datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Stuff (page 1 of 4)

My Experience of the Referendum

I thought this blog post would be a necessary purge of anger and frustration. Win or lose, I expected to experience the referendum campaign as something toxic. I assumed I’d need this therapeutic outlet for the scars endured. I remember feeling angry and bitter after the Marriage Equality Referendum, but I can no longer remember why. I don’t even care to know why.

That is not to say that the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment was all sweetness and light. It certainly wasn’t that, but as I sit here trying to write this post, I feel little else but loss. It is a selfish reaction, but I can not deny it. The experience was immersive. It was positive. It was belonging. It was an extended experience of being and feeling worthwhile. It was immersive. It was meaningful.

I was an integral member of a community that was welded together by a single and singular purpose; asking strangers to recognise a woman’s equality. And we won. If I live to be a hundred, I know I will never again feel this active belonging. That is the loss.

For the duration of the campaign I held the lofty title of, Canvass Coordinator of All Kerry (I may have added the ‘all’ part for effect). In reality, I was responsible for Tralee and the north of the county. Someone else (Lisa, a hero) looked after the Dingle peninsula and another person (Fionnuala, a god of the old school) dealt with the south of the county.

I assumed we’d have very few canvassers, and most of them novices. I hoped we’d reach 40% yes and I expected the abuse to be constant and wearing. I was confident the country would vote yes but I wanted to ensure the ‘no’ majority in Kerry was not overwhelming.

The core group in Kerry was tiny, formed around Kerry for Choice, but I knew they were all in. They could be relied on, though it numbered less than ten people. I expected that we could double that group. Twenty canvassers was a realistic ambition. We wouldn’t get close to knocking on even half the doors in Kerry but the towns, at least, would be made aware of our presence.

Paula, as is her want, looked after all the details of transitioning us from an ARC group to being, Kerry Together for Yes. She made sure we had access to the requisite training, supports and messaging. And we began preparing people for canvassing. The training took approximately two hours (in the beginning). And to my surprise, people began to show up. I hadn’t realised that Paula was maintaining a network of interested individuals, all over Kerry, who’d been waiting for this referendum to be called. I had been labouring under the misapprehension that our Kerry for Choice meetings included everyone in the county who cared about the issue. I’m never not amazed about how wrong I am about most things.

Our training was simple. Always be polite, don’t argue with a committed anti, close the gate after you and whatever your misgivings, sell the 12 weeks.

Besides canvassing there were two other planks to our campaign, the media and the information stalls. Paula and I were Kerry’s spokespeople. She did interviews and press releases and I did debates. I love being on the radio, I love seeing my name in a newspaper, but to be honest, we could have entirely ignored the papers and the radio because the stalls were, unexpectedly to me, our silver bullet.

Tralee, Listowel, Cahersiveen, Killarney, Killorglin, Kenmare and Dingle, all had stalls during the campaign. More often than not, setting up within metres of some of those stalls, would be the anti side, with their posters and leaflets. Sometimes they’d set up either side of a stall and often the adults and children they had handing out leaflets would be positioned very close to us.

Killarney had the biggest issue with antis encroaching on their patch. But on a particularly bad day a local shop owner saw what was happening and chose to stand behind our banner. In Cahersiveen, a trucker stopped opposite the stall, holding up traffic on Main Street. He came over to and took their last two Yes badges to bring back to Abbeydorney. He mentioned the Kerry Babies Case. All were struck by the symbolism.

Initially we would spread out and actively offer leaflets to people, but we observed that if we just stood at our stable, chatting and taking photos of ourselves, people came to us. More and more people. Eager for badges, eager to show their support, eager even to canvass. It began to occur to me than perhaps 40% was a little lacking in ambition. And on the day the antis unfurled one of their truly disgusting posters in the centre of Tralee, I decided that 50% was more than achievable. We couldn’t give away badges fast enough that day. Though we did have to spend time offering comfort to some very upset women. After that we rarely had less than ten activists at our Tralee table. Possibly not the most efficient use of our resources but we never again got hassle and the feedback from people was so restorative. And knowing that the south Kerry crew were holding stalls in places like Cahersiveen and Killorglin was more than encouraging. These were places I never dreamed would see activity and yet there they were, representing for Kerry Together for Yes in what were deemed to be anti-strongholds.

Paula also reached out (oh how she hates that phrase) to the political parties in Kerry to see what they were prepared to do to support us. It was important to establish Kerry Together for Yes’ leadership so that all our limited resources could be placed behind one message and that we were correctly coordinated. The response there was a little disappointing.

I’ll only mention those who helped, fuck the rest. People Before Profit placed themselves entirely at our disposal. Their activists and expertise were key to our success in Tralee. One of our most important activists and leaders is from Labour. She knows who she is. Some of us are Social Democrats. We had some support from Martin Ferris, the local Sinn Féin TD, but more importantly we had Toiréasa Ferris, a Sinn Féin councillor, canvassing with us. Taking novices under her wing, using her profile and past hard work in Tralee and Adfert to sway many undecideds and offering insights and advice at every opportunity. We even got some support from Fianna Fáil. Councillor Norma Moriarty and Senator Ned O’Sullivan publicly endorsed our campaign.

