The Wild Geese – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Poet

This page has been blinking blankly at me for far too long.

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If Benjamin Franklin said it, it must be true…

So despite all my good intentions, I’ve done it again, I’ve left my beloved little blog unattended and neglected, cold and unloved for far too long yet again. Here I come, crawling back to my one true love after flirting and sowing my writing seed elsewhere (here at Yuppee and here at Get Into This if you’d care to indulge).

I am quite used to making up this kind of ground. I am chronically late to meet friends for lunch, the clock at work runs five minutes fast, mine runs twenty minutes late, I always forget to ring my mum back, I push deadlines to the absolute limit, I get distracted by shiny things and You Tube videos of cats, I plan on being late for my own funeral just so friends and family believe that is actually me in the coffin.

Of course I could reel off the twenty-seven thousand excuses I have to hand, most of them fairly substantial, as to where I’ve been recently, but rather than relying on embellishment like a true writer I will be perfectly honest in a brief history of the last few weeks. Since the beginning of March I have been operating as a one woman Mothers Day Card production line, getting coerced into drinking into the early hours by a dear friend back from the desert for a gin-soaked weekend, going to loads of gigs, rejoicing in the misfortune of others (cruel but infinitely satisfying), finally finishing Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, catching up with old friends, mourning Ireland’s performance during the Six Nations, doing St Patrick absolute justice by partying for as long as my body could physically stand it (my voice gave up after three days), and then suffering with unimaginable fear, having my ego rubbed and then beaten to a pulp, and going against my better judgement to play, as always, the romantic fool.

You may not believe it, but in the pursuit of a career as an actual, real, grown up writer, I consider all of the above research.

For my birthday last year I received a notebook in a huge bird-themed group of presents from some very dear friends, and in this notebook all my pearls of wisdom get scribbled down, usually, frantically, by the light of my phone thirty seconds after lying down to sleep. Full of good intentions I romantically noted one of my favourite quotes on the opening page, from Benjamin Franklin:

“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing”.

You see, like I said, research.

At the raw age of twenty-four I will not pretend to have anything of universal importance to write about just yet, although documenting my life and times as a bar wench may prove otherwise. But in the meantime I must go out, be merry, grab life by the proverbial balls and live it up, which is why another favourite quote of mine is ‘no good story every started with a salad’. So in Lena Dunham fashion I have been dedicating every hangover and heartache to the pursuit of my writing career. Eventually it will all pay off.

In the meantime, I promise not to neglect you my darling little blog.

At least not until the next drink-fueled religious holiday.

Realistic Resolutions? Yeah right…

Well that’s that then.
The excitement of Christmas has subsided, the Quality Street have been devoured, the countdown is over, the living room floor is collecting pine needles and a breakfast of chocolate and wine is no longer considered perfectly acceptable.
The media have been busy with end of year reviews reminding us of all the must-see films we didn’t get a chance to go see, the must-read books we still haven’t gotten around to reading and the year-defining albums we’ve never even heard of. The shops have very swiftly put to bed their ‘Eat, drink and be excessive’ mantra, filling their shelves instead, with fitness DVDs, exercise equipment, dieting pills and nicotine patches, while casting a judgemental eye on the extra pounds we drag along the aisles, and the fewer pounds we have to spend at the tills.
It’s January 1st. Everyone is skint, sick of turkey and ham sandwiches, and full of unrelenting optimism for the year ahead… Isn’t it wonderful?
2013 is here, and so far I’m impressed.
My Les Miserables anticipation is at breaking point, travel plans for the summer look promising (in that they might actually happen this year) and despite a potent combination of rose wine, Polish vodka, four hours sleep (a nap) and a roast dinner I actually don’t feel all that dreadful. You’ve gotta love New Year’s positivity! Look at this year, all shiny and new with the wrapping still on, so full of possibility and potential…
This will be the year! You watch, by this time next year I will be a millionaire! I’ll have the body of a Goddess, I’ll speak two new languages and will have successfully finished and published my first book. No problem.

