10 Sure Fire ways to Piss Off the Bar Staff.

Do Not Feed the Animals.. Give them shots instead, they're very thirsty...

Do Not Feed the Animals.. Give them shots instead, they’re very thirsty…

Today marks the official end of the summer.

Today my summer break comes to an end, and rather than being a short-of-work freelance writer, I return to official status as full time Bar Wench at one of the city’s prime student bars.

Back to porridge, back to pulling pints, back to teaching eighteen year old freshers to remember their please and thank-yous… can’t wait…

Oddly enough, this is about the same time of year that I lose that carefree, happy-go-lucky summer feel and transform into a Ms Hyde beast who eats rude students for breakfast. There are a variety of triggers that set off the transformation and for some reason in a student bar it never takes long to set it off.

And I’m not alone – bartenders worldwide have the same ‘dos and don’ts’ for customers. Stick by the rules and it could save your life, or at least your night out, but if you do have some sick desire to be eaten alive by an angry bartender, here’s a surefire guide of how to piss off the bar staff:

  1. Be rude – you cannot fathom just how far a little please or thank-you will get you until you forget to use it, an order that doesn’t include the word ‘please’ becomes mysterious mute to the bartender, think of this as a game of Simon Says, if the magic word isn’t there, it doesn’t count. Don’t underestimate the power of a please or thank-you, they really are the magic words, the make the beer appear.

  2. Be vague – “wine” isn’t gonna cut it guys… be specific or you will be met with a spitfire of questions “Red/White/Rose?” “Merlot/Shiraz/Sauv Blanc/Pinot?” “Large/Small?” “Do you want fries with that?”. Similarly “Beer” is not a valid order unless you want it served in a shoe, specify pint, bottle, brand if you have a preference, it’s awfully helpful.

  3. Ask for a surprise – you will be punched in the face, surprised?

  4. Ask for a free pint – you will be given a pint of water, possibly over your head.

  5. Ask ‘What’s cheap?’ – how long is a piece of string? ‘Cheap’ is relative to what you drink or where you’re from, if you want to know how much a pint is, ask, we’ll happily tell you. And if it’s offers you’re after, this is a business in a competitive economic climate, chances are any offers will be advertised on/behind/above the bar, on posters/flyers/menus, on the tables/toilet doors/barmaid’s chest – open your eyes, pay attention, it’s the only time you will get away with looking at the barmaid’s chest (see #6)

  6. Sleeze – you are not being sexy, you are not flirting, you have no chance, just stop now. Every winning line you think you’ve got, we’ve heard it. Flirting is a wonderful compliment to the bar-staff, and often a great pick-me-up on a busy night, not to mention an excellent way to make an impression that will get you served faster or more efficiently in future (see #7) but there is a fine line between flirting and sleezing. A good rule of thumb is the drink/driver rule – if you consider yourself too drunk to get behind the wheel of a car, you are too drunk to make a pass at the bartender, don’t risk the car crash.

  7. Assume the bar staff will remember your name/face/”usual” – unless you’re an actual regular, have put long and pleasant hours conversing with the staff, propping up the bar and putting money in the till, and I’m talking years of dedication, don’t flatter yourself that the staff will adopt the same familiarity with you as you do with them. You don’t have a ‘usual’ until a bartender actually asks you if you’re having ‘the usual?’

  8. Assume that your contribution to the daily takings is the sole reason we are still in business – you do not drink as much as you think you do, and if you did, you wouldn’t be boasting about it. Do not make any great claims about your levels of alcohol consumption, we are not impressed, alcoholism is not glamourous.

  9. Assume the bartender has short term memory loss – most of us are quite capable of remembering up to a dozen drinks at a time, go on, test us. That is assuming you will actually order a round rather that ten of you coming to the bar to order a pint each,or worse still, gather orders for the round while you’re at the bar having the staff hovering around for an hour and half getting one measly drink at a time. It’s like the Cub Scouts say ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to have your drink spat in’.

