Monday, 25 April 2016


                               Swimming: A lot less to think about if you're a man.

A GOOD friend recently celebrated a wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion, she and her husband checked in to a hotel, and treated themselves to a menu of massages and facials, followed by dinner and an overnight stay.
It was wonderful, she said. The massage was incredibly relaxing. Ditto the facial. Her skin, admittedly, was glowing when we all saw her a couple of days later.
Her husband, she said, wasn't so sure.
"What sort of skin do you have?" the beautician asked before his facial. He gave her a blank look.
"The all-over sort?" he tried.

I once had a massage. A number of friends clubbed together for a special birthday, and bought me a voucher for a local beauty salon.
I hated every minute of it.
The masseuse, I'm quite sure, was excellent. Professional, skilled, calm. Used to dealing with people who couldn't relax. I know I succeeded in testing her patience.
"You need to really relax, or I can't do this properly," she said as she began. I tried. Truly. She repeated herself a few times. Half an hour into what was meant to be an hour-long massage, I knew she was still trying.
I was also still trying. Very trying! And I'd experienced a moment of self-realisation: I hated having a total stranger pummelling away on bits of exposed flesh. I'd rather be at the dentist. Having a tooth pulled.
Of course, much of my day involves sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen. I don't always remember to sit up properly. I do get pains in my back and neck, which I like to try to sort out myself.
"What are you doing?" asks one of my children, as they stumble upon me, upside down in the middle of the kitchen floor.
"Downward Dog," I manage. "What does it look like?"
"I'd rather not say."
I struggle as gracefully as possible through to Angry Cat. More neck and back stretching ensues. After a few minutes, I collapse, comforting myself with the knowledge that my contortions are free, private, and don't involve me stripping off.
"You could take up swimming," a friend suggests, when I tell her about the sometimes-pains in my back.
"Ugh, the thought of it!" I tell her. "Look at the amount of effort you have to put in, just to get into a pool."
She looks baffled.
"The same amount of effort you need to make to be beach ready, you know...?" I wonder if I have to spell it out for her.
Meanwhile, my birthday approaches. My family are at their collective wit's end, wondering what to get me. I know what I want: a laptop riser. No more neck strain. Prevention is better than cure.
Although maybe I'll keep up my weird stretches.
If only so they'll all have something to laugh about.


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Monday, 11 April 2016

Food: The Good, The Bad...and the downright Yummy.

Choosing food: more to consider than weight gain. *

THERE'S an interesting thing I've noticed about food.
And I know it might be a bit late in life to notice this, but bear with me.

Far as I can see, food becomes an issue when there's too little of it; a serious issue for many people worldwide. Or when it's the wrong kind.

Let's be honest. The wrong kind tends to be a first world problem. Ask most children aged five to eleven, who have enough to eat, to write their ideal menu, and it will include lots of pizzas, chips and spaghetti, along with all their favourite desserts. And not a lot else.

I like to think I don't have too many personal issues with food. I enjoy it, especially when I'm eating with other people. I don't even mind cooking, especially when I'm cooking for people who also enjoy their grub. See? Happy and healthy.

What prevents me becoming really smug, of course, is the fact that every time I eat a bowl of pasta or a helping of apple pie with cream, I'm about five pounds heavier the following day.

I love food. And it loves me. Because it wants to remain part of me forever!

So, in an effort to avoid shopping for new clothes (and actually, that's what it boils down to, because I really hate shopping), I have been restricting my treats in recent months.

Coffee? Yup, that cup has my name on it. Pastry with it? No thanks. I like these jeans. In this size. 

But I'm obviously still doing something wrong. Just a different something.

       'You need to start watching your cholesterol,' my doctor advises on a recent visit. 'It's not too bad, just cut down on the sugar, and your butter.'

I quiz him about the butter. I'm very careful about it, I say. Has to be Irish. From grass-fed cows. All very PC, first-world stuff. I don't mention this last bit in the surgery, obviously. He gives me a look that says he's heard it all before. 

       'How much butter do you eat?' he asks.

       'Um, so let's see. Not much. I spread it on bread, dollop it on any sort of potato, use it in cooking sometimes...'
       'So every day, then?'
       'Best thing is to cut it out altogether.'

He proceeds to wax lyrical about the Mediterranean diet: sundried tomatoes...olives...good olive oil....yadda yadda. And he writes down the name of a website I can look up, which contains lots of healthy food recommendations.

I don't hear any of it. My brain is still trying to process 'cut it out altogether'.

Later, when I'm slightly over the shock, I check out the excellent website. It promotes lots of food that you'd expect. I write nuts and seeds on my shopping list.