Clearly, realism is not a friend of the resolution.
So to give myself more of a fighting chance with the New Year’s hopes and dreams I’ve put together 13 more realistic resolutions to tackle in the coming year.

1. Learn how to bake bread.
2. Make more soups.
3. Be a good gig reviewer and actually keep up to date with new music so that when it comes to the best of 2013 lists I will not be left wondering who all these young pups in the top ten are.
4. Give blood (finally).
5. Get my ears pierced (finally).
6. Watch more classic films so my common response to the mention of any critically acclaimed movie will no longer be “Never seen it”.
7. Spring clean the extensive collection of utter tripe on my Media Player and iTunes.
8. Remove Tokyou as the default response to the daily wondering ‘What will I have for dinner?’
9. Visit London (finally).
10. Learn how to like coffee/red wine/Guinness.
11. Learn how to combat hangovers with something healthier than a giant bag of Heatwave Doritos.
12. Find the ultimate Little Black Dress.
13. Break the bad habit of a lifetime and stop becoming so emotionally attached to fictional characters… except my own.

Guilty Pleasures.

A while ago I posted a list of life’s simple pleasures. The little things that put a smile on your face. Since then I’ve been contemplating life’s more guilty pleasures… Bless me father for I have sinned…

  1. The Script – pop rock at its most indulgent. They are perhaps the only band that I would willingly accompany my little sister and twelve of her teenybopper friends to go and see live, in the same way I have used her to go and watch kids films in the cinema without looking like a weirdo. I love The Script. There I said it. But surely everyone finds themselves singing along with ‘For the First Time’ and drooling gracelessly at the sight of Danny O’Donoghue in a knee length coat… no? Just me?
  2. Matt Cardle – I know, I know, I should hang up my gig-reviewing hat immediately and go write for Smash Hits (does Smash Hits still exist? Am I that out of touch?) But I should point out I’m not particularly familiar with his music, I just like looking at him, a lot. There is just something about the X Factor winner… I’m entirely convinced that he should be my husband. He plays guitar and writes god’s honest pop songs, and wears a hat, he’s wholesome. You could bring him home to meet your mother.
  3. Grey’s Anatomy – to be honest I hold little guilt in this pleasure. I love Grey’s Anatomy unhealthily so. Thursday nights are like Christmas Eve on a weekly basis. I know I am an intellectual, educated young woman, a feminist no less, I should be spending my Friday mornings with affairs much more highbrow and self-developing, but instead I prance around my room excitedly as the latest episode downloads, and spend the next 45 minutes brain turned off, jaw-dropped, often on the verge of tears. I’m not kidding, during the infamous Shooting episode I spent an hour and half with one hand over my open mouth, the other clutching on occasions the duvet, my teddy, and my very pissed off ex-boyfriend who was trying to sleep next to me. And don’t even get me started on 007…
  4. Downton Abbey – on a similar vein, ITV’s hit period drama is a guiltless pleasure which I know I shouldn’t be quite as in love with as I am. It’s a programme I have conflicting emotions about, it’s entirely ridiculous, the plot is often absurd and historically questionable but if my mother, a history teacher, can roll with it, so can I. So again, often on the verge of tears, I tune in every Sunday night, turn the better half of my brain off and giggle inconsolably at the Dowager Countess’ fantastic one liners (she has obviously inherited the scriptwriter who put Coronation Street’s Blanche in our hearts). Also, I have been in love with Allan Leech since Man About Dog, so seeing him as a heartbroken Irish Revolutionary upsetting the landed gentry is practically porn for me.
  5. And finally, perhaps the most guilt-ridden of all… Popworld – Unlike the aforementioned guilty pleasures which I indulge on a daily basis, this little gratification only ever rears its ugly, disco ball head after at least three pints, and usually at someone else’s suggestion. I can’t resist the dated dance floors and  sugary pop music, I need to put my face in the Spice Girls cut out and drink toxic orange alcopops that double as nuclear weapons, I just need to dance to Cotton Eyed Joe once in a while, is that so wrong?? Is it?? …yes, I know it is. I’m seeking help. I promise.