  10. Get drunk – sounds counter productive I know, but knowing your limits is one of the easiest ways to gain the goodwill and respect of the bar staff, never mind being the secret to a successful night out. And if you don’t know your limits, trust that the bartender does, believe it or not we’ve got your best interests in mind… kind of. If we refuse to serve you it’s not a personal vendetta against you, we just don’t want to clean up your vomit or worse still your blood from our premises, we don’t want to hear you moaning the morning after the night before about how you ended up in a fight, got your phone/wallet/dignity lost or stolen. So behave yourself, it’s for your own good.

 

Oh actually, there’s one final thing…perhaps the golden rule.

 

  1. Sneak in your own drink – Bar staff will put up with a lot of shit, they can deal with the poor manners, the drunken antics, the spilt drinks and everything else that comes with the day job, but sneaking in your own drink is the big no-no. Would you turn up to a restaurant with a chippie dinner hidden in your bag? Would you expect to be handed a plate and cutlery by the waiting staff? Thought not, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave and never return when we catch you with that quarter bottle in your purse. And if you do plan on chancing it, at least bring something nice so we can enjoy confiscating and drinking it at the end of the night. Thanks.
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Macauley Culkin Syndrome

"Is that the good soup pot you're throwing up in??"

“Is that the good soup pot you’re throwing up in??”

We all loved ‘Home Alone’ as kids.

The gallant story of a brave young boy delivering moral justice and inflicting mindless, hilarious violence on a pair of good-for-nothing crooks, and it was Christmas! A winning formula!

It wasn’t all slapstick either, we learned some important life lessons from that film franchise – the true meaning of Christmas, a second sequel is practically always a bad idea, and something about not just assuming that your weird old neighbour is an axe murder. Serious stuff.

But there’s another important issue which ‘Home Alone’ raises in this Christmas Classic, one that I didn’t fully appreciate until recently, I call it the ‘Macauley Culkin Syndrome’.

You remember the scene, frustrated with the domestic chaos of visiting relatives, the stress of the festivities and ultimately tired of being undervalued as a member of a cohabiting family, little Kevin vents his displeasure, as I think we all have at some point in our lives, by jumping up and down in one spot and screaming from the top of his little lungs: “When I grow up, I’m living alone!”

It’s a sentiment I have repeated at similar volumes on a weekly basis since first moving into shared accommodation six years ago. Of course then I was in University Halls, and the biggest point of contention affecting domestic bliss was who had used all the milk/butter/toilet roll, or why there was a grown man dressed head to foot as a carrot kicking my bedroom door – silly, trivial little things that seem laughable in hindsight.

Since then I’ve gone through the full range of domestic discourse from noise complaints, bullying accusations and phoning the police to remove the throng of drunken teenagers running riot through the house on St Patrick’s Day.

All standard stuff from what I’ve gathered from friends. Everyone has had similar experiences.

It’s a tale as old as time.

You need to share the heavy burden of the rent, you’ve got a friend in need, you get on fine in a controlled environment such as work or college, it makes perfect sense to move in together!

That is, until you realise that this very dear friend is incapable of washing a cup, an avid fan of the Kardashians, or secretly a compulsive liar. Everyone has their faults I guess, but some are more unforgivable than others – lying about being terminally ill is the big no-no in my humble opinion. Oh and not paying your rent and bills for so long that the bailiffs come knocking, that’s also considered foul play in terms of cohabitation and friendship, and general human decency.

But it just goes to show, you never really know someone until you live them.

I certainly don’t claim to be perfect – I can be lazy, messy, moody in the mornings, loud, and guilty of letting the dishes pile up for a few days, but I do produce some excellent baked goods, so you know, silver linings.

And I’ve always considered myself fairly laid back when it comes to cohabiting grievances, I don’t sweat the small stuff, at least not to begin with. It’s only when the small stuff begins to prop up the mountains of fairly substantial stuff that I get irritated, or when the small stuff begins to grow a thick fur at the bottom of the fridge, or when the small stuff has a big, red FINAL NOTICE stamp printed on it. These are the things that lead you to jump up and down in the middle of the kitchen floor, screaming “I want to live alone”.

