The Horror of Christmas Shopping (Part 3)

16th December 2013

As we looked around us and took in the atmosphere only associated with bookshops – one of peace, tranquillity, learning and fun – we split up and started to wander. I picked up a book and started to read the back of it and then stopped for a minute and took a second to try and visualise all of my relations that were planning on spending Christmas with us. I then (again through the power of my mind) attempted to place the book in the hand of one of them.

It didn’t work so I placed the book back on the shelf and picked up another – almost immediately I had this strong sense of “SUCCESS – this is perfect for Auntie Sue. At this point I tried to decide whether or not I should go back to the entrance to pick up a basket, but like any normal (stubborn) male, I figured I could manage carrying a few books in my hands. Thirty minutes later, while staggering under a pile of books that were almost as tall as me, I finally spotted Dave – equally encumbered by his choices – and we stopped to compare what we were carrying to the list.

 Not surprisingly we had a few duplicates, also not surprisingly we had most of them chosen for the same people but there were a few that we couldn’t agree for whom they were best suited and we obviously couldn’t buy two copies of the same book. After some discussion we finally agreed on teh books and their recipients and placed a tick next to everyones name. Obviously paying for the books was quite a painful experience, but worthwhile.

The whole process had taken us just under one hour, and we were now entering in to the dangerous stage of the day. Lunch – with the prerequisite pint was quickly approaching and if we weren’t careful all o four well laid plans could soon be sunk. We decided to press on and as we left the bookshop – despite the streets being even more crowded and crazier, the felling of calm that we had encountered upon first entering the book shop stayed with us.

The pressure had been lifted because we now had a wrap-able present for everyone regardless of whether we succeeded in finding them the “perfect” gift from our list. They would never be the wiser and at worst could only be miffed at the fact that Uncle Richie got a book and another present from us while they only rated a book. In order to forearm ourselves against the chance of us starting (yet another) long standing family feud, we had in fact purchased a few extra books, just in case we need to bulk up someone’s gift. The worst case scenario mean that we would have an extra book for ourselves, and as we all know there is no such thing as too many books, just not enough bookshelves.

An amazing thing happened. When we first met up that morning we were in a mild to extreme state of panic, unsure whether we would find any suitable gifts and whether the family would ever talk to us again. But now, laden down with books we realised that a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders. We were at peace with ourselves our god and hopefully our family. With inner feeling of joy we were able to go out in to the world of crazed consumers, panicking purchasers and screaming shoppers happy in the knowledge that we could do no wrong.

The next two hours passed in a sort of blur as we wandered the shops serenely picking up items, checking the list and deciding yea or nay. Unlike the hordes surrounding us, we knew that there was no need for us to buy the wrong gift just to have something. So because we were relaxed we managed to complete the list and ensure that we had something (and a book) for everyone. At that point we felt that it was time to stop back in to the Duke for another well earned pint.

If you happen to be in the Duke next Saturday – we’re the two calm people sitting back while all around us stress and mayhem occur. Drop over and say hi.

The Horror of Christmas Shopping (Part 2)

10th December 2013

Twas (almost) the night before Christmas and all through the town,

Busy shoppers were running all around.

They fled here; they fled there with their heads in the air.

Like chickens without heads, like junkies off their meds,

They searched for that present for dear Auntie Sue

Unable to decide if one was right or two.

But out of the dark came two beacons of light,

Twas my brother and I and we were alright.


Yes, we had a list. As we sat in the pub while all around us mayhem ensued as last minute shoppers fought with each other over some ornamental donut maker that would never be used but would just be perfect for young Joey in his new apartment. Well when I say we had a list, I may be exaggerating slightly. What we had was a pen, piece of paper and plan to start a list. But that still put us ahead of the mob in terms of being organised.

So what would we do next? Well as our second pints arrived, we watched them settle for a minute and then with a suitable level of appreciation of the list art of pulling a pint of Guinness we raised our glasses in a toast to barmen everywhere and drank deeply. Then we went back to our blank piece of paper. We realised that we could procrastinate any further as time was slipping away from us and if we had a third pint here all would be lost and our wonderful plans (and intentions) would be as naught in the face of our actual failure.

So first things first, we wrote down on the left hand side of the page all the people for whom we needed to buy presents. Luckily it was a large page and we were able to write quite small. Then taking a beer mat (coaster) we drew four lines from the top of the page to the bottom thereby making three additional columns. Having done this we felt that we needed to have some more of the Guinness before it went flat because this was now getting serious and we didn’t want to rush things.

