School sandwiches

I passed through my old village, Clondalkin in Dublin, at the weekend, and drove by my old primary school, St. Joseph’s, and then my old secondary school, Moyle Park. Nothing seemed to have changed.

Memory is a funny thing. You remember snatches of your childhood but can never be totally sure that you remember it the way it was, or whether you’ve just interjected false memories on top. Every day blends into one long day in your mind, one memory adding to another. Your mind forms illusions, where one-off incidents loom over the mundane, and everyday activities merge into one.

Once thing is certain: I have never been a morning person. When I was a schoolkid, my mornings began with my father pulling at the bed clothes to wake me up at some ungodly hour of the morning, or so it seemed. I’d scramble into my school uniform: grey shirt, grey pullover, grey trousers, blue ties with gold stripes. There was a certain skill attached to never actually tying or retying your tie, just loosening it enough to lift it off your head in the evening, and then doing the opposite in the morning.

My mother used to prepare us for school with porridge for breakfast. She had it down to a fine art. She soaked the porridge the previous night in milk, to soften the porridge. Unfortunately, the milk invariably went sour overnight. For years and years I never realised this and just thought that porridge was this sour-tasting and awful concoction. Now I realise it is just an awful concoction. When I eventually cottoned on to this fact, I remember plaintively trying to persuade my mother do it differently, to no avail.

The walk to our school was past the local Clondalkin paper mills. It smelled disgusting, wafting a putrid mix of pulped wood and chemicals into the air. But this mill, with its huge and imposing concrete façade, gigantic towers, and mean exterior, always represented some kind of secret adult world that we were being prepared for. Not that we were going to be “sent down to th’ mill” like in Dickens. More like, to my childish imagination, that it was just the kind of place I would end up. It is now a shopping centre. I guess that’s what they call progress.

They had rows of rusty wire barriers along the route. Some school kid had his Moyle Park tie knotted to the railing and there it stayed for year after year. It got blackened and crusty, eventually fading away to a mere knot, but it was somehow comforting to know it was there through the years. I daresay it is still there to this day.

As a child I developed very eclectic eating habits. As an adult, I invariably eat just about anything I am presented with. I was the exact opposite of a fussy eater. I am sure it must have been an adaptation to the school sandwiches my mother gave us. They were sealed tight in flat Tupperware boxes – the newest and latest fad to hit Ireland – and smelled of cheap plastic. Apart from being squashed so tight that they tasted like rubber, the Easy Single cheese sandwich was a delightful concoction. The chewy cheese stuck between your teeth, like coagulated goo, along with the lumps of butter which slid whole down your throat. They were made of Brennan’s bread, all white and pure and innocent, and like eating air. Soft and fluffy, it sat in your stomach like the gloopy crap that it was.

But once a week my mother used to make the crème-de-la-crème of sandwiches: egg mayonaise. The mayonaise was added to make it all stick, so the egg wouldn’t spill out so easily. That was particularly handy when you were playing football at lunchtime and trying to hold your sandwiches while heading a ball. But it made the whole school stink. I remember challenging some kid to stick his head into the tupperware and try and hold his nose in there for as long as possible. Poor kid. I think he won five pence off me, for lasting over a minute, but it damaged him permanently. He’s never had to work so hard for anything since then. 

On other occasions, one of me or my brothers got the ‘square’ tupperware box. This fitted two sandwiches, but could also fit an apple on top. Unfortunately, when you lifted out the apple, it took huge chunks of the pappy bread with it. You ended up either lifting the bread off and dumping it to one side, or, if you were particularly hungry, eating the whole lot in one go.

Other kids preferred the tuck shop in the school. It sold exotica like ham burgers and chips and coke. I think it should have been closed down for health reasons, but it was the 1970s after all. It should be in a museum by now.

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DIY Taxi

diy-taxi-dublin.gif

This was seen in Dublin recently, a taxi with an ingenious DIY cardboard plate.  Would you take a taxi ride with this guy?! (note the L-plate too!)

Mind you, fair play to him for trying. We could do with more free-wheeling entrepeneurs and less red tape…

I wonder, was he stopping off at the whiskey shop for booze? Another reason for not taking a lift with him!

Irving Welsh on Dublin

The Scottish author of Trainspotting, Irving Welsh, lives in Dublin. He’s written a short account of the city in the travel section of today’s English Independent newspaper. I’d say he’s got it pretty much right, in my opinion, except for the idea that:

I love all the old Irish shops and supermarkets which the government has preserved. They’ve kept all the big chains out – there aren’t Nexts and Gaps everywhere.