An Honest Crust – Making the minimum living wage

Since graduating in 2010 I have somehow managed to sustain an (almost entirely) independent lifestyle through bar and restaurant work – a concept which seems even more unbelievable with reports today that 90% of bar and restaurant staff earn less than is required to maintain a basic standard of living.

The news isn’t entirely shocking. I’ve worked up to three jobs at a time and still struggled to meet rent, bills and not starving myself for the month. Thankfully I’ve always had the reassurance of financial support from my parents when I really need it, fifty quid to keep me alive until the end of the month, an ASDA shop to ensure I’m not just eating cereal and Pot Noodles.

Of course not everyone is quite so lucky. For most what they take home from their overworked, underpaid restaurant job is all they have to rely on in life, or to support their family. It’s easy to imagine why people feel their only option is to avoid paying tax by taking cash in hand or doing the double, drawing the dole and taking whatever benefits they might be entitled to. It’s not so difficult to cheat the system when it’s a case of eating a solid meal or not.

I’ve seen people do it. I’ve watched friends live in a cold, dark shell of a council flat listening to the electricity metre beeping every half an hour, walking the streets rather than going back to the misery their wages can afford them. But then I’ve also watched those same friends hand over their last few pounds for a box of cigarettes and put a week’s wages in the poker machine on payday. Desperate times, stupid measures.

But how people spend their money isn’t really the issue here, I for one will always live beyond my means, to my own detriment, and that of my mother’s credit card no doubt. We can’t tell people how to spend their money (we could educate them about how they could budget or start saving, but that’s another rant for another day). The concerning bit of this report is the stark difference in what is deemed the minimum wage that people need and the minimum wage they actually receive.  Employers are only legally required to pay their staff one pound less an hour than they actually need to live comfortably, eat properly and help maintain a healthy lifestyle. The message from these employers is simple – we don’t need you to live comfortably, eat well or stay healthy, we just need you to turn up, fill the tills and keep your head down.

And this is what the report doesn’t tell us. Up to 90% of bar and restaurant staff are underpaid, but exactly to what extent they are overworked or underappreciated isn’t noted. We work long, stressful shifts, late nights, working with chefs (who are, as a race of people, generally bastards), biting our lip as we try, tirelessly, to accommodate customers at their most rude, demanding and inebriated because as much we would like to punch the foulmouthed, difficult drunk in the face, we need the tips. We need the tips to get a taxi home after our fourteen hour shift, to pick up bread and milk on the way so we can have tea and toast after picking at chips off the pass all day, or ever more likely, so we can walk to the next bar still serving and drown our miserable sorrows at being stuck in a menial job, enduring humanity at its most obnoxious while earning pittance.

That one pound extra an hour might not magically bestow good manners or patience on the general public, or make them any less of a git when intoxicated, but it might help us feel we are getting what we’re owed, that we’re earning an honest crust, that our work is not so menial, because we work pretty hard.

Actually, I retract that. Most other bar and waiting staff work hard and earn pittance. In the last few months I broke into the 10%, I earn above the minimum living wage, and honestly, I don’t have to work all that hard. I enjoy my job. I work as a supervisor in a small student bar where I am practically encouraged to berate bad manners or attitude as a kind of educational process. We close for the weekend and the summer holidays so I have the time and energy to try and become a writer (you know, because it’s such a well paid and rewarding profession). I work with my best friends. I have the greatest job ever, because it’s an honest crust. I’m paid well for the work I do, my employers show me respect, have faith in my ability and consider my contribution to be worth more than menial or minimum wage. It’s not a lot to ask, but it’s very much appreciated when you get it.

