Since our Census form arrived, I've been avoiding it - mainly the empty white box on the back page that everyone's been talking about - the Time Capsule. I felt completely at ease with the idea of filling in that little flat line in the information boxes - I know how old my children are, where they go to school, how many rooms we have and even that we have a functioning smoke alarm but being asked to write a letter to the future? Whoah dude, that's huge!
The fact that I write for a sort-of living would probably make you think that I was chomping at the bit to get cracking on my message to future generations and that something very worthwhile and insightful was simmering inside me that I could send forward in time. You'd think I'd be jittering with excitement at the very idea of talking to the future. But ... what on earth do you say? How can I encapsulate the world I live in in a tiny white blank space? It's simply not big enough - and yet, it's bloody massive - how on earth do I fill it?
In the long run, my wise eleven-year old set me on the right path. Thankfully she had done an exercise in school where they'd filled out their own time capsules and, prompted by her wisdom and experience, it was finally clear to me what to include and I hope, now, that our submission will paint a very small portrait of a family of six, living a very simple life in post-Covid Dublin - exactly the sort of picture I know that I would enjoy viewing of a family living a simple life in Civil War Dublin. Almost in the voice of an eleven year old I've written about what we drive, the technology we use day to day, our hobbies and the type of media we consume. I've mentioned where we holiday, and what we like to do to treat ourselves. It's a tiny, albeit not very creative snapshot, but one that we're happy to throw into the great melting pot of results that are sure to be submitted by a growing population.
A quick scan of Twitter this morning shows that it is likely a wonderful response, both heartwarming and heartbreaking - so many people naming loved ones who have passed on and who won't be included in a census again. Parents putting the identities of lost children on paper in an official capacity, naming those who never got the chance to be named or who will never grow up.
Many more are acknowledging adored pets, both living and passed, putting into writing forever the absolute joy and love that these animals have brought to peoples' lives, and their importance.
Others are creative - I've seen some people ponder what would happen if they confessed to a crime; someone else had written some erotic fiction. There are plenty of political statements, many indictments of our society and government. Many accounts of what it's been like to live through a global pandemic and to witness a war in Europe. I would give my right arm to be the person who gets to read them all and collate them to keep them safe so that our descendants will have a rich tapestry of social history to study and enjoy.
By a quick calculation, if my eldest has a baby at, say, 30, then my 83-year old grandchild will be able to access the absolute wealth of information that was committed to paper across Ireland last night. And as 2022 was unimaginable to our grandparents and great grandparents back in 1922, 2122 is inconceivable to us. I would love to be able to see how they will live. Instead, I'll have to be content with showing them our lives and in that way forge a connection across the coming century, maybe finding out that we have something in common after all.
Today is International Women’s Day. Also today, eleven years ago, my mother died. So I find myself with a lot to think about this morning.
She never met the four, beautiful, joyful little girls that are my daughters – daughters that will grow up in a world where the equality of the population of half the planet is not as it should be. Where it seems to be regressing or, indeed, to have never progressed. I don’t doubt my own good fortune – my education, my situation, and the freedom of choice that I have. But there has been plenty of inequality in my life – subtle, ingrained, socially accepted inequality. And, socially accepted or not, it doesn’t mean that the world is as it should be for women, something that grows more and more evident to me every single day, despite my first world privilege. Not just this morning, I find myself looking at the world and thinking that it’s not the one that I want for my girls.
I don’t want them to grow up to doubt themselves, or feel inferior. I want them to feel equal with other humans, and fearless in their pursuit of what they want out of this short life.
I want them to understand that success does not just mean bucks in the bank; that it should mean first and foremost fulfilment, contentment and a determination to find their own brand of happiness; and that failure is not the end of something, just an indicator that a change needs to follow.
I want them to know that life is not a competition, and that it's fine to not compete if they don't wish to; to realise that their strengths and their weaknesses form pieces of a puzzle that will eventually click into place with the complementary strengths and weaknesses of others. If the pieces don’t fit, then they should move on and keep trying until they do.
I want them to grow up assured that they cannot and will not, as long as I have breath in my body, be controlled by an organisation who will decide the place for them is locked out of sight from the ‘decent’ members of society, to be degraded, belittled and abused, their neglected babies deemed waste and tossed into septic tanks, unworthy of remembrance; their dreams and the hopes, to which they are entitled, dismissed as shameful or invalid, their lives utterly destroyed by the actions of those who crave and think that they hold righteous power.
I want them to be able to decide exactly what is the right thing for them to do with their own bodies – not have to follow laws created by individuals who have no experience, or right to even consider the subject, much less legislate for it, and who lack the most basic humanity and compassion.