I also absorb a sobering truth. Despite the fact that I buy lots of fresh, unprocessed food, I also buy a lot of butter and cheese. And popcorn. The salted stuff. It's my snack of choice.

And that's when it hits me. I crave fat and salt. I may eat free range chicken, but that includes the crispy, roasted skin. Ditto pork crackling. And don't even get me started about sausages. 

So even though I claim to eat a wide variety of food, when it comes right down to it, my basic tastes - what I would miss most on that hypothetical desert island - are the same as when I was a child.

With the exception of cheap chocolate and mashed bananas. 

I take another look at the website. Strangely enough, there's nothing about cheap chocolate. But bananas are listed. I haven't eaten them in years. 

I pop sundried tomatoes on the list instead. Later that afternoon, I have some toast, drizzled with olive oil, a couple of sundried tomatoes on top. It looks very arty.

Thankfully, it doesn't taste half bad.

*Note: This article is purely personal, and is not intended as any sort of medical guide! The illustration does not represent any website or lifestyle choice.

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Thanks for reading,
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Monday, 4 April 2016

Guest Author, David O'Brien: Location, Location, Location.

WHEN people pick up a romance novel, I think they want to be whisked way from where they are now to someplace else. That can be a place they never saw before, one the writer has imagined, or one they'd one day love to visit. It could also be a place they used to know or a place they yet know well.
        Whatever the story is, the contemporary romance writer has to try fit it into one of those places (perhaps not the second, as that would be historical romance; and yet, kind of, too - contemporary can be set in recent decades and places change quickly. A scene set ten or twenty years ago in one of our cities might be very different to one right now.
        And you have to get it right. Eventually they'll visit the city you told them all about, expecting to see the things you did. Even now, visitors to Pamplona want to sit in the bars that Hemingway's characters did. And luckily there are a few places still standing. Not all are bars, though.
        For a writer like me, living away from home, there are some advantages and disadvantages to this. I have seen and gotten to know more places. I can write several cities with some knowledge, moving my characters from suburb to city centre on the correct bus, choosing the best coffee shop or pub, or whatever.
        At the same time, however, I can't always get back to where I want to set the novel to double-check some scenes. I'm reliant on memory, and memory fails. The short walk it seemed between Club 92 and Deansgrange is in fact a long, nearly an hour slog, that I only did because I was young and fit, and had a few pints on me.
       For example, I once went out for a while with a girl from Sandymount, but ask me where she lived now, and I'd have no idea how to find it. I can get onto the strand from Booterstown, I can find the hockey club and cross the train tracks to take the sea road on the way to the airport, but that's about it.
      Memory changes as fast as the concrete covers over former golf courses and football fields. Google Maps has allowed us to cut through some of this problem by giving us street views and letting us calculate distances, but both sides of this sword have been sharpened, because even readers who don't live there can check something that seems a little out of place to them and catch out the lazy, or forgetful writer.
       I used this extensively when writing my most recent adult novel, The Ecology of Lonesomeness, which is set around Loch Ness. My memory of two weeks spent in Fort Augustus twenty years ago was still good, and luckily the town hasn't changed very much, but I needed to do the research to get things right.
       I'm currently writing a young adult novel set in my home turf - the Southside of Dublin and the north of Wicklow. I have the benefit of many memories there, but the problem that I've not lived there in fifteen years, and though I can find my way around still, the details are not quite the same. Progress, and the M50 motorway, for example, has changed lots of the places I'd have loved to describe and have my characters visit.  Other places are just different to how I remember them, when I double check on google maps or swing by on a trip home.
       As an aside, driving in America and Spain has also affected my brain. The first scene of the story is set on the Stillorgan dual carriageway, a road I travelled by bike every day for nine years. Yet I have the girl cycling up the wrong side of the road in my mind's eye, and for the life of me I can't get my memory onto the correct, left side of the road.
      That's why sometimes it's best to invent. For my novel, Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, though it was written while I still lived in Ireland and had regular weekends out west, I decided to piece the best parts of different locations together so that my characters would not have to jump in a car to get from their campsite on the sand dunes to the picturesque village and its two charming pubs... The beach is still real, the cliffs and the marram grass, the seagulls and the surf...

* 10% of the author's royalties will be donated to the World Wildlife Fund. *

Find out more about David.
Amazon Author Page

Buy Links:
Amazon USA
Amazon UK


Thank you, David, for being my guest this week.
I'll be back next Monday, April 11, 7.30GMT, with my fortnightly, personal column.

Follow THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE via Email (See Follow by Email to the right of this page). You will get my fortnightly personal column, plus updates/guest author posts straight to your email. Your email address will NEVER be given to anyone, nor used for ANY OTHER PURPOSE.

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Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,