Home….

This post was written for Week 6 of the writing project The Great Cake* Experiment Topic was ‘Home’. Why not take a look?
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Home is … still where your parents’ house is, because you haven’t yet managed to decide where you want your own bricks and mortar, and nowhere will ever be completely ‘home’ until you can arrive home with a chair you found in a skip without it being binned as soon as you let it out of your sight and you have complete authority over deciding what colour to paint the ceiling.

Home is … arriving after a long, exhausting drive late on a Friday night to the warmth of a wonderful welcome … the dog. Who couldn’t feel loved?

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Home is … tea with every meal, and at least one cup in between.

Home is … regressing to a teenage state of mind, but suppressing the urge to scream at your parents “you don’t understand me!” whilst simultaneously slamming the nearest door.

Home is … long chats with your mum, late into the night… realising how much she does understand you, marvelling at her quiet wisdom and wishing you could be there more often.

Home is … a somewhere you can lock yourself into your room and hide beneath the covers and cry until you can’t possibly cry any more, and not worry about anyone seeing you and trying to make you feel better. Then, when you emerge, there will be tea.

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Home is …. marvelling at the full sky of stars you only ever really see when lying wrapped in a duvet, lying on the trampoline in the back garden.

Home is … being woken by the birds in the soft, damp, grey morning.

Home is … wearing pyjamas until 6pm.

Home is… a short drive from the sea… the warm, wild and wonderful sea… miles of open space and angry waves… where cold rain stings your face and mats your curls, your lungs feel clean and you feel exhilarated and alive….

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Home is … truly, unashamedly letting your own self all hang out. No game face necessary.

Home is … laced with memories… that tree down the road you had a “house” in…the imaginary friends of childhood… the school up the road where you learned to read and write and grow a thick skin… the seashell necklaces… the long cycles on summer afternoons to climb the stone stairs in the derelict castle by the river… the teenage confidences shyly shared… the pain of unrequited teenage love… the agony of requited love… the blossoming of minds and missions.

Home is … no doorbell necessary… an open house. Where you know your neighbours’ names, as well as their dogs’ names.

Home is … is blissful, dark silence in the night … sheer, ink-black peace.

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Home is… the one-fingered salute from the driver of every car you meet on “your road”. Whether they know you or not. In this context, “one-fingered salute” does not refer to an obscene gesture, rather a friendly acknowledgement that you exist, and are sharing the same space, and deserve to be acknowledged.

Home is … in you always …

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Why THAT Club Orange ad annoyed me

I’m sure most of you have already feasted your eyes on the orgy of faux bit-squeezing borderline soft porn that makes up the most recent Club Orange advertising effort. If you haven’t, do go right ahead and feast/hide your eyes right here. (I’m not really too fussed about adding the video to my blog – I think I’d feel a bit dirty. Please make sure to clean the screen afterwards….and you can take that any way you like.)

Yes, I know, I know. By talking about it, I’m contributing to the debate, generating buzz, giving them what they want, all that jazz. The only thing worse than being talked about, etc etc. While my profession involves lots of work based around advertising, I tend not to get on my soapbox about creatives, instead preferring to regard them as a necessary evil. The fact that the Club ad has made me feel strongly enough to put pen to paper surprises me, but I’m fascinated by the reaction it’s garnering across all the various spectrums, particularly in social media. The ad has “gone viral” it seems, which is what most savvy marketers apparently aspire to these days. But is it necessarily a good thing?

I have a number of issues with the Club Orange ad debate. I don’t really buy the “Diet Coke break” revenge argument that has cropped up so many times in its defence. Diet Coke ads are equally shit, equally lazy and equally sexist. I know Matthew McConaughy was happy to get his pecs out for the Dolce & Gabbana cause. I also recall another aftershave advert – the brand name escapes me – involving a naked man, and a leather couch (the meeting of which upset me greatly, I might add. Bum sweat on the sofa? No thanks.) We’ve all seen countless ads portraying men AND women purely as sexual objects. Sex sells, or so they say… but this is different.

Firstly, it’s the sheer lack of subtlety that gets me. It’s really not very … classy. Granted, this argument won’t stand up to much scrutiny in a reasoned debate about sexual objectification, but my instant reaction upon seeing this ad was to think, how well, …..cheap … it looks. It’s the advertising equivalent of Katie Price, isn’t it? All boobs, faux sex “appeal”, and very little substance. The ad sells using sex, in its lowest form, aimed at the lowest common denominator in the cheapest, most tabloid-esque manner possible – the type of manner that would make a red-light district window display look positively classy. All brawn, and no brains, and titillation (no pun intended) without fulfilment. Of course, procuring yourself some Club Orange may just provide alternative fulfilment… depends on what you’re into, I guess. On another level, this ad just irritates me no end – it has a “nails on a background” vibe about it and that contrived accent is already starting to grate, before it even hits the screen.

More importantly, however, I’m almost annoyed with the “actresses” featured, and their deliberate, unashamed provocativeness. I feel betrayed by them. Every day, we read about the ‘glass ceiling’ and witness first-hand the struggles women face in the workplace and on the world stage simply in order to be taken seriously and to progress in their chosen careers. Never mind that they shouldn’t have to fight harder, the fact is a lot of them do, and it is strong, powerful, intelligent women that I would prefer to be seen as representative of our gender – and of me. Then, you look at this ad, and read the (mostly male-generated) comments on YouTube, dissecting as they are the finer points of an ad featuring a row of boobs in tiny bra tops (their faces are barely shown, of course) designed to sell a soft drink, and you start to despair. Yeah, there’s a freedom of choice argument – women are free to do as they will with your bodies (mostly) and all that. But I can’t help thinking that women everywhere striving for true equality are being let down by the “actresses” in ads like these.

