23 March 2013

Postures New

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.

The meek have a pretty hard time of it though, don’t they? I mean they are frequently overlooked, pushed around and taken for granted and, let’s face it, they attract bullies like flies on shit.

In this TED talk, the speaker suggests that introverts can actually make better leaders because they don’t enjoy the limelight, and therefore only assume leadership roles for the sake of a particular cause. Extroverts, on the other hand might assume leadership as an excuse to be the centre of attention. A disturbing point to note is that leadership is often attained by fame-hungry glory-hunters simply because more conscientious potential leaders lack the charisma to gain positions of power.

A potential solution to this dilemma is at hand in the form of another TED talk - the Power-Pose! The author explains here that people in submissive poses make themselves smaller by shrinking inwards, sometimes even shielding their faces with their hands. Dominant poses, on the other hand include standing, hands on hips like a superhero, or stretching arms out in a gesture of triumphant, joyous, victory. Using the techniques outlined here, shrinking violets could become … well … growing sunflowers!

This method could grant those previously overlooked for positions and promotions, more opportunities to spread their wings – pretty much by spreading their arms. Naturally shy and retiring types can reduce their air of uncertainty and instead exude charm, confidence and even testosterone.

As if that wasn’t reason enough there is also the added benefit of not devolving into a Neanderthal.

Everybody knows that sitting hunched in front of a book or computer can cause problems, but, any habit of hunching your shoulders and bowing your head stretches the muscles into that curled-up position and before you know it, you have a muscular injury.

So meeklings, take charge! Stretch back and hold your head high… while you still can.

06 June 2011

Listowel Writers’ Week

Listowel was bustling with visitors. These included famous names and autograph hunters, readers and writers of prose, verse and drama. Much of the festive activity was centred around the town square, where girls wearing red t-shirts sidled up to passers-by and pointed clip-boards at them.
Some of this red army of statistic-hungry girl-guides seeped like ants up into the neighbouring streets and into the local bookshop. There I pretended to be immersed in my browsing while listening to people being questioned.
There was a shop in the main square doing a roaring trade in ice-cream cones, emitting a steady stream of questionnaire-fodder onto the sunny footpath. The data-hunters swarmed eagerly while their prey complied between licks of their ninety-nines.
We wandered around the town several times in the three days we spent there. We sampled caf├ęs, pubs, restaurants and fast-food joints. We went for walks by the river and peered over at the race-course. We admired paintings and listened to music. We relaxed in the sun. We attended workshops, learned things and wrote them down. One evening we noticed a commotion in the corner of the town square. On investigation we found a literary pub-crawl, with a local theatre group enacting scenes outside each pub. We tagged along for a while and did a little dance at the musical intervals.
We walked past the clip-board bearers. We turned around and walked past again, a bit more slowly. We tried on our most ‘helpful and forthcoming’ faces. We attempted to perfect an ‘approachable’ walk.
We went to the shop and bought ninety-nines. We stood around outside the shop and ate them, posing in what can only be described as a ‘congenial’ stance. Still nobody took the hint so instead we went to the Listowel Arms Hotel, which we identified as the hub of the whole festival. This nerve-centre would surely be full of literary-types and therefore the ultimate survey hot-spot. We would bestow the gift of honest feedback and accurate information upon the festival organisers. Our opinions would shape the Listowel Writers’ Weeks of the future.
Unfortunately the only attention we attracted was that of a wild old man, sporting a wide-brimmed cloth hat and a massive ginger beard. His accent and quick slurred speech were difficult to understand but he loved talking to us. He asked us whether we were poets or writers before declaring “I’m a racist and I make no bones about it.” Then he proudly produced a lovingly handwritten song from his pocket entitled “I hate wogs”. It was a litany of all the violent and even cannibalistic acts he wanted to commit to every ethnicity. My eyes widening as I scanned the page I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation before we hastily made our excuses and found another place to sit.
We skipped to the circus and then around the town square one last time before taking the road home. “Maybe we look too silly to be part of a serious survey.” I concluded. “I guess I’ll just have to write about it in my blog.”

28 May 2011

Scary Monsters

I tried to think of the most harmless thing– something that I loved from my childhood, something that would never ever possibly destroy us….

