Life

A Great Day for the Irish

I am rarely proud of my country. I’ve nothing against Ireland, but it always seemed to me a weird thing to be, proud of something over which I had no control. I like Ireland, sure, but I’ve also had to grow up in it, deep in the countryside, where I experienced at first-hand the guilt and harshness and brutality and misogyny and block-headed thickness of the place.

gay-over-gloveBut yesterday the people of Ireland were asked if any two adults could get fully and properly married, regardless of their gender, and they said: sure, why the fuck not? They said it loud and emphatically, bringing back a 62% vote in favour. A resounding YES, allowing any two people in love to tell the world.

I admit many tears as I watched the day unfold on twitter. The 50,000 plus who came home from living abroad just to cast their votes. The high YES counts coming in from the more broken-down and poor of our urban areas. Every constituency except one voting yes (I’m looking at you Roscommon-South Leitrim). And all those men and women standing on open streets and crying and hugging with happiness.

The NO side, led by Catholic groups, are of course not happy. Well you know what – tough. Ireland’s moved on and they’d better start moving on with it. Their long stance against homosexuality has always been kind of hilarious as the Catholic Church has more gay man in its employ than your average Broadway musical.

The scenes from Dublin last night were brilliant to watch. People thronging the streets in rainbow colours. Queues out the door and around the corner for The George, Dublin’s most famous gay pub since 1985, back when it was against the law to be gay in Ireland. Gerry Ryan of Sinn Féin (and previously the IRA) sharing a stage with the incredible Panti Bliss, Ireland’s top-notch drag queen. And just a general air of fucking niceness. I’m sure every pub owner around the centre of Dublin was crying tears of pure profit into the wee small hours of the morning.

gay-tweetSo today, for the first time in a good long time, I can safely say that I’m proud to be Irish. We passed equal marriage, the first country to do so on a popular vote, thereby opening the door to a segment of our own population, a group long abused and persecuted for no reasons of their own, and we let them finally come inside.

And no pun intended. Unless it was.

(Correction: Gerry Adams was apparently never in the IRA. Although he knew of them.)

/ paddy

A Comment To End All Comments, Maybe

I made what I believe to be my best internet comment ever last week, but it was lost in a long thread and went criminally unnoticed. So, to boost my ego, I will now tell you exactly what it was, and watch critically as you clap.

So yeah. The thread was on the Facebook Space Opera group. A person posted the following question:

Suppose an agreed-upon true evil (let’s suppose 99%+ agreement here, a Hitler of sorts) author had written a space opera. Five of your trusted friends reviewed the book blind, and said it was a must-read. You know who the author is. Would you read it? Does the work of art have value independent of the nature of its author? Would it matter to you whether the author were dead, or still alive and profiting from your purchase?

villainNow I’m sure that point of this post was to get at the whole author-ethics debate that’s farting along in science fiction circles right now. As in — are you allowed to like a writer’s work if the writer turns out to have the wrong politics?

Given the massive kerfuffle in the Hugo Awards at the moment, it’s a very reasonable question. Personally I judge stuff as stuff and leave the creator out of it. If a person I despise makes a thing I like, I think they should be paid for that thing, regardless of how I feel about them otherwise. That’s not weird. I’m sure I’d hate most of my cultural heroes if I met them at a dinner. And they’d probably hate me. Art is art. You’re not buying a person. Just some art they made.

Anyway. As a reply to this particular question, I posted this repy:

One of the most unhinged psychopaths of all time was old-testament Jehovah. And I hear his book still sells quite well.

I thought it was great. Not not many other people did. I guess they’re just too busy. Oh well.

/ paddy

Foot-washing Thursday

I took the Thursday of Easter week off, giving me five free days off in a row. This is nice as I get to write uninterrupted for several hours in the morning, my best writing time, for many days in a row, while it snows outside. Yes, it’s snowing.

Today is Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday (apparently) and, in Sweden, Skärtorsdag. Apparently it’s called that as “skär” is an old word for “clean” and the name refers to Jesus washing his disciples’ feet before the last supper. Or maybe that you clean the house for Easter. Personally I’d call it “Supper Thursday” but I guess that’s not mysterious enough.

washThe swedes take Easter seriously. Well, seriously in that they gladly take the holidays and go do family stuff, but not many of them do the whole religious thing the way we did when I was a sprog in Ireland. Back then, in school at least, the whole week was an uninterrupted stream of guilt and misery. The teacher on many occasions got us to draw men being crucified to death on a cross. I think I was ten then. Then there was the ash, the masses and the oddly-named Good Friday when not a single fucking thing was open and people embarked upon desperate train journeys because that was the only way you could buy alcohol.

We had eggs, though — proper chocolate eggs. The swedes have eggs too, but they are made of cardboard and just filled with regular sweets. Boo! Luckily you can get chocolate eggs in the English Shop. Half price all next week.

