Monday, June 27, 2011

These People Have Families

It's Friday afternoon, and I'm on the bus. If you are from Cork, and you remember Friday, you'll know that the day was characterised by rain. Not bursts of passionate showers, not on-off drizzle, but consistent, wet, rain. The bus is wet and depressing, and little do I know that it's going to set the tone for the ensuing chain of events.

From where I'm sitting, I notice a bag of shopping falling off the little storage area at the top of the bus. Because I'm sitting far too close to the accident for it to be OK, social etiquette-wise, for me to just ignore it, I get up and start putting the spilled groceries back in the plastic bag. After a few seconds of this, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I look up. It's Michael Keaton.

No, not that Michael Keaton. The Other Michael Keaton. Let me explain.

There are two Michael Keatons. One of them is a successful actor and director, and rose to public prominence with his kooky character portrayals of Batman and that other Tim Burton thing.

Then there's the Other Michael Keaton, who is a borderline psychopath that visits my place of work every other day. The Other Michael Keaton smells like a damp wardrobe, and wears odd shoes. He is in his fifties, has hair down to his shoulders, and his eyes possess the sugary, unfocused glaze of the partially lobotomized.
Maybe it is unfair to call Other Michael Keaton a borderline psychopath, but he is undoubtedly crazy. Sometimes, Other Michael Keaton likes to talk to me about how he used to be a high-up in Microsoft, but was muscled out during key stages of development for the X-Box prototype. I've never spoken to a Vietnam veteran before, but I imagine the bitterness and unfathomable plot-holes in their anecdotes are about on a par.

I don't give OMK that much thought on a daily basis, but here he is, standing in front of me, while I put his renegade shopping back into his bag. I look at his shopping bag. It's so.. so normal. Eggs. Steak cutlets. Meringue nests, for Gods sake. Before he shuffles his bag away from me, I notice the plurality of his groceries. This is not a bachelors shopping bag. Other Michael Keaton has a family. Knowing what I do about Other Michael Keaton, I find this odd, that this weirdo has not only an income, but people he provides for. This is the last thing I think about as I see him get off the bus and shuffle down the street.

It is six hours later, and me and Sweeney are in Tescos. We've pooled our collective resources in order to buy dinner and booze, and have budgeted to the last chicken dipper.  We are by the condiments.

"We need salt." he declares
"Your house doesn't have salt?"
"Well then get some."

We review our money situation. Salt is not in the budget.

"We'll just have vinegar then."

We think about this in silence for a second.

"I don't think I can do that."
"Me neither."
"Caroline... I think we're going to have to shoplift some salt."

I stare blankly at him.

"You're not serious."
"Just a little. Not the whole pack. Enough for chips."
"Christ. Fine. Ok."

This is how I end up trying to "act casual" while Sweeney crouches on the floor of Tesco, pouring salt granules into an empty Strepsils packet I found in my handbag. As we saunter out, the Bonnie-and-Clyde of preservatives, I can't help but think about Other Michael Keaton. I bet he never has to do this kind of shit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Agriculture and You

It's not uncommon to look back on your childhood and feel like the entire thing could be condensed to one year. Irish childhoods in particular are known for being, at best, profoundly dull, and at worst, profoundly psychologically damaging.

If you didn't manage to get a depressing bestselling memoir out of your Irish childhood, then chances are, you don't really remember most of it. You remember wet summers, telling shopkeepers that you wanted all your change in penny sweets, and maybe a nun or two. This stuff could have happened to you at age five or eleven, in 1960 or 1996. Such is the nature of the Irish childhood: if it's one thing, it's consistent.

I've had friends tell me that the only way they seperate the years of their childhood is by the school trips they took in primary school, and to an extent, I can relate to this. The school tour was the focal point of every child's year, and preperation began months in advance. First of all, who was going to be your partner? Choosing your school tour partner was more stressful then choosing your life partner could ever aspire to be, and there were many factors to consider. 

It should be said that I only subscribed to one of these five factors. Guess which.