I must have seen this film fifty times. I think we had copied it from the TV and I used to watch the video over and over when I was a kid. After that we used to watch the cartoon spin-off series every week.
I have always loved horror and ghost stories for as long as I can remember - as an adult I still seek out the creepiest goriest or scariest ones. Freddy Kreuger, Jason, Chuckie and Pinhead were all household names to me. They don’t bother me much when I consider the real-life atrocities that can be seen on the evening news. Yet there is one film that frightened me more than the rest of them put together. I had another Ghostbusters nightmare last week.

It’s not the eggs frying on the counter, it’s not the fridge with the swirling and the building and the ‘Zool’ voice. It’s not even the ghost in the library that suddenly goes ‘rawr!’ (when I used to watch that scene I always had my eyes closed until I could hear the jaunty piano music play as our heroes fled the building). It’s those damned dog-things with the red eyes. Those are the monsters that have always scared the bejaysus out of me.

It’s the way they are lurking silently. There might be one in the cupboard and you might unwittingly throw your coat over it. They don’t get angry, they just emit a low rumbling growl, and observe you calmly with their red glowing eyes, maybe tilting the head to one side. They are waiting patiently to collect you. It might be on a quiet evening when you are alone watching the telly and next thing you know, their claws are coming out of your armchair, pinning you down, covering your mouth, stifling your screams.

They don’t care where or when, so there’s no point running or sleeping with the light on. They can chase you across central park and maul you in front of a crowded restaurant. They don’t care who sees. They have a job to do.

When I was a child my parents had a clock-radio on their bedside locker with a red LED. Every time I glanced into the room, when the lights were out, I was reminded of those eyes. Of course I would do a double-take and read the numbers to make sure it was a clock and not eyes. But sometimes, I just hurried past, afraid to glance again, just in case, this time, the glow was not from a clock.

And now, twenty years later, those monsters still hunt me down in my dreams. You would think I’d have more important things on my mind, but I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.
I actually got a bit creeped out just adding this picture.

23 May 2011


Brigid was a city girl. She was never far from people, and not too shy of crowds. She scrounged for whatever she could find, helping herself to leftovers, nothing wasted.

One day she felt attracted by a sweet smell and scurried towards it. In a few jumps and a little bit of a scrape, she dived into a bin full of morsels of food to nibble on and a delicious pool at the bottom of it to lap at. She buried herself down deep, sampling and sniffing as she went.

Suddenly her world lunged violently and began to rumble. In terror she scrambled for the surface, her little toes gripping desperately to the shaking contents as she climbed upwards. Finally she surfaced and jumped clear.

She was in the hall of a house under the glare of a lightbulb.

One of the people screamed. She darted for the safety of a cupboard under the stairs and squirmed away into the darkness. After a moment the door slammed and her chink of light disappeared.

She could hear the people walking about outside, running up and down the stairs above her head. They tucked their trousers into their socks. Outside the cupboard, one of them put on wellies. One of them pulled a hood over her ears. One of them opened the front door and opened Brigid’s door and poked a sweeping brush around angrily. She shrunk down further and kept still.

The people in the house named her after their landlady who wouldn’t let them have a cat.

After an hour or so the cupboard door opened again and a trap was placed inside. It is still there, baited with chocolate spread. Brigid’s sense of smell is keen. From her corner of the cupboard she can smell it.

The house is quiet. The people who live in it are wondering if Brigid will gnaw her way to freedom. 

They are waiting for her hunger to betray her.

They are listening for the snap and her screams.

21 May 2011

The Rapture

“What time is it?”

I rolled over and leaned out of the bed to reach my phone.


The deluge had stopped and the evening sun had broken through the clouds.

“Hey, we survived The Rapture” I said.

 “Well, actually, the way it works is that the saved ascend and the forsaken are left on earth, which will become hell.”

From the bed I could see a corner of the convent outside my window. “I guess that convent is mostly empty then, except for one or two naughty nuns.”

We looked at each other and laughed nervously. The bathroom door creaked in the breeze left by an open window.

We got dressed and went downstairs to an empty house. There was food still cooking in the oven but the kitchen was desolate.

The torrential day had given way to a still evening, leaving a soft breeze like a sigh of relief. Everything out in the street, drenched and dripping, glistened in the yellow light. 

14 May 2011

Women's Interest

What’s the difference between Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Woman’s Way?
Cosmopolitan teaches you how to have an orgasm, Vogue teaches you how to fake an orgasm and Woman’s Way teaches you how to knit an orgasm.