The majority of us, however, did not have political backgrounds. Most of the canvassers were young and not so young women who just knew they had to step up. They were fearful, both of the probable abuse and not knowing what they were supposed to do, but they joined up anyway. And as polling day approached more and more joined. It got to the point that canvassing training was reduced to a five-minute pep talk and an hour or so paired with an experienced canvasser. Experienced meaning, already done this for a week.

I took about a month off work so I could be out every night. I felt a responsibility to these newbies. I know how patronising that sounds. They and I were able to laugh off the abuse, but I got really angry when the old men patronised our activists. Speaking down to them. Putting hands on them to make their point. Our canvassers required neither my sense of responsibility nor my anger. Yet, I doubt I’ll never not feel both proud and protective of each and every one of them. Even of Éamonn who especially needs protecting from no one.

My focus, during the campaign, narrowed to Kerry and Kerry alone. I didn’t watch TV or read much of the national newspapers. When unchallenged lies are regarded as ‘balance’, there was little point in listening to what the media had to offer. I had to take a break from this break when I was scheduled to do a debate on Radio Kerry with a Kerry anti. As I said earlier, I love being on the radio. I am incredibly vain. Like seriously vain. But I’m not a great performer. And I am especially bad when discussing something important. My method for dealing with nerves is to not think about it and hope it all works out in the end. As you can imagine, my exam results over the years have not been great.

On this occasion however, I did my homework. My aim was not to say anything stupid and ensure the anti didn’t deliver a knockout blow. I achieved competence and that was that. I was back canvassing that evening.

Did I expect Kerry to go yes? Near the end, I did. To such a large degree? Taking Healy-Rae strongholds as well? No. Definitely no. We never did a canvass that wasn’t a majority yes. There were even several canvasses where the undecideds and noes combined were less than the yesses. Every poll had us ahead. Our stalls were a constant source of positivity. I knew we’d win, but not so overwhelmingly. Not so comprehensively. Not by so far that the antis had a meltdown on Count Day.

It was hard work, but I miss it. I have missed it every day. It was simple and it was pure. To be in a group where egos were put to one side. Political beliefs were put to one side. Where everyone was pulling in the same direction. I understood for the first time the attraction of single-issue politics. I understand its siren call.

But what I learned from speaking with so many strangers, is that I have to ignore that call. The mistrust, even hatred of women, I knew only in the abstract, was staggering. The misogyny dressed up as religion. The internalised misogyny dressed up as genuine concern. The misogyny coupled with entitlement. I miss those evenings. But I think I miss my privileged ignorance even more.

I was part of a grassroots, feminist, women-led movement that changed the world. These shrill, hair dyed, nose pierced, professors, mothers, unemployed and student women changed the world. I know this because I saw it happen. They may be written out of the official histories, but I saw it happen and I had the great good fortune of being part of it. And I miss it. I miss it. It is a selfish emotion, I know. This result will save lives. This result pushes women closer to true equality. This was a battle, not the war. And tomorrow I will argue that the legislation does not go far enough. But I will always remember this battle won. And the people I fought beside, laughed beside and got tanned beside. I will always remember those wonderful wonderful people.

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When Did I Know?

Sometimes it isn’t obvious. I overtook a truck on a dangerous hill, between two bends. There was an oncoming car that flashed its lights at me. I felt nothing. No fear, no embarrassment. Just noted that had happened. My wife told me she had a pain that may be a reoccurrence of a kidney issue. I felt nothing. Perhaps some mild irritation at the possible inconvenience. I stopped watching TV programmes where I’d built up an attachment to the characters. Their drama was too much. The tightness in my belly left. The scary tightness in my chest stopped. I stopped reading. I stopped writing. I stopped imagining. I stopped being able to do my job properly. My libido disappeared. My ability to sleep through an entire night, gone. My routine is now one of gentle chaos. I eat as if I’m not a middle-aged man whose cholesterol has almost doubled in a year. Showering is a chore. Brushing my teeth an achievement. I play computer games at the easiest level but couldn’t be arsed finishing a single game. I thought about suicide because my therapist asked about it at every session, but I’m not in pain. He said I was depressed. That felt good for a few days. I’ve been that before. It passes. The absence of pain was a bit confusing though. I stopped seeing him. The absence of pain is confusing. A month passes and it hits me. This isn’t passing. This isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced. There is no drama. No tears. No despair. No trajectory I can recognise and pin my hopes to. It is an ever-unfolding numbness. An absence. Without tears and pain, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know how to get better. There is no movement. Pain, tears and despair I understand. Symptoms that need managing as I talk my way to recovery. For the first time in my life I went to the doctor and asked for medication. I have always taken a secret and not so intelligent pride in rarely requiring meds for anything. I think I can remember every prescription I’ve had in my 25 years of adulthood. She wrote the prescription. I knew then for sure. I could see the sadness, I could see the need to cry, but they were a distant event. I could not feel them. I could not experience them. So I need medication to feel again, even to feel pain.

