up, walk away and take the ball with us. If not, then the corporations win again. Just like the banks. I believe the term is riding roughshod.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Politics | , | 1 Comment

Ironing: The Manly Way

Her facial expression said it all when I told her. It was as if I had announced that I had converted to Islam, or worse again, in her eyes, turned Prod. Not only had the evil Presbyterian temptress stolen her eldest grandson away from the all the innocent sweet Catholic colleens in the South, she was now forcing me to do the ironing. A man ironing!? Surely that was the job of the woman of the house. Before you know it there’ll be Famine, Pestilence, Death and War riding the apocalyptic Grand National. I was unleashing the destruction of masculinity upon the world, committing treason against what she had believed in for so long. All matters housework were not the responsibility of the man.
What she couldn’t comprehend was the fact that I said I actually enjoyed ironing. No word of a lie. Pop the telly on, get out me board and start smoothing. In an odd way it’s remarkably therapeutic, duvets and all sorts of bed-linen excepted. There’s little heavy thinking involved, unlike bloody DIY and a damn sight less strenuous. Those extreme ironers can pish off with their cliff-top extravagances and underwater starching. A good cup of tea and the 6 Nations is all I need. Hardly adrenalising but if I wanted that kind of buzz I’d run through a mosque eating a bacon sarnie and singing viva la Diva. A good life or death chase should always involve an Israeli transsexual and Friday prayers. I’d better patent that idea before Endemol do.
Aye, it’s not the worse way in the world to relieve some stress. After your first few efforts you do start to get the hang of it, finally succumbing to vanity when you’ve ironed the perfect shirt. To me that’s the pinnacle of ironing achievement. The Morphy Richards Prize for Smoothing Excellence. Feck, I should get out more. Though there’s no denying the pleased feeling you get when the shirt you’ve just spent 5 minutes on looks sharp and supermodel flat, with nary a bump or crease to be seen. To be brutally honest, everything is tailored to the situation required. NO need to worry over a garment’s smoothness if it’s going underneath another item of clothing. It’s the manly shortcut again I suppose. Why should it be ironed if no one’s going to see it? I’ll admit to ironing my keks mainly because they’re easy to do, a nice breather between the blouses and vests.
I took over doing the majority of the ironing mainly because we had run out of carpet to vacuum. The vacuuming used to be my main household chore when we lived in Belfast. Back then I played a lot of Final Fantasy and I had to earn my brownie points in some way. The same applies now, as I’m soon approaching my fifth year immersed in Azeroth. Ironing is my gaming currency. My interest in PC gaming led me a number of years back to build my own PC. Boys and their toys eh? Funnily enough when I set foot on my ironing path, I adopted the typical man approach of finding the appropriate tools for the job. Hence we’re now in possession of a board which no feckin’ cover will properly fit and a digital iron. Well if the job’s to be done right the tools have to be fit for manly purpose.
Like I have mentioned previously I enjoy this task. As long as there’s something to watch on the telly then I’m good to go. Next up? Learn to love gardening. That’s what.
Oh and I recommend for company when yer de-wrinkling yer jeans. 

February 22, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am | , | 1 Comment

Mince and Potatoes

Is Atychiphobia an irrational state of mind? Whether it is or isn’t is not the focus of this post today. As much as I love to bullshit as much as the next man, I am not in possession of a psychology degree. Reading peoples’ minds is a one way ticket to insanity if you ask me. It’s bad enough having your own demons to contend with without trying to help someone realise they’re not the lovechild of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. I’ll apologise now for that rash moment of flippancy in the full understanding that I know the practice of delving in to the human mind is more complex and demanding than that.
When it comes to cooking I admit to being a little atychiphobic though. When you leave the relative safety of your own comfort zone everyone has the fear of failure in some small shape or form. It’s only natural. The common belief is that leaving ones’ comfort zone helps one develop as a human being. The element of risk involved, the discovery of hidden talent and the joys of having created something you didn’t think was possible for you to achieve. This is evolution in one of its’ most common states. That and co-operating with other life forms as opposed to eating them.
I’m lucky enough to be married to a lady for whom preparing quality food is as natural as Eric Morecambe’s comic timing. There’s little she cannot turn a hand to in the kitchen and for that I am extremely grateful. Every once and again I’ll be in charge of the dinner and that’s where the fear kicks in. All of a sudden the simplest task becomes a matter of life and food poisoning. My corner of cooking calmness is mince and potatoes. Simple, effective and completely devoid of stress. Most of the time. I can prepare mince and spuds with my eyes virtually shut but even then I’m always afraid it’ll not turn out right. The mince will be too chewy or the gravy too lumpy. Even though you are generally at the mercy of the quality of potato, there’s still the chance that I’ll bugger up the mash. You can have all the fancy meats and sauces you want but producing pure, delumptious mash is a gift handed down from the Gods. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise about cooking the family dinner. If the mash disappears up the left, you’ll end up experiencing a texture close to chewing underpants full of porridge.
Thankfully I generally like to think I’m more successful than not. A fear of failure even in the simplest dish provokes furious concentration. Every now and then I’ll swipe Jamie’s magic torch and disappear off into the culinary unknown. Usually it’s in an attempt to concoct a tasty dessert, a meringue based mulch of some sort. I get the creeps even thinking about making a meringue and yet I’ll persist in the vain hope that one day I’ll get it right. Nigella’s meringues are a personal favourite but even she cannot rescue this hopeless cook. My most recent attempts ended with copious dollops of unsweetened language and in the bin. Cheese and feckin’ biscuits it was that Sunday afternoon.
It’s hard really to conclusively point a finger at the crux of the issue. Methinks I like the idea of cooking something special for the family and guests but without the realisation that’s it’s best left to the expert. The wonderful notion of people worshipping at the foot of my Eton Mess remains firmly in the background of remote possibility. I should really stick to vacuuming the mat.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am | , | 1 Comment