I want them to live without the fear of being casually assaulted because such things are okay, and brushed off as ‘locker room talk’, condoned by powerful leaders. And I want a world where it isn’t their responsibility to take the blame when they have done nothing wrong. I want them to grow up in a world where it is absolutely unacceptable for them to be told to ‘lighten up’ or called ‘frigid’ or ‘a slut’, or to feel that they do not, for one second, hold the power in their sexual choices.
I want them to be supported by other women – not to have their everyday choices judged or belittled – their appearance, their diet, their career; whether they choose to have children at 19 or 39 or at all, and if they do, whether or not they choose to breastfeed, co-sleep, to stay at home, or go out to work, or make whatever choice they feel is right for them and their children.
I want them to know that they can make mistakes and not be defined by them, but learn from them without being haunted by them.
I want them to be kind, to look on the world with compassion, to contribute in some way to making good things happen, but I want them to know that it is okay to do this quietly – that not everything has to be a crusade, and if it is done without ‘likes’, that it is still valid.
I want them to grow up in a world where people have taken responsibility for the planet so it has been protected for them. I want science to be permitted to explore ways to fight disease and to make human achievement something that makes this world better for its peoples.
I want them to grow up in a world of tolerance and acceptance, but never to tolerate or accept what is blatantly wrong.
I want them to know that they are entitled to love and to be loved, adored and cherished and to never settle for anything less. To know that they are valid and valued.
This, for starters, is what I want I want for my girls. To know that they are equal to live as they wish. And that if they live respectfully of others, then they too deserve, without reservation, respect in return.
By men and women alike.
And so the Glamour list of the 50 Sexiest Men 2012 is up on the noticeboard and I have to admit it’s giving me urges: There’s a Kerryman at number four in the shape of Michael Fassbender; War Horse star, Tom Hiddleston, is at two; ‘Shameless’ star James McAvoy at nine. Oh yes, there’s urges alright. To make some soup, take some temperatures, force feed them casseroles and knit them woolly jumpers. Because for 2012, it seems that sick is the new sexy.
Okay, for the most part they’re just a bit peaky. Slightly off colour. In need of a Sanatogen. The word ‘sick’ should be reserved for the holder of the number one slot. The person for whom the majority of over 40,000 voters plumped. The sexiest man in the world for the second year running. A man who looks so ill, I’m not even sure whatever’s he’s got is still catchable in the twenty first century. Method vampire actor, Robert ‘Pale’ Pattinson.
At 12, there’s Ian Somerhalder who also plays a vampire; Taylor Lautner who plays a werewolf in some vampire movies; Alexander Skarsgard - you can see where I’m going with this. Obviously it’s hot to be undead. And immeasurably intense-looking. The majority of the top twenty look as though they couldn’t even bring themselves to attempt a bit of frisk because they’re so busy staring into the middle distance, brooding, then taking a sigh break before returning to brooding.
There’s a distinct absence of the traditional favourites - no Clooney or Pitt. Depp is third but even he’s not all that much fun since he morphed into an elderly Japanese lady. There’s lots of terrifyingly worked-at muscle but no sporting types - the first sighting of anyone who looks like they’ve as much as played keepy-uppy is at ten with Henry Cavill followed by Cory Monteith from Glee. There’s lots of chiselled beauty of course, and stubble and cheekbones you could shave parmesan with, but not a lot of sexy giggling potential. No one who might put their underpants on their head and do a funny dance - Robert Downey Jnr (6), perhaps. Definitely not Tom Hardy (20). As fine a physical example of manhood as you’re ever likely to lay eyes upon. But quite frankly terrifying.
Of course there are names in there that tickle my fancy - I’m a Cumberbitch (Position five) and that’s okay. There’s Firth and Tennant. Let’s skip, however, over all of One Direction, shall we? And hope that, at 49, Bieber’s might drop off the edge next year. Because let’s face it, the urge to spit on a tissue to wash a guy’s cheek is an urge too far. And, funnily enough, not all that sexy.
I am in shock. I've just figured out that when Dallas first hit TV screens I was five years old. Pigtails were de rigeur, I hadn't yet made my communion money and was roughly the same height as Lucy. When it finished, I was in college – that's a whole lifetime spent with a family that wasn't my own. An amoral Texan oil baron, his goody-two-shoes brother, his ever-so-slightly intoxicated missus, his mama and roughly half the actors who have ever appeared in anything – ever - including Brad Pitt and the guy from Show Boat.
Dallas was as much part of a 1980's Irish childhood as sandwiches wrapped in bread packets and fizzle sticks. Play me the theme tune - those swirling violins; and show me the opening credits – remember the helicopter reflected in the mirrored building? And then the screen splitting three ways as each cast member appeared 'In Alphabetical Order'? Ah Lorimar Productions, how you were spoiling us in those heady days when soap opera was the devil's entertainment!