These are the things that lead to full screaming and kicking onset of Macauley Culkin Syndrome.

Little Kevin McAllister had it right, living alone is the way forward, it’s the dream!

I did it briefly for a few months while a flatmate was working abroad, and those quiet, peaceful, fairly naked months were some of the happiest of my renting life. Coming home to a mess all your own, knowing that there will be bread and milk and toilet roll when you get up in the morning, never having to put the toilet seat back down or dispose of someone else’s rotting carrots, never having to watch Geordie Shore or Match of the Day – absolute bliss!

It is a wonderful thing to rest assured that the rent and bills have been paid, to know that the oven and washing machine and telly remote will always be idle, awaiting only you, to know you won’t have to constantly chase a meffy housemate to pay her way or do his share, can you imagine it?

Independent living!

Because Macauley Culkin Syndrome isn’t necessarily triggered solely by bad housemates. Even wonderful housemates who hoover for sport, bring back treats from the shop and understand the need for respectful silence when Downton Abbey is on, even these heavenly beings will eventually lead you to that same, buckling spot of the kitchen floor where you perform the same old song and dance of frustration. It’s not anything that they’ve done wrong, it’s just their general presence, their necessary presence.

To live alone would be to live independently, self-sufficiently. To be a grown up with the privileges of walking around naked, should you see fit, of peeing with the bathroom door open, of leaving piles of dishes, clothes and unread newspapers wherever you choose, of never having to wonder how exactly to ask a friend if they plan on replacing the photoframe they broke or if they really need three different cartons of out-of-date milk in their fridge. Mama tells me there will be days like this… eventually.

So to all the cohabitors out there, I feel your pain as you feel mine, we’re all in the same shared boat, we all need to offer our live-in buddies the understanding and patience we often require ourselves, put the kettle on, call a truce and live peacefully … unless they’re a meff, in which case kick their messy ass out immediately.

A Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Narcissist?

Earlier this week an article on the BBC website caught my eye, it addresses the social media phenomenon which has become increasingly prominent on our Facebook and Instagram feeds, namely, ‘The Rise of the Selfie’.

Being (shamelessly) guilty of more than a few self-snaps myself (see above, exhibit A), I usually reserve judgement on others’ offerings, let he without sin cast the first stone and all that biblical bollocks, but the article (this one, right here) got me thinking, why?

What is it that encourages people to flaunt these posed pictures to the digital world?

Why do people feel the need to plaster their mugs all over the world wide web?

Why do I feel the need?

I’ve never given it much consideration before, but now, casting a judgemental eye over my Instagram account I’m hesitant to admit that around 20% of my photographs could be deemed guilty of the selfie hash tag.

By that calculation, am I 20% vain? 20% narcissist? 20% attention seeking?

Even as I write the words I can foresee my dearest friends nodding their heads in agreement: “Yes love, yes you are… though 20% may be a gross underestimation”.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider myself particularly vain or narcissistic but as someone who spends 23 hours of the day looking like something that’s just been dragged through a bush backwards, I quite like having photographic evidence of that twenty minute period directly after fixing hair and applying make-up  before it all begins to go downhill. Its quite nice to look back and think ‘Oh, I remember that day, that was a good hair day’ or ‘I remember that night out, that was an awesome night out!’ and inevitably ‘I remember that hangover, that hangover was worth every aching moment’. That’s what I see when I look at the collection of selfies which I’ve racked up since diving into the sepia-toned world of Instagram, but other people might see it in an entirely different light.

Of course, the psychologist in me (making up under 1% of my whole self, after enduring just three months of psychology lectures in my first year of university) would concur that these self-portraits are indeed a manifestation of some underlying ‘love me, love me’ insecurity, no doubt stemming from some unfulfilled emotional need in my past (send you answers on the back of a postcard to…).

