Monday, 26 December 2016


                               Frozen wonderlands: but some of us should never skate!      

THE MIDDLE one bounces home from school, just before the Christmas holidays, with a big announcement.

"We're going ice-skating," she says. I look at her. No we're not, I think. The last time somebody in this family went ice-skating, he broke his elbow. He's still doing the physiotherapy exercises.

"With my year in school," she says, correctly reading my mind.

"Oh, right. When?"

"Tomorrow. Can't wait! I've never been ice-skating."

There is a good reason for that, but I decide to keep my negative thoughts on snow and ice to myself.

Where everyone dresses up and girls get proposed to...seriously romantic.

"You know, I don't know why we don't have permanent ice-skating rinks in Ireland. We could get in practice, then. Oh, you know what would be brilliant? A huge frozen lake like they have in New York at Christmas.

"Where everyone dresses up and whizzes around in circles, and girls get proposed to, and there's restaurants and cafes all around it, and you can drink your hot chocolate and look out. Seriously romantic, Mum."

Seriously unrealistic. Unless we undergo monumental climate change and have below freezing temperatures during the winter.

Clearly she's watched too much Frozen. I decide to offer some practical advice.

"Wrap up warmly."

"We're allowed to wear our own clothes, so I'll be wrapped up like a snowman."

"They're usually naked, except for a scarf."

I had to be scraped off the pavement by a colleague.

She rolls her eyes. The following day, she arrives home, limbs mercifully intact.

"How was the ice-skating?" I ask.

"Horrendous. I'm completely traumatised." She has a tendency for drama.

"What happened?"

"It was horrible, Mum. Everyone else was out there, scooting around, linking arms with their friends. One girl was skating backwards and doing turns! And I was holding on to the edge, because I knew I was going to die."

Melodrama aside, she may have learned an important lesson. In a small country, with a temperate climate, we don't have access to ice rinks and frozen lakes.

With the result that the small number of man-made rinks which pop up at this time of the year, tend to be sites of a ridiculous number of daft injuries.

It's the same way that most Irish people will never ski as well as say, the Swiss. Who all probably receive a miniature set of skis from the government when they are born.

But I say none of this to the distraught middle child. What I say is:

"Did you get out there at all?"

"Eventually," she says. "And then I fell. Really hard! On my bottom!"

Whoever came up with the idea of attaching knives to your feet to slide around all over the ice?

I can empathise. I even find it difficult to walk in the snow, when it starts to freeze over. I clearly remember crossing the river Liffey years ago, on my way into work.

I slipped on the icy bridge, ended up in the splits, and had to be scraped off the pavement by a colleague, who wasn't sure whether to laugh or commiserate.

"Your bottom is a good place to land. Did you go out again?"

"Why would I do that?" There is indignation in her voice. "Whoever came up with the idea of attaching knives to your feet to slide around all over the ice, is a complete..." she trails away, frustrated.

"So, will you have another go at it, do you think?"

"Never! I mean, I thought it'd be like Blades of Glory, or something." She starts to laugh at the admission. "You know the worst part?"

I think I can guess.

"There was this boy working there...."

My daughter. The ice queen.

Or not.


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Monday, 12 December 2016

*Christmas Telly: Tune in Together*

                    Remember when the only screen in your home was a shared TV?

I'M GOING to go out on a limb here and declare that Christmas is the best time of the year for telly. 

There are tonnes of reasons why the advent - pun intended - of seasonal movies and fun quizzes, bring a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

And they're not what you might imagine. For a start, I'm not actually a telly addict. In fact, days might pass where I don't even switch it on. Those days, admittedly, tend to be a bit of a blur, but I digress.

Watching TV by oneself is never half as enjoyable.

Nor do I cheat by tuning into other screens. I don't have Netflix (yes, I know), and I don't know how to stream movies or series. Is that even legal? I haven't a clue.

Because for me, part of the enjoyment of watching TV, is the ritual. It goes a bit like this:

1. Choose the programme.

2. Get the work/cooking/running around after family/ordering around said family, organised in time to watch the programme.

3. Ensure the fire is lit, the room is tidy and the lighting perfect. Think warm glow of table lamps; none of your 'big lights', thanks very much.

4. Boil the kettle and make tea. Popcorn desirable, but not essential.

I'm a simple person.

TV time meant the whole, rowdy family sitting in the one room.

But it's not quite enough. And here's the crunch.
Watching TV by oneself is never half as enjoyable, as watching it with other people.

As a child, watching TV by oneself was rarely an option. There was one screen in the house. It came with a maximum of four to six channels (but only if you lived in Dublin). I know a lot of people who grew up in Two-Channel-Land: our national stations.

TV time meant the whole, rowdy family sitting in the one rom, arguing with the chat show host,  shouting encouragement to the hero in the thriller, squirming at the kiss-y bits in the romance, as our parents carefully avoided eye contact.

Now, the sight of a whole family coming together to watch the same thing on TV, is so rare, that it's not just a thing, it's a phenomenon. It has a name: shared media.

Which brings me back to Christmas TV. And why its importance in this part of the world, can't be overstated. Well, it can, obviously, but bear with me.

Unlike many of our European neighbours, Irish people get substantial Christmas holidays. Of course, these exclude our fantastic essential services people (GardaĆ­, medical people) and rather sadly, retailers, who barely get a break at all.

TV programmers tend to put a lot of thought into their scheduling.

But our schools break up around December 22. The new terms don't begin until after Little Christmas on January 6.

Most industries break up around the same time as the schools, and generally speaking, people are off until January 2.

So TV programmers tend to put a lot of thought into their scheduling, with the result that you'll get a fair mix of old favourites, new movies and plenty of Christmas specials over the period.

And there's more of a chance that I'll get The Eldest, The Middle One and The Boy to sit and watch with me. Even if it means that the older two are also on their phones, chatting to friends on Facebook.

Usually about whatever lame movie from the dinosaur era that their mother is making them watch. But I'm a patient person.

Last year, I managed to persuade The Boy to watch It's A Wonderful Life. I watch it every year. The Boy didn't quite get it: it didn't make a lot of sense, he said. I'll see if he'll give it another go, this Yuletide season.

I spent the first few weeks wondering if I could hide it behind a bamboo screen.

Another year, the husband bought a new telly just in time for Christmas. In fairness, our old TV had had its day and was almost walking to the recycling yard by itself. But our new TV - our current TV - is massive.

Men love it, of course. They wax lyrical about how great the sport looks on a big screen. Women give me knowing looks and shake their heads in sympathy.

I was so astounded at the size of the thing, that I spent the first few weeks wondering if I could hide it behind a tasteful bamboo screen.

But at Christmas time, even I love it. There is nothing like the joy of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or The Wizard of Oz, watched on a big screen. 

Bring on the Christmas telly and those warm, fuzzy feelings.

I'm not beyond bribing the family to share it with me.


A very warm December welcome from Dublin, and I hope you enjoyed today's column.

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