Of course no one, my age was allowed to stay up for Dallas. News Editor at Cork's Red FM, Lana O'Connor might spend her days chasing hard stories in 2012, but from 1978 onwards she was the one being chased; “I remember being sent up to bed and slowly climbing the stairs as the theme tune was playing”, she says; “With my mother shouting up after me that it was for adults only – ah innocent Ireland!”
Radio producer Venetia Quick remembers the Pam and Bobby disco scene – check it out online. If you're not watching from behind a cushion at the end you are made of steel.
Can We Start Again author, Shirley Benton, recalls how Pam's waist just seemed to decrease in size every time she appeared on screen...for a nation of kids who went to bed at half seven, we all seem to have awfully detailed memories of that little slice of Texas pie!
A quick check amongst friends produces a lot of happy – and sometimes plain weird – memories.
Like how small Lucy actually was, the prevalence of shoulder pads and the fact that with all that money, everyone in the whole family was crammed in to the one house. And it only had one TV.
For me, it was impossibly tight jeans and big buckles – how you could comfortably wrangle a sandwich, never mind a steer in that lot? And Sue Ellen's quivering lips – a memory shared fondly by many. While everyone else delivered their lines in precise, meaningful staccato bursts, she managed to turn everything she said into a badly – dubbed soap-opera-within-a-soap-opera, adding roughly a thousand extra syllables to each word. But for heavens sakes who could blame her for being a touch tipsy? No one in that house ever finished a drink. They'd pop the lids off the decanters, pour a glass of what looked like delicious TK Red Lemonade, raise it to their lips...and then put it straight back down again. She didn't have a drink problem – she was just trying to keep on top of the washing up. After all, Theresa, the maid, was so busy carrying that massive telephone around after Miss Ellie that someone had to chip in with the housework.
Of course by 1986 when Bobby stepped out of that shower, it had completely jumped the shark. How ridiculous, everyone said, but had no one noticed they'd had a temp in for Miss Ellie for a whole season once? Dallas laboured on for another five years of Oil Barons Balls and shovings-in-the-pool, ending with a particularly David Lynch-esque finale involving JR, a bottle of (what I took to be) TK Raspberry, a typically wide-eyed Bobby and the Devil. Yes, the Devil. Of course.
For me, Dallas is firmly part of 1980's Ireland – when families sat down together to watch in a land of two-channels; where absolutely everyone talked about it at school the following day, when we only ate packet soup, had flock wallpaper covers on our copies and onions didn't come in red. And in the ad breaks we didn't realise that those women eating the Flakes were doing anything remotely saucy and Big Bad John said 'Oh me aching back!' - commercials that we're sure to remember because by the time someone eventually volunteered to get up and change the channel in a disgruntled fashion, there was no point because Dallas was back on. And besides which, there was nothing else to switch over to.
Dallas 2012 won't be the same – we know that for sure. Christopher and John Ross are all muscle-bound and appear to favour the smaller, more practical belt buckle. JR looks old and Bobby's married to the dead voiceover lady from Desperate Housewives.
Plus, we'll probably record it on our digital boxes and maybe fit it in between Homeland and Mad Men. We might buy it on box set and gorge on an entire series over a weekend. Who knows if we'll even watch?
And this time around, if JR gets shot, we, as a nation, probably won't even go to the bother of putting car stickers up. And I can safely bet that no one will release a single about it. All together now - “Who Shot JR Ewing...Who shot old JR down...”.
I've had to turn the radio off. It's getting me too excited – people recounting their memories of Germany '88 and Italia '90. The ghostly echo of Maire Ni Braonain's plaintive 'Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole.....' bringing a nostalgic tear to my eye.
I cannot get excited. It is not allowed. If I do what everyone else is doing – bunt my house, buy some nice crisps, open a beer or order a pizza. If I so much as twitch with an inkling of enthusiasm, we will lose. The stars will re-align themselves, destiny will cock a snook of some sort and the Group of Death will become the Group of Utter Annihilation. Croatia will not only defeat us, but they will eat our flesh and then come for our firstborn.
Sport works like this. If I remain disinterested, we win. If I'm supportive of our efforts then we won't. Thus it was, and thus it always will be. If you need the team you support to score, the horse you're cheering to cross the line first, then please ask me to leave the room. Some of the greatest sporting moments of all time have taken place after I've excused myself to nip to the loo and some of our crushing defeats have happened simply because I've uttered those words of doom; “C'mon Ireland”.
I am now of the belief that our success in '88 and '90 were because of two things. In the summer of 1988, I was doing my Inter Cert. And in the summer of 1990 it was the Leaving. Three things, actually - when Bonner saved Timofte's kick, I was doing my Matric. (Does that even exist anymore?) The second my last exam was over and I thought, finally, I can settle down and revel in this incredibly uplifting experience, it was as if it somehow released Toto Schillaci into the universe whereby he brought about our swift and immediate downfall.