A Day in the Life…

As part of the Guardian’s ‘Write a Book in Thirty Days’ drive I have been reading authors’ ‘A Day in the life…’ with the reassurance that everyone finds it difficult to squeeze some writing into their day to day life. Duly inspired I decided to write my own ‘Day in the life’ but it somehow became a ‘Morning in the life’. This much productivity and mental thought before Philip and Holly have taken to the ITV stage of a morning is very unusual and not a typical day whatsoever.

I wake uncharacteristically early, before my flatmate has left to catch his 7.30am train to his real job. I’m rested, but it feels like another night of tossing and turning, partly caffeine induced, partly because I still haven’t gotten round to putting up curtains in my room. Achy shoulders. Must get a mattress topper. Vague images of the night’s dreams – my mother sitting by a sickbed, bringing her tea, then later, images of Batman and Robin fleeing a building as the police turn up – wait, were they on the rob? Surely not…

Wide awake by 8am I lift my phone, a few unimportant emails, an unexpected Facebook message from a very old, once very dear friend, I will have to mull that one over. On to the news. I am still romantically fond of the physical, awkward to fold on the bus, print-stained fingers, actual newspaper, but a combination of laziness and living in cheap, cold digs mean that I am easily converted to anything that allows me to begin my day without actually getting out from under the covers.

I browse through the BBC and Guardian apps, save any stories that spark an interest or an urge to share, make some notes, vow to actually write them in the course of the day, inevitably delete the link from Evernote (another handy convenience I’ve been converted to in recent months) in a few weeks.

By the time my alarm goes off at 8.45am I am already contemplating breakfast. This is very rare, early mornings are extraordinary for me. I usually don’t finish work until after eleven. I am a night owl, which means I rarely start writing until after sundown. Inspiration never really hits until after 10pm and the real magic or clarity doesn’t kick in until around 1am. Last night after a few hours struggle, I had a breakthrough with a troubling character around midnight, something clicked, I wrote frantically for twenty minutes, getting it all down on paper before the magic dried up, and then felt immediately exhausted. I managed a few pages of the very brilliant novel I’m currently reading (My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain if you’re interested) and then succumbed to dreams of mum and batman (not always typical I promise).

With a recent addition to our little family home, I am now learning to incorporate cat care into my morning routine, which unfortunately today means emptying a litter tray before I’ve  put the kettle on the boil or brushed my teeth. I reassure myself that my mother has probably already done this for the five cats at home over an hour ago – but then I remember, it’s half term, she’s probably still in bed, Dad will be up, let the dog in to curl up at the foot of the bed, he’d have brought her tea and cereal, and she will be reading a bit of something before she gets up and takes on the cat litter. It’s a pleasant thought, to know for once, I am probably up and active before my mother, I reassure myself once is probably enough, I can lie in tomorrow guilt free.

Cat fed and watered, teeth brushed, Monday deemed a bad hair day (just two days till payday, then I can get it chopped…) and kettle boiled. I stack up the dishes I avoided during yesterday’s hangover, collect up any other artefacts of the weekend. By a quarter past nine I am at my desk (on the sofa) with a brew and BBC News. I make more notes. Steve, the cat, has taken up position on the windowsill watching the traffic on Great George Street. (Steve’s real name is Mimsy, but I feel it emasculates him, so I’m calling him Steve, he seems ok with it.)

More news. Teenage boy missing. Ban on Ash trees. Pasta bake for dinner today I think.

Usually by now I would be dragging myself out of bed after three alarms, and preparing for the weekly Media Team meeting at the Biennial offices – today however I am working from home, trying to sort out a faulty electricity metre which will no doubt ending up costing a fortune. Nearly payday.

My appetite slowly returns since brushing my teeth, and my mind turns to breakfast once again. And a conversation at work last week, about the benefits of both pre- and post-breakfast teeth brushing – the important issues you discuss during a quiet nine hour shift in a bar with no windows.

