Any Spare Change?

'We're all in this together?'

‘We’re all in this together?’

There’s nothing quite like a Tory gaffe to brighten a Monday morning is there? And thankfully they appear to have become a weekly occurrence since the Coalition government took the helm – Thankfully! You gotta take the silver linings where you see them I guess.

In this week’s installment, The Independent jumped on the back of MP Daniel Kawczynski who, it is reported, told a one legged drug addict in a wheelchair begging outside Parliament to ‘get a job’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love watching the Conservatives backtracking, apologising and tripping over the feet lodged permanently in their mouths as much as the next person, but on this occasion, as much as it pains me to say it, I can kinda see his point.

Firstly, Kawczynski was not speaking with a silver spoon in his mouth when he told Mark McGuigan to get a job. Having grown up in Peckham with an outhouse and two alcoholic parents, he’s not unjustified in his admonishment of the beggar, knowing all too well how difficult it can be to dig yourself out of the poverty hole. McGuigan claimed to have felt intimidated and ‘very small’ by the ‘sanctimonious’ and aggressive tone Kawczynski used in offering to help him get back into work or onto a Government scheme that might improve his literacy and numeracy. He claimed that the MP towered over him, humiliating him by asking what he was doing to find a job. Granted, Kawczynski is an imposing 6ft8in and would make any upright being of average height feel small, never mind a one legged man in a wheelchair, but I would question whether McGuigan felt humiliated by the asking of the question ‘What are you doing to find a job?’ or by the answering of it.

I expect every city has its own throng of drunks, drug addicts and homeless who, through a series of unfortunate events, have been reduced to begging on the street. Having worked in a bar on Seel Street I am practically on first name terms with Liverpool’s band of drunks and junkies who trudge up and down from the Sisters of Mercy to Eurowines, picking up discarded fag ends and approaching any kind looking soul who might spare them a few coins to put towards a tinnie. I’ve watched it happen. A “‘scuse me mate…”, a huddle around a handful of coppers, and the quickening determination of the shuffle towards the offie. I’ve hounded the slurring drunks out of the toilets, scolded those who rip open the wall mounted cigarette bins to loot for fags, and been accosted outside the off licence for any spare change. Which comedian was it who joked that they refused to give money to beggars who will only spend it on drink and drugs even if that’s all they would spend it on themselves? It’s the source of a great deal of guilt for a lot of us, our blue plastic bag of bottles clinking past the open palms outside the off licence. We turn for the warmth of home where we’ll enjoy a glass of wine in front of the telly, pyjamas on and feet up, and we can’t spare a measly quid for this poor soul to procure something that might warm his bones when he lays them down in a doorway for the night.

Being young, employed in the services industry and indebted to the tune of one undergraduate degree, I am, naturally, skint. I struggle enough to pay my own rent, bills and bar tab without taking costly bad habits of others. There are many, many reasons why I don’t do heroin, cost being just one of them, so if I can’t afford to be a recreational drug user why should I fund anyone else’s addiction?

That’s not to say that they don’t have my sympathy. That anyone in the 21st century should find themselves on the streets is a disgrace. It isn’t a choice that anyone makes, it is a last resort for those with nowhere else to turn, and sadly it is often the gateway to a much darker, hopeless existence.

One of my earliest memories is of an Eastern European woman begging in Dublin city centre. My mum and I would pass her everyday as we walked to the bus, she cradled a small baby in her arms and was usually accompanied by at least one other grubby faced child. Older and more cynical, I now doubt whether all those children were hers, or if the money she received went towards feeding them, but regardless my mum spared her whatever change she could, even though we weren’t exactly living in the lap of luxury.

I have never seen a begging mother or grubby faced child on the streets of Liverpool, but there have been a few fresh faced boys, young and desperate, and most importantly, sober, who have pulled on my heartstrings. Over a year ago a middle aged woman carrying a shopping bag stopped me on my way to work asking for change for the bus, she’d left herself short after getting her shopping, it was all she had. I had replied that I had no change and walked away before I’d even thought through what she was asking. It was automatic, refuse and retreat from anyone on the street asking for money or offering to tell you about the plight of rhinos in Africa. I suffered a guilty conscience for the rest of the night. That poor woman probably ended up walking home in the cold to a cold, dingy council flat. I was ashamed of myself. A few weeks later the same woman stopped me again around the same time of day, in the same spot, again asking for spare change for the bus. This time she was drunk, and the shopping bag, I noticed, was clinking. I passed her by again. I’ve seen her a few times since in similar states of intoxication, appealing for spare change.