After that matter was settled, it was time to obsessively wonder what your school tour was going to be. Maybe they'll take you to the zoo! Dublin zoo maybe. Maybe you'll go to an adventure park, where you'll learn more about yourself and your peers via the majesty of physical activity. Maybe - and there have been strong rumours of this - maybe it'll be the Aquadome.

Oh sweet Jesus.

If you went to my school. however, you could wish and hope and wonder all you want, but that didn't change the fact that nine times out of ten, you were going to a farm.

I don't know if this happened in every primary school in the mid-nineties, but my school seemed very concerned over the state of agricultural public relations. I guess it was a fair concern, as the decline of Ireland's rural population has been a talking point for old people since, say, 1935. As such, once a year everyone in my class was taken to a farm.

Our teachers were very careful to offer us an insanely propagandic view of what farmyard living actually conisted of. On reflection, we weren't taken to farms as much as we were taken to farm-like petting zoos. These places would consist of one stern-looking goat, one adorable donkey, a handful of hens, three lambs, a very silky looking cow and her calf, and enthusiastic teenagers wearing dungarees. The idea here, and I'm not sure why they were so bothered with this idea, was to let children know how absolutely awesome living on a "farm" was. And it worked. We'd spend four hours becoming best friends with the livestock and then go home and eat most of their relatives without realising the connection. It was a wonderful time.

Until, of course, you came into contact with a real farm. This is a somewhat more disenchanting experience, and it usually happens when you're somewhere weird with your parents, like Tipperary. "It's all farms around here!", they'll usually crane their necks around to the backseat to tell you. "Ah, farms" you think to yourself, "I know about farms". And you decide, because of your experience with your school tour, that you will pay a visit to this farm, because you are, after all, a dab hand at farming.

This is how you end up in a field, alone, being stared at by ten thousand cattle, while you piss your pants in terror.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Crying Game

Crying is in a rather precarious position in female society. Not unlike perming or casual sex, it's something that women are fairly certain they have the right to do, but deep down still feel weird about doing.

Sandy from Grease being the one obvious exception

 If you're a girl, the times you cry are divided into two categories, clearly labelled, and never confused. They are "Crying Because You Are A Human Being" and "Crying Because You Are A Giant Girl".

Examples of times that you are crying because you are a Human Being:

You are mourning the death of a loved one.

You have just seen The Green Mile. (An old boyfriend once made me watch the Green Mile, and I cried for two hours afterwards. Every now and then I would dry up, think I was over it, and then suddenly a new wave of meloncholy would hit me all over again. I was reassured that this was in fact, the appropriate, human response.)


Examples of times you are crying because you are a Giant Girl:

You've accidentally bitten your tongue while eating, and you're pretty sure that nothing more painful has happened to anyone, ever.

There's a three-legged dog outside.

Because for once, you are sick, truly sick, and not hungover. And no one will believe you.

Someone just yelled at you, even though it was completely not your fault. Or worse, it completely was. And everybody knows it.

You're mum just told you that you can't accessorize for shit.

The couple from the BT ad just don't seem to be able to get it together.

It doesn't matter what specific reason for crying you have, if it seems even vaguely nebulous or it doesn't involve the unfair execution of a hulking black dude, you might as well trade in your shoulder pads and makeshift testicles. You're a lady.

It's no fun being a lady, and that's why the institution has been all but abandoned. I don't even know what being a lady in this day and age would entail. Clear lip gloss? Tan-tights? A nodding respect for camel clothing? When you work in a shop that values your ability to carry a crate of Sopranos boxsets up and down a stairs above your ability to wear white and not spill on it, you have to keep your emotions to yourself. Unless, of course, you're talking to Jack.

Jack works in the stockroom where I work. He is ordinary in virtually every respect, except for one crucial factor: women like to openly weep around him. The rule is, if you've worked in our shop long enough, and you are a woman, and you are not a robot woman, you have cried in front of Jack. I don't know why this is, and neither does anyone else. Having a bad day? Customer yell at you? It's ok. You can always go into the stock room and have an emotional episode while Jack stares at his hands and mumbles something about having things to process. Fuck you, Jack. WE have things to process.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Shopping Was More Fun When I Was Fourteen

One of the most extensively perpetuated myths about women is that we actually enjoy shopping. Sorry, crap jokes of middle-aged men everywhere: we don't.

