Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

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

I’m a Celebrity, Vote me in Here.

At the current rate of going, we should not be surprised if Orville the Duck puts himself forward for election in May. It’s quite possible he might give Paisley Junior a run for his money in North Antrim. Aye, the silly season continues unabated in the pantomime that is Northern Irish politics. Two local TV journalists/celebrities are being nominated by their parties for the forthcoming elections. There’s nothing really wrong with that per se. Martin Bell fared well in the general election in 1997, although admittedly he had an extremely soft target in Neil Hamilton, along with the sweeping emasculation of the Tories as a whole that year. The main question is, though, is where will all this lead?
Will May McFettridge stand in North Belfast and give Dodds a run for his money? Personally I fancy the idea of Roy Walker running in East Belfast. He certainly would have a catchphrase or two, ideal for a political soundbite. As the best known presenter of Catchphrase, he described Paisley Junior, on a 2005 NI Celebrity Christmas Special of the show, as “the poster boy for legalised abortion”. That’s bound to ruffle a few feather and give us all some cat-fighting to chortle over as opposed to the tedious hubris we’re so accustomed to.
Over on the mainland, how long do we reckon it’ll be before Katie Price decides to run for election? All she needs to do is determine the constituency with the largest voting base consisting of 18-year-old female Oompa Loompas. A shoe-in I would have thought. To counter-act the inevitable madness of such a nomination, we could have Emma Thompson, running for the Lib Dems, adding a touch of class to proceedings. It would certainly bring back fond memories of the formative male years watching The Tall Guy. Coincidentally, the Lib Dems are in the process of nominating a pornography director as one of their candidates. Conservatives are now fearing a “well-hung” parliament.
When the weird cult of celebrity inveigles itself into political life, it’s a sure sign that the future isn’t bright. In northern Ireland it’s plausible to think it’ll not be orange either for much longer. Unless of course Jordan opts for Mid Ulster.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Politics | | Leave a comment

Snooze Buttons

The only predictable thing about life is its’ unpredictability. One minute you’re splashing about in the pool having a whale of a time and the next you’re fish food. You spend ages mastering a skill or perfecting a routine task and before you know it the goalposts have been shifted, rendering all previous time and effort wasted. We’ve all been there at some point in your various employment histories. Nothing really prepares you, though, for whenever the guiding hand behind the metaphorical goalposts is a 3 month old chubby bundle of sleepy, hungry gowls.
For the past three weeks or so I’ve been enthusiastically regaling the other parents on the school run about how well the wee fella has settled into a sleeping pattern. “Aye, down at seven and sleeps right through”. “Well sure it means we have our evenings now, some quality time to ourselves”. “Nightmare!! Still not settling after two years?” Honestly speaking, I let people know about Robert’s new-found night-time pattern with a sub-conscious blowing of raspberries in their faces. I would even venture the notion that we all do it in some shape or form, the “isn’t my kid wonderful and yours is the spawn of Beelzebub” spiel. The sport of parental one-upmanship is played out in schoolyards and at coffee-mornings the nation over. Yet it’s not a deliberate, conscious series of actions. It happens without thinking in most scenarios, the notion that no matter what grey hair inducing, living hell they put you through in private, your kids are infinitely better than theirs. It’s an automatic reflex for a lot of people, a kind of parental Tourette’s.
Maybe I’m over elaborating the point here. I’ll readily admit to being astonished and proud of the newest little thing the wains have said or done and will happily tell other people as such. What riles this old goat is that there’ll always be another parent, usually a stay-at-home mother, who’ll tell you that her little Kayleigh or Josh learned to dump in a pot at 12 months whilst reading The Goblet of Fire. “Nice one”, I’ll say, wondering whether I should buy Robert a guitar and have him serenade Doctor Jab with Stairway to Heaven when he gets his MMR shots.
So there we were mooching happily along thinking Robert nicely attuned to sleeping right through when for a few days he decided to spice the routine up. 1am. 3am. Back to 1am with a leap forward to 4am the following night. The newest game in our house is guess the wake up call. Unsurprisingly and predictably we’re rarely accurate in our answers. Maybe that’s the joy of having children, the ceaseless variety in your life. Sure, if it’s during normal daylight hours. Just not in the dead of night with chilblains on me bunions* due to the frost outside.
We have two alarm clocks in our house. The digital one is permanently set to 07:30, a perfectly reasonable time to begin a long day of nappies, boke and yaps. Robert is the random alarm as you’ve no doubt worked out. No time of day is sacred and we’ve gone beyond the 28 days for a refundable return. Now if I can only just find the snooze button without resorting to a boink on the noggin, all would be a lot easier to live with. My star-signs are telling me I’m going to get some disapproving looks for writing that. A good friend of mine recently posted a sign on their newborns bedroom door, something along the lines of “The Little P.I.T.A”. When asked by his good lady wife what it meant, he was reminded that an attempt at humour where babies are concerned should come with a health warning. Somehow referring to a clockwork crying machine as the “Pain In The Arse” is not a source of amusement. Being of similar nature to the man in question, I chuckled heartily. Though I’ll remind myself to learn from his mistake. Always have a back-up answer, a get-away car.
Overall Robert been fairly generous to us in relation to his sleeping habits. Nocturnally at least. So no matter how much I appear to be having a good old moan about it here, I cannot really complain. On the contrary, I’ve discovered a few new shows on the telly at those ungodly hours. The Amazing Dermot is one of these. It’s the type of humour you feel you shouldn’t be laughing at but you do. I “roflmao‘ed” a lot actually. Then again, maybe it was the strangeness of the hour that did it.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | Bringing Up Baby, Ondatelly | | 2 Comments

