Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Sometimes they're under the bed, sometimes they're in the wardrobe

I gazed at the wardrobe through the darkness. A monster? In there? It hardly seemed likely. But that’s what she said. “If you don’t go to sleep the monster in the wardrobe will come and get you.” Those were her exact words. There’d been no mention of this monster before, no indication that my room, full of my toys and my stuff, had a monster in it. But Mammy never lied. If she said there was a monster in there, then by God that’s what was in there.

What kind of a monster was it though? And how long had it been in there? I’d been making an awful racket tonight, a real ruckus, so why hadn’t it “got me” already? It’d started with a few songs, stuff I’d learned at playschool, cheerful little numbers that made me think of Mrs O’Brien, my teacher. But then, bored, I’d taken things to the next level. Shouting. I liked shouting, and that’s what I’d been doing, at the top of my lungs, for no apparent reason.

When I heard Mammy coming I hid beneath the blankets and pretended it wasn’t me. She seemed to fall for it; she could be an awful fool at times. Coast clear I took to jumping on the bed, my absolute favourite game. This was what led to the monster revelation, delivered with some swear words as she slammed the door in anger. A monster. In the wardrobe. I decided I’d deal with this situation in the morning. If the monster was awake then the last thing it would want was me poking around, disturbing it and being a general nuisance.

I turned away from the wardrobe and squeezed my eyes shut as tight as they would go. But it was no use. All I could think of was the monster. I imagined it creeping up behind me, all teeth and slobber, its stomach growling at the sight of a plump four-year old boy. Its big hairy hand reaching out for my neck, pulling me towards it. And me not even resisting, knowing it was pointless, that I could never beat a monster. Just lying there, whimpering softly, as it opened its mouth - one of its five mouths, the biggest one – and nibbled at my ears with its rotting teeth.

No. I had to stay positive. This kind of talk was madness. Mammy wouldn’t leave me in here all alone with a hairy-handed, five-mouthed monster; she just wasn’t that kind of Mammy. My monster was probably only a small one, even smaller than me, and not dangerous at all. It probably had lovely brown eyes and made funny little grunting noises whenever you tickled its belly. Maurice the Monster. A nice monster. A friendly monster. I liked him already, couldn’t wait to meet him in the morning.
Then I heard it, a scratching noise coming from inside the wardrobe. I paused, afraid to breathe, afraid to move. Surely not? But there it was again. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. The sound monsters make when they’re coming to get you. This was no small, friendly monster. This wasn’t Maurice. This was the hairy-handed, five-mouthed monster, the hungry one who wanted to eat me. I leapt from the bed, across the room and out the door, continuing straight into my Mammy’s room, diving into her bed and underneath the covers in one motion. The entire journey took less than three seconds.

“What are you doing in here?” she asked groggily.

“The monster came,” I replied.

“Did he now?”

“He did.”

“Well, you better sleep in here, so.”

“Thanks, Mammy,” I said.

Within seconds she was asleep again, the poor woman was beat to the ropes. Safe again, I relaxed. I’d be asleep soon too. But first I wanted to savour the moment. I loved sleeping in my Mammy’s room; with its big double bed, lovely yellow curtains and the full-length mirror where I sometimes practised my karate moves when no-one was around. And the chair in the corner that I sat on every Saturday morning while we discussed our plans for the day, the old clock that went tick-tock-tock-tick-tock; I think it was broken, and the massive wardrobe where she kept all her shoes and coats. Yes, I loved it in here, I always had brilliant sleeps in here. Wait. The wardrobe. I looked at it again. It was massive, big enough for at least nine monsters. Mammy continued to snore, completely oblivious to the threat of monsters. I snuggled in beside her, covering my head with the blankets. There’d be no sleep for me tonight. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Step into my arena

A 'behind-the-scenes' look at last night's leaders' debate

The car was the same as all the others; dark in colour, of German origin; but this one was accompanied by four motorbikes. And - for those who doubted the occupant’s importance - a pair of squad cars bringing up the rear, just in case. It drew to a halt and out he came, emerging from the back-seat to dazzling white light and the sound of camera shutters clicking ten to the dozen. “Over here, over here,” people cried, phones hovering above their heads, determined to capture the moment, to relive it for eternity.

He waved deferentially and made his way to the thronged media. Microphones were shoved in his direction, the lights became more intense. The star attraction was finally here. “Do you not feel the cold?” one reporter asked, in reference to his attire; shirt and tie, suit jacket cast lazily over his shoulder as if out for a stroll on a mid-summer’s eve. “Not at all,” he scoffed, impervious to such trifling things as the weather. And with that he was gone, sauntering inside to greet more fans, to press more flesh, to leave more admirers in awe.

If last night’s leaders’ debate was judged on entrances alone then An Taoiseach would have won at a canter. The man who entered the Concert Hall at the University of Limerick was far removed from the downcast figure we have become accustomed to in recent months. Momentarily imbued with the spirit of Cary Grant, of James Dean, or any matinee idol from Hollywood’s golden age, our leader had suddenly, at this late stage in the game, acquired some sex appeal. I know, crazy isn’t it? But this was a new Enda, an Enda that women wanted to be with and men just wanted to be. A bad boy. The only thing that would have made his arrival badder were if he’d climbed down from one of the motorbikes himself, clad head to toe in leather, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. 

Was this flippant attitude a sign of things to come, a precursor for a night of foul-mouthed missives and lecherous jibes? Well, no, not really. Instead, at least in Enda’s case, we got exactly what we got last Friday night: Tiresome mantras, pomposity and the latest round of bickering with partner-in-crime, Michéal Martin. An Taoiseach ended this chilliest of nights wearing even fewer clothes than he’d arrived in, having proved himself to be all mouth and very little trousers. Thankfully, in case of emergencies, his faithful lapdog, Joan Burton, had arrived resplendent in a long, warm-looking red coat which, one would presume, she would have happily surrendered at the mere hint of a request.