Then, we wrote a heading for each of the columns; Me, Dave, Joint. This was it, we now had a list that only needed to be filled in. We spent the next ten minutes discussing the items that would go in to the “Joint” column, such as “blouse for Sue“, or “vase for Orla” and then we finished our drinks, wrapped up against the weather and left the pub.

Now, as you can imagine, the streets were chaotic with barely room to breathe. People without kids had borrowed prams just so that they could use them to ram their way through the hordes of panicking shoppers. People with kids had them on leashes – tied tightly together so that they could move forward in a pack and force luckless individuals out of their way. From what we could see the shops were even worse as items were being fought over in the aisles as the last Furby (or whatever the toy that year was) was the prize in a Hunger games style last person standing free-for-all.

Dave and I ignored the mayhem and the list (for the moment) and made our way through the throngs of buskers, street merchants, shoppers and dazed tourists to Hodges Figgis book shop, where we found an oasis of calm in the centre of the city. Yes of course there were plenty of people there browsing for the perfect book but, let’s be honest here the only resemblance your average book shopper has with an English/Dutch/Polish football hooligan is that they all have a similar number of limbs. I bring this up now because there is a much closer comparison between the afore mentioned football hooligan and the last minute Christmas shopper.

So as we stepped in to this sanctuary of peace, Dave and I realised that everything was going to be alright.

And if you want to know what happened next, the third (and possibly final) part of this story will be posted tomorrow.

The Horror of Christmas Shopping

10th December 2013

Another weekend has passed and we are even closer to the Yuletide season and the horror that it entails. Christmas Shopping – have there ever been two words that strike such horror, dread and confusion in to the hearts of me? Well yes and we will discuss the “it’s positive”/”I’m pregnant” reactions at a later date.

Many years ago my brother and I both lived abroad (in different countries) and we would attempt to make it home to see our family at Christmas. Some years it would just be our mother at home, while on other occasions there would be grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins for the big family meal. Generally we preferred the former as family reunions of any kind are a real drag at times.

But back to the point of this blog. One year we arrived in to Dublin a few days before the big day to find out that there was to be a large(ish) family gathering where we had been expecting a small dinner for three. This meant that we had no presents for anyone and immediately we began to panic at the thought of having to brave the streets and shops of Dublin during the week leading up to Christmas in a last minute attempt to redeem ourselves.

Luckily neither of us is prone to completely losing the plot and we agreed to meet in the Duke (on Duke Street) just off Grafton Street at 10:30 am (as soon as it opened) on 23rd December in order to plan our present buying campaign. In the days before the Luas and accurate bus time tables, we both still managed to get to the pub on time – we’re Irish and it’s a pub, what do you expect – and went in.

“Two pints of Guinness please”, I said to the barman and from there on the whole shopping experience got easier. In fact most things are easier (except driving and operating heavy machinery) after a few pints of the black stuff. Dave and I sat down, divested ourselves of our coats, hats, scarves and gloves and waited for the pints to arrive. Of course one of the disadvantages of being a Guinness drinker is that you really need to order it at least 10 minutes before you actually want to drink it.

We looked at each other and tried to figure out what we were going to do. One option was to try and get on a flight back to where we were living in order to avoid the embarrassment of turning up to a family gathering without a suitable present for each person there. At this stage we were still unsure what we were going to get for our mother – always a nightmare to buy for. But in an age before the internet was what it is now, searching for flights meant going to or phoning a travel agent and as neither of us was willing to leave the pub (at least until we had received/drunk our first pint) that option was taken off the table.

A not so serious accident was then discussed. “Maybe if you fell and broke your leg I would volunteer to spend the day in hospital with you, so you wouldn’t be on your own” I suggested. A small argument broke out over whose leg should be broken and how and this degenerated quite rapidly until the drinks arrived and we composed ourselves. “It wouldn’t work anyway, sure they’d all want to come to the hospital or delay the holiday until you came home”. What are we going to do? At this point inspiration struck, and I pulled a notebook out of my bag. Dave took out a pen and a family tradition was started.

The first thing we did was very simple; we finished our pints and ordered another as we realised that inspiration was going to need a kick start if we were going to succeed in our quest. Then we took the pen and did something that has stood by me throughout my life when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. We started a list; four simple words that belie the importance of their meaning. I can’t emphasise enough how vital this was to us both. It meant that we now had a reference guide for our day and a goal that was easily seen. As names were ticked we would feel a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing as well as one of victory. No, we were not going to be beaten by the last minute scramble for any sort of gift regardless of its’ suitability or usefulness. We would not fall in to the age old trap of buying seven gifts for one person while forgetting six others. Not for us the shame of getting the same present for two different people, when in fact we actually meant to give it to a third but got confused.

