Scotland the brave – not the Braveheart – on September 18

I love absolutely everything about Scotland – but Braveheart doesn’t do it for me… for very personal reasons.

The Saltire meets Big Ben. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

‘Land o’ the high endeavour
Land o’ the shining river
land o’ my heart forever
Scotland the brave.’

The other day, carried a feature which remembered the making of Braveheart in Ireland in 1994. In the article ‘Here’s what it was like to be part of Braveheart’s epic army’, Lar Joye recalled his experience of being an extra on the set of Mr Mel’s blue-faced blockbuster. Lar and several hundred FCA troops – now known as the Defence Forces Reserve – provided a readymade, flexible, interchangeable army of extras who were happy to turn their coats at the whim of the shooting schedule. They fought alongside Wallace with Scottish heart and enthusiasm, but were equally adept at portraying the forces of the Crown. They didn’t much care, I suspect. They were young, it was summertime, and they were getting paid. In the iconic scene where Wallace’s army showed their contempt for their foe, the ‘Scottish’ army, en masse, mooned the English. Irish FCA bums were bared with gleeful, mischievous abandon.

And those bare bums are now 20 years older – a fact that rocked the Journal’s interviewee. Tempus fugit, folks. In those intervening 20 years, many in the business would say that the making of Braveheart on the Curragh plains did a lot for the Irish film industry. We got an opportunity to showcase Ireland as a location; Irish actors got work; local economy benefited… yadda yadda yadda.

In 2008, The Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTA) honoured Mel Gibson with their first ever Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema Award. In their lengthy pre-awards press statement at that time, they eulogised and gushed and said how wonderful Mr Gibson was. They made much of his Irish roots and praised him up, down and sideways for the making of Braveheart. Mr Mel choosing Ireland as a location for the epic tale of William Wallace seemed to have elevated him to deity status in the eyes of IFTA.

Are you sensing that I have a bit of a hump here? Well, you’d be right. You see, like Lar, the FCA extra, I was also in the Curragh 20 years ago – except in a different capacity. And my memories are not coloured as happy as Lar’s. I seriously fell out of love with Mel Gibson that summer, and he’ll never win me back.

As a family, we moved to the Curragh from Donegal in July 1994. When I say the Curragh, I mean the real Curragh – the actual military camp. In those days, the other half wore a green suit and was transferred from Donegal which was, at the time, a heart-breaking move and one that took a good deal of coming to terms with. As is always the case in these matters, our biggest concern was the children. They were an almost-teen and a very young teen at the time and we worried about them settling. They were excited about it all but also full of trepidation about being in a new place with new people, new friends, new schools and all to that.

When I heard that Braveheart was being made on the Curragh with the camp as its base, I was charmed. This, I thought, will be great. This will ease the pain for the kids. It’ll be exciting. There’ll be a buzz about the place. Sure we’ll be tripping over the half of Hollywood. We’ll be down in Centra getting our sliced pan and we’ll be rubbing shoulders with the great and good. And who knows? Mr Mel might even call in for a drop of tea. His mother’s people are from Donegal and his second name is Colmcille. Sure we’re practically related. The kettle will be on the boil at all times and he’s more than welcome to drop in for a cut of soda farl and cup in his hand.

Well, maybe that was hoping for a bit too much, but surely there’d be a bit of associated craic to be had? The reality was somewhat different. Yes, there was a buzz about the place but it sort of lost its shine after a while. At first, it was hilarious to see burly, thirteenth-century Scottish warriors roaming around the place sucking on choc ices and with packets of 10 Major sticking out of their tartan costumes. Sometimes, you’d see scene dressers with squeezy plastic bottles squirting blood and topping up the warriors’ war wounds every so often. There were many funny moments like that that definitely raised a laugh. But, after a while, it was less funny when a dozen or so of these bloody warriors were in front of you in the queue in the shop and couldn’t make their minds up as to whether they wanted a Supersplit or a Tangle Twister.

William Wallace Stained Glass

About now, you’d be expecting a photo of Mr Mel. Sorry. Here’s the real William Wallace in stained glass. By: Tommy Dickson Photography Collection: Moment Open

And the diversions and closed roads became a nuisance. The actual film set was well guarded and nobody ‘ordinary’ could get within an ass’s roar of it. There were surly security people on duty in several locations to make sure the plebs were diverted round the world for sport lest they intrude on the newly sanctified patch of the Curragh. It meant that an ordinary resident of the camp wishing to go from A to B had sometimes to detour via all the other letters of the alphabet to get to where they wanted to go. It was all quite a nuisance. But we sucked it up in the interest of the greater good and still felt a sense of loyalty and hospitality to the whole process.

And I had a plan. The word on the grapevine was that Mr Mel and his entourage were using the girls’ school as a venue for viewing the rushes in the evenings. On the evening of July 29, my eldest daughter’s birthday, we walked up to the school to see what we could see. We were just over three weeks in the Curragh by then and I was exhausted. I was worn out from trying to be upbeat about the move; trying to tell my girls that everything would work out fine; trying to reassure them their Donegal friends wouldn’t forget them; trying to make the first birthday celebration in the Curragh something special; trying to fill the days with positive thoughts and positive things. This was going to be it. We were going to meet Mel Gibson. Afterwards, my girls would probably spend at least a few hours on the phone to their Donegal mates squealing and yakking about their close encounter with Hollywood. I was going to get at least two hours to myself to unpack yet another box and have a good, uninterrupted cry.