So no. I'm not interested in Euro 2012. I can't be bothered. No, seriously, I can't. If we're to stand any chance of justifying the amount, as a nation, we've spent on car flags in the last month, then I must not be allowed to so much as touch the remote control when Ireland play. I must lock myself away with a book, or a documentary about architecture, or the box set of a Danish cop show.
And why is it so imperative that I'm kept away from any involvement whatsoever? Because we need this badly. In the same way as we need an Ark, we need something positive to happen pretty soon before we all die of despair. Not to put any pressure on Trap and the lads but they're our last hope – we're broke, we're grumpy, we're cold and wet. We need something to unify us, to make us jump in the air, stand shoulder to shoulder with neighbour and complete stranger alike. To make us smile again.
And it has to be soccer – somehow, inexplicably and unfairly, the magic doesn't work quite as well no matter how well, say, the rugby team does, or how many medals Katie Taylor brings home. There's just something about football – eleven men, many of whom are there purely by dint of the fact that their grannies were conceived in Kiltimagh; who understand the words of the national anthem about as well as their manager understands the entire English language; who have the hopes of an entire nation literally at their feet.
I admit that I am the fairest of fairweather fans. I know little about the beautiful game other than that it's called the beautiful game. But it's stating the obvious to say that Euro 2012, and Ireland's place in it, is about so much more than just sport. It's hopes and dreams and a quite terrifying level of nostalgia.
There's a worry that we've gotten just a tad overexcited about all this, that too much is riding on it, that the shadow of something that happened over twenty years ago is hanging just that bit low over the 2012 squad. But do we really care? Crashing disappointment is always just around the next corner for Ireland but for now, this is all we've got so we're making the absolute most of it.
So enjoy it everyone – I'll do my bit by staying well out of the way, much as the longing to shake a shamrock will grow overwhelming at the first strains of Amhran na bhFiann. Or 'Blahblahdafleen' as many of our players might mouth it. You never know, we might just get our soccer mojo back again, create another heady summer of memories to sustain us through the winter and all the way to Brazil in 2014. And if we can do that, then we're unstoppable. We might even win Eurovision again.
Samantha Brick and Mary Beard have something in common – they are each passionate about a special subject. Beard is an expert on that most influential of civilisations – Ancient Rome. And Brick? Well she's at it again. Banging on and on about her incomparable beauty. I'd actually love to tap her on the head to see if she makes a) a hollow clunk because she's just shallow or b) a dull thud because she's thick.
Brick has tottered in on her heels to the current controversy over Mary Beard's appearance. Beard, you see, is a history professor who looks a bit like, well, a history professor. In her TV series, Meet The Romans, she pedals around the Eternal City like a spider-legged Madame Arcati clambering overground and underground, sweeping things to get a better look at them, carting bits of ancient marble around – her intention, she said, was to make Rome speak and that's exactly what she's done, sweeping the viewer along on a tsunami of knowledge equalled only by infectious enthusiasm.
But why on earth am I talking about a TV show that could actually teach us something when the more pressing subject of Mary Beard's appearance is still of utmost importance? Her long unfettered grey hair, so-called 'tombstone teeth', the wild expressions. Beard's uniform is some sort of shapeless black shift worn over a pair of dusty leggings and accompanied by a crimson raincoat.
If someone hadn't pointed it out in the first place I wouldn't have blinked an eyelid at Mary Beard's appearance. She looks exactly like she should. Naturally, Brick has a problem with it. You see, it appears she had a Very Important Job once, in Television and that means she must know these things. She was even 'urged' once to have a career in front of the camera, apparently. Oh, how we have been denied. Poor appearance is a 'visual impediment' to a career apparently. Investing in your face is investing in your future. Such insight.
“While there is no denying that Ms Beard is a supremely intelligent and fiercely ambitious woman, there is absolutely no chance of her becoming a successful broadcaster in prime-time slots on flagship TV channels”, continues the oracle that is Brick. “The plain truth is that Ms Beard is too ugly for TV”.
She's absolutely right of course. There's no denying that the Professor of Classics at Cambridge and Classics Editor at the Times Literary Supplement would never get a job fronting something prime-time and educational like, say, Take Me Out or The Love Machine.
If Brick had her way, it seems, all TV presenters would be a composite of Cat Deely, Tess Daly and Holly Willoughby. Stunning, slim, well-dressed and perfectly turned out blondes. Just like.......
I'm not sure, however, if Meet the Romans with Samantha Brick would work very well. Ancient artefacts would just crumble when confronted with her assets. Frescoes would flake, the vomitorium would evaporate. Those Romans aren't prepared for such radiance you know. You didn't see that particular ancient civilisation getting into a tussle over Helen of Troy.