Huh? Quite the opposite!! The government has done nothing to save the indigenous character of our shopping streets.

But I agree with his comment about Kilmainham Jail:

Kilmainham Jail is a place I would recommend any visitor to see. It tells the story of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the struggle for the Free State and the republic. It’s a really atmospheric museum: you can see where the leaders from 1916 were executed and the cells where they were incarcerated. 

I live five minutes walk from it and it is well worth a visit.  

Luck?

Padraig Harrington won yesterday’s British Open.

The dread phrase was there. It was always lurking around, waiting to pounce, but it didn’t take long for it to rear its ugly, stupid head. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the most stupid, corny, over-used, and damn-near-racist phrase uttered every time an Irishman or Irish woman achieves anything of note. That phrase is: “the luck of the Irish”.

Go to Google news and type in “Padraig Harrington” “luck of the Irish” and you get dozens of articles. They are written by otherwise semi-intelligent reporters. So why do they do it? Is it laziness? Ignorance? Racism? (No, surely not!) It is probably just a combination of laziness and lack of creativity. Here are some of the offenders:

National Post, Canada 
The Detroit News
Edmonton Sun
Aurora Beacon News

etc…

The fact is, it has nothing to do with luck. (As pointed out very cleverly in a great article here: http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/072307/sports_20070723045.shtml). It has to do with courage, talent, hard work, nerves, constant travel, experience, practice, and sheer bloody mindedness. It has NOTHING to do with LUCK.

And, secondly, how can an entire race be described as “lucky”? Forgive me please, but how did experiencing a famine in the 19th century constitute “luck”? Or mass emigration and huge unemployment in the 20th century? I could go on, but you get the point.

The phrase is stupid and lazy, and demeaning.  

Meanwhile, I am very, very proud of Padraig Harrington. He has been Ireland’s greatest-ever golfer for the last ten years but now he is up there in the pantheon of superstars of Irish sport, alongside Ronnie Delany, Eamonn Coghlan, Sonia O’Sullivan, Paul McGrath, Roy Keane, and others. Well done Padraig!

A good moan…

I want to have a good moan. Kind of therapy for this wet afternoon. Forgive me…I normally try to be positive, but this has been building up and I need to release it. I will feel better when I’ve off-loaded this series of gripes. You probably won’t, but that’s life!

Everything in Ireland is interlinked. Everything. All the things we moan about (and we would win the Olympic Gold Medal at moaning…) are all part of the same story. Politics, traffic chaos, house prices, Tara, Shannon, the health crisis, high-energy prices etc, even the state of Irish chess: it is all part of one big syndrome that I want to term “the Irish moan”. So here goes…

At heart, we’re a peasant society emerging from 800 years of colonisation. We always had an unhealthy obsession with land, which has now morphed into an unhealthy obsession with property. Property prices are unsustainably high. We now know that one third of first-time house buyers are getting 100% mortgages, typically over 35 years. This is insanity. Giving a 100% mortgage to someone who has not shown the capacity (or inclination) to save for 10% (or even 5%!) of the total price is like giving out free alcohol at a meeting of the AA. If they are, say, 30 years old, their entire working life from that point on is dedicated to paying an exorbitant mortgage that only enriches the bank.  

Speaking of alcoholics, we lead the world in alcoholism and are drinking more and more all the time. Why do we drink so much? Is it boredom, ennui, insanity, cultural norms, lack of better alternatives, an Irish gene, psychological repression, sexual frustration, or just because we can?

We’ve almost no domestic culture to speak of – we were too small, too poor, too oppressed, and too ignorant to create one. Irish music is shite, let’s be honest. When Irish fiddlers were inventing dreary, banal, repetitive tunes, Mozart, Beethoven, and Elgar were producing world-changing music. Anything of architectural merit we have was donated by the British. And while I’m at it, our insular, racist attiude towards the British has condemned us to the most ludicrous set of inner contradictions (you see Liverpool supporters saying ‘brits out’ etc).

Irish food culture does not exist. Forget coddle, Irish stew, and that most recent of inventions, an “Irish twist” to foreign food. The fact is, Irish food sucks. We like cheddar cheese. Cheddar. Our meat is excellent, but we export it, live, for others to cook it properly. We have some of the world’s greatest fisheries off our coast, but we don’t have a clue how to cook it. We existed off potatoes, cabbage, and bacon for most of the last 500 years. Can you imagine a vegetable more execrable than cabbage? Or turnips, parsnips, and carrots?!? We didn’t even invent French fries for God’s sake, and we had potatoes lying all around us for years!