There were about 20 ‘ordinary’ people at the school. Not a horde by any manner or means. Civilian residents of the camp. And not a paparazzo in sight. We were confined to outside the railings. Lots of filmy types floated about with clipboards and things looking awfully important, and there were a few burly chaps with the mandatory wraparound shades.

After a while, Mr Mel emerged from the school. We gave a spontaneous cheer and a round of applause. He completely ignored us as he strode towards the waiting car in his those-heels-are-a-little-higher-than-normal cowboy boots. Realising that this was a make or break moment, I shouted out: “Mel! Come and say hello to Claire. It’s her birthday.”

He never broke stride. He never even looked in our direction as he half-shouted, half-grunted a dismissive ‘Happy Birthday’. Yes, he uttered the two words, but the tone and attitude implied that he meant two entirely different words – the second of which would be probably have been ‘…off’.  He got into the car and disappeared. We were gutted.

As we stood there eating his dust, the woman beside me said it all. ‘What a shit,’ she uttered, as the car disappeared down the road. I agreed. I jollied the girls along as we made our way back to the house that we still couldn’t quite in our hearts call home. Our Braveheart experience wasn’t proving to be quite as positive or useful as I’d hoped for. And I fell seriously out of love with Mr Mel.

By the time Braveheart hit the big screen in 1995, we were well settled in the Curragh and the misery and loneliness of those first few weeks were largely forgotten. We went to see the film and we enjoyed it. We laughed out loud when we saw the warriors in battle as we remembered them rambling around the camp with their ice lollies and their fags.

It won five Academy Awards and it did, I’m sure, advance the cause of the Irish film industry. Great. But remember, it advanced Mr Mel’s cause too. He got value for money. He literally had the Army at work for him, running it all with military precision. And he also had a local population who grinned and bore the disruption with general good humour when their day-to-day living was discommoded. A little reciprocal good humour would have been welcome. Thirty seconds out of the schedule to say hello to the or’nary folk  would have done the trick.

Twenty years on, I remember and I haven’t forgiven. I’ve actually reminisced about it a good deal this year as the film’s been on the telly several times. I suspect that the Scottish independence referendum, just around the corner on September 18, is responsible for the renewed popularity. Mr Mel with his blue warpaint and atrocious accent.   When the film premiered in Scotland in 1995, it was something of a rallying cry for the SNP. It stirred the nationalistic blood and quickened the heartbeat of every true Scot. If the referendum had been held the day after that premiere, we would likely have had an independent Scotland before nightfall.

Now, 19 years on, it seems the Yes side of the referendum debate are a little less in love with Mr Gibson’s historically inaccurate epic – described by the Times as one of ‘the 10 most historically inaccurate movies’ of all time. They’re distancing themselves from it somewhat lest the seriousness and sanctity of their cause be trivialised by the whole Hollywood ballyhoo. They want to win – but they don’t want that win to be on the back of ill-informed tribalism or a screenwriter’s romanticised notion of history. The Yes people, it seems, feel now that the association of the movie with their cause has led to their campaign being dismissed as lacking substance. As one Yes campaigner in Glasgow put it, the unionists dismiss the Yes side as being ‘all Braveheart and bagpipes’. Now that Hollywood fairytale time is over and they’re engaged in the grown-up business of deciding their future, Scotland, it seems, is a little less in love with Braveheart than it once was. They want their electorate to vote with their own brave hearts and not to be rabble-roused and influenced by Mr Mel and Hollywood’s inaccuracies. For much the same reason, the No side aren’t fans either at the moment – they’re afraid it will stir the blood and bring the Wallace wannabes out in force. So yeah, Mr Mel. Now see what you’ve done.

But I’ll give leave the last word to a commentator on the website. Obviously, the commentator was another FCA extra back in the day. In the run-up to the referendum, his heartfelt comment reads:

 ‘twenty years ago I bared my balls for scottish freedom, they better vote yes!!’

Good luck, Scotland. But please – vote with what’s in your own heart. Your decision is about your future – not about an inaccurate portrayal of your past. Don’t let Hollywood and the grumpy Mr Mel take your true freedom.  Send him homeward, tae think again.

PERTH, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is joined on stage by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after he Spoke at The SNP Annual Conference on October 20, 2012 in Perth, Scotland. The First Minister delivered his key note speech today after signing a deal with David Cameron earlier in the week for Scotland's referendum to take place in the autumn of 2014. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

SNP First Minister Alex Salmond with Deputy First Leader Nicola Sturgeon. Busy days ahead.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Check the website here

for the article on the making of Braveheart. It also contains a video of a documentary made by the Defence Forces giving behind the scenes action at the time of the filming. 

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Away from the manger

We all know it’s a given that Christmas lights won’t work when you finally dig them out of their hiding place… but there’s another Christmas hex to beware of…

My wooden crib.

My wooden crib, bought years ago, is still to the good. And not a microchip in sight.

Anyone who has ever bought into the business of decking the halls will know that there’s a hex on Christmas lights.  A double hex, even.  First of all, despite putting them away carefully last time and swearing you’ll remember where they are, you can’t find them now.