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Weekly Links #29

Oops, a day late, sorry about that. Seven links and I think them an interesting and an eclectic mix. From the history of the anti-choice movement in Ireland to why someone condemns yoga as being unchristian to a critique of indemtity politics to even more history. I hope you enjoy. Also consider following this blog and looking up some of the stuff I have on offer at Amazon.

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“In the late 1970s, one medical clinic in South County Dublin did a roaring trade in pencils. But, as with so many things in Ireland at the time, this was not what it appeared. The pencils were colour-coded and depending on the particular pencil a customer bought, they would receive a certain contraceptive. Condoms were one colour, caps another and so on. But attitudes in Ireland were changing in the 1970s and the influence of the UK and America on Ireland was felt in fashion, music and in one other area that made members of Irish conservative society anxious: sexual liberation.” Story of the 8th: how right-wing Catholic groups staged a remarkable political coup

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“You can find the word yoga and the basic concept in Hindu texts dating back thousands of years. It’s true that the modern western version is not entirely the same as its traditional form, but I do not see that as a mark in its favor. After all, it’s no coincidence that it was exported to the West hand-in-hand with the philosophy of the “universality” of all religions, and it finally began to explode in popularity with the counter-culture movement of the sixties. Hindus had their spiritual purposes for yoga, we have ours. Neither purpose seems at all compatible with Christianity.” Yoga Is A Pagan Ritual. Maybe Christians Should Find A Different Workout Routine.

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“This is the electoral challenge of the extreme right in the west: to find a plausible balance between how racist it actually is, in its policies, and how racist it can appear to be in its pronouncements. Its raison d’etre is to promote and project a mythical sense of national and racial purity; its conundrum is how to simultaneously attract racists and xenophobes to that project while denouncing racism and xenophobia.” How the far right has perfected the art of deniable racism

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“In the worlds of politics and nonprofits intersectionality has become a sneaky substitute for the traditional left notion of solidarity developed in the process of ongoing collective struggle against the class enemy. Intersectionality doesn’t deny the existence of class struggle, it just rhetorically demotes it to something co-equal with the fights against ableism and ageism and speciesism, against white supremacy, against gender oppression, and a long elastic list of others.” Intersectionality is a Hole. Afro-Pessimism is a Shovel. We Need to Stop Digging.

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“Here’s an example. Should people be punished for crimes they committed in the distant past? It seems pretty obvious that we should only punish a person for a crime if we are reasonably convinced that they are the same person who committed that crime. However, on many views of personal identity, once enough time has passed between the commission of the offence and the punishment, then, even if the criminal is still alive, they will no longer be the same person that they were and so could not deserve punishment.” Why Philosophers Fail to Influence Public Debate—and How They Can Do Better

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“On January 26th, 1340, the English king Edward III stood on a platform in the marketplace of Ghent in Flanders. It was bedecked with new banners commissioned from the workshops of Antwerp, showing the arms of England quartered with those of France. And from that platform Edward declared himself King of France. A Florentine merchant who was there asked some of the locals what they thought. The better sort, he reported, thought the whole thing “puerile”. But for almost half a millennium, until 1802, the English monarchs would go on claiming to be kings of France.” Is Brexit the maddest thing England has ever done? Not quite

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“In 1824 James Mill (utilitarian, colleague of Jeremy Bentham and father of John Stuart Mill) wrote an article On Government for the Encyclopedia Britannica. In it he argued that individuals whose interests were represented by another would not be inconvenienced by being denied a vote. In this category he included children (represented by their parents) and women.” A Regency Era argument for votes for women

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Weekly Links #28

Another week another assortment of bits I’ve gleaned from the Twitterverse. An eclectic bunch, going from abortion in El Salvador,  Deep Space Nine, being gay while married to a straight woman because, god, women’s experience of pain and de Tocqueville in Ireland. I hope you enjoy.

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“As a kid, I was very concerned with being nice. It’s what was expected of me. In the culture that I come from, girls are expected to be nice and sweet (as they are in many different cultures), or to be obedient and demure. That wasn’t me, but I tried to play the part.” THE FIRST TIME I REALIZED I WAS ALLOWED TO BE ANGRY: MAJOR KIRA NERYS

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“In 1807, Britain passed a law banning the slave trade. But for three centuries, that trade had been dominated by Britain; three centuries of savage enslavement, pitiless brutality, and casual mass murder. Twelve million Africans are thought to have been transported to the Americas, half of them in the peak years of the Atlantic slave trade between 1690 and 1807. In those peak years, about half of these slaves were taken on British ships. Historians estimate that at least one in ten, and possibly one in five slaves, died on the Middle Passage, the journey from Africa to the New World. This suggests that half a million Africans may have lost their lives while being transported on British ships.” the great british empire debate