No, we had a list.

And if you want to know how that went, the second part of this story will be posted tomorrow.

Perpetratorless Crimes

4th December 2013

At what point in time did victims of crimes become partially or even wholly responsible for what happened to them? Recently the Gardai have issued a warning/suggestion that we do not use our mobile phones while walking on the street as we may not be aware that we are being targeted until the thief snatches the phone from our hands.

Now while this does indeed seem like sensible advice, I am sure that the insurance companies must be rubbing their hands with glee as they will now be able to deny any claims for stolen property because we (the victims) didn’t heed the Gardai’s message. While this may not be the case, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Hang on, what just happened there? A mobile phone is meant to be used when the user is away from a fixed point so that they can be contactable. So what the Gardai are in effect saying is that if you use your mobile phone in the manner in which it has been designed to be used, you are a) more likely to be robbed and b) less likely to receive insurance compensation.

Obviously any women out there are well used to this sort of mind-bending irrationality as they are so often told not to dress in a certain way in order to reduce the chances of a sexual assault.

But at what point do our – perfectly legal – actions become an excuse for a criminal to take advantage of us? There is i am sure you will agree a fine line between stupidity and  exerting your rights and there are the Darwin Awards for people who like to put on white sheets and hang around Harlem, Brixton or anywhere where sensible folks live. Similarly if you dress up in the Union Jack and walk in to some pub in parts of Dublin (or Belfast) then are you actually inciting the actions of anyone who attacks you? If so this says more about your attackers – so weak willed and easily led – than about you.

But the most ridiculous comment on this issue that I have heard has to be the statement by our very own Gerry “I have never been a member of the IRA” Adams who, following the recent report on the killing of two senior RUC officers in 1989 has decided that the blame doesn’t lie with people who planned the ambush, released information to the IRA concerning the movements of the two officers in question or even the thugs who pulled the trigger. It especially does not lie with the men who directed this murder (of which he of course has no knowledge never having been a member of the IRA) of two unarmed men.

So who is responsible for the killing of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan? Well according to Gerry Adams – who wouldn’t know anything about responsibility for IRA attacks as he has never been a member of that organisation – the blame lies with the two dead police officers who seemed to think that they were “immune” from being targeted and had a “laissez faire” attitude towards their own security.

Really what he is saying is that these two men should have known that they were targets and done whatever it took to keep safe – such as resigning from the police force and moving with their (extended) families to Australia, New Zealand or somewhere as far from Northern Ireland as possible. The fact that they had the audacity to drive a car on a public road shows that they were in some way responsible for their own deaths. They were almost asking to be shot and the brave volunteers of the IRA (of which Mr Adams has no connections whatsoever) were simply forced to comply with the obvious invitation to shoot them.

Well let me make it really clear to any would be phone thieves out there. If I am seen using my phone on the footpath, I am not inviting you to grab it out of my hands and that I refuse to take any blame for being the victim of a crime.

Christmas (and Bills) are Coming

3rd December 2013

Today is going to be a more focused blog on stuff – though I may veer off on some tangents. I’ll start off with a question. Who out there sees the irony in our new bankruptcy bill being signed in to law the day after “Cyber Monday” when millions of euro that people don’t have was spent on line?

Recently the Irish Independent ran a report on our expected use of Credit Cards this Christmas. Now the gist of the (very short) article) is that only 1 in 14 people will be using their credit card to cover bills, while the remaining 13 out of 14 people have either been saving all year or will use their December salary to ensure that they don’t go into debt.

Before I comment on this, I will ask you to read the article and hope that you noticed the same thing that I did…….

6 in 10 = 8.4 in 14: 1 in 4 = 3.5 in 14: 1 in 14 = 1 in 14: Total = 12.9 in 14

Yes I really want to know what the elusive 14th person is doing this Christmas. Now irrespective of the maths and my utmost faith in the media, I have a small problem believing that 93% of the population are suddenly becoming responsible in their spending habits and are choosing Christmas as the time to do this. Considering that these are the very same people that spent over €1,200 on their child’s first communion earlier this year.