You might want to prove me wrong. You might even use some of the following images to prove how wrong I am. Look at all these woman, Caroline! Shopping! Look how happy they are, how together they feel. See how they move as one fluid commercial body, rather then individual consumers.

Let me just point out one thing here: these are not happy pictures of women shopping. These are happy pictures of women who have just bought things, and there is a crucial difference. They are happy because they have all the things they want and need, and now get to go home.

About twice a month, I decide I need to go shopping. This is generally because

(a) I've noticed, again, that the zip is broken on my favourite jeans, and the other ones have a rip in the crotch


(b) I have been seized by the unshakeable paranoia that all of my friends, nay, every single person I've ever met, has seen all of my going out clothes. I don't know why, but this is the kind of thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night and rattles me to the core. My mind jumps ahead to the next time I have a social occasion. What in the hell am I going to wear? Not the flowery blue dress again. People will think I have no other clothes.

So, off I go down to the shops. Contrary to popular belief, women don't shop in herds of three and four. At least, none of my friends seem to. Bizarrely, we all seem to have other stuff going on, all the time. So here I am, ready to shop. Of course, I've never felt less attractive in my life, because the street was cold, the shop is warm, my coat is heavy, and I'm suddenly sweating.

And this is how it feels

With clammy hesitancy, I start picking at the clothes. It doesn't take you long after entering a shop to realise that you hate everything inside it. These aren't clothes for me, I grumble as I hold up a mustard military-stle sweater-vest to my reflection. Why can't I just buy normal clothes? says my internal monologue, Why can't I just buy a..a green dress? No backless surprises, no drawstring, no stupid material that shows my bra strap, just a friggin' green dress? Is that so much to ask?

And even when you do like something, there's the changing room, which is a whole new realm of unpleasentness. Ignoring the fact that some drunk teenager has to frisk through all the stuff you want to try on before she hands you a number and lets you get naked, there's the changing room itself. The mirrors in which is basically the most close-up you ever see your body, in the worst possible lighting. But we'll get over that. You have jeans to try on! They look ok, except they make your ankles look chunky. Do they? Don't they? I don't know. There's nobody to ask, except the drunk teenager, and she'd lie to you anyway.

There is a time when shopping is fun, and that is between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Shopping was the best then because there were no stakes involved. You never went anywhere, or did anything. In fact, it was highly likely that the most exciting thing you did all week was go to Boots with your best friend. And because you never did anything, you never needed anything, either. You didn't care if your friends saw your clothes, because you only had three friends anyway.

So, you spent all day buying crappy cosmetics that you didn't know how to use, and even if you did, you still would have looked ridiculous. Then you went to McDonalds and emptied salt packets, played with straws and taunted strangers. And you had the best day ever.

Here's a quick homage to the things I liked to buy when I was fourteen.

Everyone in my class owned this.

Because where would a girl be without her disgusting eyeshadow pallette?

Emery Boards! It's not like you need them, but they're six for a quid

Star Gazer Hair Mascara! Or, for that matter, Star Gazer anything.


Because someday, you'll need it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Men I Would Date If My Mother Even Vaguelly Had Her Way

"Where's Mum?"

My brother Shane is here, eating a dry cracker and wandering barefoot around the kitchen.

"Book club."

"At half-eleven?"

"Drunk book club?"

The house tends to fall apart when my mother isn't around. Not only does the house become filthy and its inhabitants malnourished, but she is unquestionably the social gravitational pull of the household. She dictates the conversation, and she draws us toward whatever room she is in. Mostly, this is because she's the only person that is likely to give a solitary shit about what's going on in our lives, and that comes from being a mother. But also, because she's one of the few people whose absolute brutal honesty becomes an invaluable resource, and that is because she's kind of a cow. The glorious kind of cow though, the kind one associates with movie stars of the late forties and country singers of the early seventies.