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“But here, too, doctors can be suspicious of women who live on the margins of society, of those they meet only in the emergency rooms of public hospitals.  The consequences of making abortion a crime include a pattern we’ve already seen, in the context of prosecutions of women for ingesting illicit drugs during pregnancy. These prosecutions have disproportionately targeted poor, black women, many of whom were seeking prenatal care at public hospitals. Ban abortion and that pattern will intensify. The hospital will increasingly become the site of a crime scene investigation, and poor women will be the suspects.” The Consequences of El Salvador’s Abortion Ban

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“Thus, this astute Frenchman, who had demonstrated his powers of observation and analysis in America, examined the situation in Ireland just a decade before the catastrophe of the Great Famine.” Alexis de Tocqueville in America and Ireland 1831-1835

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“Over the recent holiday season I found myself becoming nostalgic about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Maybe the mid-season break in Star Trek: Discovery made me long for Trek of some kind, and DS9was the first series that came to mind; maybe the fact that my girlfriend is re-watching Babylon 5made me think of space stations; maybe knowing that 2018 would mark DS9’s 25th anniversary heightened its importance in my subconscious; or maybe the nostalgia was brought on by inscrutable caprice that can’t be explicated.” The Most Human Star Trek is the One With the Most Aliens

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“That act of authenticity brought many of you who will read this into our lives. Finally, we were able to live authentically, instead of this life of quiet struggle we had existed in for a decade. Finally we were able to be honest with our community, our friends, our colleagues, our families about our marriage, and about me—that I am a gay man, and that Lolly and I had gotten married knowing this about me. That I always have been gay. That it was not something I had chosen—it just was— but that I loved my wife and my life.” TURNING A UNICORN INTO A BAT: THE POST IN WHICH WE ANNOUNCE THE END OF OUR MARRIAGE

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“The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I’ve long feared, we’re only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the “few bad apples” argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is.” The female price of male pleasure

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Weekly Links #27

Welcome to weekly links number 27. Only the five this week but most are reads that may take more than a just few minutes. I hope you enjoy. Also consider following this blog and looking up some of the stuff I have on offer at Amazon.

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“So many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them.” A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Identity Politics Turning Us on Each Other and on Ourselves

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“The only surprising thing about this marriage of convenience between the most irritating rhetorical style and the dumbest possible ideology is that it took so long to come about. Whatever merits anti-theism may have with regard to social issues, humanism was never the prime mover for New Atheism’s most devout adherents.” New Atheism’s Idiot Heirs

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“What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves.” The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions

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“Unfortunately, anti-abortion terrorism isn’t new. Those of us who provide abortion care have long faced cultural stigma, threats and violence.​ But the more they harass us, the more I want to do this work. Their determination to keep people from accessing abortion care reminds me how vitally important our work is.” Anti-Abortion Harassment Goes Way Beyond Picketing Clinics

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“It was this “civil society” strand that influenced the Irish constitution: a strand that attempted to stave off communist devaluing of the individual, corporatist flirtations with authoritarianism and fascism; and atomistic liberalism.” The Irish Constitution and the evolution of Human Rights

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Weekly Links #26

It’s been too long since I did anything on my blog. One of my New Year resolutions is to put something up here every week. Even if only this Weekly Links thingy. This ties in with another resolution, which is to actually read the hundreds of articles cluttering up my Liked folder in Twitter. Today’s articles include topics such as sex, Timbuktu and gerrymandering. I hope you find them interesting.

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“As Bradley will discover, Brexit has unsettled one of the most intangible but important features of the fraying Northern Ireland settlement: the ability of its citizens to imagine themselves into different nationalities.” It’s not just the Brexit border question that divides Ireland. It’s imagination

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“North Carolina Republicans have gotten quite good at this, as evidenced by the state’s 2016 election returns. Republican House members representing North Carolina won 53 percent of the statewide popular vote, but took 10 out of 13, or 77 percent, of the state’s congressional seats. If their seat haul had matched their popular vote total, they would have taken just seven out of 13 House seats.” Still unclear about gerrymandering? See exactly how it worked in North Carolina.

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“I once lost a friend (a really close friend) because my sex life is good. How weird is that?” No Sex Thanks, we’re Irish

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“The headlining of only one line of inquiry, coupled with the unnecessary identification of the arrested man’s nationality has resulted in a toxic discourse about migration, border security, and racism.” Sometimes less is more

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“The discussion reveals how differently we imagine white and non-white populations. Whites are seen as divided by class, non-whites as belonging to classless communities. It’s a perspective that ignores social divisions within minority groups while also racialising class distinctions.” In British education, the central issue is class, not ethnicity

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“The rhetoric of the abortion debate can trigger a range of feelings in women who have had terminations.”  Anti-choice language ‘deliberately stigmatising’

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“His humble description of Timbuktu may have disappointed some in the learned societies of 19th-century Paris and London, but modern archaeological research throughout West Africa is uncovering evidence of large urban centers, unique social and political institutions, long-distance trade networks, and powerful empires.” Digging Into the Myth of Timbuktu

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To My Hypothetical Son

I took the decision, many years ago, to not have children. Mostly because I’m a selfish pessimist who fully expects the world to end in flames and screams. But there’s another reason. The unspoken tension all prospective fathers of sons have. The conversation. That conversation.