Whose Ball is it Anyway?

There’s one thing you can almost be certain of in Northern Ireland and that’s a healthy dose of manky rain. The past three summers in the Province have been a duck’s paradise, an ideal destination for waddlers of all persuasions, except the Loyal kind. A clingy drizzle is not conducive to a pleasant dander in the middle of July. Recently we’ve been experiencing an unusual phenomenon as in it hasn’t rained in what seems like months. Admittedly it’s colder than a polar bear’s nadgers but there’s a general acceptance that as long as it’s bright and sunny, we can endure a touch of frost. You would be not alone in believing, hoping even, that this period of sustained sunshine would engender a positive attitude throughout our political establishment. The old adage of making hay while the shines would be an apt description of the opportunities available at Stormont, to progress a devolved government and get on with resuscitating a faltering economy. But for some it seems they’re only happy when it rains
Over the past few months we’re been playing a never-ending game of whose ball is it anyways. The bearpit haggling of Hillsborough was supposed to have drawn a line in the sand on the matter of devolving Police and Justice to Stormont. Naturally not everyone was fully enamoured with the agreements made but there was the glimmer of hope that at last something workable had been achieved. So it’s with no great surprise that we wake up today to find that the one of the Unionist parties has opted to throw a the whole box of spanners into the works. 
I’ve stated before that I have no political affiliations in the Province. Previously I would have leaned towards the ideologies promoted by the SDLP but even they in recent times are indulging in the whose ball is it game. It’s very hard to offer support to any political party whilst they insist on endlessly trying to score points off each other, a game which only serves to remind us that as long as our political elite remain as they are, Northern Ireland will never grow up and leave the past behind.
Today it’s the UUP throwing their rattle out of the pram. At Hillsborough it was the Shinners, followed immediately after, by the SDLP who wanted the Justice Minister ball on their side of the fence. It’ll be someone else tomorrow when the usual recriminations begin flying. At the time of writing this the Assembly vote has not occurred. The likelihood is that the vote will be carried but at what cost? Once again, at the core of all issues, will the the failure of grown men and women, predominantly educated, to look beyond their petty spites and grasp one of the final major chances at their disposal to move forward. Are we approaching the last chance saloon? For one thing, the benevolence of Dublin, London and Washington will not last forever. The financial impact of discord is immeasurable in the face of a potential and dare I say it, increasingly likely, return to violence in Northern Ireland. Only for so long will the afore-mentioned governments pledge financial support to Stormont, in the hope that Reg, Gerry, Peter, Paul and Mary, will one day agree to agree on something.
One wonders if it will ever be different. The forthcoming general election is the mouse in the pantry. All sides are positioning themselves, ready to canvass their constituencies, on the basis that they’re standing up for what they believe in and behaving accordingly. Alliances are being formed and divisions are widening, especially within Unionism. I worry for the traditional Unionist voter. It can’t being easy deciding on which brand of “No” to vote for this time. Sinn Fein may think they can sit back and look smugly upon the unfolding mayhem within Unionism but in reality, and ironically, their position will only be weakened as a result. There cannot be an exciting game of football without equal competition and more importantly, a ball to play with. And if one side decides to burst that ball then who knows whether the game will ever be re-scheduled.
As I write this the sun is cascading through my window and I’m swathed in a comfortable heat. Experience is telling me it isn’t going to last. We live in Northern Ireland after all, where the only predictability is the fact that sooner or later it’ll all go belly up. A warm summer ahead? I wouldn’t bet on it, petrol bombs or otherwise.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | Politics | 1 Comment