Tammy Wynette says Mind yo' Bidness

My mother has an inexhaustable opinion on basically everything and everyone. Every now and then I try to get her to start her own blog, to which she heavily implies that blogs are for losers.

Apart from the weight gain of celebrities, my mother's favourite topic of conversation is my apparently hideous taste in men. She has a fairly traditional view of masculinity, and my choices do not subscribe to this. Our debates center around the word "Why?"

Why, for example, can't I go out with someone who plays a sport?

I don't know, Mum.

But why Car, why can't you go out with someone who can fix dishwashers, and build bird-houses, and cut trees? And studies medicine? Or business? Why?

I really don't know, Mum.

Every now and then, my mum will come home deliriously excited because she's met what she terms "a lovely boy for you". This is generally some high-achieving, flaxen haired, broad-shouldered, six-foot-sixing dude that she caught washing windows at the tennis club. I generally remind her that this "lovely boy" for me is, in fact, a "lovely boy" for her when she was my age. "No, but.." she protests "he likes all the things that you like."
Like what?
"Like music?"
On the rare occasions that I investigate these dudes that are allegedly perfect for me, I discover that his liking of all the things that I like consists of them owning a nylon-stringed guitar that he pulls out at parties, a Red Hot Chilli Peppers greatest hits CD, and a Kings of Leon t-shirt. So basically, my mothers version of my perfect boyfriend is Taylor Hanson of the Hanson Brothers.

This is actually what happened when I googled Taylor Hanson of the Hanson Brothers

The other day I started thinking Why. Why couldn't I go out with Taylor Hanson of the Hanson Brothers, or someone remarkably similar? Because I would hate them.  But why would I hate them? Because they would go against my very principles of living.

I couldn't go out with a six-foot-sixing birdhouse building broad because we'd have nothing to talk about. It's not that they're bad people, it's just that I don't have anything in common with people who can find things to do outside. Which is why, more often then not, I find myself with what my mother terms "ferrety looking types" who she believes hasn't eaten a good meal in three years. When I was younger, she used to deal with this by feeding every boy I brought home until they were left lolling on the couch. Now, I don't make the mistake of bringing boys home. I keep my paramours at a distance, and she wonders whether she can ever have a ferret for a son-in-law.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When Caroline Went To Wales, And When It Wouldn't Let Her Leave

One of the few advantages of having friends perpetually moving to other countries is that, occasionally, you get to visit them. Sure, you end up harbouring major abandonment issues that will later fester into a deep-seeded mistrust of human relationships, but you get a couple of nice long weekends out of it, so what the hell.

This is exactly how I ended up spending the weekend in Wales, visiting my friend and ex-housemate Ryan. Or Swansea, to be more exact. Swansea is that special kind of seaside city where the seagulls are as big as cats and the cats are big enough to have methadrone addictions. And don't even get me started on the human methadrone addicts.

Despite this, it's a great city, and we have a great time. We tick all the Welsh-holiday boxes. We leave the house in shorts, only for the weather to quickly turn, we eat chips doused with gravy, we get drunk and we road-trip. We even go to Gavin & Stacey's house (which is in itself, it's own odd tale). As we depart for the 11 hour ferry back to Cork, we think we've done everything.

We were wrong. Because "everything" consists of something we hadn't counted on, which is a recreation of an episode of Banged Up Abroad.

This story requires a little backstory, which is always boring, so I'll try to keep it as brief as possible. Ryan is taking his car on the ferry, and because this is his last weekend of living in Swansea before he moves back to Cork with me. We spend the afternoon packing up his car, until we meet Ryan's college friends Michael Stack and Julia. I'm highlighting their names, because they will feature in this story again, and I don't want anyone getting confused. Michael Stack and Julia are taking the ferry with us, and Julia is putting some of her bags in Ryan's car. The three of us are foot passengers, so we leave Ryan to check in his car, while we go to the foot-passenger place.