But the writer in me (making up 63% and increasing daily) is more hooked on that term ‘self-portrait’. Essentially that is what selfies are, a modern day expression of self, one self-mutilation away from Van Gogh’s masterpiece. We may be holding a camera instead of a brush, painting with flash and filter, but it is the same premise, ‘this is how I see myself’. This is how I would like the world to see me.

It isn’t necessarily the true me, or the whole self, as my bedraggled look for 23 hours of the day will confirm, but it is the filter through which we see ourselves, the fragment of self we’d like to be remembered by.

It is the same in creative writing, we hold the pen, we set the stage, give life to the characters, direct the fates, we show the reader a filtered image of ourselves, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not.

It’s something I discussed with a fellow writer friend earlier this week, unrelated to the ‘selfie’ debate. As creative writers, everything we produce comes under the scrutiny of those who know us best, friends and loved ones, seeking out any autobiographical betrayals written between the lines. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves, not realising the source of inspiration behind a character of plot line until the second or third reading. Even the most fictitious stories are a kind of self-portrait.

As a semi-committed diarist, self-portraiture is something I’ve become cringingly familiar with. Anyone who has ever kept a diary will know what I’m talking about.

You flick through the decade old pages on which you confessed your most personal thoughts and secrets as a hormonal, thirteen year old girl and you just cringe, physically, vocally, most emphatically. And that’s you, that’s a shade of your former self making you cringe. The you who was still experimenting with fashion sense, hair colours, handwriting, friends, that is a self portrait of you becoming yourself.

Worse still when you flick through the pages of diary only three, two, one year old, and still cringe, perhaps not as dramatically because the emotions which spilled out onto the page then may still be a little raw, wounds may not have healed entirely. But there it is, the real you in black and white, a self portrait that you can’t edit. Blurring the edges or adjusting the filter won’t change it.

I kept another kind of diary a few years ago, one entirely made of up of selfies. I attempted, and inevitably failed, to keep a photographic diary, one picture a day for 365 days of the year. Looking back over the 200 or so images, they have an even greater impact than the cringe-worthy words written in decade old diaries with hearts over the ‘i’s. These selfies didn’t follow any of the Instagram standards, these images caught me not just in my preferred hour 1 state of perfect hair and make-up  they captured the me the rest of the world sees in hours 2 to 20, and sometimes the exhausted self that retreats home at hours 21 to 24. I smiled to camera when the day had made me smile, in some photos I just look fed up, in one or two it’s clear I’ve been crying.

One series of photos really brings me back, during the Rugby World Cup in 2011 when I was working two bar jobs, finishing a busy night in one bar at 3am and getting up at 6am to be in work for the televised matches in the other. Over a series of three or four days you can see the physical strain of burning the candle at both ends, running off two or three hours sleep a night, eyes still wide from the rush of adrenaline in one image, struggling to stay awake in another. The final selfie in the series is taken at around 5pm on a Sunday when I had just worked the last shift in a two week run, I had been up since 6am, operating on naps, and this picture caught me just before I KO’d for an actual real 8 hour sleep. The following day I am entirely myself again. And smiling.*

From my attempted photo diary: Candle burnt out at both ends.

From my attempted photo diary: Candle burnt out at both ends.

Weirdly, seeing the pictures now, I don’t remember how exhausted I was all that time, I remember how bizarre it was working in a bar full of drunks at 9am in the morning, serving full Irish breakfasts to people who had been going steady from the night before, these people were running on less sleep than me, but did have the advantage of alcohol on their side. I remember when cabin fever kicked in and there was no other way to keep going than by laughing and dancing.

It almost recollects as fun.

But I don’t want to do it again.

I’ve been there, I’ve taken the photo, that will do.

That’s what I like about selfies, the real ones, snapped at all hours of the day in night in various states of sobriety and mental attitudes, it’s honest.

The quote from the article which struck a chord with me was from Dr. Pamela Rutledge, from the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston. She said that in selfies “we see ourselves alive and dynamic, a person in progress” whether that’s in weight loss or beard growth, its a snapshot of us becoming the person we want to be (very after school special I know, but we all need a taste of Sesame Street in our cynical little lives).