Sometimes when I’m travelling I feel tempted to buy a copy of Cosmopolitan. I love reading it to compare the lives of women in different countries. For instance the Asian ones have adds for skin-whitening products, and the British one, skin-oranging products. The fashions change with the climates, and the reviews give a snapshot of local trends in chickllit and chick-flicks. In the American one, the erotic fiction page usually ends in love, but in the UK edition it ends in, well, orgasm.

That’s always been the main selling point though. Cosmo always entices the reader with the inevitable promise of “mind-blowing orgasms” and I ask myself who wouldn’t be tempted by the lure of reaching untold ecstasy by leaning slightly to the left. It promises to answer all questions about female sexuality - even the ones you hadn’t thought to ask. Who wouldn’t want to learn of the delights that may be discovered from a combination of simple household objects like a plunger, an egg-cup and a pair of marigolds?

Fortunately there’s no need to feel embarrassed when buying this monthly manual, there is enough content on celebrities, lifestyle, fashion and health that you can pretend you bought it for one of the other articles. Much of these are made up of helpful tips on HOW TO PLEASE YOUR MAN. And don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, the rest of it is dedicated to solving this catastrophic problem. Don’t get too smug though, there are warnings and advice aplenty on how to keep him once you’ve snared yourself one.

I recently picked up the latest issue and had a flick through to check in case I was missing some enlightenment. The front cover not only promised a list of amazing sex tips, how to never get dumped, and how to make bullies leave you alone. Not wanting to be an arrogant know-it-all I had to check, of course. To my horror I discovered that I was doing everything wrong! For example, I didn’t know that pet-names are out.  ‘Sweetie’, ‘sugar’ and ‘honey’ leave a bitter taste in the mouth these days. Calling your loved-one by their full name is more ‘adult’. My clothes and make-up were of course not up to the standard of a ‘beautiful confident woman’. There was even a helpful quiz to prevent the reader from deluding themselves into thinking they didn’t need advice.

That’s all right though. We all know I’m reading this for the list of amazing sex tips that were promised on the front cover. Disappointingly, it turned out that random men were interviewed on the street to talk about their ex-girlfriends and what they did wrong in bed. It turns out you can’t please everyone. You can, however, be too gentle, too aggressive, too cruel, too kind, too coy or even too savvy. It’s a minefield out there. I shrugged to myself and thought, well, at least I don’t recognise any of the contributors. I decided to read something with a more forgiving attitude, so I bought Bizarre magazine instead.

22 April 2011

Home From Mass

When we got home from mass there was a farmer waiting outside our house.

‘Is that your dog?’

Nelson was in his usual place on the doorstep.  He wagged his tail weakly in greeting.

I nodded shyly.

‘He was chasing sheep. I had to put a shot in him.’

I looked again and saw that our pet’s neck was hanging open. Where his black coat met his white chest there was a glaring open wound. It wasn’t red like the spots on the doorstep under him but a lurid pink with bluish purple bits showing through it. I didn’t know a gunshot wound could be so big, so bright. On TV all you see is a litle bullet-hole and a speck of blood.

‘Where are your parents?’

‘In the shop.’

Our parents had a grocery shop in the village. It would be busy now with The Mass Crowd forming a queue down the little aisle, stopping in town on the way home for a pint of milk, or some forgotten ingredient for the dinner. In a few years we’d be working there too.

My little sister started to cry. The farmer explained again that he’d had to shoot our dog and went away to find our parents.

Nelson looked up at us pitifully. His big brown eyes just showed pain and confusion. He had made it home. How lucky, I thought, that he wasn’t killed. The farmer mustn’t have got a good shot. He must have seen him run home and given chase. At least he didn’t finish him off.

My child’s brain didn’t understand about wounding the animal so you can follow it home and claim damages from the owner. My child’s brain was certain that there had been some mistake.

He whimpered at us, but his voice was stifled and wheezing. I petted him to calm him and make him stop, the exertion of each pathetic little noise was clearly causing further pain. His breathing was desperate and laboured, made worse when he tried to move towards me. By now his imploring eyes had become bloodshot, as if the bleeding was somehow spreading across his body.

When my parents came home the vet was called and the suffering ended. I don’t remember much else but I had some of his blood on my clothes from when I hugged him.