You pull cupboards apart, risk life and limb climbing into the attic, dig your way through the shed contents… and still they elude you.  The second hex of the lights is that, when you do find them (in the attic where you left them and where you’ve looked ten times), they’re not working.  Everyone knows this.  It’s the law.  It’s not Christmas unless you’re lights are elusive and dead.

A familiar sight… once you find them.

But there’s another hex on the decks.  If yours is a household that observes the Christian tradition of dressing and displaying a crib, you’ll likely know what’s coming next.

If I recount a conversation I eavesdropped on last week, it’ll give you a clue.  I was browsing in a fancy goods shop in the hopes that something might inspire me on the gift-buying front.  There were smelly candles in the shape of Christmas puddings, heavily chromed angels blowing trumpets, herds of glittery reindeer, inflatable Santa boots and other assorted tat of that nature.  I was about to leave when a rather frazzled-looking older lady entered the shop and made a beeline for the counter.

The conversation went something like this:

Frazzled lady: ‘Do you do spare Baby Jesuses?’

Shop lady:     ‘For the crib, is it?  No. Nothing.  I only have a kind of a statue thing of the Blessed Virgin holding the child.’

FL:      ‘No. Not what I’m looking for at all.  My Jesus is missing.  Again.  I don’t know how many Jesuses I’ve lost at this stage.  I don’t know what happens them at all.’

SL:      ‘They’re lucky.  Some people think they’re lucky so they take them.’

FL:      ‘Bastards.’

SL:      ‘I know. Fierce annoying when you’re trying to get the crib up. We had to put a Flower Fairy in ours one year. Honest to God. But sure the children were delighted.’

FL:      ‘Do you have any of them?’

SL:      ‘Flower Fairies? No.  I think I have a box of Sylvanian Families somewhere but they’re rabbits, I think.  I don’t even have a full crib in stock.  Plenty of farm sets with sheep but that’s all I have.’

By now, I was hiding behind a display of festive aprons ho-ho-holding myself up and trying not to guffaw.  The Jesus-less lady went on her weary way, no doubt to resume the Jesus hunt in another emporium.

But it got me thinking about cribs and it would seem that Jesus theft is rife.  If you google “Baby Jesus stolen”, you’ll get over 10 million hits. Stories from all over the world tell of various crib crimes ranging from the malicious to the you-shouldn’t-laugh-but-you-can’t-help-it type.  In the UK last year, Jesus was robbed from Birmingham city centre and replaced with a rather cheerful looking garden gnome. Just this week, Jesus went missing from a shopping mall in Santa Clarita, California.  Happily, the figurine was recovered yesterday none the worse for wear.  This was the second time, though, that poor Jesus was stolen from that mall.  He disappeared in 2009 and was missing in action for eight days on that occasion.  On the Santa Clarita Valley Signal website, one of the comments under the story suggests that maybe it’s time to start microchipping Jesus.

But back to my frazzled Jesus hunter.  I could empathise with her because, over the years, our crib comprised a fairly motley crew.  My crib figures were all shapes and sizes of shepherds, kings and livestock that were plastic outcasts from various crib sets borrowed and inherited from cribs gone before.  One year, we had quite a bizarre tableau of dainty little oxen being preyed over by huge sheep.  Big, woolly, Godzilla-type mutants.

I took the pain out of the process about 15 years ago by buying a wooden crib.  It’s beautifully crafted (Walsh Craft Ltd in Puckane, Nenagh, Co Tipperary) and the little figures fit on to pegs on the base board so they’re secure and not easy to lose.  Jesus in his manger is one, integrated piece so less chance of that going astray as well.  I think it’s rather lovely, really, and I’m very fond of it.

crib 1

The cutest little crib you’ll see this year. I think, though, that abbreviating Association to Ass doesn’t really work here. An apostolic ass? Is that another name for the little donkey? But ain’t it cute? I hope I win it.

And just today, I came across another totally charming nativity scene.  In a shop in Roscommon, there was just the cutest little crib you ever did see on display.  Wait for it… a knitted one!  It wasn’t for sale, though.  It’s the raffle prize in a fundraiser for the Apostolic Association (who really shouldn’t abbreviate Association to ‘Ass’).  Needless to remark, I bought tickets.  And the little woolly Baby Jesus won’t be easy for anyone to steal because Mary, with her new mother angst, is hanging on to him for dear life.  Go Mary. 

But I’m still wondering about my frazzled lady and her empty manger.  Is there a Flower Fairy understudying Baby Jesus, I wonder?  Or maybe a little Lego man?  I do hope not.

I fervently hope – but not in any proselytising way – that she found Jesus.

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After the thrill is gone

The Eagles play the O2 Dublin in June 2014.  This witchy woman – a fan for 40 years – is ‘worrying ’bout this wasted time’.

The Eagles play O2 Dublin in June 2014.

The Eagles play O2 Dublin in June 2014.

Something momentous happened today, gentle reader.  I’m not saying it was a good thing, but it was certainly a momentous thing and a little sobering.  And it makes me kinda sad.  I think, you see, that I have finally accepted that I’m a grown up.  I did grown-up things today and made grown-up decisions.  I spoke words out loud that frightened me.  They came out of my mouth.  Mine.  Me.  My mouth.

