Monday, 27 June 2016


                                      Al Fresco dining: our European neighbours have this nailed.

SOMEBODY is drilling right beneath my window as I wake, ridiculously early, on Saturday morning.

Which couldn't be right. It's a Saturday, after all. And this is suburbia. A quiet, little village by the sea, no less.

I revise my thoughts. I was out last night. How could I have done this to myself? No more sparkling water for me. Ever.

So, not that either. I stumble from the bed and over to the window. The noise is coming from next door: our neighbour is strimming. It doesn't go on for long. Within half an hour, everything that can be, has been strimmed, and he has moved on to mowing. I throw the covers over my head and count daisies as I drift...

Give us a bit of sustained sun and we lose the run of ourselves

It's only to be expected, of course. Give us a bit of sustained sun on this island, and we lose the run of ourselves. A bit like offering limitless sweets to a child.   

Because we never know when we'll see the next bit of sun. So it doesn't matter that it's 8 0'clock on a Saturday morning. If those hedges need strimming, by God they'll be strimmed. It could rain in an hour! And even if the sun pops out again later, you know you'll only have half an hour to barbeque.

It's only when we've had about a week of tee-shirt weather, that we start getting notions. We've seen enough Italians scoffing their spaghetti and Spaniards polishing off their paella, al-fresco, to crave posh outdoor living too.

Never mind that there isn't actually any room on our pavements to bring our cafes and restaurants outdoors. If the French can do it, why not us?

What we forget, is that when our European neighbours take to the streets, it's all very ordered. As you sip your cafĂ© au lait on a Parisian boulevard, the most you'll ever have to do, is tuck your Louboutin-clad feet out of the way for Madame de Vichy and her petit poodle.

Cappuccino with extra marshmallows

But try quaffing your cappuccino with extra marshmallows in Dublin, and you'll find yourself at the wrong end of an irate mother with a double buggy, an older child hanging on to one side, and their Labrador tied to the other.

Pubs are a different matter entirely. Even in Winter, special occasions like matches demand that we stand outside, pint glass in hand, saluting passers by. On a sunny evening in our village, it's quite normal to see locals cooling off outside the pub, stools pulled up to old fashioned oak barrels. Lobster coloured limbs.

It's not the only difference. No matter how hot the weather gets in France, you won't see French kids ditch their Dior to jump into the Seine.

Whereas every time the temperatures hit the teens on this island, Irish children the length and breadth of the country strip off and terrify the local wildlife, as they cool down in the local rivers and canals.

Garden parties also take on a whole new meaning. Forget croquet, boules or strawberries and cream. The only garden parties I've been well, party to this year, have involved Larry the clown and his audience of twenty shrieking nine year old girls.

And the all-day barbeque where every song that U2 ever recorded, was played. All day long.

Neighbours - sharing the music and laughter and even the shouting

I wasn't at either of them. But in a way, we all were. All the neighbours, sharing the music and the laughter and even the shouting.

Mow daisies while the sun shines. Slap a bit of sunscreen on that pale skin. Buy some ice cream. Play some music.

Bain taitneamh as an Samhradh.* Vive la difference.


*Irish for: Enjoy the Summer.

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Monday, 13 June 2016


                           The Leaving Cert: Arguably the most difficult exam you'll ever sit.

THE 2016 IRISH State exams began last week. Tens of thousands of our youngsters are currently into week two of one of the most daunting exams they will ever have to sit.

But whatever about sitting the Junior Cert at the tender age of 15, the Leaving Cert a few years later, is far more terrifying. I know, because I once sat it. Eons ago.

Worst. Exam. Ever. 

It kicks off with English. Two papers of essay writing, poetry, comparative studies, comprehensions, Shakespeare... After the English, it was all downhill for me.

The low point was the maths. You know the type of thing:

Question: If it takes one man ten days to dig a hole, and the first day he digs out one metre of dirt, and that increases twofold each remaining day, how much dirt will he dig altogether? 
Answer: What sort of fecking eejit is he, digging that hole by himself?

A group of Irish comedians put together a
wonderful sketch recently, poking some good natured fun at the types of Leaving Cert student.

The finding-yourself-naked-in-front-of-a-roomful-of-people dream.

Meanwhile, the vast bulk of our little nation's 17 and 18 year olds have two more weeks of exams. Two more weeks of last minute swotting, hoping that the topics they've studied will appear on the papers. But nothing is predictable.

Except the Leaving Cert Weather, obviously. No sooner do the secondary schools finish up for the summer, and our exam students gear up for the state exams, than grey drizzle gives way to blue skies and temperatures soar.

I remember the weather during my own Leaving Cert. It was about the best part of it. 

Because to this day, no matter how I try to suppress those memories, they surface regularly in the form of anxiety dreams. The one where you're just about to start your exams, and you haven't studied. At all. It's right up there with the finding-yourself-naked-in-front-of-a-roomful-of-people dream.

But back to the Leaving Cert. I had friends who never saw daylight for months approaching the exams. I clearly remember sprawling on a blanket in the garden, text books in front of me, sunlight and shadow playing across the page, as I sipped my orange squash.

How I ever got into college, remains to this day, a complete mystery.

Joking aside, when the results come out later in the Summer, and the points race begins for college places (points equals places) emotions will run high. Many will be disappointed. Why? The points race is supply and demand. And in a country with the youngest population in Europe, we have too little of one, and too much of the other.

The most important bit of advice is: fill it out. Followed by: send it in.

In Ireland, the Leaving Cert is a topic of much media interest and speculation, year after year. It begins months before the actual exam, when newspapers are sold on the strength of their exam supplements.

Later on, comes the 'How-to-fill-out-your-CAO (Central Application Form) supplement'. The most important piece of advice is: fill it out. Followed by: send it in. You'd be amazed. It's a stressful time.

What truly astonishes me, however, is that just as the Leaving Cert is about to kick off, one of our biggest national newspapers recruits up to half a dozen youngsters to keep an 'Exam Diary': a column that runs daily in the paper right throughout the exams.

Where do these kids get the time, the energy or the damned interest to write a newspaper column during their Leaving Certs? Either they're incredibly well organised, or they're absolute geniuses. I am in awe.

I am also quietly grateful. Eons on, I am grateful that it is not me who has to face that awful exam. And this time next year, most of this year's crop will be grateful too.

What they should remember, is that no matter how dreadful it is, there are lots of options once it's over. And sometimes not getting our number one choice, proves better in the long run.  

I wish all them all clear minds, excellent memories and lots of success.


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