A United Front

It’s ironic, in our current recessionary times, to know of at least 100,000 individuals who are wholeheartedly throwing their support behind a group of wealthy financiers and hedge fund directors. A small lump catches in the throat writing that sentence as I have previously tended to favour the public lynching approach when it comes to bankers. However, I’m not scribbling today about how they and their ilk have unapologetically knackered our lives for at least the next 10 years. We all have enough to think and worry about on that front. Today’s concern is about collective action in pursuit of a common goal and the case in point is Manchester United.
With full colours nailed firmly to the mast I’ll readily admit to being a Red of the devilish kind. United inspire devotion and loathing in equal measure. Recent years of phenomenal success have exacerbated that fact, which makes for many a lively conversation across dinner-tables and in workplaces the whole country over. The major question is though: could that loyalty and enmity come together with the aim saving the bleeding soul of English Football? It’s extremely unlikely but there are times when tribal feuding needs to be put aside to vanquish the foreign invader. It’s unfortunate that the blinkered attitude of many rival football fans will probably prevent such a groundswell of protest and action ever producing tangible results. Yet something has to be done and this week I offered my support to a group who are at least attempting to lead the revolution.
The Manchester United Supporter’s Trust (MUST) are openly recruiting fans, home and abroad, to sign up to their campaign to force the Glazer Family from their ownership of the team. IT’s common knowledge, that by buying the club in 2005, the Glazer’s have currently loaded over £700 million of debt onto Manchester United, a figure that will continue to rise. The potential ramifications are huge, of that there’s no doubt. Luckily, MUFC are a highly profitable sports brand and as such are currently buffeted against immediate financial collapse. IN the current economic climate nothing is certain and that’s the major concern. Vast sums of money are leaving the club, which ultimately will be detrimental to the team and the club’s legacy. There are many out there who would relish the collapse of United. Whilst I may be naive in thinking that this could solely be limited to affairs on the football pitch, it would be churlish for any opposing fan to wish for the total destruction of one of their most hated rivals. As a United fan I derive constant amusement at the obligatory “this is our year” jabberings from the Scousers every August but I could never countenance them disappearing down a financial black hole, a perilous situation which they also face. That’s a no-win situation for all fans of the beautiful game.
So on Wednesday I signed up to the MUST website and offered my support to the campaign. The process was relatively simple although I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed by the quality and functionality of the site. I imagine that their incoming web traffic must be causing some technical issues so I can understand any problems they may be experiencing. The main aim however to generate interest in the idea that through pressure and ultimately, financial backing, the Glazer’s can be returned to Florida, tails between their legs. The irony of this being, is if they do, they’ll be returning even wealthier, possibly through selling the club to the Red Knights. Whether the whole plan is feasible, plausible or credible is irrelevant at this point in time. The main fact is that enough fans of united come together to show their support for the initiative. Yes, United is a cash cow, and will be for any investor but surely it’s better for the supporters and the club that the investor’s are (a) well known as fans of United and (b) will not have the club as debt laden as it presently is. Is the grass greener on the other side? Well, I’d like the chance to find out.
An interesting sideshow to all this is happening in Liverpool. The Spirit of Shankly group is trying to force their own Yankee Doodles out of their club as well. I wish them luck although I was disheartened by the following comments made by their spokesman, Jay McKenna, with regards to mutual co-operation between the two organisations in respect to their campaigns. 
Angry as the group is though, there is little chance of them linking up with Manchester United fans, many of whom are equally incensed by the American ownership at their own club, when the two bitter rivals face each other at Old Trafford on March 21.

“It is a complete non-starter,” McKenna added.

“The idea that Liverpool and Manchester United fans will walk down the same road together is never going to happen.”  

Whilst I can understand the mutual loathing between the two sets of fans, surely the greater interest of both parties should take preference. The idea of two bitter rivals sharing a platform towards a common goal could only send a clear defiant message to the powers that be. Stranger things have happened although the police may have something to say about the feasibility of such a congregation.
Let’s just wait to see how things pan out over the coming weeks and months. 