It’s all to do with the Eagles – Messrs Glen Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B Schmit and Joe Walsh.  They’re coming to the O2 in June next year and, when I spotted that bit of news this morning, I got busy trying to organise tickets.  The tickets don’t go on general sale until Friday but, as you might know, O2 customers can register for ‘priority’ purchases and buy gig tickets a couple of days before they go on general release.  The priority tickets for my beloved Eagles went on sale this morning.  Excellent stuff, I thought to myself.  I’ll get busy on that and get me two tickets close enough to see their tonsils.  I was hugging myself with the excitement of it all.

Before I go any further, I should explain (if you haven’t already gathered) that I’m something of a fan.  Everyone has a soundtrack to their formative, adolescent years and the Eagles provided mine.  We go back that far.  Back as far as vinyl.  I remained loyal to them throughout adulthood and missed them when they split up.  When they rolled out the ‘Hell Freezes Over’ tour, I was giddy with excitement.  They did two dates in Dublin and I went to both. The whole family went on the first night and I went on my own on the second night.  It was an indulgence.  A ‘just for me’ occasion.  It was like getting to spend quality time with a best friend you haven’t seen for ages.  I stood on my own on that second evening and fancied they were playing just for me, their most loyal and appreciative fan.  I made a banner and waved it. (It said: ‘Joe – update your website).  I sang myself hoarse.  That was some time in the ‘90s (’97 maybe? The memory cells are creaking).

Joe Walsh. Listed at 54th in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Should be nearer the top.

Joe Walsh. Listed at 54th in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Should be nearer the top.

They came back again some years later, this time to Lansdowne Road, if the creaky memory serves.  And, of course, I went to that too.  What I remember most about that gig, though, was that it raised the flag of awareness of time marching on.  I remember sitting in my seat and observing the crowd filing in around me.  Was there, I wondered, a bus in from a day centre or something like that?  Was the local care home having a bit of a do?  An active retirement group?  There were lots of ‘old’ people making their way to the seats around us.  The men, balding and ruddy-faced, sporting the middle-aged uniform of chinos and polo shirts; the women in their white trousers, floaty tops and comfy, national-school-teacher Eccos.  How, I wondered, did we manage to get seats in the middle of this block booking?  There wasn’t going to be much support for my air guitar solo here.  I was a bit annoyed that the crowd surrounding us were so sedate and stuffy looking.

Until I looked at myself… in my white trousers and my floaty top with my bald husband at my side.  It was as if someone kicked me and reminded me I wasn’t 17 anymore.  With the exception of the Eccos (I was in runners), I could have been looking in a mirror.  It wasn’t an old folks’ outing.  It was just people like me.  Teenagers of the ‘70s dealing – each in their own way – with the relentless march of time.  The Eagles put on a great show that night but my heart wasn’t really in it.

They’ve been back in Dublin since and, whereas I made sure I had tickets, it turned out I couldn’t go.  I passed the tickets on to a pair of grateful souls who enjoyed the gig for me and bought me T-shirts which I still have and treasure.

So you can understand my excitement this morning when I saw the news of the date.  Another chance.  And, with the priority booking, I’ll get good seats.  I logged on to the O2 site and that’s when the whole grown-up thing started to happen.

First of all, I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d registered for the whole ‘priority’ thing.  I have two O2 accounts and I fancied I had registered at least one of them but I couldn’t remember which.  I tweeted the O2 help people and they identified the account that was registered.  Grand.  But then I couldn’t find the link to the priority booking area.  I tweeted again.  They sent me the link.  Grand again.  Soon… very soon I’ll have tickets to see the old friends that I grew up with.  I’ll throw out my white trousers and wear something ridiculous on my feet.  Himself will not be in a polo shirt.  Soon.  Very soon.

Except I couldn’t make my way through the next bit.  In fairness, it wasn’t my fault.  The process involves texting a number to receive a priority booking code.  I have, as stated, two O2 accounts… but I don’t have an O2 phone account.  My accounts are for broadband.  I texted the relevant number from my Vodafone phone but got a text back saying the priority booking was only available to O2 customers.

The grown-up talk was starting to come out of my mouth at this stage.  ‘Honestly, this is most unsatisfactory.’  ‘This website is really very unfriendly.  Not at all intuitive. Counter-intuitive, truth be told.’

That sort of prissy, old lady shite.  I was revising the plan about throwing out the white trousers.  I rang O2 customer care who understood my dilemma and were polite but couldn’t help me.  They gave me the email address of the Priority Booking support team.  I emailed them.  Nothing happened.  More old lady talk: ‘Honestly, in these times of economic strife, wouldn’t you think they’d be interested in taking my money.’  And so on.

eagles group

L to R: Don Henley, Glen Frey, Joe Walsh, Timothy B Schmit. If I’m not dreaming it, I think Timmy is married to a girl from Derry.

Then we remembered we do actually have an O2 pay-as-you-go phone that we had to buy years ago in order to get the broadband.  Himself dug that out of its hibernation and, some minutes later, we had a priority booking code.  Soon…  really very soon… there will be brilliant (if expensive) tickets.  Don’t fret, Don, Glen, Timmy and Joe… I’m almost there.

I carefully entered the code and all other required information and clicked ‘find tickets’.  That generated an offer of two tickets costing €211 and some cents in total… in Block N.

Have you been to the O2 in Dublin?  Do you know where Block N is?  I do.  You need breathing apparatus and a telescope.  And tissues for the nosebleeds.