In Sweden, Good Friday has a far more honest name – Långfredag, or “Long Friday”. And that is the day in a nutshell / eggshell — long and miserable. Good for writing though. And for thinking about death and chocolate.

If you find yourself far from an Irish church and want to watch the Easter celebrations live, try this, one of my current favourite things: a webcam in an Irish nunnery. Streamed 24/7 for your holy convenience. I’m not being ironic. I do actually enjoy it.
Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.30.02I would leave with saying “Have a happy Easter!” but that’s not really the point of Easter. So at least have some chocolate. It’s what Jesus would have wanted.

/ paddy

How to Use a Toilet

In honour of April 1st I decided to re-post the most popular post from my old blog, from the murky era of 2006. How to use a toilet. Enjoy. Just watch out for the push-through.

how-to-use-a-toilet.jpgWe live in a world of excessive information, where every single product, no matter how simple, has instructions (place this toothbrush in your mouth), warnings (do not place this toothbrush in your neighbour’s mouth) and a “help line” to call (Yes, hello, can you tell me something interesting about my toothbrush please?)

However there are two things, things we use every day of our lives, that come with absolutely no instructions whatsoever. I’m talking, of course, about toilets and toilet paper.

Where are the informational videos, the “how-to” books, the evening courses? Are we born knowing how to use triple-ply, or do we get secret training during gym class, or learn from the older boys or from farm animals?

Well now the ignorance will come to an end with this definitive guide to toilet use. So wipe down the plastic ring, pull your undies way past your knees, and let’s get defecating!

1) The reading material. Now when I feel a certain pressing need, the first thing I do is to find something to read. I will hop from foot to foot in agony while scanning the bookshelf for something light, simple and distracting. A great toilet writer, I find, is Bill Bryson. So let’s open up Mr. Bryson’s “Notes From A Small Country” and away we go!

2) Pick a toilet. At home this tends to be no problem but in public it can be troublesome. The public toilet checklist has a few points to consider:

  • Hook on the wall to keep bag or jacket faeces-free – check!
  • Less than one meter of space under the door – check!
  • A seat devoid of unidentified stains or piddle – check!
  • Distracting ambient noises to hide farting or grunting – check!

3) In a quiet toilet, you may be worried by your “splashing” or “plopping” noises. A good way to minimise “plop” is to tear off some paper and drop it in the bowl before your business begins. This creates a handy “silencer” and people passing by will wonder what you are up to in such exquisite silence.

4) Also a quiet toilet may be a little too quiet to allow you to apply the necessary pressure. Some good “masking” tips here are:

  • Stick fingers in ear and make “hmmmmm” noise
  • Turn on water as covering fire
  • Flush repeatedly and hope for noisy re-fill
  • Cough or clear throat in a very loud and obvious manner

5) So then, your flank is covered and your business is underway. Good for you! However, if there is a rapid build-up of solid matter in the bowl, you will get a sudden and powerful stink, not so good if you are at home or in the office! A good trick here is the supplementary flush—getting rid of the first batch, and its smell, as quickly as possible, and then settling down to enjoy the rest of the process. Nobody will care if you flush a few times, and the next person in will thank you.

6) Now the last of the brownies have emerged, and its time to think about the wiping. First, though, you will need to give a little shake, to dislodge any clingers. Then reach for the toilet paper and tear off as many sheets as you think you require.

hello_kitty_toilet.jpgNote: there are many schools of toilet-paper use. Some people go through a roll of the stuff per day, whereas others split the two-ply paper in two thinner sheets to stretch it out until the summer. I generally take 2 or 3 sheets at once, so lets deal with this method first.

Simply fold the sheets once or twice to make a larger, thicker sheet that covers the front of the hand. Then apply it to the area in question with a quick wipe, applying just a little pressure.

Those who prefer many sheets might take the “wraparound” method, which is simply to wrap the entire hand with paper, front and back. This is very wasteful, especially in these resource-troubled times, although you can redeem yourself by using both the back and the front of the hand before dropping the paper in.

There is also the “ball” method, which consists of ripping off as many squares as you can fit in your hand and crushing them into a fat, bulging ball. Not a very efficient way to wipe, and shame on you if you use it!

If you have a water source nearby, you can dab some water on the paper to improve the cleaning effect. But beware, not too much or you risk a push-through (see point 8)!

7) An interesting question emerges about the wiping process – should one wipe towards the front or towards the back? Ladies tend to avoid wiping forward as it can cause some unspecified disease, but I find that the forward wipe gives a good deal more effect. May I suggest that the men-folk wipe back a few times, and then finish off with a forward wipe, with a spot of water for that all-day fresh feeling!