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Sport | , | Leave a comment

Can I Speak To…?

A couple of weeks ago I pontificated about some of the methods of communication we have at our disposal in this day and age. There’s an almost endless array of gadgets, applications and tools at our disposal, allowing us to stay in touch, buy items cheaply and the subject of today’s topic, be hassled by unknown entities. Increasingly often I answer the phone only to be addressed by a pre-recorded message telling me not to hang up as there’s an important message I need to hear. Even if I hadn’t had to drag my sorry backside off the couch, usually mid-babyfeed or nappy-from-hell changing, I doubt I’d still be amenable to whatever fantastic offer they had in store for me. There’s a small part of me that feels they’ve missed a trick with this pre-recorded voice malarkey. Your standard Queen’s English intonation doesn’t cut any mustard but if they adopted Stephen Hawking’s voice box then I could very well be lured in, even if they were not offering time-travel as opposed to timeshares.
It all smacks of desperation, or to be more accurate, a sad reflection of the current global economic situation. Five or six years ago a call centre in India would have been created to spam us with these random sales/information calls, whereas these days it’s obviously cheaper to knock something up using a dialer and some voice software. The Indian treasury must be feeling the heat by now. Admittedly the majority of “nuisance” calls we receive are still emanating from East. In the last week alone I’ve been contacted by four individuals offering me cheaper home insurance. I know I received the odd substantial bonus in my early years at the Prudential, but I cannot recall spending them on a beachfront condo in Mumbai. Whilst I can understand people “losing the bap” when they receive these calls, I cannot condone it. We’re a global society now. Virtually everyone is either a ring or a click away. No matter where someone is, or who they are, it’s their job, their source of income. Yes it’s annoying but a little common courtesy should be the order of the day. And if it persists then there’s always the Telephone Preference Service for those of you who reside in the UK. 
All this was brought to the forefront of my attention last week when I attended an interview for a sales job at a call centre in Belfast. The campaign was to call mobile phone users up and “persuade” them to switch provider. For 45 minutes of the interview we were ushered into the main hub to listen to a few calls being made by current employees. There’s no denying the fact, that no matter where an operation such as this exists, be it Belfast or Bangalore, it’s bloody soul-destroying. My background was primarily an inbound call centre, where people called you as they wanted to discuss something important to them. It too had its moments of stomach churning despair but on the whole I believed we provided a valuable service to policyholders, generally with good humour and sound knowledge of the company’s products. Nothing, though, prepared me for what I experienced last week.  There’s an expression I’m particularly fond of. You can teach a monkey to ride a bike but you can’t teach it to explain what it’s doing. In that short period of time I genuinely cannot recall seeing one person smile. The air was thick with silent streams of desperation, fragments of futile hopes to achieve any sale of some sort. I sat with one particular chap from Belfast who, in the course of the 45 minutes, contacted 12 answering machines, and spoke to 7 mobile phones users, 2 of whom told him to foxtrot oscar in no uncertain terms. The remainder had no interest whatsoever in taking out a £30 a month contract over the phone. You know the drill. You get the guff from the employer about how wonderful it is to work for them and how great the career prospects are. After a year you could be peeling your own bananas. With hard work and dedication, after two years, you could be showing others how to peel their bananas. I asked my phone-buddy what the average length of time someone stayed in the company for. He said 4 months. Unsurprisingly, that coincided with the probationary period. Maybe I’m looking back on my Prudential days with rose-tinted spectacles but I can genuinely state it was never anything like this, even in the dark days when people realised they couldn’t pay their mortgages when their endowments matured, let alone afford the speedboat they were “promised”. At least with those calls we had a captive audience.
I’m not overly optimistic about getting the job, sales not being my strongest natural attribute. What it does do is serve as a sharp reminder about two things: the necessity of finding a means a sustainable means of income but also to do it in a way that will not result in a breakdown of mental faculties. We’re caught over a barrel in many ways, especially the younger and recently redundant elements of the “searching for workforce”. There’s plenty of call centre jobs these days but they come at a price. And is that a price worth paying. I’d love to be able to definitively answer that. I’m not 100% convinced I can. One thing is remarkably evident though from browsing call centre jobs online and in the recruitment papers. There are very few inbound telephone roles these days, a clear indication of cutbacks in the  customer service industry. When they start using voice messages as opposed to highly educated and friendly Indians, then we are truly on the slippery slope downwards to meltdown in that sector. It’ll all reverse itself again in the future no doubt. It generally does. What form it will take is hard to second guess. Although I’ll hazard a guess that it’ll occur at exactly the same time when the banking bastards decide they’ll start offering you credit cards and cheap loans again, rather than answer any simple question you may have about your account. That’s another story for another time though.
To end on a slightly jollier note, a good friend of mine gave me a brief insight into how he deals with cold-callers. Knowing him as well as I do at this stage, I wouldn’t doubt him for a second. It’s more than likely been toned down for public consumption.
“Good evening sir. I’m calling on behalf of <insert random company name I’ve never heard of> and I’d like to offer you -”
 “Ah yes, I’d like to order the American Hot please, with extra jalapenos.”
 *stunned silence*
 “Oh, and I may as well take advantage of your special and have a 2 litre coke with that. Cheers mate!”
There’s more than one way to skin the cat it seems.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Communicating | , | 2 Comments