I am less ashamed of myself.

What a difference the drink makes.

But the drunks and the drug addicts do need change, perhaps more so than others. Had I the disposable income, I would gladly donate it to the Saint Vincent de Paul or Sisters of Mercy or any other charitable fund that helps the less fortunate in any way other than buying their next hit. These people have been let down by the government, whether in education, employment, benefits or health. Mark McGuigan, for example, considered himself unemployable because of poor literacy and numeracy, because of his disability, but it shouldn’t be the case. There are schemes in place to improve these skills, there is legislation to prevent prejudice against the disabled and there are rehabilitation programmes out there for people struggling with addiction – there are plenty of people there to help, the problem is you must first be willing to help yourself, and with addicts that is often the greatest challenge.

But as to Daniel Kawczynski, perhaps the first ever Tory to evoke my empathy, I will offer a defence. The media will attack him for being insensitive, superior and out of touch with the real world but I commend him for adopting a tough love attitude on those who need it most. Here is an MP actually offering help to someone in need, providing firsthand advice, a handson effort to change someone’s life for the better – isn’t that what we want from our MPs?

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.

I’m back in Liverpool and everything seems the same same… but different.

Just as beautiful of South East Asia... but a tad chillier.

Aughabrack, just as beautiful as South East Asia… but a tad chillier.

Yes I have returned from South East Asia, and yes I have been dying to use that little wordplay since I first left.

But don’t let the title fool you, I’m not in Liverpool, I’m staving off the post-travelling blues by travelling to the slightly less exotic destination of Aughabrack for some home comforts.

I did return to Liverpool, and reality, with a bump (quite literally) nearly one whole month ago and must confess since then I have been suffering with the dreaded post-holiday blues. Reality, the mess of a bedroom, lengthy To Do List, mountain of washing and financial ruin which I returned to, really did hit me with a bump, as waking early (thank you jet lag) feeling rejuvenated, invigorated and determined to start off on the right foot I decided to kick-start with a morning run.

And it all started so well, powering up Parliament Street I had a whirlwind of ideas in my head, all sorts of plans and good intention to put things back in order. Writing ideas were tripping over each other in a bid to grab my attention, I was suddenly full of confidence and determination to get back on the job hunt, and most importantly, I was intent not to dwell on the fact that I wasn’t spending my morning lying on a beach. Sadly, that all that power cut out halfway back down the other side of the Anglican Cathedral and that right foot that I was sure I’d gotten off on caught on a loose paving stone and turned me and all my good intentions upside down.

It was one of those slow motion falls, you know what’s going to happen, you can see it unfolding as though you were a third person detached from the actual movement, stifling a giggle. It’s only as the ground makes angry contact with your hands and knees that you remember this isn’t some comedy fall you’re watching from the comfort of the sofa, that’s you right there going crash bang wallop outside one the city’s biggest tourist attractions, right across the street from your place of work. Not so funny now is it?

Lying flat on my back, staring up at the clouds I decided to focus on the silver lining – at least it’s early, too early for tourists, at least it’s the summer, no LIPA students around to revel in my literal downfall, and at least my only witness was a very kind-hearted taxi driver who offered to drop me home for free.

I gratefully declined, and hobbled home with blood-soaked hands and knees to curl up on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.

My mind might have thought itself fighting fit, but my body obviously wasn’t ready to get off the sun lounger and go back to porridge. I was tired, severely sorry to be home, and criminally skint. Fuck good intentions, I’m going back to bed.

Take me back to the islands!

Take me back to the islands!

Of course the wallowing passed with just the right amount of comfort food, a few convalescence trips to the pub with dear friends, and a brave venture back into the ugly world of freelancing.

Just as I was getting back on track, the tracks were yet again ripped from under my feet with the very sudden upheaval of my living circumstances and another financial punch in the face. But that is a rant for another day (watch this space).

Thankfully, the jet lag wore off after about a week, the home comforts have done wonders for the post-holiday blues, and my knees have just about healed, though they’ve left some unsightly patches in my tan. With a dreaded return to porridge and working life this weekend, it’s about time I gave a second attempt at knuckling down, starting afresh and getting off on the right foot… with eyes peeled for any bumps in the road, and maybe I’ll invest in some knee pads.

Before...