As for what passes for Irish social life, it basically consists of getting rat arsed in some dodgy boozer in town. And our drink is appalling muck. Just one word: Harp. I rest my case. Irish whisky is gut rot, Scotch whiskey is far, far superior. How did the Scots develop such subtlety and taste and variety in their whiskies while we were making ‘Paddy’? As for Guinness, it is the defining beer of Ireland. It is passable, but please don’t tell me that one pint of “plain” constitutes a beer culture. Look at Belguim, where I was last weekend, and you see that they have over 300 types of beer – in one single pub!! Germany and England are similar.

We have canals in Dublin and beyond (built by the British). They are surrounded on both sides by busy roads. They are full of litter, prams, cans of beer, entire bags of rubbish, and the occasional supermarket trolley. They stink. Above all, they deliver nothing to the city in terms of the environment. And the Liffey is worse – a putrid, dirty, brown streak of turgid water slowly easing its sickly way through the city. 

Don’t get me started on the traffic. Our obsession with cars is driven by a variety of factors: very bad public transport, dangerous cycling conditions, sprawling suburbs, government policies, and laziness. We have created a situation where increasing amounts of young commuters live miles from where they work. They claw their way through the M50, through the clogged city quays and over the 18th century bridges. The Luas took years to build and only runs on two tracks.  The M50 is clogged day and night. There are virtually no buses that go sideways through the city – instead, they all head towards town. I could go on, you get the message.

We sold our soul to the American corporation years ago. We signed up to an unwritten contract. You give us jobs, investment, shopping malls, and shiny new factories (Intel, Dell, Microsoft, Cisco, HP, and Google etc). We give you low corporation taxes, a well-educated, English speaking workforce, and access to the vast European markets. So far, so good. But we didn’t realise that we’d also have to let the US government run troop planes through Shannon (in a supposedly neutral country!), we’d have to build a motorway through the Tara valley to ferry the workforce to the factories, and we’d have to boost our carbon emissions well beyond our Kyoto agreed levels. But the thing is, because the Irish had almost no indigenous culture of their own, importing McDonalds, American movies, and SUVs en masse seemed like a good deal. We didn’t have much to lose, so figure we’re better off now than we ever were.

Added to all of this is our basic political character: we have a greedy, short-sighted, always on the make, devious, cunning, wink-wink, political culture. Fianna Fail are the leaders in all of this crapology, but the voters did, after all, vote for them and they have done it democratically at least. But they represent so many interest groups willing to buy into all of this status quo that they’ve stopped representing the people years ago. They represent big builders, contractors, estate agents, solicitors, consultant doctors, and state employees. They’ve got arrogant and complacent. They truely don’t give a toss about our heritage (e.g. Tara) or our environment, or our young-people up to their necks in debt. They just care about their Smithwick-drinking buddies.

I am not going to even mention our rip-off prices, drug epidemics, our annoying (and false) way of thinking we’re the wittiest talkers in the world, that bloody radio station that has the jingle “Dublin, the best city in the world”, U2, the Catholic church sex scandals, family law courts, the Irish Star, the stadium-less FAI, Monaghan, Dublin airport, the blarney stone, the weather, Eddie Jordan, etc. No, I will remain silent.

Okay, I feel slightly better now. Now that I have all that off my chest I can look forward to the rest of the day. Hopefully it will brighten up for the afternoon and stop raining…  

Ireland’s dumbest criminals?

Three stories that illustrate a basic principle – criminals are dumb.

It was reported recently that a man – David Downey, 27 – stopped in at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, on Christmas Day 2005, using a credit card not belonging to himself. Indeed, it was even a woman’s name on the card! Basically, he worked the “scam” (for it barely deserves being given such a subtle title) by ringing up beforehand, using the number on the card, and then dropping in to use the room for the five nights. All went well. For five nights and 1,500 euros, he laughed it up. They even asked him for the card upon arrival, but he made up some limp excuse as to why he could not produce the card then and there. They let him stay! Astonishing lapse really. (I am tempted to say that the hotel staff were dumber than the fraudster, but that’s another story…). The scam was only revealed because the woman who’s card was being used discovered the bill in her January statement. It turns out that Downey had used his real name (doh!) and parked in the garage with his own car which was caught on CCTV images (doh! doh!) and, generally, behaved as an incredibly dumb criminal.

