Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Morrissey in Dublin 2014

HE is great. HE is a genius. HE has been part of my life for thirty years. I’ve seen HIM just five times but each time HE has left an indelible imprint on my psyche. HE has made me the woman I am today. HE is with me wherever I go. In the car, in the kitchen, beside me, quietly guiding me through life with HIS wisdom. My children have been indoctrinated too; they have had no choice because HE is Morrissey.

Behind this pretty ordinary housewifey exterior lies an obsessed super fan. In the eighties, whilst my friends were dressing like Princess Diana and throwing themselves at Duran Duran, I was in my bedroom stroking a Smiths poster. Whilst my friends were listening to Girls on Film, I was listening to Girlfriend in a Coma. There is nothing like the humour and irony of a Smiths song, most of them were written by my idol Morrissey. So when HE comes to Dublin, up the N7 go I.

The only other Smiths fan I’ve discovered in Kildare happens to live down the road in Athgarvan. Out of the pair of us, Monica is the less hysterical one but neither she nor I are as fanatical, bordering on psychotically obsessed as her sister, Majella. She is the mega fan. “You know she kissed Morrissey in 1995?” Monica told me as we cruised up the motorway in the drizzle. “In Grafton Street HMV. At a signing”.  That’s not all.

“She’s got an eighth of a sweaty towel from a gig in the nineties too”. “An eighth?” “Yeah, eight fans caught it when Morrissey threw the towel from the stage at the end. They all started fighting over it so in the end they cut it up and split it eight ways”. I know a nun who carries a bit of St Brigid’s cloak around but a framed slice of a towel with Morrissey sweat on it? That takes relics to a new level.

Majella stood outside the 3Arena with her friend June. Morrissey fans all look kind of the same. None of us wear bright colours and most fabric is man made. Everyone wears sensible shoes and looks a bit pale. Morrissey is a passionate vegan and Meat Is Murder is one of his most famous songs. We stood beside the burger stall outside the 3Arena and decided not to buy one. He once refused to play a gig because the venue smelt of meat and stormed off the stage in Poland last month. The very last thing we wanted to do was cancel this much-anticipated gig upset thousands of Morrissey worshippers.

He came onto the stage and the crowd went wild. Men in their fifties threw themselves against the safety barrier. It is a fact that for some reason, his fan base is largely male. The men outnumber female fans ten to one. Majella was instantly concerned when she saw him. “He looks tired”. The news of Morrissey’s cancer came like a bolt from the blue this year. Details have been scarce. “If I die, I die. So what?” was his reaction.

‘The Queen in Dead’ set the crowd alight before he launched into a string of songs from the new album. He had just a few words for the fans between songs, “Ireland, I am grateful and that is that” and “Has anyone stopped you in the street and asked you if you are crazy? Look at ME”.  Two thirds in, Majella and June went to the bar. They went at the right time.

“It’s a cruel, nasty and vicious world. If you think otherwise, think again” he said before walking off stage to change his sweaty shirt. He left us with a short film. A ten-minute movie that brought silence to the packed 3Arena, images that would sicken anyone with a pulse came onto the big screen. Lambs and calves being slaughtered, tiny yellow chicks in a machine, having their beaks shaved off. Half dead pigs being kicked and beaten.  Already pale fans went a shade paler.

Monica looked at me for help. I shrugged my shoulders. What could I do? A teenage girl in front of us began crying uncontrollably, consoled by her parents either side of her. This was hard-core animal rights campaigning. After twenty-five years of worship, we’re all used to it. It’s what he does. We all sat in silence willing him to hurry up and get a clean shirt on, which he finally did.

Songs that HE didn’t sing included “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, “Unhappy Birthday”, “Last Night I dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” and “First Of The Gang To Die”, although he did delight every Smiths fan in Ireland when he closed the show with “Every Day Is Like Sunday”. Majella came back from the bar singing along like a lunatic, fist pumping and cheering whilst Monica whistled loudly beside me. The teenager in front was still sobbing, happy or sad tears I’m still not sure, as the pasty men all around us looked on emotionlessly. It’s an unusual adoration.

Before he left the stage after two hours Morrissey asked us all to graffiti the city with ‘MEAT IS MURDER’ stencils that were for sale at the merchandise stall outside. I didn’t see anyone buy one or spray the walls on the way out and despite the passionate pro-vegetarian movie; the food stalls outside the 3Arena had completely sold out of beefburgers.

Morrissey you are a legend and get well soon but I love a bit of bacon and that is that.

Monday, 8 December 2014

My roof box and a bridge too far

Sixteen years ago I wrote a book “Help! I’ve Got A Baby’. Fast-forward seventeen years and I should be writing ‘Help! I’ve Got A Teenager’.  In it I would list the top one hundred things that make life with teenagers less stressful. Once your children become teenagers, everything you do is embarrassing. It’s the knowing what not to do that it the real sanity saver.