Given that the early figures in from yesterdays “Cyber Monday” (surely as good a marketing gimmick as “Arthurs Day” in terms of a made up holiday to push products) suggest that we still believe that the good times are here, or at least we are willing to ignore reality briefly until January when we will all sober up – metaphorically and literally. At least €40,000,000 was spent on line yesterday which while this seems substantial does only equate to around €12 per person (over 18). But don’t forget the actual cash transactions, the in-store transactions, and of course that there are still 22 shopping days ‘til Christmas.  And some people have been spending money throughout November as well.

It seems like we, as a nation refuse to accept reality, which is part of the reason that we are now in a financial mess, both as a nation as well as individually. It is also why we have not seen a fraction of the protests and riots that have befallen our sister PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece & Spain). Whereas the Greeks and Spanish realise the state that they are in, and react accordingly (by causing billions of euro worth of damage through riots and strikes) we sit back and exclaim “ah sure it can’t be as bad as all that”. I really want to know at what point will the Irish population wake up and realise that yes, things really are that bad and potentially getting worse despite the exit of the Troika.

We still owe (as a nation) billions that we can’t afford to repay, the government are still spending more than we are taking in through taxes, almost 200,000 of us are in mortgage arrears (probably with no chance of repaying what is owed) and unemployment numbers are, while static, still at over 400,000, and this is only a result of the 100,000 mainly young people who have emigrated in the past year.

Without wanting to be the Grinch that ruined Christmas, I think it is time for people to stop and look at what is really happening around them, and if they are going to spend money that they don’t have this Christmas, at least spend it on Irish products in Irish shops.   

Never Work with Kids

2nd December 2013

And yes, I am back after a wonderful relaxing and laid back weekend spent with my four kids – for those of you unsure this is sarcasm – and angelic wife (not sarcasm). It was my eldest’s birthday and he reached that milestone of eighteen while still managing to look and act like a twelve year old (apologies to any sensible twelve year olds out there). But I am in fact very proud of him for a variety of reasons. He managed to get in to a very good college here in Dublin and is studying hard. He is reasonably good with his baby sisters in that he hasn’t dropped them yet and he manages to dress himself without any help in the mornings. I am looking forward to the day when he learns some common sense and more importantly when to just shut up and listen.

The simple dreams of parenthood; I would also like him to pick up some common sense and if possible some cop on but that may be just a utopian fantasy on my part. I do worry about how he will survive in the big bad world in four years time when I unceremoniously boot him from the house. But he will always have his younger (and slightly more together) brother to help him fnd his feet.

I was reminded of why I never became a teacher when trying to explain to him what he needed to do for one of his college papers – in my defence he did ask for my help and I assumed that meant he realised that despite my knowing as much about sociology as the neighbours pet rabbit I did in fact know about data and how to present it. After a few hours – not continuous – of my telling him the same thing over and over again, while he tried to repeat it in his own words, I finally gave in and just gave him a piece of paper and pen and said “write this down”.

Seriously what has happened to the education system in this country? I do vaguely remember my own schooldays in the distant past when I was an indifferent pupil (ok I was lazy and didn’t really bother with half the subjects I was doing), but I at least knew how to write an essay. The fact that I only did so under pain of detentions was irrelevant. My boy managed over 500 points in his leaving and is a complete idiot.

Now I feel that any good teacher is worth their weight in gold but the number of really good teachers out there are few and far between (I had around four for my entire 12 years of schooling, and that was probably a lot) but the ASTI and other teachers unions are doing themselves no favours with their threats of industrial action. Maybe if it was possible to fire the bad teachers, then the remaining ones would be amply rewarded and new teachers could be brought in on a positive note, knowing that they are valued.

I do recall on specific teacher who was so appalling that he actually laughed in my face (and in front of the rest of the class) when I suggested that I wanted to continue on and do honours Irish (that would be the higher level Gaelic language for all foreigners reading this) for the Leaving Cert. Now, as my wife, kids, family, friends and casual acquaintances of mine will tell you, I can be quite stubborn when pushed and despite my views on the Irish Language then (and now) I was determined to do the higher level paper and get a good grade, which I did. And before you suggest that this was just his motivational technique, no you are wrong he was just a complete idiot who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a classroom.

Like I said earlier, I would be just as bad (possibly) a teacher due to my lack of patience and assumption that pupils should be able to pay attention in class for at least forty minutes and be able to think for themselves, but then I was never attracted to the idea of teaching despite the short working day, long holidays, and easy opportunities for making extra money through either grinds are exam marking.

This week Sean has asked me to show him how to use Excel – I have already figured out the exact quantity of alcohol I need in order to keep my blood pressure down while still retaining enough sense to be able to explain to him what he needs to do. Hopefully it will work.