But this is even dumber. John Dowling (with his partner Rita Proudfoot – what a great name!) of Finglas were giving evidence about a house purchase. This was a civil case, about who correctly owned a house. Anyway, when asked by the judge to explain how Dowling, a truck driver, could afford to pay off a mortgage on a house so quickly, he without hesitation said that aside from merely driving a truck, he also was receiving social welfare payments, so of course he was able to afford it! QED. Except, he was admitting right in front of a judge that he was cheating the state and committing fraud. Doh!

Finally, I cannot resist the dumbest excuse ever given for drink driving. A Meath man, Brendan Dineen, claimed he was “just finding a safe place to park the car” when arrested for driving under the influence. All the way around town. Maybe that safe place happened to be home? Genius. What genius!

Dublin Airport: Barking Mad Parking

I missed my Saturday morning, 6.50am flight, to Brussels. Darn! Half it was my fault, I accept some blame. After all, I did only leave my house at 5.11am and arrive into the airport at 5.35am. How remiss of me to cut it so tight. A series of comical delays ensured I eventually got to the “Closing Flights” desk at Aer Lingus five minutes too late to check-in, at precisely 6.14am.

There were several reasons for this 39 minute delay from pulling into the long-term carpark and eventually landing up at the check-in desk. Partly, it was due to the fact that the entire country, it seemed, all wanted to be in Dublin airport on Saturday morning. I have never seen so many people milling around aimlessly, blocking every available entrance, exit, aisle, and corridor with bags, trolleys, and baby carts.

But mainly, if I had one overriding gripe with Dublin Airport it is this: I arrived into the Red/Green carpark entrance only to be told by two attendants that “We’re full, you’ll have to use the Blue long-term carpark”. To explain why this information was too little, too late, let me show you a map of Dublin Airport and it’s carparks:
Dublin Airport Parking
I was arriving via the M1 road after travelling north on the M50. The red and green carparks are the nearest to the airport, hence it is much quicker to get from there to the airport’s departures lounge. (Ignore the fact that the Blue carpark is the closest as the crow flies, one has to go a very long way around to get to the terminal building!) So, naturally, one heads in that direction.

But the Blue carpark has a shortcut off the M50. If you really did want to get to the Blue carpark, you’d never go the whole way around – you’d save 10 minutes by going directly off the M50, wouldn’t you? So if you were warned of the simple fact that the Red/Green carparks were full, well before the Blue carpark exit off the M50, then naturally you would go straight there, thus saving you the considerable hassle of going the long way round.

How simple would it be for the airport authorities to erect an electronic sign about 1km before the Blue carpark exit ramp off the M50 warning travellers of the full carparks? But a multi-billion euro airport budget does not allow for one simple sign. Now, that wouldn’t be too bad, if it were a supermarket in a small rural village. But this is one of the busiest airports in Europe! Aaargh….

In retrospect, I made the mistake of leaving it too late. I should have gone to the airport to depart for Belgium in 1987…

Kids rescued in Irish Sea

When over 120 children get thrown overboard from sailing vessels, as they did today in Dun Laoghaire, I am sure everyone’s first thoughts were “Oh, no”. Firstly, congratulations to the rescue teams, who seem to have managed to rescue every single child, averting what could have been a major tragedy. Really, really good safety procedures must have meant that the children all have life jackets too. I mean, I cannot really understand how none of them drowned. Whew!

Of course, the real reason they all got thrown overboard was because they all spotted bags of cocaine drifting past them…At 1.75 million euros each, these kids knew what their priorities were!

Metro West = M50?

The route for Dublin’s Metro West has been announced today: http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0705/metro.html. It goes from Tallaght to Clondalkin, to Blanchardstown, to the airport.

The report states “Metro West is being hailed as the rail equivalent of the M50.” Really. So it’ll come in way behind schedule and massively over budget. All the flyovers and interconnections will have to be rebuilt to handle the unanticipated traffic. There’ll be a toll bridge erected by a private company who will turn it into an enormous cash cow for many years, eventually forcing the government to buy it back at exorbitant expense. The rail lines will be too narrow, or there won’t be enough of them, forcing them to be rebuilt after a few years (“Like performing open heart surgery on a patient who is driving to work” quipped one expert. Great, just great.)

Or when they compare the M50 to the Metro West, do they refer to the laughing stock it has made Ireland internationally?

Whoever “hailed” the metro as the next M50 should be taken out and shot. Moron.

Rain in Dublin

Rain in Dublin is not so bad. We’ve only had one spell of rain to speak of this year. It began on May 16th and continued until June 26th…(to paraphrase Woody Allen!)

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