Whether jaded by Friday’s night’s exertions or simply jaded, full stop, all four returnees failed to inspire, their stock plumbing new depths with each passing parable. This was in direct contrast to the new kids on the block, all of whom had their moments. The man generally considered to be the winner (in as much as an argument between seven people can have a winner) was Stephen Donnelly, whose crisp and concise offerings were delivered without truculence, without any of the sniping or back-biting which accompanied each and every tussle between the big four. You sensed their fear, their confusion as they watched this man, this exquisitely bald man, deliver line after line of relatable information, even having the gall to back up his policies with, wait for it, facts and figures.

This new form of politics unnerved Burton the most, moving her to brand it “corporate speak”, an accusation deftly batted away by the in-form leader of the Social Democrats. Then there was Billy Bob Thornton, is that his name? That AAA, PVP bloke, you know the one? His entrance was rather less spectacular, appearing to have walked to the arena in the clothes he’d just woke up in. Confused journalists looked at one another, “is he one of them?” a voice asked, “I think he is,” replied another. But once on stage Richard Boyd Barrett showed why he belonged, on stage that is. Like a conductor of a massive orchestra he played the crowd like a harpsichord, or some other unwieldy instrument. His tactic? Simple: Start speaking in a low voice, build it up gradually, and then end your sentence by shouting at the top of your voice. It worked every time.

Lucinda Creighton was there too, I’m certain of it, but in body only. Cast on the outer regions of the half-circle the Renua leader barely featured, leaving viewers with nothing more than a vague memory of an argument with someone and a spirited speech about taxes, or houses, or crime, one of those important things. Better to be forgotten completely than to be Joan Burton though, her insane wibbling is now a real worry. The Labour leader has become the aggressive drunk of these debates, turned away from every bar, forced to confront strangers in the street, she needs someone to bundle her in the back of a taxi, take her home and put her to bed.  

Gerry was Gerry, he pooh-poohed Michéal’s repeated IRA jibes, turned the issue on its head and invented a “three amigos” phrase which he then repeated for the rest of the night like a child learning its first swear word. But the sad fact is that despite this lukewarm performance, and those which preceded it, Enda Kenny will, in all likelihood, remain at the helm of Irish government come the end of the month. The public will have spoken and will have gotten what they wanted. It brings to mind an ordinary looking bloke, with an ordinary job, and an ordinary car who just happens to have an incredibly attractive girlfriend. We see him there, the country’s fate in his hands, and we ask ourselves: “How did he manage that? How did this bland, thoroughly unremarkable man fool a nation not once, but twice?” For those still in search of an answer hang round the entrance at his next public appearance, it’s a sight to behold. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Yours, sincerely

Why the students of UCD shouldn't be prosecuted for the sharing of explicit images

Young Irish men of today are different to their predecessors. Encouraged to talk about their feelings, to break free of gendered stereotypes, they are a new breed; a new and improved breed. Or so we’re told. Because, despite being the most emotionally mature generation of males to walk our fine land, old habits continue to die hard. And one of the oldest habits of all is the need, the all-consuming urge, to tell one another about their sexual conquests.

Before we continue, let’s get one thing clear: The 200 or so UCD students involved in what’s been dubbed a “revenge porn ring” have not broken any laws, at least not any set out in the constitution. Have they acted immorally? Absolutely. Have they behaved in a reprehensible manner? Without question. But lawbreakers? Potential felons? Sorry, I don’t see it. They have merely seized an opportunity - an undoubtedly sleazy, disgusting opportunity - and milked it for all its worth.

But herein lies the problem; once you send someone a picture it is theirs to do with as they wish. You may be in a loving, caring relationship with that person, and trust them implicitly at that time, but, unless you end up marrying them, chances are you will break up. In fact there’s a distinct possibility that you may break up with them before the end of your degree, or the end of the semester, or maybe even the end of the week.

In years gone by this wouldn’t have been a major problem, your heart, although broken, would eventually heal, and the only things you’d leave behind were a handful of CDs and your sexiest underwear. But in this digital age the cessation of any relationship brings it with a myriad of other issues. There’s the tricky question of whether to unfriend them on Facebook, whether to unfriend their friends, and their friends’ friends, or whether to just delete your entire Facebook account entirely.

And then there’s the other stuff. Some will say these women are foolish for sending saucy pictures to their paramours. Those people have probably never received, nor been asked for, saucy pictures of themselves. It’s part of modern-day romance, a naughty way to titillate your lover during time spent apart. Everyone does it. You don’t consider the consequences; it’s just a bit of fun. No-one’s forcing you to send anything.

But while it’s unlikely that anyone was held at gunpoint, instructed to hit send while pouting for all their worth, there is a certain degree of pressure, of course there is. No-one wants to be thought of as dull, the one who wouldn’t send pics when all the other lads’ girls did. It’s another form of peer pressure, another tricky obstacle to negotiate as you slowly come of age. And ultimately, as with most bad decisions, it helps you to learn some valuable lessons.

The most important lesson for these women, and for any women, is that young men, and maybe all men, are a feckless bunch. Driven by the basest of desires, they act without forethought. It has always been thus. Yes, some generations might have been more mannerly, more gentlemanly than the last, but deep down nothing really changes. Men talk, men boast and men brag. That they can now do so in a public sphere is indeed cause for concern. But cause for police intervention? I’m afraid not.