The top one hundred things to avoid includes speaking loudly or drawing attention to yourself outside the house, dressing like Dolly Parton and hugging or showing any signs of physical affection in public. The number one thing to avoid, as I have just discovered, is never to drive around your local town with a roof-box on top of the car.

The roof-box is there because we drove across the Irish Sea a few weeks ago to see the grandparents. They are all sick and these visits are becoming more frequent. Hence, we shall be heading back across the pond again in a few weeks time. The roof-box, bought ten years ago to make travel with four children much less squashed, is a practical, large grey plastic box shaped like a squashed torpedo.

“Don’t come NEAR my school with that THING on the roof” Diva Teen said last month. She is disgusted by it and now meets me half way home from school, on a small side road with no lights. That is not all. She crawls into the back seat and lays flat with her school bag on her head. Then we begin the long moan home.

“This is the most embarrassing car in Kildare”, then “Nobody else in the world drives around with an ugly roof-box”, then a muffled “You need to get privacy windows like the Kardashians. At least no-one could see me”. The muffled complaints come thick and fast from the back seat. “It’s like driving around with a boat on the roof”.

To save her from being seen, I have suggested that she gets in the roof-box for the school run. I even offered to put a pillow, sleeping bag, DVD player and mini fridge inside. I could probably get Wi-Fi up there and with a little help from a YouTube tutorial I might put in a little window too.

“It would be like your very own small tour bus. Just like Rhianna’s” I tried. She refused to crack a smile, not even a tiny one. “NOT funny”. “What about if I put in a flask of hot chocolate and an electric blanket?” Silence. That would be another piece of advice in my sanity saving manual; don’t try and be funny. 

I am usually the one who has to put the heavy, awkward roof box on and take it off each time we go away. Our son is ten and has just been trained up to help. He is the perfect assistant, the ideal size to actually sit inside it and do up the screws with his little fingers. We both hate doing it and after the last trip, when I went out with him to take it off, he suggested we leave it on. I thought it was a good idea.

“I will never drive with you in daylight again” Diva Teen announced over breakfast last weekend. This roof-box rage has been going on for two weeks, much to the amusement of the rest of the family. I switched off to her protests because having a roof-box does have one big advantage. I can spot the car in less than two seconds in an open-air car park. If only I had stuck to open air car parks. Unfortunately, that day I didn’t.

We headed into Newbridge around 4pm when it was almost dark. As usual, I drove humming along to the radio and talking to myself. The passenger seat was empty. In the rear view mirror I could see Diva Teen lying across the back seats, with a blanket covering her whole body.

At the pedestrian crossing, people looked in with prying eyes. I find it a miracle that I was not reported for human trafficking, kidnapping or on suspicion of murder. “Are you alright there?” I asked her. “DRIVE” she replied. One word answers are the norm.  If you have toddlers or small children, hold them tight and cherish them. All this, and more, is heading your way.

In Newbridge I drove optimistically towards the Courtyard multi story car park, planning to drive up the ramp and whirl up to the top floor for a parking spot. But as I got onto the ramp, a crashing, deafening thunder-like noise stopped me right in my tracks. I screamed. Diva Teen remained silent in the back.

I leapt out of the car to discover that I had smashed into the multi story car park ceiling, completely ignoring the ‘Maximum height 1.95m’ sign on the way in.  I’d forgotton all about the extra height I was carrying on top of the car. Oops. Wedged, like a doorstop, in the car park. “WHAT have you done now?” Diva Teen poked her nose out from her hiding place.

I wanted to join her under the blanket but being the only grown up in a sticky situation, I carefully reversed out instead. A crowd of onlookers watched, accompanied by loud scraping noises from the roof-box and we slowly drove off. “This is the most embarrassing day of my life” Diva whispered. I think it might have been mine too. Until today.

Driving through Kildare, I came across a massive army truck at a standstill. It was wedged solidly under the low railway bridge, a mile out of town on the Rathangan road. A few red-faced soldiers stood around it scratching their heads.

Just as I was about to take a ‘selfie’ with them to prove everyone that I am not the only person who ignores warning signs I stopped myself.  A selfie with a bunch of soldiers? Diva Teen would lock me in the roof-box forever.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Beady Eye Bargains - the discount Queen of Kildare

I like to shop locally but there are some things that cannot be bought in Athgarvan.  A glittery toilet seat is one of them.  It was time to update the bathroom so I went online and with one small click of the mouse, purchased my big camp toilet seat. It sparkles like a disco ball and makes every trip to the smallest room in the house feel a little bit special.