Best to get rid of all non-amazing TV presenters then. In that case, most of RTE could just clear their desks. Marty Morrissey would probably be imprisoned under the Brick regime. Perhaps she'd let some people stay? Bryan Dobson maybe, but only if he agreed to be filmed in silhouette with a distorted voice. Like a terrorist. Or someone who's given all his friends food poisoning at his barbeque.
It's such a shame to write about Mary Beard in the context of her appearance and because Brick has been goaded into passing her vapid, attention-seeking 'judgement' on a woman who has more appeal in her gnarled, dusty, broken-nailed little finger than Brick has in her entire body. If we're going to judge books by covers then I know who I'd rather see striding into the lecture hall on Day One of my history degree. And I certainly know who'd be more fun on a night out. In Episode Two of Meet The Romans, Beard quotes Tiberius Claudius Secundus who says that “Baths, wine and sex ruin your body”. She turns to the camera with a grin and continues; “But they're what makes life really worth living”. It's unclear whether or not she's still quoting old Tiberius but her filthy snigger definitely shows that she agrees.
Brick's not an original of course. Women with overinflated opinions of themselves have existed even in ancient Roman times. The irony of Beard reading from another of her dusty marble slabs about a character who called herself 'Madame Gorgeous' doesn't go unnoticed.
And she's gracious too. Beard has continued to urge viewers to simply watch the show – after all it's her passion and she's put time, effort and real love into making it. And as for the comments about her appearance? Beard says she's not going to lose any sleep over what she's deemed a 'silly fuss'. Clever lady.
I'm all for history. I'm all for making the most of opportunity. I'm all for exercising choice but it's impossible not to be unsettled when hearing someone make the following statement: 'I have been educated out of the natural reproductive function'. Come on Dr Lucy Worsley, give us a break!
Dr Lucy is a leading historian, chief curator for the Historic Royal Palaces in the UK, has a degree and a PhD. She is pretty, slim and is knee deep in booksmarts but no matter how I admire her achievements and want to give her the benefit of the doubt, her statements in an interview last week, in or out of context, just leave me cold.
The good Doctor is childless by choice. Good for her. When she says “I just had other priorities with what I wanted to do with my time”, then that's absolutely fine. Contrary to common belief those of us who have reproduced – or intend to – don't frown disapprovingly on our sisters who have decided otherwise. I'm not going wag a finger and tell them they're doomed to a life of miserable solitude in their old age or that they'll always feel unfulfilled, apparently. I won't warn them that their cats won't make them bedtime cocoa – my children probably won't either - quite frankly they'll probably just give me headaches bickering over who's going to get the silver teapot.
However, to hint that you've had just too much schooling to waste it on bearing offspring is just not on. Worsley adds that not having children by choice is a “...counter-cultural thing to do. And I quite enjoy being part of a beleaguered minority” - does that mean that she gets a kick out of being castigated by all us 'breeders' and our parental-based judgement? Oh come on, Doc! You say 'counter-cultural' like it's the suffragette movement, or punk but all it is, is your business and I have no problem with you minding it, but please don't inflict intellectual snobbery on us or play on some perceived victim status. Don't be that girl.
Don't feed the ignorant perception out there that parents, especially working ones, are snot-covered, puree-caked, frazzled, judgmental, demented, disorganised, screechy, forgetful, exhausted and a danger to ourselves and society. That by exercising our right to reproduce we have dropped our educations into a teeming nappy bin and put our brains in the freezer. I wonder if super-achieving mums like Michelle Obama, Miriam O'Callaghan, Mary Robinson, Aung San Suu Kyi and Worsley's fellow TV historian Mary Beard would agree?
The truth is that regardless of background, having children is an uncredited fourth-level education. There is no-one more organised, sharp, and well-prepared than someone who spends their days staying one step ahead of children who are literally wily, manipulative, self-centred and downright clever.
The degree modules include: Negotiation (with the Acutely Unreasonable), Blue-sky thinking, Improvisation (suggested reading includes 'Dealing with the Woodsman' by Snow White), Acting, the Art of Storytelling, Nutrition and Digestion, Technical Studies (including buggies, cots, tiny pig figures, one-piece sleepsuits), Athletics (leave Bolt spinning in your tailwind at the distant cry of 'potty!'), Comedy, Diagnostics, Medicine (Calpol or A&E?), Con Artistry, Advanced Interpretation and Development of Psychic Skills, Choices, Morals, and Life-Affecting Decision Making. Don't tell me that you don't need some sort of brains to raise children.
To state the obvious, as if having children wasn't challenge enough, many of us do a day job, try to improve our lot and pursue interests either for future benefit or just to keep sane – we're just people with small and large children who are handing in theses, studying until the small hours, running marathons, singing in choirs, contributing to book clubs, getting fit, acquiring new skills, writing creatively. We're all just doing our best and making the most of our chosen paths – just like Lucy Worsley.