Before…

and After

and After

 

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.

Please God, if I don’t die from Tonsillitis, I promise to…

My latest lengthy absence can be explained quite simply. I have been very busy burning the candle at both ends.

Having booked an expensive, but thoroughly worth it, summer adventure in South East Asia and committing myself to building both savings and bikini body, I have unsurprisingly spent a great deal of time catching up on some painting, specifically, of the town, in red.

Between work and socialising and festivalling last week I successfully burnt myself out and came down with the worst bout of tonsillitis to date. I knew it was coming, I could feel it as I supped cider at a barbecue last Sunday when I realised that I hadn’t supped a glass of water in approximately 42 hours. I could feel it in my bones on Saturday as I dined on a breakfast of Corona and Korean barbecue having had four hours sleep, about to embark on a 12 hour (plus) day of reviewing at Sound City.

I could sense it.

My body knows when these things are coming, but it powered through, God bless it, until the adrenaline wore out somewhere between Sunday night tipsy and Monday morning inflamed throat, unable to eat/talk/stay conscious for longer than a HBO sitcom.

Naturally this affliction hit just when the British summer peeked, adding nicely to the light-sensitive headaches and feverish sweats I was enjoying indoors under my duvet.

But having spent a week in bed, drinking nothing but water, thinking constantly of rich, indulgent food I couldn’t hope to consume, watching anything that Sky On Demand had to offer and having some of the most vividly weird dreams ever, well I’ve had time to dwell on things.

Now as far as resolutions, personal development and good intentions go, faithful readers will know all too well, I rule supreme, but having spent a week in joggers, under a duvet, looking every bit the homeless meff, you can understand my need to resolve. And after a healthy dose of antibiotics and Jane Austen I listed some of my life’s great ambitions.

Exhibit B: Two instagramming sins with one shot.

Exhibit B: Two instagramming sins with one shot.

 

1. To have in my wardrobe, items only which I know to suit and flatter me, or which are too incredibly comfortable/sentimental/cool to throw away.

2. To never grow tired of consuming books, pretty stationary, cake or Italian food.

3. To one day regain the svelte figure, tireless energy and general fitness level I maintained up until the age of eighteen.

4. To establish myself in a career for which I have real passion and interest, and which pays handsomely in both monetary and personal terms.

5. To somehow successfully exercise the virtues of good judgement, self-restraint and patience when it comes to stupid people/loved ones/men who are no good for me.

6. To one day be too cool and busy to Instagram trivial little delights such as culinary achievements, the cat/dog, and good hair days.

7. To live, day-to-day, with the utmost serenity, diligence and integrity, or generally to not have a can of Strongbow on my chest of drawers and the contents of my laundry basket on the floor.

8. To someday repay my debt to society by buying the physical equivalent of all the films and albums I have illegally downloaded over the years. Or at least the ones that I consider worth paying good money for.

9. To read all the books which I claim to have already read/people have lent or suggested to me/should have read at university/are considered “classic” by right-thinking society.

10. To travel the world, become rich beyond my wildest dreams, live lavishly and in perfect happiness, and to never grow up.

 

I’m also reminded of a life ambition I had in my earlier years, to be brutally murdered as an extra in a Quintin Tarantino movie. Having since decided to be a pacifist I’m not sure where I stand on the brutal, if theatrical, murder thing… but if the opportunity were to arise, I wouldn’t turn it down.

I’m just putting that out there in the webisphere.

I myself am made entirely of Good Intentions…

Slowly but surely, things are getting back to normal.

A few weeks ago, on the promise of mum’s roast dinner, chocolate and a good old fashioned session with some very dear friends, I went home for Easter. But I got a little more than I bargained for. I endured what will be entitled in my memoirs, The Worst Week of my Life, in which all deluded ideas of my own wonderful life were beaten to a pulp.

Bustling through day to day life in Liverpool, my beloved home from home, my thoughts never seem to dwell too long on the ‘big things’, those serious, long term goals that must be made and worked towards. Scary grown up things like getting on the career ladder and taking proper care of your health and fitness, learning how to do those very grown up things like how to drive, how to budget your finances, successfully operate a tin opener, walk in high heels without looking like a newly born Bambi – in the city, none of that nonsense matters.

You can walk anywhere worth going, and they all consider trainers acceptable footwear, living on the cheap is made easy by respectable outlets such as Aldi and Eurowines, and there is almost always a more dexterous flatmate within whinging distance to open your Aldi own brand baked beans for you.