The Best Laid Plans.

Fear takes on many forms. Without doubt there’s the brown trouser instances of fear, moments which would genuinely scare the insides out of anyone. Having a gun pointed at you would be high on that list of frightening experiences. I can only imagine what that might feel like and like most individuals would have no desire to discover what it would be like. Being assaulted would be another, a few smacks in the gob that arrive without warning or ones that you knew were inevitable because your fat legs couldn’t move fast enough. I have to admit having first hand knowledge of the latter kind. 
I never mitched from school, except for one unfortunate time in my fifth year there. I enjoyed high school immensely so there was no real excuse for non-attendance.  Near the school itself were the ruins of an old tower. I say tower, but to be honest, it was more like a crumbling old mini-castle which belonged to some bigwig of yesteryear. For the life of me I now cannot recall the name but I do remember the surrounds of the property. It sat proudly on the crest of a large mound with what resembled a dry moat at the base. There were numerous trees in the vicinity making the whole scene rather picturesque. At lunchtimes the tower was a popular haunt for those in the older classes in school. Many, including myself, would gather there to muck about and generally act the eejit. This usually consisted of forming groups and throwing stones at each other. I’m sensing many a raised eyebrow at this point and with good reason. Such is the folly of youth that such a pastime seemed normal in those heady days of adolescence. I now cannot imagine what would have happened if one of those projectiles actually connected.
Our lunchtimes didn’t solely consist of mock warfare at the tower. It was more common to just chill out under the sun and shoot the breeze. On that fateful day, an impromptu plan was hatched to head back to the school, gather our belongings and return to the leafy surrounds of the tower to spend the afternoon enjoying the privileges of being one of the seniors in the school, namely that we thought we could do what we liked. If I recall correctly, there wasn’t much happening that afternoon so the guilt quotient was remarkably low, unusual for young Catholic boys at a school run by the De La Salle Brothers. A guilty conscience was a pre-requisite growing up in those days, whether you were involved in anything roguish or not.
Actually in hindsight it was PE we were supposed to participating in that afternoon. There’s a reason I remember this well, one of those “bloody hell, what if”, moments you have on occasion. My PE kit resided in a tattered old green, leathery holdall with the strap slowly unattaching itself on one side. Also inside the bag was my Walkman, one which played cassettes. This was 1991 after all and long before I could ever have afforded a CD player in any shape or form. It was only after the subsequent events that followed that it occurred to me what I might have lost.
We arrived at the tower as planned and everything seemed as it should have been. The weather was warm and welcoming, no need to wear our heavy blazers or shocking blue jumpers. What we hadn’t anticipated was that we would have company and our idyllic day descended downhill rapidly.
As mentioned previously, we were not active in the dark art of truancy. First time for everything and so forth. IN our rush to carry through our cunning plan for rest and relaxation, we forgot to contemplate that there may have been others who were of similar intent, ones for whom skiving classes was not just a regular event but a badge of honour. It was to be our misfortune that they had actually even bothered to turn up to school that day at all, even only to scarper after lunchtime as was apparently normal. We were impinging on their territory that afternoon, with the added inconvenience that we, as casual, inexperienced mitchers, would attract attention to their habitual arrangements. It’s only now, when I look back on that day, that I realise were disrupting something more than just truancy. It makes sense now why these budding young hooligans never fully engaged in the schooling process, preferring to wander around half-dazed most of the time. Add naivety to the guilty conscience. The tower did have a reputation for being a drinking den amongst the hallions of Cox’s Demesne, the local sink estate, at the weekends. Seemingly it wasn’t just confined to Friday or Saturday nights.
What followed happened in a whirlwind of teenage cruelty, casual violence and nausea. Funnily enough there is still the odd occasion when I get a cold shiver thinking about it. It started almost immediately. Our belongings were wrenched from our grasps, the contents of satchels and holdalls, mindlessly emptied down the sides of the mount. For some reason I had taken my Walkman from my bag on the way there and it was safely in the inside pocket of my blazer. You can understand now why I breathe a sigh of relief about that day. The occasional fist was flung, at this juncture not towards me, mainly due to my normal cowardly position of not wishing to become involved in a ruck, such was my ineptitude at scrapping. You could feel the tension, the slow dawning realisation that all was not going to end well. A rare moment of calm ensued as we gathered up our scattered sportswear and schoolbooks. Had their sadistic interest in us subsided?
Ahhh, the chase. We had quickly and wisely opted to leave. To stay would have been a request for a beating. AS we trundled off towards the large iron gate which guarded the entrance to the mount, the gallumping of thuggish hooves was heard. One last infliction of misery to sate their bloodthirsty lust for violence. We ran. I was never the fittest person in the world but could move if the mood took me. The mood was up that day but the pins weren’t. Smack! Two jabs to beak later and I was allowed to depart, my tail firmly between my legs, my mind suffering a dizzying incomprehension of the previous 10 minutes.
We never went back.
To me, that day encapsulated was it means to be afraid. If asked to recall a time when I experienced fear of the intensely physical kind, that sunny afternoon in Dundalk, in 1991, will always be my choice. There’s something inherently frightening about having an ideal situation or scenario ripped away from you without warning. It’s the feeling of helplessness, the damning inevitability of what was about to happen and the sickening sense that you could do nothing about it whether you wanted to or not.
Note: I had intended to write about a more light-hearted interpretation of fear. This story was supposed to be the introduction but the stream of consciousness took over. If I were to continue with this post both ideas would clash and be lost in a wordy stew. I do believe, however, that there is space for both humour and seriousness in the blog. I hope you will agree.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Times Past | , | 1 Comment