“I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy”, says Worsley. Again, good for her. But just because I've embraced the 'natural reproductive function' doesn't mean that I don't.
I chose to have children. I enjoy making them laugh helplessly, enjoy seeing their delight at new achievement, I enjoy a Johnson's-scented cuddle. I will never punch the air as hard as I did when I finally managed to potty train a disinterested three-year-old. I also enjoy books, TV, movies, good food, solitude and a full, hot cup of coffee. And when my children have grown then maybe I'll enjoy getting my own history PhD or maybe I'll just chill out – those choices are still open to me. And if having children isn't your choice – if devoting it to further education is - then that's absolutely fantastic. Just don't get all superior because your intellectual purity remains unsullied by so much as a possety shoulderblade. I thank my lucky stars every day for my children and my choices and if yours is not to have them, then thank yours too - not everyone is fortunate enough to have those choices in the first place.
It won't have slipped under your radar that the 2012 Olympics kicks off in just over a hundred days. What might have done, however, is the brilliant comedy Twenty Twelve, continuing its current mini-run on BBC 2 this Friday night. The thoughts of yet another mockumentary about the daily grind in an office might leave you wondering where you've seen that done before, but don't let it put you off.
Where The Office revelled in bullying and pranks, cartoon characters and embarrassment, Twenty Twelve is a much classier affair, following the fictional Olympic Deliverance Committee as they take charge of, well, delivering the Olympics. It's one of the more believable comedies out there - if you work, or have worked, in an office, then take a glance and see how long it is before you recognise someone. No one's hiding staplers in jellies here but Twenty Twelve is the sharpest take on office (pardon my phrasing) bullshit that you're likely to see this year.
Everyone's favourite pater familias, Hugh Bonneville's Ian Fletcher, is the man for whom the word 'beleaguered' was coined. Well-intentioned but eternally put-upon, he's the boss who cycles his fold- up bike through London every morning and then sets about another day serving as head of a team of complete idiots. Stoic to the last, he keeps calm and carries on, suffering fools – if not gladly, then stoically. Everything's 'good', or 'fine' or 'great'. And it will be, once he figures out, again, just how to get out of yet another fine mess with everyone's reputations intact.
To sooth his troubled brow, there's Sally – Ian's PA, played by the brilliant and completely underrated Olivia Coleman. Less faithful lapdog and more full-on Grayfriars Bobby, Sally has everything that Ian needs right to hand – pastries, coffee, plasters, unconditional love... Coleman plays Sally with such longing that it makes Tim and Dawn look indifferent to each other – there won't be a Christmas party in Twenty Twelve of course, but that doesn't stop us hoping for the moment that Ian might just decide to throw caution with the wind and allow himself to be smitten reciprocally.
Ostensibly, the ODC are there to organise the greatest sporting event in the world, but in reality, their role seems increasingly confined, like real life, to simply not causing offence.
The ODC staff's job titles are a particular PC joy - Amelia Bullmore's Kay Hope, Head of Sustainability, hates the term 'legacy' so much, that the commission has had to appoint a brand new Head of Legacy to do exactly the same job. Karl Theobald's Head of Infrastructure is little more than a traffic geek, a permanently hungry chimp given absolute power over London's transport systems. The team is completed with Vincent Franklin's consummate northerner and negativity- monger as Head of Contracts.
It's Jessica Hynes' Siobhan Sharpe, however, who is the undisputed big laughs character. Head of Brand through her PR company 'Perfect Curve', she's completely clueless. Her concept of a mindblowing 'audio logo' for the games consisted of a single note played four times in quick succession. She speaks volumes but says absolutely nothing, trading in that 'okay, yeah, right, so....' speak that seems to denote enthusiasm among sterotypical, vapid PR types. Uber trendy clothes, phone fixed on with lobe-glue, she's a subtle, modern day Edina Monsoon but so close to the bone that when she opens her mouth to contradict herself (and believes whatever comes out of it 'tewtally', as she'd say) we can almost hear a crunch.
David Tennant plays the voiceover and guest stars have ranged from Blackadder's Tim McInerney to Smack The Pony's Darren Boyd. Even Seb Coe has played himself.
This isn't laugh-out-loud comedy. It's been described as 'nibbling satire'. It won itself a British Comedy Award in 2011, probably due in part to its perfect timing – in the very first episode the ODC's countdown clock – which counted backwards from the future – had a disastrous launch, on the same day as the real life equivalent flopped in London. It's not necessarily displaying psychic ability to foresee that there might be technical problems with such a piece of equipment, but it's astute observation and that's the beauty of Twenty Twelve.