The first issue is when. When to have that conversation. Does one decide the appropriate time based on age or size? Have you seen the size of young fellas these days? I don’t know what they’re being fed, but they are huge. Not too long ago one could wait to have that conversation late into the boy’s teens. No longer. They may not have the emotional equipment, but they have the size. And it’s the size that makes the conversation necessary.

I’ve imagined the conversation many times. Despite my surfeit of well-chosen and sensitive words, it does not go easy. I call him into my study. Yes, I have a study in this scenario. It’s a gorgeous study, all manly and booky. The desk is replete in wooded stereotypes. I love that desk as much as I love my hypothetical son.

I would have my son sit. He’ll know this is serious as I don’t usually allow him to sit. I’m surprisingly old-fashioned in hypothetical world. I watch fear and worry cross his face. What have I caught him doing? Which of his boyish schemes and misadventures is he being carpeted for? Will he finally be sent to military school? My hypothetical world does seem overly influenced by American films of an older vintage. This is very disappointing.

“Is there something amiss, Father.” Yes, he calls me father, what’s wrong with that?

I will look at him with something approaching sympathy on my face. This will confuse him as it is a look usually reserved for my dogs on those days we must visit the vet. Now he’s wondering if he’s dying. This irks me as obviously that would be a conversation his hypothetical mother would conduct.

“What age are you, Son?”

“I am thirteen, Father.” Notice he answers in full sentences. My hypothetical son is well raised.

“And what height are you?” I watch him do some mental calculations. He is of course metric while I retain my quaint reliance on imperial. It’s eccentric and endearing. I said it is eccentric and endearing.

“I am six-foot one, Father.” He’s a fucking monster.

“Yes, you do appear to be ridiculously tall which is why we must have this conversation.” He nods as he adopts the pose of attentive and dutiful son. “What know you of women, Son?” Ha, that rattles him. He was not ready for that line of attack. Damn, I must remember this isn’t an attack. It’s an imparting values and knowledge conversation. “It’s ok, Son, I have no doubt you are conversant with the biological facts and have even begun some practical forays into that world. This more concerns your awareness of yourself.”

My hypothetical son steels himself, his openness to my words writ large on his honest face. My pride in my hypothetical Aragorn is boundless. Well that’s what I wanted to call him but his hypothetical mother shut that shit down early doors. I considered Frederick as an alternative, but I did not want a hypothetical son of mine called, Fred.

“Tell me, Son, are you aware that women are scared of men?”

“What?”

I also considered Alexander, but only in Star Trek is that name not reduced to the sobriquet, Alex. I do not like Alex.

“Yes, most women, in almost every situation are just a little sacred and sometimes a lot scared of men.”

“Why?”

I considered Edward too, but they tend towards unhappy kings. Fine name though it is. I eventually settled on Richard. It’s a fine name, Richard. And, the hypothetical mother of my hypothetical son did agree that in consideration of the proffered compromise, that she would stab anyone who dared shorten, Richard. The hypothetical mother of my hypothetical son is hard-core.

“Experience.”

Though I will let you all into a little secret, as a hypothetical father I often imagine Richard as Aragorn. I suspect that as a hypothetical father I look for vicarious glory through my hypothetical son.

“I don’t understand, Father.”

Oh, how I hate this conversation.

“Without wishing to be indelicate, I assume you have noticed the girls your age experiencing some profound physical changes in the last year or so.” He has the good grace to blush rather than demur. “Yes. And as you have noticed, so too has every man they have contact with. And this is where it gets unpleasant, Son. Many of those men will have taken the liberty to point out those changes, in lurid detail, to those girls. Men of all ages, men known to them and unknown to them, of all stations. And repeatedly.”

I watch his face, a mixture of shock, disgust and a soupcon of recognition. I must wonder what level of guilt he may share with these men of low morals. I will not ask, this is for the conscious his hypothetical mother and I have instilled in him. I must hope our hypothetical efforts are not found wanting. Who’d be a parent, even a hypothetical one?

“I ask you to further consider this; if men feel entitled to comment on the bodies of children, what leap is there to assuming a right of access to those bodies?” I watch him put his privately educated mind to work on this simple but monstrous proposition. Yes, my hypothetical son is privately educated. Come at me.

I watch horror dawn on my hypothetical son’s face. “Do all girls and women experience this?”

“It’s very ubiquity can make it seem invisible.”

“What can I do?”

My hypothetical son is an idealist. Well he’s thirteen, so I have high hopes he will grow out of it, but for now I must endure his doe-eyed belief in hope. But I tire of this conversation. I’ve alerted him to the reality he need not endure. My job is done.