So if selfies are on the rise, I embrace them, after all I’m a seasoned people watcher, this way the people come to me. Yes people only tend to share the snapshots of themselves looking good (which, let’s be honest, none of us are really interested in) but it’s only natural, I’m sure even Van Gogh discarded a few self portraits where his hair just wasn’t sitting right over the bloodied bandage.

Self-portraits are a very personal thing, but all portraits are meant to be shared… unless you’re Dorian Gray.

* Further research and date checking has established that on the said date, rather than sinking into a long deserved eight hour sleep, I power napped, was in MOJO by 10pm, drinking jugs of sangria by midnight, playing darts by 2am and slipped into comatose on a friend’s sofa at around 6am.

Because you know, you can sleep when you’re dead.

The Fear.

The Fear.

The Fear.

The morning after the night before.

You tentatively open one eye against the piercing drill of natural light, pat yourself down, checking that all limbs and digital extensions of yourself are intact, and then you wait. Slowly and carefully, your brain collates the full extent of the damage, your body anticipating the full force of two bottles of wine to crack you around the back of the head any minute now, there you float in hangover limbo, awaiting the imminent self-inflicted punishment like a soldier before the firing squad.

And then it hits, in all manner of physical attacks, depending on the particular poison on which you’ve overindulged: headache, dry-mouth, unexplained bruises, dodgy tummy, or if you’re very lucky, just an insatiable hunger to consume every carbohydrate this side of the M1.

But there is another hangover symptom which seems more and more common as we creep ever-closer to our mid-twenties, it is perhaps the most dreaded symptom of all, The Fear.

Like the calm before the stomach-churning storm when you first wake, while your body realises the full extent of the hang, The Fear is an emotional and psychological manifestation of that dread which lurks in the recesses of your mind for hours, sometimes days, long after the cement-mixer in your stomach and the pneumatic drill in your head have been laid to rest.

Urban Dictionary, perhaps the most important and relevant reference database of our era, defines The Fear as:

– a sense that people or organisations are out to get you;

– angst that you may have offended, inappropriately touched or physically attacked someone the night before;

– foreboding about the next time you meet those people or return to the bar where you degraded yourself the previous night;

– and a feeling that you are going to die.

And that is it in a nutshell, you find yourself shoulder deep in a black panic and paranoia that you have embarrassed yourself or offended another beyond repair, that you will have to face up to consequences of your own dishonourable behaviour. You scour through sent messages and dialled numbers, social media streams, awaiting the dreaded tags on Facebook photos, the well-humoured text messages from friends teasing you, mocking your pitiful state, torturing you with what you can only hope are exaggerated tales of your own self-disgrace.

As the day progresses, slipping past you, out of reach from where you lie on the sofa in the foetal position, you suffer palpitations and anxiety attacks as flashbacks of dance moves and tumbles out of taxis come flooding back at unpredictable intervals during the day.

You desperately try to fill in those Desperado induced gaps in the memory, reassuring yourself that the reality couldn’t be half as bad as the eventualities you’ve cooked up in your infested mind.

Unless it is.

In which case it might be better not to know.

 

And nothing is sacred when you’re hanging with The Fear, areas of your well-balanced and fulfilling life which had never caused you a second’s concern before now are suddenly bearing down on you with heavy, urgent, self-reproach.

Look at the state of yourself!

What are you doing with your life?

Call yourself a writer?!

Even the cat looks disgusted by your mere existence.

You are Peter Pan, plummeting ever-closer to earth as Hook picks away at all the happy thoughts which have kept you afloat all these years. You are doomed, destined to fail, to fall, to plummet to earth with no one there to catch you.

When this happens, you should have a bacon sandwich and immerse yourself in something suitably warm and fuzzy, anything Disney, although you may need to fast-forward through the first fifteen minutes of UP! That romantic sad story is surefire suicide when you’re grappling with The Fear.