I declined and tried again, this time trying to nominate a specific block.  The only blocks selling were N and A.  A’s not the best either – very off centre.  More tweets.  Why can I only get tickets in N or A?  They must be sold out, they retorted.  Sold out?  SOLD OUT?  They haven’t even gone on sale!  Is that not the whole point of ‘priority’ booking?  Then they said that only a ‘specific area’ was available for ‘priority’ booking.  Specifically the nosebleed and crick-in-the-neck sections, it seems.

So I didn’t do it.  The grown-up me emerged.  The prissy, adult, sensible, owner-of-white-trousers me refused to click further.  A trip to the O2 for us as a couple involves time off work, the cost of travel, parking, food and drink, maybe staying over and so on.  With the tickets coming in at €211 odd, we’d have little change out of €400. To sit and look at a pixelated screen or have a sore neck for the rest of the week?

Nah.  Couldn’t do it.  When I thought about how hard I work to clear €400, I want a bang for my buck.  I want a decent seat at least.  God knows, such has been my money-where-my-mouth-is loyalty over the years, I’d almost expect a Triple-A pass and a private audience.

‘Well?,’ himself enquired from across the room.  ‘Have you booked?’

‘No,’ I replied. ‘And I’m not going to. Dreadful seats and over-priced for what they are. And I’m so annoyed about the convoluted processes and the lack of support for someone in my situation with two O2 accounts but no text-ability. Honestly, it’s just not good enough.  I feel so cheated about all this.  So cheated. My whole day is put to loss.’

That, gentle reader, came out of my mouth.  Mine.  My mouth.  That conservative, sensible, grumpy, old-lady rant was uttered by me.  The ‘70s me who sat alone on a beach in the middle of the night listening to Desperado and the sound of the ocean is gone, it seems.

I might go back on the site in a few days and see what’s available.  I might.  But my excitement and my joy are diminished.  As the lads in question warbled way back…

‘Time passes and you must move on,
Half the distance takes you twice as long
So you keep on singing for the sake of the song
After the thrill is gone.’

Never, ever buy white trousers.


White trousers. The uniform of the middle-aged. When you put them on, sensible things start coming out of your mouth. Approach with caution.

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Pedalling, picnics and St Thomas of the Greenway.

A bridge too far for the ET wannabe

Me and Grace getting ready for the off at Newport House

Me and Grace getting ready for the off at Newport House

It occurs to me that I better follow up on the post of last week lest anyone thinks I either chickened out of the cycle or that I’m lying in a half-dead heap in a bog in Mayo.  Neither thing, I’m happy to report, is the case.  Although… it was a close-run thing.

It turns out, you see, that when I said I wasn’t a cyclist, I was right.  I started out on Sunday thinking that I’d surely manage the 22km Newport – Westport round trip if I took it handy and paced myself.  Everything was working for me – the weather was perfect and the other half had assured me when I asked that the route wasn’t too hilly.  I donned the magic padded shorts, hopped up on Grace and off we went.  Hey ho for the open road, and all to that.

From the get-go, I was struggling.  After a kilometre or so, I reckoned I had a clear choice – either give up or just die.  The other half was cruising and trying to offer words of encouragement.  To no avail.  The more I struggled, the more annoyed I got.  By the end of the second kilometre, I was like a witch.  The gentle words of encouragement were wasted on me.  I blamed him for misleading me.  ‘Flat… you said it was flat. It’s not flat.  Far from f*cking flat.  This is not cycling.  This is mountaineering’.  That was the general gist and tone.  I was in serious snarl mode.  Couldn’t keep a civil tongue in my head.  And then, bless him, he switched on the Go Pro camera thingy mounted on his helmet and told to me smile.  Such a brave, misguided soul.  He got an earful.  Suffice to say I didn’t smile.  Couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Bridge going out

St Thomas of the Greenway stashes my discarded woolly layer at the Bridge of Doom.

At about 3km or so, we came to a bridge and I just had to stop.  No way could I generate the momentum to get over it.  I was in a total lather.  I had to stop and remove the woolly layer under my outer shell and prevail upon himself to stash it in his rucksack.  I carried on, all the time hoping the terrain would level out.  I looked wistfully at my little front-mounted basket and fancied that if only I had a blanket-covered alien in it instead of a picnic, I would be Elliot and magically become airborne.  I wished and wished.  At 5km, it took all I owned not to call a halt.  I was wrecked.

And then, magically, it all started to come right.  The ground levelled out, the wayside was prettier and I was managing to manoeuvre my way through the various obstacles – the obstacles being the many gates, posts and way markers which I found extremely challenging.  But I was starting to get quite comfortable and confident.  Starting, even, to enjoy it all.  I even smiled at people we met along the way.  Even had a few kind words for himself.  By the time we got to Westport, I was positively charmed with myself and proud as punch.  The little Greenway station at Westport is just the cutest thing you ever saw and we brewed up tea for our little anniversary picnic and had a lovely time.  We reminisced about 34 years ago on that day when we tied the marital knot.  The first horrible 5km were forgotten.  I was all pleased with myself.  In my head, I was planning my next cycling adventure.

At the pretty little Greenway station in Wesport.  The anniversary picnic - tea and scones.