“I don’t know what you can do, Son, but I will leave you with a scenario to ponder. It is dark, you are walking down a street, you notice a woman is walking several yards ahead of you. What do you?”

I move to return to my reading. We are in my study after all.

“I offer her my protection of course.”

I feel vomit in my throat. My hypothetical son is a gobshite. “Why is heaven’s name would you do that?” Oh no, there’s earnestness on his big dumb face. I’m really glad now his hypothetical mother prevented me from naming him, Aragorn. “What would possess you to approach a strange woman on a dark street and presume to speak with her? Have you not heard a single thing I’ve said?”

“But she thinks I might hurt her, I have to let her know I would rather die than hurt her. Not all men are predators.” I wonder if my hypothetical son’s hypothetical mother can be blamed for this. I quickly review my parenting over the previous thirteen years. I see him for breakfast every morning, I allow him visit my study every night before his bedtime and listen to him describe his day. He goes to a private school, paid for by his hypocritical mother, I even wear one of those silly hats at his birthday parties. No, I’ve been the perfect hypothetical dad. I even used the word ‘dad’ in my review.

But then my attitude softens. It is neither unnatural nor uncommon for little boys to want to be thought well of. That egocentric hypersensitivity is something boys do grow out of. I have no doubt that by his next birthday, and the trial of those god-awful hats, he will have realised how indescribably ignorant it is to think one’s need for approval trumps a woman’s hard earned right to fear a strange man on a dark street.

I send my hypothetical son from my study with what I think is an appropriately affectionate pat on the shoulder. I will have to write a report on the meeting for his hypothetical mother. She can be quite pedantic about my contributions to her task of raising a hypothetical son. At least now she will know that Richard (still possibly Aragorn) requires a crash course on not thinking his pathetic need for approval is of equal importance to a woman fearing an attack. I don’t know how she will do that but as I’ve already lost interest in this hypothetical son, it’s no longer my problem.

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At Least The Pic Is Interesting

I haven’t written anything for over a month. I haven’t been able to bring myself to express or create. I have encountered and am enduring the type of vicissitudes that do not reduce my pleasure in using the word, vicissitudes. But they have left me incapable or indeed unwilling to leave my own head. A week ago, I deleted all the computer games from my PC. Last night I moved my desk and changed my chair. This is what I have been reduced to. Today I am lapsing into a ‘woe-is-me’ blogpost in the hope it might shake me from this ennui. I need to escape this enervating malaise. I am hoping that using words like ennui and enervating will remind me of the simple joy there is in words.

I have even tried journaling. Pen and paper to unload the thoughts that are building and becoming more confused. The emotions that need to be expressed. The frustrations that need safe passage. But it turns out that writing is writing and I haven’t been able to write.

I write because I wish to engage with the world. Engage so that I might better understand it, understand my place in it and ultimately to shape both it and me so that we better fit each other. And I write because I am an ego with a beard who must be read. In this instance it may be my fathomless ego that might rescue me from this rut. I miss being read a near imperceptibly amount less than I miss writing. And it is an itch that can be easily scratched. One has to merely write and someone will read it, even if it is only my wife who will unavoidably see the words as she proofs this post.

I merely have to write. The words are there. The desire is there. All that prevents me from transferring that will into action is an inescapable feeling that the more I seek to understand the world the more I wish to disengage from it. Retreat from its blistering stupidity, viciousness and the inevitable disaster that is our species. It’s not a very original thought, having one’s curiosity met with a handful of slime, but it’s new to me. I see in myself so many of the stereotypes one associates with men my age. I get increasingly frustrated with the petty stupidities; the poorly parked car, the cyclist without high-viz, the pedestrian on a country road at night, deranged buffoons with nuclear weapons and homeopathy. I begin to doubt the merit in trying to know more when there is all this nonsense to swim through.

But that stupidity has always been there. We are an incredibly stupid species. What has changed, is me. I am older, my knees hurt more, my hearing isn’t what it once was, I think about death less as an abstract phenomenon but as my inevitable future, I’m a bit more cynical and I worry about how little I really am and how big the stupid really is. And I’m feeling sorry for myself. Middle aged straight white man who simply wants everyone to see the world as he sees it so that we may all enjoy paradise.

I’m feeling sorry for myself and it is difficult to engage with the world when one is feeling sorry for oneself. I am feeling sorry for myself because I am old. I am feeling sorry for myself because I do not like my station in life. I am feeling sorry for myself because I remember a time when I was optimistic. And I am feeling sorry for myself because I don’t know if I’ve lost that optimism or have temporarily misplaced it. I am feeling sorry for myself because I am feeling sorry for myself and I am reduced to writing about how sorry I am for myself. And I am feeling sorry for myself because my ego demands that I be read so I am writing about how sorry I am feeling for myself. And I am feeling sorry for myself because you are reading this. But I am writing and you are reading. So, there’s that.