So far this series, the team have managed to stave off an Algerian Boycott and diffuse a potential religious timebomb caused by the fact that the 'Shared Belief Centre' didn't face Mecca. Tomorrow night, they face a challenge closer to home – pairing the Olympics with the Queen's Jubilee. That'll be the Jubilympics then.
It won't have you rolling round the floor, but it will certainly raise a smile. A final series is scheduled for closer to the start date of the real Games so there's still time to get hooked. If you fancy a half hour of gentle, intelligent, observational comedy that really has nothing to do with sport in the slightest, then set the planner now. Twenty Twelve won't be around forever
The Blaa wants them badly; Reports have it that Timoleague Brown Pudding didn't find them much good; There are calls to have them awarded to Wexford Strawberries or Listowel Mutton Pie. They're also causing a row between the Czechs, Germans and Austrians over a wafer.
PDO's, PGI's and TSG's, in a nutshell, are special status symbols awarded by the EU to quality, speciality foods exclusive to particular regions. Newcastle Brown Ale, for example. Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma Ham etc. Ireland has four approved products; Imokilly Regato Cheese, Clare Island Organic Salmon, Connemara Hill Lamb and Timoleague Brown Pudding. Sorry, that was my stomach rumbling.
Ireland is food heaven these days. Waterford's Gourmet Festival kicks off this weekend; Jamie Oliver launches the Taste of Dublin in June – event listings all over the country are all about food, food, food. There is so much good stuff out there that we should have fifty of those EU accolades. So why don't we?
Two words. Irish Stew.
Not only is the oil-slick-with-chunks that is our so-called national dish a problem; there's also that other national offence: Boiled Bacon and Cabbage. A vegetable that smells like a stuffy classroom full of nine year olds accompanied by a meat the colour and consistency of human gums.
Think of Italy. Picture pastas, sauces, pizza. The USA – steaks, burgers, ribs. Even the UK - ploughman's lunches, yorkshire puds. Though the realities of menus overseas can differ somewhat from the expectations – Tuscan boar anyone? Tripe and Onions? - it's all about perception. The French eat only snails, of course! Not amazing breads and cheeses, wines and champagne, then? Ireland's in the same boat - except no one can think of the good stuff. Our image abroad is as boozers who slurp down a plate of slop for soakage before resuming with a dip in the whiskey barrel. That's really getting old. But whose fault is it?
A quick straw poll on Facebook reveals that when people of Irish origin are asked what they think is classic traditional Irish food, they automatically respond with stew followed closely by bacon and cabbage and trailed drastically by stuff that might actually taste good - soda bread, white pudding, barmbrack, coddle, colcannon and Tayto sandwiches for example. “Red or brown meat and fish on Fridays” was the response from one food-traumatised respondent. Irish people abroad responded with nostalgia. “Irish Breakfast, egg, sausage, rashers & white & black pud, brown soda bread with Kerrygold butter” came the rote response of someone who has lived in the States for many years. I fancy she was salivating as she wrote it.
Before you accuse me of being a food snob, I've hated stew for longer than I knew any better. (When the alternative was Marietta biscuits bound with an inch of butter to ensure butter worms when you squeezed). Look at this recipe from an early Canadian cookbook - “Take the feet and legs of a pig... Singe off the hair and ... remove the toes by scorching. Put down in cold water and cook slowly for three hours...cut up nine or ten good sized potatoes and add to your stew...stir frequently with a spoon. What remains...pour into a mould and it will become a jelly, which is nice eaten cold for breakfast”.
Yum yum, pigs bum. This is what we've exported! This explains why there is no reputation for Irish cuisine, for heavens sakes! And don't tell me it's 'rustic and traditional'. That only works in Italy when it conjures up images of Monica Bellucci nibbling seductively on a hare. Not in Ireland. It just makes me think of drawings from Punch magazine in the C19th. Old tractor parts are rustic and traditional. I don't see anyone wanting to eat them.
Swiss Tony might say that Irish food is like a beautiful woman. Like a Seoige. Except no one can see her because someone's put June Rodgers in front. A quick scan today through some of Ireland's Bridgestone restaurant menus show that only a handful carry stew, and bacon is rarely served with its heinous co-dependent, cabbage. It's true that these traditional foods have a place. There's nothing like a hang sandwich on crusty bread after all, it's time that they stopped defining us. Not when there is so much more to offer.
Irish food needs to get sexy. Kirsty Allsopp tweeted last week that she loves Barry's Tea, for example. Now there's a golden moment. Maybe An Bord Bia could plan a calendar for 2013? Michael Fassbender and Clonakilty Sausages? Bressie with a Blaa? Although I draw a line, with the utmost respect, through Brendan Gleeson and some artfully placed smoked salmon.