Two Steps Back.

You know those days that come along every once in a while where you just feel totally and utterly bushwhacked, devoid of any capacity to function properly? Today is one of them. Without sounding too much like I’m standing staring into a raging abyss, I’m completely drained, bloody freezing and in dire need of six jars of the black stuff. Don’t listen to the man kids, the gargle is good for ye. As Homer rightly said, it’s “the cause of and the solution to all life’s problems”. Frustration’s the order of the day. We’ve all been there, trying to get something done , not knowing how to feckin’ do it. To slap some icing on the cake we’ve had another bomb here in Norn Iron.
I’ll readily admit to having an interest in politics. There’s a small part of me that would love to run for election, throw a few Daniel’s amongst the grannies. I then wake up, smelling the Nescafe, realising that in this neck of the world, such an exercise would be the epitome of pointlessness. As much as I’m fond of many people here in the Province, when it comes to politics and voting, they’re as thick as four cartons of contraband Superkings in a bingo hall. Small exceptions to every rule apart, they either vote on the basis of their religious convictions or because they believe the otherfla is the spawn of the anti-christ. I paused for a moment after writing that last sentence, to consider whether  I was being too general in my tarring of the Northern Irish public. Luckily for them though I decided to leave my feathers at home. Sadly I believe Northern Irish politics is more about general matters than specifics and as such the people who vote for this pond-life deserve whatever ridicule they get.
The two largest parties, the Ballymena Hillbillies  and the Illegitimate Sons of Peig pulled off a remarkable coup at the last election. Somehow or other they managed to achieve two remarkable feats of strategic electioneering.  Firstly, the managed to persuade the shell-suited, sovereign ringed members of their respective tribal hinterlands to stop watching Jeremy Kyle and get out and vote. What’s equally as impressive and infinitely more disturbing, is that they managed to hypnotize the yummy mummies and jumpered dads into indulging in a spot of tactical voting, thus depriving the more liberal-minded parties of their traditional voter base. So now we’re left with two Bumble the Beadles and a horde of Olivers begging for scraps from the masters’ table. We have one lot who believe that all public documentation should be translated into a language spoken only by three bogmen and their donkeys in Donegal and the other lot who believe that to say yes to anything would be akin to having John Barrowman leading the faithful in hymnal praise in the Martyr’s Memorial.  Subsequently we’re left with a political merryground whose anthem is “anything you can do, I can do nothing else but disagree with”. I can only imagine why the recent talks in Hillsborough took so long. 
“No No No Gerry. We’re not having the Honey Chilli Chicken tonight. It’s brings Edwin out in a rash”
“Oh Buíochas le Dia, Nigel. What about the spring rolls?”
“Oh we can’t have anything vegetarian, Gerry, It’s a bit, well you know, fruity
“In that case Nigel, I’m leaving here now and getting some mince and spuds. You can take it or leave it.”
“Sorry Gerry, but mince? Next you’ll be telling us that tonight’s entertainment is Graham Norton Live. Here! Have you considered Tikka Masala?”.
“That’s not a proper Indian, that’s a British bastardisation of a good curry” 
You get the picture. However the majority of people in Northern Ireland can have no reason for complaint. You know what they say, don’t shit in your own bed. Or something to that effect. A false sense of fear engendered on both sides has created the vacuum we are now residing in. Unfortunately, as the more sensible forward thinking politicians in the province are marginalised, a familiar entity has entered the field of play, an invasion of unwanted streakers. All tits and beards you might say.
A number of months back BBC Newsline showed a press conference from some supposed birdwatching  faction of a dissident republican movement. It might have been “Ogle the Herons” or something similar. It was a depressing blast to the past, right down the scraggy bumfluff on the chin of the chief speaker. I half expected him to stand up and reveal his Che Guevara tattoos. It was the 70’s and 80’s all over again. They were obviously educated which only compounds the depressing nature of it all. None were older than I am so where, in this modern, post-troubles enclave of Europe, were they getting the idea that a resumption of political violence would achieve the desired United Ireland. It’s a rhetorical question as we all know the answer. Into the political vacuum there steps the disaffected freedom fighter from the “armed struggle”. They detect a lack of leadership and stalemate. “The Proddies are still saying no and the Shinners are shining their shoes for them. The Brits are still here, driving round in unmarked white vans, spying on your families”. The seeds are being sown afresh. The only difference this time being that the “new” type of republican will have a degree before he goes to Maghaberry.
Admittedly there’ll always be those who believe that violence is the only option. It’ll be generations before this mindset is removed. The problem is that while Tweedledum and Tweedledee sit waving their hands at each other up at Stormont, society is struggling to cope with current change. We’re no longer in the boom years. As long as who marches where and who speaks what language dictates political debate, rather than education, housing and employment, then we’re all up the Lagan without any paddles. The ordinary citizen has a choice to make in May. Do you keep Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks in power all on their own or do you give Catweazle, McManus and Kung Fu their chance to try to make things better?  Or will you just continue to cling to your comfort blankets, content with mediocre familiarity, unwilling to try to make a difference. Something has got to give in this matter, otherwise there’ll be a few short sharp shocks to the system, likely administered by Ruairi or Tomás and their bands of bearded bandits.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Politics | , | 2 Comments