This is the only advice I can give you.

Lock the windows and doors, turn off your phone and settle down with your calorie-heavy food of choice and enough sugar-coated romantic comedies to suffocate even the most hard-hearted pessimist. Talk to no one that you do not trust beyond doubt, who in your present state, will be no one, not even the cat. Do not dwell on the possible sins of the night before, but repent anyway for anything you might have ever done wrong.

You will feel like you might actually die, but this state is temporary, do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask anyone to phone an ambulance/priest/your mum for you – you will be ridiculed both by your friends, and whichever caregiver you have chosen to bother with your heightened ideas of mortality.

Don’t panic.

This too shall pass.

Why do the haters hate?

Hatred: The EDL rally in response to the Woolwich attack. (taken from ITV.com, credit Neil Lancefield/PA Wire)

Amid the aftermath of the Woolwich attack this week, as the shock and horror of the whole thing subsided, and questions were raised, there was one in particular that stuck with me.

This attack was an act of terror, extremism, hate.

We call it senseless, unjustifiable and unforgivable.

But those responsible didn’t think so. They called for an audience, displayed their bloodied hands to the world, they had a message to convey, to them it made perfect sense, it was an act of justice, a necessary evil.

What is it that makes people, human beings, hate so much, to such extremes that they could take another human life so violently in the name of some higher purpose?

They are born, kicking and screaming into the world just like the rest of us. They must learn to crawl, talk, walk like everyone else. They must make mistakes, learn what hurt, heartache and forgiveness feel like. They are taught what is good and what is bad. Is that where their path in life diverges from ours? Is there a moment in their lives where the decision they must make will cut a fork in the road, one good, one evil? Or is it something that happens gradually over time, is it a series of decisions, like wrong turns in a maze that brings them somewhere dark and angry?

Why do the haters hate?

 

We throw the word around a lot, freely, unthinking.

We hate our jobs, our boss, our parents, siblings, best friends, our hometown, our hair, thighs, knobbly knees. We hate our exes, we hate the old guy who creeps on schoolgirls at the bus stop, we hate Michael Ball, George Osborne, the Go Compare adverts. We hate brussel sprouts, PPI cold callers, cyclists, motorists, people who don’t understand the concept of personal space. We hate people who are self-obsessed, attention seeking, fake, people who lie, cheat, bully. We hate animal cruelty, child abuse, wife beaters, husband beaters, traffic wardens.

But we don’t always mean hate. It’s not always something as extreme as hate. Mostly, we’re just annoyed or irritated by these things temporarily, sometimes irrationally, in our otherwise blissful little lives.

 

To hate, is “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest”.

We’ve seen a lot of hate in our modern, civilised era. We’ve seen planes crashing into buildings, school children fleeing indiscriminate gunfire, bombs explode on crowded high streets, buses, tubes.

To most of us, it is all senseless. The kind of hatred that pulls the trigger of a gun or pushes the button to detonate a bomb, that kind of hatred is difficult to understand for those of us whose greatest grievance in life is discovering that a chocolate chip cookie is actually raisin.

As infuriating as that can be, to my knowledge, there has never been bloodshed over the chocolate chip – raisin hoodwink.

So where does hate come from? If not from confectionary.

Religion always seems to be at the centre of these things.

I don’t understand this, how something that teaches of the importance of love can as a consequence, be the source of such evil. I’ve never understood it.

I’ve grown up in the middle of it in Northern Ireland, hating the kids on the bus who wore a different uniform, without really understanding it.

I was dropped into hatred at the age of eight when I moved to the North and found myself on one side of a divide I didn’t understand. But in hindsight, I don’t think any of us really understood what it meant at that age.

I remember tracing the letters ‘IRA’ onto the steamed kitchen window one evening, I was so big and clever. My mum just looked at me, “Do you know what that means?”

I didn’t. And when she told me, like the good history teacher that she is, I never wrote those letters or any like them anywhere again.