At the pretty little Greenway station in Wesport. The anniversary picnic – tea and scones.

Good humour restored.

Good humour restored.

After our picnic, we set out on the return leg.  Such a pretty route.  And all credit to the landowners who live along the way.  Some have built little resting areas and have sown wildflowers to make it all lovely and pastoral.  With the sun shining and a gentle breeze in my hair (well… in my helmet), it was turning into quite the perfect day.  I’m good at this cycling lark after all.  A natural, maybe.  No bother at all.

Pretty wayside flowers and a shadowy Grace.

Pretty wayside flowers and a shadowy Grace.

In no time, we were in sight of the bridge that had defeated me on the way out.  As I approached it this time, I started building up a head of steam.  This time, it was not going to beat me.  This time, I was going to cycle over it rather than get off and walk as I’d done earlier.  This bridge is not going to get the better of me.

But it did.  Oh I cycled over it, all right… it’s just that I couldn’t stop.  I had built up such a head of steam that I reckon I did a little bit of ET-style flying – I think I was probably briefly airborne – and I panicked.  I put my hand out to try and grab at the bridge wall to slow me down and I lost control and landed in an inelegant heap on the other side. Another fall from Grace.  Happily, I had a helmet on and my legs were denim clad so I didn’t break skin.  There was no blood, at least.  But I gave myself a right thwack.  I’d had about 10km of pride… then I had the fall.  There is, it appears, more to this cycling lark than I’d imagined.  The laws of gravity apply, it seems.  Who knew?

Anyway, after establishing that all my bits were still working, I got back on Grace – who, incidentally, was totally unmarked – and gingerly finished the run into Newport.  A pot of tea and a few Digestive biccies in the Grainne Uaile made it all seem OK again.  But I learned my lesson:  Don’t get cocky on a bike when you’re a mere novice.

The dirty rotten shitty Bridge of Doom taken from the safety of the car on the way home.

The dirty rotten shitty Bridge of Doom taken from the safety of the car on the way home.

Would I do it again?  Yes… but differently.  I’d beware of bridges.  I’d have more respect for gravity.  I’d try not to snarl at my husband (whom our daughter has christened ‘St Thomas of the Greenway’ for his saintly patience and serenity in putting up with my bad temper of the first 5km).

And I’d try to smile more.

If only I had a little alien...

If only I had a little alien…

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Getting my spoke in…


OK.  I know I haven’t posted here for ages.  And if I was in any doubt about just how long it’s been, the whole WordPress interface has changed utterly since I last logged in and I also was hard pressed to remember my password.  It’s been over a year, it seems.  Where did that time go?

Anyway, this post is only by way of refreshing myself as to the workings of WordPress as I feel there could be a longer post in the offing. 

On Sunday coming, October 6, myself and the other half are heading to Newport, Co Mayo where we will cycle part of the Great Western Greenway.  The plan is to cycle from Newport to Westport and back which, if the Greenway map is to be believed, is a round trip of 22km.  Nothing extraordinary about that, you might think.  Well… think again. 

I am not a cyclist.  My bike – affectionately called Grace because I fell from it on Day 1 – is the first bike I ever owned in my life.  She’s just about a month old and I’ve only racked up about 15km in total.  The other half, on the other hand, is experienced.  Very experienced.  In the month of September alone, he racked up over 800km.  Over the course of the year, he’s probably put more mileage on his bike than his car.  He’s everything I’m not when it comes to cycling.  He’s one of these people who looks ‘right’ on a bike.  There’s a certain grace and ease of movement about him that I’ll never achieve.  On the few outings we’ve had together, he’s making it all look entirely effortless and I’m going like a demented, wobbly  hamster.  I have to stop when I meet a car and I certainly have to stop when there’s a car coming behind me.  I only have to hear an engine and I wobble. 

And it’s all a bit sore on the fanny – and I say that no matter what side of the Atlantic you take your definition from.  I went to Halfords today and bought a pair of awful padded shorts in the hopes that they might reduce the mid- and post-cycle discomfort.  The big, mad padded stuff inside is arse-shaped and bright red.  Apt.

So Sunday will be interesting.  If I survive, we’re having dinner, B & B in Newport House that night to mark the occasion of being 34 years hitched.  If we don’t kill each other during the course of the day. 

Stay tuned. 


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Pink Christmas

Lego have launched a pink range in an effort to make that most enduring of toys gender neutral.  And now they’re labelled ‘sexist’.  But before you start to foam at the mouth with feminist rage, here’s an alternative take on thinking pink.



New Lego for girls. Wasn’t it always?


What do you think when you think pink?  Chances are, you immediately think something girly and frivolous.  Maybe an image of Barbie in her pink convertible pops into your head.  Or perhaps a picture of a new baby girl swaddled in pink blankets and surrounded by pink cuddly toys.  Or maybe you associate it with someone you know who has a fondness for the colour.  If the latter is the case, then chances are that person is female or gay.  Pink, in all its various hues, has a very definite label and one that not everyone wishes to embrace.

Traditionally, pink is very definitely a feminine colour and conveys… well… girliness.  In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that but, somewhere along the line, pink garnered itself a secondary tag of ditziness and dumb-downed dimness.  Liking and wearing pink is akin to being ‘blonde’ in its most derogatory sense.  If you’re blonde and happen to like pink as well, you’re well and truly perceived as being dim, shallow, giggly, empty-headed, superficial, dumb and so on. None of the adjectives are flattering.  It may not be true but it’s the common perception.  A label.  Pink-loving persons (both female and gay male) are all tarred with the same brush. 