The foot-passenger place is basically a warehouse with a couple of plastic chairs, a metal doorway, and a ticket kiosk. You wouldn't think it's a place that the Welsh government would be highly protective of, but you'd be wrong. They are very protective of it indeed.

The adventure begins when we approach the ticket kiosk, and Michael Stack informs the cuddly-looking Welsh ticket lady that his credit card was stolen the day before, but that he had his credit card details written down (neatly) and his passport to prove that he was indeed the person mentioned on the card.

There are two things I have learned about people in my years on this earth.

Number One: Never believe anyone when they tell you they're enjoying this "comfortable" silence.
Number Two: Never mistake a delightful accent for a delightful human being.

Welsh ticket lady was a perfect example of lesson number two. She had the joyful, lilting voice of someone you want to both drink with and be mothered by, but little do we realise that she was also a giant bitch. Welsh ticket lady was full of questions. Why was Michael Stack in Wales? And how long was Michael Stack in Wales for? If Michael Stack had his credit card stolen, why hadn't he cancelled the card? Michael Stack answered these questions as best he could, but if you've ever talked to security personnel, you'll know that they have an uncanny way of taking everything about your life and making it sound incredibly suspect.

Yeah, Lady Gaga knows all about it

After deciding she hated Michael Stack, she focused her flinty eyes on me. I felt bad for Michael Stack, but at the end of the day, it wasn't really my problem. I had a card on me, and so if worst came to worst, I could pay for both of us. I handed her my card with obedient aplomb, and a please-don't-hate-me-too smile.

"This is a laser card."

"I know."

"We don't take laser."

"But.. I've been using it all weekend."

"We don't take laser."

"But I used it in Topshop."

I don't get this woman. If my laser card can be used at the forefront of highstreet fashion, surely it can be used to get on a friggin' boat? I mean, that's basically like taking a shit on Kate Moss.

Welsh ticket lady is now so thoroughly unimpressed that she has come to a whole new decision, and that is that me and Michael Stack are hardened criminals who are in this together. We are just trying to convince her that this is not the case, when a security guard bursts through the door and seizes Julia, who has been sitting on a bench quietly this whole time.

Apparently, while we've been trying to prove ourselves innocent of credit card fraud, something more serious has been happening below deck. It turns out that in a routine search of Ryan's glovebox, the ferry security found a Sat Nav, some anti-freeze, and a glass pipe with the words AMSTERDAM embossed on the side.

So, in effect, the woman who suspects us of credit card fraud now believes us to be privy to an extensive drug plot. Great. But even worse, not too far away, Ryan is getting his car torn apart by five different security guards who believe that he is, in fact, a drug mule. There are two things my friend Ryan is thinking right now: Are they going to arrest me for having a souvenier pipe in my glovebox? But much more prominently, How much evidence do they need to give me a cavity search? Ryan quivers in terror, thinks about the impending assault on his rectum, and, according to him, gives the following statement.

"I don't have any drugs on me. I don't do drugs. I don't even smoke. I know it's illegal to do drugs, but this is drug paraphernalia. And, as far as I know, I think paraphernalia, like, drug paraphernalia, is legal. And that's all it is. It's only paraphernalia."

In case you can't tell, Ryan's special word that he was seeking divine refuge in was

What didn't help his - or any of our - case was the fact that he was carrying two locked suitcases belonging to our just-seized friend Julia, who were now ordering her to open her suitcase below deck. I wasn't there, because me and Michael Stack were still trying to win over Welsh ticket lady onto letting us on the boat, but in my head, they had a gun pointed to Julia's head while she tearfully unpacked her earthly possessions.

Me and Michael Stack eventually negotiated our precarious financial position, and Ryan and Julia eventually convinced ferry security that they weren't drug mules. Moreover, we eventually convinced everyone who worked for the ferry that collectively, we weren't the IRA. And after a thorough - and I do mean thorough - frisking, the searching through every last one of our belongings, and the triple checking of our passports, they let us go home.

Let me tell you, those forty shades of green never look greener after you've had four days worth of underwear layed out in front of you by a bald security guard in a luminous coat.