Cleaning: The Manly Way.

The downstairs of our house has no carpet. You have to love tiles and wooden floors, although I would much prefer to partake in a spot of vacuuming as opposed to “down on the knees” scrubbing and mopping. There is, however, a solitary maroon mat in the family area. Right behind me now as it happens. It acts as the communal gathering point for rebellious crumbs and hooded cat hairs, the dust particle equivalent of the local park, only without the bottles of Lurgan Champagne. One minute it’s nice and Dyson fresh, the next it possesses a furry stubble. The damn cat’s the main offender. How she manages to open the packet of digestives I’ll never fathom.
Sunshine slashing through the window blinds usually exacerbates the problem, the same way it show’s just how much dust can congregate on your 32″ LCD. Today was no exception and for fear of the rug standing up and walking out of the house in open rebellion, I gave the Dyson its weekly outing. Two minutes is all it takes. Nice and simple, no nooks or crannies to negotiate and nothing that should worry anybody who has a talent at cleaning or housework of any sort.
Or so you would think. I do my fair share about the house but in a manly way. Not by wearing a loincloth and wrestling grizzlies kind of manly, but more like shuftying things about the place kind of manly. Think Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsop. Think hunt the thimble. And more importantly, understand the male appreciation of the shortcut. In today’s case, the mat was easily and quickly sucked clean. As were the surrounds and beneath the sofa. By beneath the sofa I mean the first inch and a half the nozzle can penetrate. Robert’s christening is a few weeks away so the big spring clean can wait another day. What I shouldn’t have done was attempt to clean the computer desk the manly way. No need for a dustcloth or polish. Attack the fag ash and toast crumbs with the hoover, that’s the way to do it. Just be careful about items on your computer desk that have temporarily dropped by to say hello. Say, for example, a half drank cup of coffee. Or a fabric baby’s bootee.
It’s that split second when you know something’s about to happen, you know you should be doing something about but the connection between your brain and your reflexes blows a fuse. Whoomph! “Pants”. At least the camel and the eye of the needle idea could be proved if you had a large enough vacuum cleaner. Where had it gone? Well I can now honestly say I know how the extruding accoutrements of a Dyson are assembled. Meccano training as a 10-year-old has finally had its uses. Putting it all back together was naturally trickier than expected. That’s one of the predictable facets of life, rarely disproven by man or beast.
So what have I learned today? The bloomin’ obvious mainly. Sometimes it’s better to sacrifice the manly, shortcut method of cleaning the house and use yer paws. We men eh? We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we? And does the hoover still work? Can’t answer that. The mats already been cleaned for this week.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am | , | 1 Comment