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

Face-Painted Experts

Congratulations to Amy Williams, Great Britain’s first and probably only gold medal winner at this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Not only has she a shiny bauble to hang around her neck but she can look forward to having a lucrative career in television when she retires. I’m envisaging Celebrity Skeletons in the Closet on Ice, a reality show where a celebrity’s past catches up on them, slamming down an ice tunnel on a bin lid and crashing through a wardrobe door. It could be hosted by Jeremy Kyle, with Amy training those “skeletons” to slide accurately down the tube. She’d need to learn how to train a 4 person bobsleigh team for Katie Price’s obligatory appearance though.
You have to love the Olympics and other similar global gatherings, such as the World Cup and a G8 summit meeting. There’s nothing like a large-scale shared experience to prove our ability to instantly become an expert of what’s happening in front of us. This idea came to me the other night when I switched on the TV about 2am, in preparation to sit down and feed Robert. The sight of an 18 stone Canadian’s Lycra-clad arse staring you in the face sure as hell conjures up a few bizarre thoughts. It’s only natural that after watching the first few attempts in the two-man bobsleigh, I became an expert in what was required to achieve Olympic gold. “Oh no, he’s gone a little high round that bend”, or “he doesn’t have the muscle mass to produce a quick start”.  You find yourself knowing half way round that their efforts would be in vain. At least you think you do. You shout at the curlers to produce a draw shot and wake the rest of the house up yelling “sweeeeep sweeep” at the top of your voice. Speaking of which, I wonder if they’d entertain the notion of doing the luge on an ironing board. I’d fancy me chances.
I’ll draw the line though, at painting various parts of my anatomy in support of my favourite team. That’s one of life great mysteries. A great global sporting event comes into the public’s eye and all of a sudden we’re slapping painted flags on our cheeks. Why is that? Does it help Rooney dribble better? Will Massa’s car accelerate faster just because you’ve painted a prancing nag on yer forehead? Maybe it engenders a nationwide sense of community, a feeling which I would heartily endorse rather than smirk at. Then again I would argue that the reason for these bouts of communal frivolity is all wrong, or at the very least, should not be solely confined to sport. With a general election, one English team is guaranteed to win something. No more misplaced hope on that front. A nice red rose for Labour, a tree for the Tories and a compost heap for the Green Party. What better way to bring politics to the proles and get the kiddies involved. Gangs of northern voters could take their tops off for Gordon, their beer bellies slathered in oily depictions of miner’s helmets and the Southern toffies replicating with top hats for David. And like following the world cup, we’ll all become experts once again on our Gross Domestic Product*, knowing our macro from our micro economies.
Such blind wisdom isn’t necessarily confined to great sporting events or elections. Currently I am an expert on the Argentine Tango and Alexandra Burke just doesn’t have the same vocal range as Leona Lewis. Thanks to modern television we’re all opinionated geniuses and what’s more, we’re now allowed to air our views in varying shapes or forms, be they phone votes, Internet forums or as gullible consumers in your local supermarket. Never before has so much power been put in the hands of the ignorant and we are loving it. We crave it without realising that we are being manipulated. We design our Jedward placards and buy our DVB jeans, safe in the knowledge that there’s food in our cupboards and heat in our homes. I’m not intending to veer down the sanctimonious route of ethics and morals. We live our lives the best we can in harsh times. However, there is more to life than believing that Sharon Davies was under marked for her triple salko or painting your face to support those who genuinely don’t give a two hoots about you in the first place. You don’t need Simon Cowell to tell you that either.
I’ll admit that I’m as guilty as the next man. I voted repeatedly in this years Strictly for Chris Hollins, mainly for his honest endeavour and warmth. I will also vote in the general election in May, the only sad thing being we won’t have that option to choose from. Anyone out there fancy painting my face?
* Otherwise known in our house as Robert’s nappy.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Ondatelly, Politics | | Leave a comment