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Risotto

I’m extravagantly proud of my risotto. So proud I suspect there may be something wrong with it. Or me. Is my uncultured palette just easily pleased? It’s by far the most complex dish I can make. It has ten, yes ten, different ingredients. And yes, I’m including water as an ingredient. Ten is bigger than nine. That’s science.

I don’t make it very often. Rarely more than once a month. Paula loves it. She literally licks the plate. And I use ‘literally’ as the gods intended it to be used. I wouldn’t cook it for anyone else though. I came to food late in life, something I entirely blame my mother for. I grew up liking bland and overcooked. I was militant in my embrace of bland and overcooked. It was friends made as an adult who introduced me to joyous food. I’m not cooking for them. They’ve had too much of a head start.

If pushed, I’d do a roast chicken. With a modicum of care and minimal embellishment, a roast chicken is beyond reproach. And that’s it. But Paula literally licks the plate clean when I give her my risotto. Paula has been depressed for some time now. I get to play the role of platitudinous bystander while the centre of my world suffers. Just waiting the requisite number of weeks to see if these meds are the correct meds.

I remember the evening I learned the basics of my dish. And I remember the first time I ate risotto. They were different evenings and the learning came before the eating. Sometime before in fact.

I acquired this dish, about fifteen years ago, from an Australian lady. I can’t remember her name but I remember the evening she cooked that risotto, as if it were yesterday. And no, it wasn’t like that at all. We were colleagues and we were in work. We were Care Workers dealing with a family in a very stressful environment and she decided that a risotto was exactly what that evening needed. I’d never even heard of risotto. That it was essentially rice, boiled a lot, did not inspire me. But it was a stressful evening and she’d decided risotto was what was needed. I was directed to cut and slice and crush and stir. Always stir. Never stop stirring. It’s a delicate business this risotto, an overlong pause and it will surely burn.

She didn’t speak like that. But I like to pretend she did. I didn’t taste the risotto I’d helped to make. It was rice after all and why would one voluntarily eat rice? I was not a curious person back then. But I do remember feeling good making it. That risotto didn’t have ten ingredients, even including water, but there was cutting, slicing, crushing and stirring. That evening became less stressful.

Paula has bipolar disorder. We don’t say ‘Paula is bipolar’ because she is not her illness. Though we do say she is Coeliac because who the fuck cares about Coeliac Disease? Yes, Revenue care, so we keep the gluten-free receipts. And there’s an entire industry devoted to pushing the ‘gluten-free lifestyle’ on the kind of buffoons who will pay extra to eat less palatable food because they believe in panaceas. And yes, I much prefer discussing Coeliac Disease because it does not scare me. Neither does it make me feel inadequate or anxious. And I don’t have to stand idly by while she suffers.

The first time I ate a risotto was in an Italian restaurant in Wicklow Town. I was off cigarettes at the time, so I had serviceable taste buds. I was also determined to impress my foodie friends with my new found adventurous spirit. It was a seafood risotto. It did not impact on me the same way as the first time I tried an Indian Curry did, but it’s the only eating experience I’ve had that comes close. Except perhaps for my lamb flavoured mash. You really can’t believe lamb flavoured mash until you’ve tried it.

Paula is not bipolar but she has it and it is for life. And as I’m infinitely self-centred it is now my bipolar disorder and I will be dealing with it for the rest of my life. What do I do in the face of such a sneaky incurable disease? How do I stave off the anxiety, the suffocating inadequacy, the episodes, weeks long episodes, of watching the centre of my world suffer? How do I stand idly by?

I once hated onions, spring onions and garlic. I feared chillies, disdained rice and was appalled by soft cheeses. Did I mention I blame my mother for this? I won’t have responsibility laid at the feet of culture. I used to delight in burnt steak. Now I cut a single onion, slice several spring onions and chillies, crush half a bulb of garlic and boil the kettle. And it makes me so happy. Fry them for a few minutes and stir chicken stock (gluten-free of course) into the water. Then there’s the Arborio rice. Half a cup thrown in and fried for another precisely two minutes.

The only issue I ever have with this dish is the amount of chilli. I like lots, Paula likes a little. We compromise and I do it her way so I don’t come across as the dick I truly am. Despite the bipolar thingy and the depression Paula is never not rational. She saw me fall apart due to her previous bout of depression and has had to hold my hand through this one. It’s a little unfair of her to be able to deal with her crushing despair and a husband being crushed by that despair. Yet that is what she does, as I stand idly by, uttering blandishments. What else is there?

But she does love my risotto. And risotto is a fiddly bastard to make. So, I make risotto. A promise of a risotto for every day she is depressed. And because its her risotto I add mushrooms. I can’t eat mushrooms. I love them, but I can’t eat them. So, I add thinly sliced chestnut mushrooms at the beginning. They are the true tenth ingredient. Did I forget to mention the smoked rashers? I did. I do that sometimes and it’s very irritating. I’d heard the term lardons once and hadn’t a clue what they were. Someone told me they were basically little bits of bacon/ham or some such. I decided they should be in my risotto.