Pink-seeking cleverness.

But there is another take on pink out there.  Research suggests that the female predilection for pink has more to do with evolution and biology than popular culture. It  suggests that women are well disposed to pink because of a throwback to Neanderthal times. Professor Anya Hurlbert, who led a study at Newcastle University in the UK in 2007, reckons that women’s fondness for pink could date back to hunter-gatherer days when women were the primary gatherers. 

Our Neanderthal forebears, it seems, developed an ability to home in on ripe, red berries and fruits and therefore trained the female eye to seek out and select varying degrees of pinkness.  In selecting their mate, they went for the healthy-looking ruddy-faced specimens rather than the pasty-looking weaklings.  So our pink-loving female ancestors were far from ditzy and dumb – they were powerful, smart, resourceful, industrious and intuitive.  A much better set of adjectives indeed.  The modern-day female fondness for pink is merely our legacy bequeathed by these capable women.  We’ve evolved into natural pink-seeking missiles.  Pink and powerful smart bombs. 

The study team in Newcastle tested 220 British students and found that the girls showed a preference for pink.  However, they also tested a group of Chinese students who had not been influenced by the Western cultural symbols like Barbie dolls and the general thinking that pink equals girly.  A Chinese colour perception expert, Dr Yazhu Ling, who worked on the study, said there was no real ‘culture of pink’ in China so the Chinese group would have no cultural influence when making their colour choices. 

And the Chinese group chose pink just as much as the British group.  This, according to Dr Ling, indicates that there is a biological reason for our colour choices.  There is something innate in the female that steers us towards pink. 

Research that associates pink with strong, powerful women will be music to some feminist ears.  In the past, many feminist groups denounced the colour pink because of the association with frivolity and giggly “girliness”.  Now they want it back.  A Swedish group, Feminist Initiative (known as Fi or F¡), has officially adopted pink as their party colour.  They espouse the notion that women shouldn’t be deprived of the colour simply because society has given it connotations that are alien to their cause.  If you want pink, you should be free to have pink and be proud of it.  To deprive yourself of it is to allow yourself to be compromised and discriminated against.  So, if you’re a feminist, you should think pink if you want to.  Fi are also thinking similarly with regard to clothes – if you want pretty, frilly dresses and skirts, go for it.  Wearing them shouldn’t mean you’re any less the feminist.  You have a right to choose, they say.  You shouldn’t have to spend your life in baggy jeans and big shirts just to make your feminist point.


So pink really says a whole lot more than giggly ditziness.  And pink Lego?  Fine with me … but…

What might not be fine with me is the pink Lego stereotypical concept.  I can’t speak from experience because I haven’t seen the pink bricks in action but one of the criticisms being levelled at Lego is that the pink version is not as challenging or creative as the regular stuff.  They haven’t just produced the basic bricks in a different colour – they’ve created a pink range which features a café, a beauty parlour and a fashion design studio, apparently.  Hmmm. 

But I know girls.  They are as the research suggests – resourceful, strong, proactive, practical, problem-solvers.  If anyone gives them a hard time for playing with their pinky, girly toys, they’ll simply take their nice pink Lego bricks, build themselves a nice pink bridge and get over it.  Girls, you see, are sensible. 

And, by the way… if you’re wondering why I haven’t posted to my blog for yonks, it’s because I had a busy few months.  Work, family, life in general.  In September, I got to wear a new hat – literally and figuratively.  I was mother-of-the-bride to my youngest daughter.  It was a fabulous, wonderful occasion.  And, because I like it and it’s a kind colour to the pale Irish complexion, I wore … pink. 


If I like it, I’ll wear it. 🙂








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Any day now, they’ll call me ‘dear’.

Just because you pre-date the age of technology doesn’t mean you’re thick or half dead. It’s time they started playing myTune at iTunes.

Some years ago, a telly ad for the Financial Regulator featured a bus full of regular passengers going about their normal business when, suddenly, one of them stood up and, with an anxious expression, confessed to his fellow passengers: “I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is.”

It opened the floodgates.  In turn, the other passengers stood and made their own confessions about seemingly everyday financial terms they didn’t understand.

It was funny.  As an ad, it worked.  People liked it and remembered it. And related to it.  At the time, the economy was booming, money was everywhere and everyone (‘cept me) spoke like they knew what they were talking about.  People didn’t have ‘a few bob in savings’ anymore; they had investment portfolios.  They didn’t put the odd fiver in a biscuit tin for a rainy day; they dabbled in real estate and bought condos on the Algarve.

Back then, we had a whole different vocabulary and, a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes, nobody was prepared to admit they didn’t really see it, get it, understand it.  The Financial Regulator ad was the equivalent of the innocent and honest child pointing at the naked emperor. The small child wasn’t afraid of ridicule or scorn.  He just didn’t get it.  He couldn’t see the clothes and he simply said so.  The honest statement gave confidence and moral courage to others.  People began to admit they couldn’t see the Emperor’s fine clothes either – they only said they could because they were afraid others would think them stupid and thick.  People were relieved to know they weren’t on their own.  They were no longer afraid to be honest.