Here comes another summer of food festivals. Let's make the most of everything that's amazing about Irish food and who knows, it might be the year that really standout grub takes centre stage and we can finally put corned beef back in the corner where it belongs.
So, what did you spend your Easter Monday doing? Eating roast chicken? Stuffing your face full of chocolate eggs? I took all that chicken-related stuff a bit further as I found myself at the National Poultry Races in Carlingford, County Louth.
I hadn't gone deliberately – while enjoying an enormous pub lunch I found myself reading the brochure that had been left considerately at my place setting and thought, well, as I'm here...
One thing led to another and so I set off in search of the racing action – it wasn't hard to find. Carlingford is set in something of a natural amphitheatre what with the hills behind and the sea in front so the sounds of The Birdie Song floating on the air were easy to follow and I soon found myself leaning on a poultry-protective fence along with plenty of other excited punters, awaiting the start of the fourth race of the day and taking a moment to brush up on the rules.
“The handlers line up with their birds”. So far so good. Five under tens stood there, perched (sorry) on the edge of action, their hands filled with fat feathered friends.
“The starter then says 'Ready, Steady' and at this point the bird is held gently with its feet on the ground. The starter then says 'GO!'”. Here, according to the rules; “the handler is allowed to stand behind the bird and shooooooooo (sic) her/him to the line”.
At least that's what's supposed to happen. What actually happens, is this – five kids and five chickens all scramble around (sorry), to no apparent intent in a very small corner of a long racing track all shouting 'hoosh', and 'go' and 'cluck' and suchlike. At this point you begin to realise that chickens aren't natural racers. I have seen shuttlecocks with more determination and a better sense of direction. One of the rules states that if for any reason the bird flies out of the enclosure, before the finish then it's disqualified. I think that's what happened to Goldie McNugget who, in a mighty leap, landed on the buggy of some unfortunate infant, scaring the aforementioned infant stiff with much flapping of redundant wings before he was wrangled back to safety. A quick check of the programme shows that Goldie McNugget was sponsored by 'Gerard Long Van Takeaway'. I'm not sure if that means vehicles or burgers, but if it were the latter, then I fear Goldie McNugget may have lived up to his name by the time the last race was run.
Eventually, although I'm not sure how, a winner was declared (Latvian Girl, if you must know), the fowl were gathered up and a small boy trotted off triumphantly with an Easter Egg. Later, I spotted a few of these about town. The elite, the hot shot squad of poultry racing. It was the most fun thing I've watched, possibly ever.
The weather seemed to affect attendance somewhat but then again, torrential rain and freezing cold tend to do that. The cloudbursts, however, added a special Craggy Island sort of feel to proceedings and I should hope that next year someone will sponsor a Tunnel of Goats.
The Taafe's Castle National Poultry Races is surprisingly good fun and a real example of a town getting behind something silly and different. Local pubs, shops, restaurants, taxi companies etc. sponsor either races or birds because it's not just confined to chickens, you know. All poultry can participate - Geese, roosters – ducks, I've learned, are far better at racing than chickens. In that they can make it from one end of the course to the next which is pretty impressive under the circumstances. There was even a poultry-themed soundtrack piped out to entertain the crowds and inspire the runners between races. Until you've heard the Mission Impossible theme performed by Rhode Island Reds, you haven't heard music.
So what else did I learn? Training techniques? Breeds? Feeds? Seeds? As it happens, nothing. I was just there for the fun. I'm not Nationwide.
And brilliant as it was, I began to think of possible improvements. This sport needs a champion, a role model for our times. An Ayrton Henna, if you will. What about recruiting squirrel jockeys to keep the chickens in line, for example? Children clearly can't manage it. Why, I'd pay to see a squirrel whipping a Bantam to the finish line.
We could try celebrity poultry racing? Who wouldn't want to see Francis Brennan giving a Silkie a pep talk, or Anne Doyle goose-whispering? And why stop at Carlingford? Ireland, even? There's international potential in this sport and so long as the games are held in the Southern Hemisphere every winter, no transport costs for the participants. Recession-busting as well as entertaining!
I would have suggested Dave Lamb as a voiceover as well but there was already one there who ran a commentary as dry as a bag of birdseed. And a starting pistol probably wouldn't be fair. Funny, perhaps, but PETA might object.
Well done to Carlingford for following up the National Leprechaun Hunt with the Poultry Races. It's all good, clean, family fun and the animals are responsibly treated. It's a bit of nonsense and whimsy for a Bank Holiday Monday, real village green entertainment for a country that needs a touch of silliness to cheer us all up. So what's next? Pig racing seems popular, for instance. And the mind boggles at what we could get cows to learn.....there's a whole summer of this sort of thing coming up so forget Macnas and the Rose of Tralee – for real public entertainment, see what's happening locally with farm animals in a competitive capacity this summer. I can assure you, you won't regret it.