Take six smoked rashers (go for a brand, it’s a cure for depression, anxiety and a man’s inadequacy after all) and cut them into little pieces. Put them in the oven for twenty minutes or so at 180 degrees Celsius.

The alchemy begins after the rice has been fried for exactly two minutes. Add a quarter of the chicken stock and keep stirring. I always set my timer for five minutes, but the liquid always disappears before that time. Soaked up by the now increasingly tumescent rice. Then add another quarter, then the third and then the fourth. Keep the heat at a simmer and keep stirring. I’ve never once burned a risotto. I do not know what it looks, smells or tastes like, when burned. I may acknowledge scientific curiosity as the font of all that is worthy about our species, but I’m not burning a risotto. She licks the plate.

I don’t have to cook it every day of this bout. Every second day is sufficient. Half goes in the fridge. And on the days I don’t cook, I get to watch her heat it and eat it and I know I’ve done something. I’ve not stood idly by.

Once all the liquid is absorbed add the rashers. Turn off the heat and add half a portion of feta cheese, cubed. The extent to which the feta dissolves in entirely up you. Paula likes it a bit over half melted. And she licks the plate. And as I cook and as I watch her eat, my anxiety, my inadequacy, my helplessness, all feel that little bit less burdensome. And I imagine I’m helping. And she knows I’m imagining I’m helping and that’s really the best we can do while we wait for the meds to kick in.

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Weekly Links #27

Another week. Wow, they do go by quite quickly these days. Anyway, the twitterverse has, as always, provided me with manifold distractions from the inexorable march of time. The first link it to an interview with Aziz Ansari. It is, to say the least, a tad disquieting. His eschewing of all not only social media, but the internet itself, is compelling. Much food for thought.

There’s also an update on the Neymar situation, which I’d brought up in a previous Weekly Links. As usual, there’s a lot of nerdy stuff. This is a wonderful time to like nerdy TV. In fact this is the most nerd heavy Weekly Links I’ve ever compiled. I fear the world is becoming so unpleasant that this retreat to fantasy is a necessary tactic in protecting my mental health. Or perhaps fantasy is the most palatable way of undertaking the nonsensical state of our planet? Either way, there’s a lot of the nerd this week.

And as always, feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“But there’s another possible explanation, too. Before meeting Aziz, I received a tip that he’d unplugged from everything but text messaging. He’s off social media. He deleted the Internet browser from his phone and laptop. No e-mail, either. Technologically speaking, he’s living in, like, 1999. ” Aziz Ansari on Quitting the Internet, Loneliness, and Season 3 of Master of None

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“It’s neither. The most-coveted individual honour in football is decided by financial journalists who might never watch a football match all year. It’s the Forbes List of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes, which the American money magazine has published every year since 2012, and when we tally the football players who have made it to the top of that most-exclusive list, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo 2, all other footballers 0.” Neymar intent on being best-paid if not the best

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“That’s right, Discovery is introducing a genetic reason for the ridges. Traditionally, they’ve been viewed as part of each Klingon House’s lineage, showing other Klingons what families each person belongs to. While that’s still true, Page adds that the ridges have extra-sensory receptors, running from the top of their heads to their backs.” Klingon Head Ridges Will Finally Be Explained onStar Trek: Discovery, with Science

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“This is not surprising. The Great War has always been a publishing phenomenon. Around 25,000 books and scholarly articles have been written on it since 1918. The arguments have been conducted with forensic intensity and unwavering moral passion. The fascination with the war, which exerts its grip most powerfully in the “Anglosphere” countries, is justified.” Still in the grip of the Great War

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“One of the episode’s most stunning elements had nothing to do with the dragons. For years, we’ve been hearing about the battle prowess of the Dothraki riders—and now, for the first time, we’ve seen it. It was Thrones horse coordinator Camilla Naprous who came up with the idea of having the screamers stand up on their mounts as they charged the Lannister forces.” Game Of Thrones: Behind the Scenes of That Record-Breaking Fire Battle

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“During the panel, it was mentioned that the original plan for the show was to go out and explore the rest of the fleet a lot more than the show actually ended up doing. “Well, part of the pitch was, ‘Here’s this whole civilian fleet,’ and TV was much more episodic than it is now,” said Moore. “So part of the way to sell the network on what we were doing was, ‘Don’t worry, there will be all of these individual stories.” Ron Moore and David Eick on Their Original Battlestar Galactica Pitch and the Problem With Streaming

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“Listen, before you angrily @me, hear me out. I can already see all of you Next Generation folks yelling at me through the computer screen, but here’s the thing: when was the last time you rewatched The Next Generation? Because I’ve recently rewatched all of the series (save Enterprise—I don’t hate myself that much), and I hate to break it to you, but TNG does not hold up as well as you remember it holding.” Which Star Trek Is the Best Star Trek? Let’s Settle This Once and for All

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