Perhaps that was one of my moments, had I drawn a different conclusion from the lesson on the political history of Northern Ireland which my mother fed me that evening, perhaps I would have gone on writing those letters on windows and walls, and who knows where it would have led? Had I been taught the same lesson by my father, who as a Dubliner, is in general much more fantastical and nationalistic in his take of the North’s political divide, perhaps I would have taken a different point of view. Had I been brought up and taught the same lesson in a different house, a different townland, where the curbs and gable walls were painted and flags and bunting flew from the streetlamps, who knows where I would be, what I would believe, or who I would hate.

Pretty much every biblical lesson I can recall from my misspent Catholic youth taught that anger and hatred and violence were generally frowned upon by the big man upstairs. In all shapes and forms, hate and evil were a no-no.

That is the long and the short of it. That is the enduring sentiment that I took from the years of religious education spent doodling in my jotter and endless Sunday mornings staring into space and anticipating the fresh scone bread cooling on a rack in my Granny’s kitchen.

It is the lesson that my parents, grandparents, godparents and teachers all instilled in my pliable young mind.

Be good.

Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Forgive those who trespass against you.

I don’t remember any footnotes by those teachings, any asterisk following the commandments.

 

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these” * [Mark 12:31]

(*except the gays, hate the gays loads.)**

 

Religion doesn’t teach you to distinguish between who you should hate and who you should love, it teaches you to love all, regardless of colour, creed or sexual orientation. Granted my knowledge of Islam is pretty sketchy, but from what I gather, the same basic principles apply as they do in Christianity and in Bill & Ted: “Be excellent to each other”.

So why do people who hate homosexuals or Muslims or Women use religion to justify their own prejudices?

Why do idiotic groups such as the EDL, BNP and UKIP tell us that Islam is to blame, Muslims are behind the death of a British soldier? How is their hate and disposition to violence any different from the hate of the two extremists who spilled blood on a London street earlier this week? These political groups have launched a campaign of hate and incited violence against a religious community who have absolutely nothing to do with the extremists responsible for the Woolwich attack. Mosques have been attacked up and down the country, innocent Muslims have been threatened, spat at in the street, attacked.

Yet the EDL, BNP, UKIP do not distinguish between the murderers with blood on their hands, and innocent people going about their day to day lives. And all the while Islamic religious groups have cried out the same words that the people of Northern Ireland have cried out in the face of political violence: Not in our name.

Senseless, unjustifiable, unforgivable.

But those responsible don’t think so. They call for an audience, don balaclavas in the face of the police and the world’s media, they have a message to convey, to them it makes perfect sense, it is an act of justice, a necessary evil.

Funny how two beliefs at opposite ends of a spectrum can meet in the middle.

 
(** Incidentally, I believe gays should absolutely have the right to marry. However, in an entirely selfish sense, I hope that they choose not to, because in the ever more likely inevitability that I will end up rocking spinsterhood I’d like someone fabulous to go dancing with on a Saturday night).

There Will Be Sequins…

My hometown, like most economically stunted border towns in Northern Ireland, isn’t much to talk of. We’ve got an ASDA, a dozen or so pubs struggling through the recession, and the historical accolade of being the most bombed town outside of mainland Europe.

In 2005, Strabane was named the 8th worst town to live in within the UK according to the experts at Channel 4, fortunately since then the recession has dragged the rest of the UK down to our level, and I believe we are now floating somewhere outside the top 20.

We may not have much economic success to boast about but there is one area where we really shine. And that is on the Eurovision stage.

This Saturday, one of our local sons, Ryan Dolan, will represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö with (the actually quite good) ‘Only Love Survives‘. A great achievement for our humble little town, but this is not the first time the Eurovision spotlight has shone on our corner of the emerald isle. Twenty-one years ago, Linda Martin, from our neighbouring Omagh, took the Eurovision crown in the very same city with ‘Why Me’ and ten years ago, our very own Mickey-Joe Harte made a brave effort at Riga with ‘We’ve Got The World’, a song that quickly became the anthem of my sixth form year group.