Nine hour days are the norm now that I am a contracted member of staff at LIPA Bar. A three day weekend, a four day working week, sometimes five. AFDs (All Fucking Days, for those outside the hospitality industry.) An odd way to work but a welcome structure to the week after a summer of discontent. Clocks went back yesterday, officially winter, chill in the air but nothing compared to the storm hitting the east cost of America this morning. Shan’t complain. Actually, weather looks promising.

American presidential campaigns. Vote early, vote often as they say at home. Afghanistan’s first female rapper – the new age revolutionary? Steve is on the move, watching me through the net curtain.

Steve overturns kitchen bin. I overturn a mug of tea over the coffee table. First moment of greatness today. Thankfully the other tablecloth is freshly cleaned and folded on the side. Kettle on (again). In a pot this time, separates us from the beasts. Mushrooms browned. Bacon sizzled. Bagel toasted. Mango chopped. Breakfast. How very cosmopolitan of you, I can hear my dad. Wonder how he’s getting on with the digital switchover. Must be like Christmas, more than six channels to shout at.

Breakfasts. There’s a FoodLink feature in there. Make a note.

Mental To Do List formulating. Steve watching me eat. No, Steve.  More news. Annual migration of farm animals through central Madrid. Endearing idea. Age old right exercised, tradition celebrated. I need a holiday. Scenes from Hurricane Sandy making itself known on the Maryland coast. I was in Maryland. Over ten years ago! Huge waves. Must be nice to watch from a safe place. Vivid memory of perching among sand dunes in Donegal watching huge waves thrash against the beach. And a late night barbeque on the beach, was that the same time? Were there fireworks? I haven’t seen a beach all year, not since Blackpool last summer, hardly counts. Didn’t even get my feet wet.

10am and not a wain washed. Must get dressed. Just finish my tea. Headlines are on now anyway. Jesus, I really am turning into my mother.

But I was thinking of you the whole time…

Well, here I am.

This is me, turning up on your doorstep after a two week absence, with chocolates, flowers and lame apologies.

I know I haven’t written, I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me in so long, but before you duly slam the door in my face, please, give me a chance to explain.

You see, one of the most important things about being a writer, aparts from actually writing, is finding something to write about – call it life experience. I like to call it the yes game.

After all, how many great stories started with “Well I went home straight after work, had a cuppa, made some cheese on toast and caught up on the Great British Bake Off on Sky Plus.”

As much as this sounds like my dream evening in, it doesn’t make for good writing. What does make for some interesting stories however is whatever usually follows the questions “Pint?”, “Mojo?”, “Party?” These answers usually make for some great hangovers as well, which incidentally, is when I do my best work.

Because, despite my absence, the creative juices have been bubbling away up there in my noggin – seriously, it’s like the dream-catching scene from the BJG up there. Right this minute there are approximately seventeen excellent ideas for articles, five and a half amazing works of fiction and the outlines for four long overdue pieces that I owe to various people and publications. It’s all up there, it just hasn’t made onto paper yet, there’s a writer’s blockage somewhere in the production line, I’ve called someone about it, but you know what these guys are like, they say they’ll be here by 2pm, but you’re still sitting around waiting for them at five…

I know these excuses don’t make up for the neglect I’ve shown you over recent weeks, but I do hope you’ll forgive me, and if it helps, here are just a few things which you can look forward to hearing about when the creative juices start flowing again:

*Why I’m too old for student parties *Boobs/Say no to page three *What little difference twelve months can make *I want to be a writer, but I really need to eat and pay rent too *I’d like to be a journalist but appear to be missing the killer instinct *I’m Rising Because… 1 billion rising against domestic violence and sexual abuse *Where have all the good men gone?/Man the fuck up *Growing up and other unavoidable pains in the arse *Dumbing down the kids/Why I’m for competitive sports *Maybe nice guys don’t finish last/Reasons why I’m being less of a bastard *The Fifth Province of Ireland/Tales of the Irish Diaspora