Who needs the future? There is far too much going on in the present to concern yourself with, tomorrow can look after itself, Carpe Diem, YOLO, and other such cliches!

That’s what Liverpool cheers joyously.

But back in the homeland, twenty miles from the nearest bar, club or streetlight, in an area densely populated by parents and other such caring and good willing figures who ask the questions every twenty-something dreads… ‘So what are you doing with yourself these days?’, ‘Any job prospects?’ and the even more alarming ‘Any men on the scene?’ … None worth talking about, thanks Dad.

Suddenly my future (or lack off) was being rammed down my throat and I can tell you, it didn’t taste good.

I mean, yes, I think about the future, a great deal of my time is spent in serious contemplation of what I’m going to have for my next meal. But standing in my mother’s kitchen still shaking off the near-death experience of a Ryanair landing at Derry Airport, the kettle yet to reach the boil, I was already being forced to consider my future earnings and reproductive prospects before I’d even gotten a cup of tea. How can I provide you with an examined and studied opinion of where I am going to be financially and socially in ten years when just two and half hours ago I was throwing up a bellyful of rum in a bin at John Lennon Airport?

I understand that parents and the family who have watched over you and helped you reach the grand old age of twenty-four still in one piece, physically at least, naturally, these people want to see you succeed. They want to be reassured that you are happy, healthy, successful, not hooked on meth – and I am always delighted to reassure them on these concerns – I am indeed very happy, I am relatively healthy though please don’t ask me to do a bleep test to confirm this, by my own personal measures of success (blog hits, high profile Twitter followers, self restraint in not kissing boys with girlfriends) yes I am very successful, and as for meth, well I haven’t gotten around to watching Breaking Bad yet so I’m not going to rule it out entirely but it certainly isn’t on my To Do List as yet.

I know my parents, half of them at least, worry about what exactly I’m going to do with my life, as parents, it’s kind of their job after all, and it is one of my most effective methods of motivation in the almost daily practice of ‘Sorting my Life Out’.

Because the truth is I do know, generally, what I’m going to do with my life.

I have career plans A through to D, which, granted, heavily rely on my as yet unwritten first novel being a bestseller in at least thirty countries, but hell, it’s a plan!

I have plans! If history, and the growing collection of notebooks and journals accumulated since the age of fourteen, tell us anything it’s that I am most excellent at making plans. I could plan the shit out of anything, anytime, anywhere.

It’s implementing them where I begin to struggle.

I know, I know… I can hear my mother’s exasperated sigh from here.

Humorous deflections aside, I will reassure my mother, that will change. I will go forth and implement!

So since returning to Liverpool, to my hustley bustley city full of lovely, immediately gratifying distractions, I have been putting myself back together, tentatively taking my first steps in the next wave of ‘growing up’, making big, serious long term goals and implementing the actions which will achieve them.

I promise I have.

Incidentally, in the midst of all this ‘Sorting my Life Out’, I came across a scrap of paper folded into the back of a notebook full of important CV things, perhaps the last set of long term plans I wrote back in my third year of university when the future held such promise and potential. I had scribbled, no doubt sitting at the back of a lecture, a one, five and ten year plan, ranging from the really ‘big stuff’ to the more trivial (like Rescue a Donkey – this, I am proud to say, is still on my list of longer term goals, along with Read Finnegan’s Wake).

The items on the one year plan, to be completed in my twenty-first year, I am pleased to say I did complete and tick off with zeal. Of course, by the tender age of twenty-two my life plan had changed so dramatically that looking over the five year plan I wrote for myself only four years ago, now, the items on that list might as well have been written by a different person. The things that I was so sure about at the age of twenty seem utterly ridiculous now in hindsight. The list serves as a harrowing window through to the alternative universe in which all these goals might have been played out, where I would be living a very small, very disappointing life. Half a life.

The ten year plan, full of more generic life goals such as “Own my own home” are still bonafide aims, but are now regarded with the realistic skepticism that comes with age.

My point is, I think, that it doesn’t matter how many big plans you make for your life, they never go the way you’d hope. There is an advert promoting some savings scheme on telly at the minute which will tell you basically the same thing. You make your big life plan, shit happens, you change your plan.

But from what my measly twenty-four years on earth, and that sunscreen song, have taught me its that one, you should wear sunscreen, and two “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

That’s reassuring.