8) Push-through can happen to the best of us, and nothing raises a shiver like a sudden finger poking where it should not poke. But breath deep, and do not panic, you can recover the situation! Finish the wiping process with a “wraparound” and keep the offending finger covered until you can get to a source of soap. Do not, under any circumstances, pick your nose at this point!

Apply a thick layer of soap to the finger and leave it sit for a minute, without any water. Then rub it in well with a paper towel and rinse. There may be a slight, lingering odour but as long as you avoid shaking hands for the next hour or so, nobody will be any the wiser.

9) It happens that you begin the process and then find that no paper is available. There are several things you can do in this situation, in ascending degree of disgustingness.

First check for paper towels in the vicinity; they are coarse and sandpaper-like but will do in a pinch. If there are none then check carefully through your bag and pockets for napkins or tissues. If this comes up blank, try a few sheets of paper from a notebook or paperback – old school, but does the job! If this fails, then you are in a bind! You can either choose to sit there until you air-dry (never guaranteed) or else choose an item of clothing you could do without and tear it into strips. I find that socks are a good option – soft, easy to tear and easily replaced!

10) Now it’s time to flush. This should be simple enough, but once in a while you will get a floater. This is the determined little chap who will just not go under, popping up over and over like Jaques Costeau. A floater cannot be flushed in the conventional way, and must be dealt with carefully. Remember: a floater in somebody else’s house can end a relationship as sure as a dick on the dinner table!

So here’s what to do: tear off a few sheets of paper and drop them carefully over the floater. Give them a minute to soak in, and then flush once more. The floater, with its extra ballast, should now go under without any further struggle.

If this fails you will have to dismantle the floater with the toilet brush and flush down the pieces. And if this fails, all you can do is drop in enough paper to hide the little guy, and hope the next customer does not notice.

11) Sometimes the flush will not work. This always happens at parties, especially when a queue is building and you have just had the chilli con carne. But panic not, you can always perform that most ancient and complex of rituals: the manual flush!

Simply take the biggest container you can find and fill it up with water – rubbish bins are recommended, but even a plastic bag will do. Now pour as much of the water as quickly as you can into the bowl, making a big “schlunk” noise. Now repeat until the little monsters have left the building! And, as a bonus, you can have a chuckle by telling the next person in line that the flush is out, and watch their face squirm in anguish.

12) Now we have left the area of actual toilet use and are entering the realm of etiquette. You will not want to make the next toilet guest uncomfortable, and nothing does this more effectively that skid-marks. You know what I’m talking about – those long underwater streaks that a skilled forensic scientist could use to work out the gas content of what you had for dinner.

In short: do not leave any skiddies! There should be no trace of your passing, so grab that toilet brush and give it the old one-two.

Toilet brushes can be troublesome. First there is that small pool of liquid that they sit in, otherwise known as “poo soup”. Then there is the fear that bits of fecal material will climb up the brush, across your arm and do a little dance on your tongue. Then there is the problem of “flick” when you extract the brush and its worrying, flexible prongs. But no matter – if you skid, you must brush!

I generally give the skid a good old scrubbing and then flush. Just before the flush is done, I extract the brush and swirl it in the flushing water, making it hopefully a bit cleaner, and then replace it for the next brave soldier.

If there is no brush, you are in trouble. A determined stream of pee can sometimes wear down a skid-mark, but if this fails you can make a temporary brush by wrapping a pen or other long object in a tight wad of toilet paper.

Only the bravest among us will actually put their hand in the water and scrub manually, but if you want your place in heaven then sometimes this must be done. Just remember to wash that hand well afterwards, ok?

13) And finally, everything is done and clean and sparkling, but don’t go just yet! There is still the problem of “linger”, that troubling scent in the air that tells the next person in that you have some bad intestinal disease.

So open the window, if there is one, and fan the air like a madman to circulate it out. If there is some air freshener, for God’s sake spray it now! Otherwise you will have to poke around in the bathroom cabinets for something scented that you can spray – deodorant, perfume, even hairspray. Failing this, you could try mouthwash, sprinkled around in a hearty manner or else toothpaste smeared liberally around the walls.

If there is absolutely nothing to be done, then you have to brave it out. Simply exit the bathroom, close the door theatrically, wave a hand in the air and grin insanely while you say “Listen friend, do not go in there!” And then you leg it as fast as you can to the other end of the party and put a bag on your head.

So there you have it, a lifetime of toilet tips condensed into one easy-to-use guide. Now get out there, eat something dark and spicy, and make us all proud!

/ paddy

Wicked Games

When I was a schoolboy, it was the 70s. This might surprise a lot of people, especially me, but it seems that I was in fact alive and thinking almost forty years ago. Weird. And back then, I was a student in Tarbert National School, a pretty dismal establishment where priests would float in and out of our classroom and tell us what to do, and sent groups of children – children – to confession once a month, where we could make up a bunch of sins we’d never actually enjoyed, and request forgiveness for them, from a priest who was probably reading a western novel on the other side of the booth.