Two local Eurovision stars in the space of a decade, there must be something in the water. Something distinctly cheesy, tacky and riddled with sequins.

Where it hasn’t infected residents with the same pop star elixir, it has unleashed Eurovision fever. But then, we relish every opportunity to drink, wave flags and dress up in brutally tacky outfits. A penchant we’ve brought with us across the Irish Sea to Liverpool, where we make the annual pilgrimage to St. John’s Market for something suitably outrageous to wear and end up pounding out a very enthusiastic but entirely amateur performance of Riverdance at 2am, much to the annoyance of the downstairs neighbours.

After a few years playing the Eurovision fool with piss-take entries from Dustin the Turkey and Jedward, Ireland finally seem to be taking this shit seriously. A real person, a real song, damn the European politics and back-rubbing votes that’s tainted the competition’s purity over the last decade, we’re in this to win it!

Personally I was relieved when Ireland put Jedward into Eurovision retirement, mercifully deciding not to tempt fate with third time lucky, I’m not sure my hair could have taken the back-brushing again.

Backbrushed to within an inch of its life.

Backbrushed to within an inch of its life.

Bad Catholic

Yesterday afternoon, while lounging in front of the telly enjoying a double bill of religiously satirical films, and digesting a late breakfast, my mother interrupted the blissful first day of my little sister’s school break by asking whether we would prefer to have dinner before or after mass that evening.

“We have to go to mass today?” my little sister asked, frowning as all plans of a day in her pyjamas disappeared before her eyes.

“I love being a heathen” I said, smiling.

I am a self-professed bad catholic.

After being dragged through the rigmarole of the catholic school system, learning by heart their prayers and responses, singing at their masses and playing a shepherd in their nativities, I had confessed my sins, taken communion and been confirmed, but I never considered myself particularly religious. I received a very good education, felt part of a very loving community, and became romantically fond of all their storytelling and hymn singing, but in truth, I found more divine inspiration watching Father Ted than I ever did at any mass. I am a catholic in that typically Irish way – I don’t practise my religion – I stopped going to mass around the same time that I started being hungover on Sunday mornings, but it forms a very great part of my emotional education, it is stitched through all my childhood memories, I treasure the rosary beads and mass cards I’ve been given over the years because the people I love believe in them, whether I do or not.

By the time I entered secondary school, another institute drenched in catholic rhetoric, the dark secrets of the catholic church and the sectarian hatred which had divided my homeland had tainted any romantic attachment I felt for the church as an institution. Having to study the Gospel for six months of GCSE Religion also had something to do with it.

But I still thought the buildings and the hymns they sang in them were very beautiful, and the stories they told were pleasant little fables not to be taken too seriously, I had the utmost respect for the devout good Catholics who surrounded me, but I wasn’t one of them.

I was a catholic in the sense that I had been raised by Catholics  my grandparents and at least half of my parents are good Catholics  they taught me to be good, honest, kind, not to lie or cheat or speak with your mouth full. Isn’t that enough?

Because, honestly, I do believe that everyone should have some kind of faith, its good for the soul. But I don’t understand why that faith ever needs to interfere with what I eat and when.

I made a good effort at Lent, fasting from takeaways and chips almost entirely throughout the six weeks, only caving in circumstances of extreme hangover, however I only managed to go off crisps for approximately 36 hours.

My faith is built on the foundations of Christianity  I believe there is a higher power, I believe that force has some divine purpose for us all, but it is much more Mother Nature than Father Almighty.

I won’t try and compete with two million years of Christian faith, and I don’t expect them to argue with my beliefs, faith is far too personal a thing to be questioned by anyone else. Except Creationalists – those guys are nuts.

So while my mother and sister and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and the rest of the community in which I have grown up are attending the Good Friday service, I’m going to walk the dog and take in some of Mother Nature’s beauty. I might not be in a designated church building, listening to a designated leader of church, praying designated words of the church, but I’m going to go enjoy my own personal kind of divine inspiration.