What’s On Your Mind?

What’s On Your Mind?
Ooh! Interesting. Yer man has decided to stop picking his nose due to a decrease in flavour. I would wash your hands less mate. Who’s next? Let me see. So and so has taken a quiz and discovered they most resemble Dipsy. Did you remember to put the cork back in the bottle before you took the test? Welcome to Facebook, the online social network for those with multiple personality disorders. One minute you’re a Teletubby, the next you think you’re a Jammie Dodger. A natural progression indeed. Next up, what type of prescription drug are you? I’d hazard a guess at Abilify. No need to thank me.
Maybe I should just accept that I’m a grumpy aging fart and that I’ll never fully understand the appeal of Facebook. Actually I do understand the appeal of Facebook, I just cannot see the reason why, if that’s not too illogical. There’s a certain pleasure in knowing that people you’ve met throughout your life haven’t yet been hit by a bus but seriously, that’s as much as you need to know. If you’ve climbed Everest then I can appreciate why you would want people to know but the fact that your cat has stopped shitting in the window box is not newsworthy. Unless you work for ITV.
Yesterday the waffling was about communication and how I felt we should bring things back to basics, make our messages to one another clear and concise. Facebook, though, is not an ideal medium for this, at least not how it’s being interpreted by the majority of its users. Ideally it would be a medium where ideas could be shared, arrangements made and yarns told with wit, verve or pathos. Scratching yer arse whilst listening to is none of the above. I’m sure it gives you great pleasure but I’d venture that 95% of your “friends” would think otherwise.
Somebody asked me just after Robert was born whether I would post pictures of the wee man on Facebook. I know it’s a popular thing to do but I’m currently loathe to do it. I don’t mean to be facetious here but anybody who truly needs to see him has either done so already or is a close enough friend to send personal photos via e-mail to. University and life thereafter provided me with many good acquaintances but pictures of or updates about their children? No Sirree. No matter how chubby their wee cheeks or how curly their locks are. It’s nothing personal. If the baby was born whilst you were riding Space Mountain then that’s a different story. That’s worthy of more than a status update. Maybe I’m being a little hypocritical here, seeing as my profile picture consists of Eloise and her Rudolph Water-ring. Then again, it’s better than my ugly mug.
Facebook is now a behemoth that’s on a crazed rampage throughout our lives. Are we prepared to let it continue taking over? There are other ways of communicating with the people you genuinely care about, and these don’t consist of sending them animated smiles or various farm animals. What makes you think I’m going to poke you now when you refused me the opportunity on that drunken Saturday night back in college? Whatever ridicule is thrown in the direction of the online-gamer, I can guarantee you’ll get more satisfying social interaction from World of Warcraft than you ever will from Facebook. That’s a topic for another blog though.
Naturally I can expect a strenuous series of rebuttles from avid users of Facebook. Bring it on I say. I only request the following: that you use more than 50 characters and you talk as yourself, not as a packet of Monster Munch.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Communicating | , | 1 Comment