Walking to school the next day I happened to bump into a fellow mum on the run, Melissa. Unable to contain my excitement, I showed her a picture of my latest purchase. Her eyes lit up, she used to sing in a band and loves a bit of glamour. “You should have spoken to me, I’d have got you fifty percent off that,” she said with a wink.

Two years ago Melissa lost her job as a cost analyst for a large American company. Now that the family was relying on one income, the mortgage, gas, electricity and insurance bills began to stack up. She had to make drastic changes and examined the household budget for the first time, with an accountant’s eye.

“I found that there were big price differences online,” she told me. She made reductions on her energy providers first, then got a better deal on her mortgage and insurance.  After further examination, she discovered that the biggest saving of all was to be made on grocery shopping,

Melissa says that anyone can cut hundreds a year from their weekly shop. When she was employed, she used to spend €800 a month on food; that has been reduced by more than half. “Now I sit down, go online, run though all the supermarkets and see what’s on offer”. Her favourite comparison website is

With Newbridge just down the road she does Tesco and Dunnes in one day. She does Aldi and Lidl in Kildare town on another. The savings she makes each week are incredible. “Everything that I buy is half price or less”. The best ever shop was when she spent just €40 for a weeks grocery shopping using Tescos online. “The trick is to plan out a week of meals and make a detailed list” she advised me, “The rewards are there for the taking”.

“Aldi is best for regular weekly savings and Thursday vegetable offers. Dunnes and Tescos put up good deals on vegetables too”. She’s also become a bit of an expert on the psychology of shopping. “Cheaper goods are always on the lower shelves and never shop when you are hungry”. 

The discount queen spends two hours in the morning and the same in the evening online finding the deals. “I’m not working, I have the time to sit down and investigate what’s out there. I am making it my job to save our family money”. It was through her extensive research she discovered ‘Beady Eye Bargains and Special Offers’ on Facebook. Sarah McHale, the founder of ‘Beady Eye’ spends twelve hours a day searching for deals and sharing them online.

Thirty thousand people are on the Beady Eye page and there’s a reason. It’s the place for them to share the knowledge.  Every special offer, ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal, money saving hint and tip in Ireland is listed there. Special discount codes for online shopping are listed and added to daily. “The bargains that are out there are unbelievable,” Melissa told me. Why am I always the last to know about these things?

A few hours later I found myself standing in Melissa’s kitchen with a mug of tea. On the kitchen table, she had laid on a huge display of everything that she had bought online for her two children for Christmas including dolls, watches, painting sets, beads, headphones and a cuddly toy. Late Late Toy Show eat your heart out.

“I bought this off EBay for 1 cent INCLUDING shipping!” she beamed, holding up a beautiful silver ‘Frozen’ necklace with a secret watch inside.  “These twelve Barbie dresses were €1.29 for the whole set” she carried on, rooting through the pile. “These Minecraft toys are €9.99 each in the shops. I could never afford them. I bought nine online for €12”. That’s a saving of a whopping €78.

Christmas is a sneeze away and this year Melissa began shopping early. “Stores will have sales or discounts in September to increase their sales for the last quarter for the year. It is the best time to shop for bargains”. Retailers such as Argos sell toys at 75% off.  She began buying from EBay in September too. “You have to allow 45 days for things to arrive”. She has most of her Christmas shopping done while I’m still in Halloween mode.  

Savvy Melissa had a few tips for this sloppy shopper. “Register online with the companies that you want to purchase from”. All the big players from Debenhams to Littlewoods, Smyths to Argos send out offers directly to you on a weekly basis. “There might just be something that you are looking for”.  

“Sign up to Groupon, Living Social, Deal Rush, Grab One, PigsBack and get daily emails. Make a list, only buy what you need”. As I got up to leave, she showed me deals that are currently available online. Lily O’Briens are offering 20% off, Lifestyle Sports 10%, New Look 20% and MacCabes pharmacy the same.  

“It’s like a treasure hunt!  It’s so satisfying when you find something that you’ve been searching for at a discounted price.” Her research has paid off. Melissa has cut hundreds from bills, her groceries and saved a fortune on her children’s Christmas presents. There is only one thing left to find that will make her Christmas complete, a trip to Santa.

Santa’s probably the only thing that you can’t buy on a discount site so she’s off to Donadea Forest Park to visit him in the grotto instead.  The Discount Diva had better watch out. If Santa discovers how good she is at buying toys, he’ll want her as head elf.  

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Simple Halloween Centrepiece Ideas

Halloweens is almost here! it's the time to be a child again, dress up and scare the neighbours. There is a great deal that can be done with a pumpkin and for the creatives out there, it's one of the major highlights of the year. But for those less creative, or for those short on time,  I've gathered a few simple Halloween centrepiece ideas here. Have fun!