So the ‘tracker mortgage’ ad served its purpose well.  It reassured us that it was OK to admit to being thick about things that are new to us.  Even though the ad is no longer on the telly, the ‘I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is’ line remains in our national lexicon as a kind of informal admission of bewilderment.  In writing and in speech, people preface their remarks with *stands up on bus* in order to let their reader or listener know that they’re about to make an admission.

Well, here’s my personal ‘stands up on bus’ admission:

I don’t understand iTunes.  Furthermore – I’ll stand up again – I don’t get this iCloud business either.  I get the concept but that’s where it ends.  In fact, when it comes to the whole business of updating and syncing my iPhone, I think I should just remain standing. I ‘get’ iTunes with no difficulty when it comes to the business of actual business – buying stuff.  That’s easy peasy and intuitive.  But when it comes to managing my devices – syncing, storing, backing up, transferring purchases and so on, I’m, er, challenged to say the least.  I had the wrong notion about it all.  I thought my iTunes was web-based – that I could plug in to any computer anywhere, whistle up iTunes and backup and sync to my heart’s content.  It’s a pain in the iArse that you’re tied to one machine.  (If I’m wrong about this, somebody please tell me.  In simple terms.)

What really scuppered me was when a second iPhone came into the house.  Two iPhones, one PC is not a happy situation.  Even logging in to my own account wouldn’t let me access my own stuff – it kept showing me the other half’s stuff.  Consequently, I did wrong things (because this end of the business is really quite counter-intuitive), I lost stuff, and raised my blood pressure a goodly notch or two.  I got on to customer support.  I did what I was told but I didn’t understand it.

At one stage, I even travelled to the Apple shop in Belfast (a 7-hour round trip) to get my phone replaced.  I was madly impressed with the people and the premises.  But it kind of mesmerises you.  They’re all young and happy and calm and nothing’s a problem.  There’s sexy Apple stuff everywhere and you can play with it.  They have cool glass stairs.  It’s as if there’s happy vapour in the air.  Like a ‘60s love-in.  You just kind of float through the place.  It’s all love and peace.  You smile a lot and everyone smiles back.  Nothing is a problem.  You understand everything.  How could you not?  It’s all so perfect.

Until you get home. Until nothing works.  Until you lose important stuff.  Until you can’t get them on the phone.  Until your ears start to bleed with the pitying and patronising tones when you do get them on the phone.

Until the lightbulb pings over your head and you realise it’s time to stand up on the bus and point at the naked guy, if you’ll forgive me mixing Irish advertising and Danish fairytales.   I just don’t get the iTunes device management system and I really don’t believe I’m on my own.   Furthermore, I resent being patronised by customer care people who speak to me in that irritatingly calm voice that you reserve for tantrumy, truculent children.  They invariably irritate me further when they imply that it’s all really very simple – that it’s me who’s at fault here.   They’re very pleasant and charming (mostly) but you can’t help feeling that they wish you’d just go away and die.  They know how old you are and, in their book, you’re just a geriatric pest with no natural aptitude or ability and you’re pretty much past it.  You’re just waiting for them to call you ‘dear’.

Well I’m nobody’s dear and I’m not any less intelligent than younger people who are wizards and who can do it all with their eyes shut.  Because they’ve been surrounded by technology since they were born, they think their generation own it exclusively and that they have been endowed with an innate understanding of it all.

Well, guess what?  That’s a load of tripe.  I’ve been surrounded by technology for just as long as them.  But I use it differently.  I use it to augment and enhance my other skills because… I have other skills.  I don’t rely on the technology exclusively.  That’s the difference.  And I’m possibly not as up-to-spec as younger models because I hadn’t time to sit and play with it all day.

Happily, I’m getting there.  After a bad technology month, I found an Apple support person who seemed to ‘get’ me.  In fairness, most of the Apple support people I spoke to were very nice and willing to help but they assumed a level of understanding and a base knowledge that I just don’t have.  My latest person (hello Paul) didn’t make me feel stupid and was patient in an understanding way.  He sorted me out – even rang me back at one point – and now I’m getting there.  Sort of.  Sometimes.  It’s like anything technological – when someone’s talking you through it, it seems so easy; when you tackle it on your own, everything goes mental.  You’re afraid to click anything in case you break the internet.

But, as I say, I’m getting there.  Slowly.  Sometimes.  When my brain isn’t fogged with other things like work and deadlines.  So thanks to my NBF Paul at Apple for that.

But here’s a few truths and suggestions for the Apple Corporation:

  • Managing your device via iTunes is neither straightforward nor intuitive.  It’s actually quite daunting and convoluted.
  • You’d make more money if this aspect of things was simpler.  When I was in the nirvana of the Apple Store in Belfast, I drooled over an iPad.  I dropped heavy hints to the hubby.  I’ve since withdrawn the drool and the hints.  No way do I want one until I can manage it with ease, simplicity and confidence.  The thoughts of owning one now with my fuzzy understanding of device management is enough to make me start rocking to and fro with the stress of it all.
  • You really should put some ‘old’ people in your shops.  Old dears like me who worry about breaking the internet.

This is more of it… when I downloaded this image from Office, the little woman was moving. Throttling the machinery quite enthusiastically, she was. No more. With my technological ineptitude, I’ve managed to paralyse her.


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