But to keep us sane, we had playground games. I remember several of these, all to do with running fast and hard, banging into people and being manly, even though we were all seven years old. The one I remember most strongly was a thing called “guards and prisoners”. It might sound like a delightful game of admin and paperwork and legal proceedings, but alas, no. It was a game of running and banging into people and being manly. And here’s how it worked.

Tarbert-First-Communion-class-May-2014In our playground there was a shelter – a concrete structure with a hard bench designed to keep children outdoors and in a minor but constant amount of pain. The shelter – measuring five or six square metres – was the free zone where the prisoners in the game would gather. Outside of the shelter were the guards, standing at random points around the much larger schoolyard. And deep in their territory was the “jail” where captured prisoners would be placed.

The idea was for the prisoners to charge out and run around the playground without getting captured, and then back into the shelter, where they would be greeted as heroes. But if they were wrestled to the ground by guards, they would be put into the jail. From here they could only escape if another prisoner ran by, right through the jail area, and made a peculiar “baaa-aaa-aaaa-a” sound, which I always assumed was a machine-gun from the 1920s, or a panic-stricken sheep.

3216354285_a753b577daIn this way, the prisoners would build up in the jail until the last one was caught and the game ended. However, an interesting loophole emerged, in that an occasional prisoner, having been imprisoned according to the rules of the game, would suddenly decide, from inside the jail area, that he was in actual fact “just pretending to be caught” and make the feared “baaa-aaa-aaaa-a” sound and free every single damn prisoner in the jail. This was frowned upon, but if the boy doing it was large, it really didn’t matter, because it happened anyway.

I remember the feeling of charging around the yard as a prisoner, avoiding the grasping hands of larger boys, and back into the shelter at high speed, except for the time I ran into the concrete wall and blacked out, waking to find a ring of boys gazing down at me in bewilderment, as I felt the throb of the massive cranial lump I would carry around for the following week or two.

I wish there was a life lesson from this time, but I can’t find one. But it sure did point out to me the importance of a sense of balance, and a mistrust of people in prison, and of people in charge, along with a healthy dislike of hard concrete walls. So I guess that was something. Not much, but at least something.

(Note: I tried to find an image on google to conjure up those long-gone schooldays, but nothing came even remotely close in terms of grimness. So you’ll have to make do with stock footage of cows at a market and a photo lifted from the school’s website of present-day children, the poor bastards, as they are slid deeper into the glistening fan club of Jesus Christ, our dude and eternal saviour, using the burning, tingling lube of gloriousness and prayer. Amen indeed.)

/ paddy

The Sound Of Noise

Often, I see discussions on twitter about the best music to write to. Many people make playlists and listen to them over and over to “set the mood” of the book. It seems quite common. But to me, it feels totally alien.

I write best without music and without people around me. Total silence doesn’t work, unless it IS total, but some nice background rumble usually does the trick, to keep me wrapped up in that nice bubble. But not music. If I hear music, I focus entirely on it and my brain locks up. Some music does work, but only if it’s very abstract – ambient or minimal electronica is usually good, but even not that for very long. Rain sounds are perfect.

Silence

Which is why I can’t understand the need for music in bars and restaurants and cafés. It confuses me. If you go somewhere to talk to other humans, then what the hell do you need music for? In a loud environment, I can’t hold a conversation. Even though I might hear the other person, my brain can’t grasp what they’re saying, because of all the overload of input. I hear them, but they’re just face parts moving, making a noise.

It comes from being introvert, I’ve discovered in later life. I think and relax much better when I’m by myself. Too much exposure to other people drains me and leaves me an emotional wreck. My son had probably noticed that after a few days of holiday in a new place, especially a city, I communicate in grunts and single words, until I can get home to recharge in silence.

the-silenceI understand that many people get recharged by being in company. They get energy from others. But many people don’t, and I don’t think extroverts really grasp that. They think we’re just not trying. But the truth is, an introvert needs very little input to feel stimulated, and for us, most modern environments are utterly draining, like getting slammed repeatedly over the head with a tray.

When I studied here in Stockholm, ten years ago, I was astounded that, in the university library, people chatted, and laughed, and talked on their mobile phones, out loud, as if in a pub. In the fucking library. And that’s when I first started to feel really old.

It’s a dream of mine to open a café where silence is the theme. You sit there, you eat, you sip your coffee, and you shut up. No music, no youtube videos at the next table, no idiots yelling into mobile phones. Just the natural sounds of everyday where you can sit and have a think or maybe do some writing. A church, basically, just without all the churchy stuff, with no irritating pop drivel on the radio, no large TV on the wall blasting ads into your tired stressed-out brain.

But until then I’ll keep looking for cafés without sound systems, and bringing my earplugs.

/ paddy