1. All you need is a PEN for this one.

2. A candle and a few leaves for this beauty. 

3. WHAT COULD BE EASIER? This is just a candle stuck in a pumpkin. 

4. Flowers, flowers, flowers. 

5. Collected from the garden....

6.Spray paint!

7. Water and candles!

8. And finally, this step by step tutorial for those wanting something FABULOUS!

Friday, 10 October 2014

National Ploughing 2014 - a long way down

“Pop in and see my cows” was the invitation from a friend last week. He was down at the National Ploughing Championships, Disneyland for farmers and one big agricultural party for the young and old. The buzz is electrifying as hoards of whispering farmers, lean on sticks and spend hours gazing at a Massey Ferguson.

So along with over a hundred thousand others I headed down the N7 towards Ratheniska. With Kfm for company and a two-litre flask of milky tea beside me I soon hit severe congestion. The sun had brought the crowds and the little country road that leads from the N7 to Ratheniska was virtually at a standstill. 

Politicians were shouting over each other to be heard on Kfm as they discussed water charges. Combined with the heat and boredom of a traffic jam, I turned to tea and finished off the whole flask in an hour. Ninety minutes, into the tailback and I was bursting with two litres of tea.

Going nowhere, I phoned Lucy in Thurles, “What am I going to do?”  My bladder was pulsating. “Pull over and do a wee at the side of the road” my friend said, laughing. She wasn’t taking any of it seriously. But it was serious. I was in agony. In the rear view mirror I could see a car full of men in a shiny BMW. In front of me, a muddy truck filled with farmers

“I can’t pull over and wee at the side of the road. I am in a heavily congested country lane”. Added to that, the little road was crawling with guards. My bladder was now burning. “I can’t just wee at the side of the road in front of all of these people!” “You are surrounded by farmers. They won’t even bat an eyelid”. She wasn’t much help.

The traffic was going nowhere. We had been stationary for ten minutes. I looked at the hedgerow and small grass verge. The last time that I had to wee at the side of the road I was probably four years old. Forty years later, could I really do it again? Perhaps I could pretend that I had dropped something out of the window, squat down and look around in the grass and wee without anyone every knowing.

But what if the men in suits thought that I was in difficulty? What if they or the farmers came out of their cars to help me? Then what? It was too risky. I had to think of something else. I had seen a Japanese invention in a magazine some months ago and mocked it. It was called a She-Wee. A small plastic device that women can slide into their underwear, with a clever spout that drains the urine away. It means that women can wee, if they so chose to, standing up. I wish that instead of mocking the She-Wee, I had ordered one.

The emergency was in full swing. I was now sweating. Sweating meant that things were about to get nasty if I did not find a loo soon. This was turning into an episode of ER and there was no way that an ambulance would get to me in time through the traffic. Rocking too and fro, I looked around the car. I found a plant pot on the back seat. It was it a box on its way to the charity shop. The plant pot was a plant pot no more. It was about to become a porta-loo.

Lifting myself up, I sat on the pink M&S ceramic pot. The shouty politicians were still screaming at each on the radio as I started to relieve myself into it. Just as I was about to let out a sigh of relief, the traffic started moving again. Balancing on my potty, I drove on. With my head almost touching the roof of the car. A few metres later the traffic stopped once again. I was parked up right next to young guard at the side of the road.

I kept my eyes fixed on the truck full of farmers in front. The pot was half full but still my poor bladder throbbed. There was much more to go. My face was red from embarrassment and pain when suddenly, a tap on the window.  “Is everything ok?” a young male guard asked. Perched on my pot, I kept my eyes on the road ahead. “Fine” I shouted back through the glass. He must have registered some kind of distress or suspicion on my face.

The last half an hour was the longest of my life. I have never driven with such concentration. I negotiated bends in the road, small bumps and passed at least three hundred people as I made my way to the car park at Ratheniska. All the time, balanced on a plant pot. Thirty minutes later and I was parked up in a field with another thirty thousand cars. When the coast was clear, I emptied my plant potty into a nearby hedge. I could breathe again.

I found the Irish Countrywomen’s Association tent and took in a butter making demonstration and a jam making class. In the nearby retail tent, I discovered the delicious Man of Aran Fudge and bought a sack of daffodil bulbs and some soap before setting off to find Des Dunne and his stall. 

I found him standing beside two hugs black and white Belted Galloways. He was there to promote the breed and the Belted Galloway Club of Ireland. “Guess how much she weighs?” ha asked me. I looked at the black and white heffer. She was the size of my Citreon Picasso C4. “She weighs over 614 kilos,” he told me. I looked at her with admiration. That’s 96 stone.

She must have a huge bladder.