I’m conscious the opinions above might imply that I think all men are suckers for this low form of wit. I know the opposite to be true. What’s struck me about this palaver over the past few days is the amount of men I have observed rolling their virtual eyes at this and dismissing – nay, slating – the ad both for its lack of intelligence and its dearth of originality. The advert is clearly targeted towards young men, and I’ve noticed quite a few such men taking offence with the notion that advertising agencies still believe they are brain-dead enough to fall for such base concepts. Men object just as much as women to the fact that teenage boys and young men are being targeted using an ad that blatantly objectivises women, and that’s heartening, as is the level of condemnation for the ad by men on behalf of women. I think it’s born out of a realisation that objectivising and sexualising women to the extent where we’re almost watching soft porn before the watershed is wrong and unhealthy, particularly because in our media-saturated world it plays a massive part in skewing young people’s perceptions of each other’s gender at an impressionable age. All of this contributes to a greater malaise in society – and ultimately, on a more serious level, contributes in no small way to a culture where even violence against women, particularly sexual violence, is not regarded or treated with the seriousness it should be. I am in no way exaggerating when I say this. It all adds up.

On another note, having scanned through a number of the reactions on the internet over the past few days, I get the sense that most women actually don’t feel they can voice their annoyance with this ad, without being labelled. Even the stronger, more prolific, outspoken women I’m aware of in the spheres of media and journalism, seem to feel they need to qualify their objections with an “I’m no prude but…” or “You might think I’m being old-fashioned and conservative but…” and this is what really makes me sad. As women, the fact that we still appear to perceive ourselves in such a way that we don’t feel comfortable enough to voice our objections without prefacing them with a qualifier, says a lot about how we feel we are perceived – and at the risk of being controversial here – specifically by men, for articulating these concerns.  I won’t lose any sleep over this ad, but on a moral and ethical level I’m not happy about the level to which sex is used – across any industry – to reduce people to brainless, objectified, sexualised objects. I’m less happy about the fact that it appears to work, to an extent, but I’m most unhappy that I as a women should feel I need to justify my objection to it, for fear of being labelled a frigid old feminist. And yes, feminism is still, in this day and age, seen by many as a dirty word with negative connotations. Hysteria, even. There’s a lot of progress to be made yet.

Finally, I’d also like to note that this ad irritated me purely because I think it’s rubbish. It’s lazy, it’s boring, it’s clichéd and it’s been done to death already. Hunky Dorys got there before Club, Diet Coke before them, and if this ad was designed as a parody, as has been suggested, then it’s an abject failure. I can’t help but feel the agency responsible might have done a pretty great Irish brand a considerable disservice. In what I’m guessing is an effort to differentiate it from its biggest competitor Fanta, they have misfired, and by resorting to such a cliché-ridden, one-dimensional campaign, lacking in any subtle nuances or discernable humour, I wonder if they will cheapen the brand irreparably, and alienate a good proportion of their non-regular buyers.

I’ve no problem with a brand tailoring advertising in order to target a specific market, and indeed redefining their target market – it happens all the time, to good effect and is clever marketing – just look at Special K and Yorkie respectively for examples. But for a brand which had such great potential to shine in a much broader territory, and from a uniquely Irish position, at that – I can’t help wondering whether the agency, and Club themselves have shot themselves in the foot. It’s easy to drive brand equity down, but very, very difficult to reverse the damage.

Time will tell. But I know what I won’t be buying for a sugar rush from now on.

Simple pleasures in sunshine

This weekend just gone, I spent a day with a dear friend, driving and walking through the very best that North Mayo can offer. We walked for miles on the beautiful Enniscrone beach. We walked for mere steps on the smaller, peaveful cove at Ross Strand:

Just look at how clear the water is.

We drove through the rugged coastline of Lacken and Ballycastle, stopping to marvel at the wild, deserted beauty of Kilcummin Back Strand:

We topped it off with a visit to the most savage edge we could find:

The Twelve Apostles? We only need one.

And there we sat for hours, watching the sun dip in the sky. A perfect day.

Overheard Conversation

This post has been written for Week 4 of The Great Cake* Experiment. Why not take a look?
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If there is one thing I am grateful to the Great Cake* Experiment project for, it is that over the past few weeks since the adventure began, I have had to re-engage my cerebral muscles and put some thought into coming up with relevant posts. It’s been a while since I exercised my brain in a creative fashion, and I’m quickly coming to regard this time every week as a treat for the mind, a reward for more banal labours conducted over the course of the working week. This week, however, when trying to decide how to proceed, I drew a blank. Apart from the obvious, I didn’t come up with a clever narrative, or an engaging piece of fiction or even a tall tale of past conversations overheard (though I have, in my day heard one or two gems that would make your toes curl, oh yes). What I have realised, whilst racking my brains for some readable, even vote-winning wit, was that overhearing conversations features far more in our everyday lives than I’d ever realised.

I tried to approach this post from a number of different angles. Firstly, I considered all the times I have been stuck on some mode or other of public transport, hemmed in tight between the window, and my (due to my luck/irresistable magnetism, usually malodourous and/or oversized) co-passenger, listening to some imbecile four seats ahead regaling the bus or train with inane details of her holidays/family wedding, or some suit with an over-inflated ego asserting his authority over an unfortunate junior colleague within full earshot of at least three counties.

Upon recalling these occasions, and comparing  these assaults on my eardrums with the agony I feel every time I find myself pumping cash into the bottomless money pit that is my car, I feel vindicated in my decision to reject long-haul journeys on public transport and drive everywhere. (By ‘long-haul’ I mean anything that takes more than 30 minutes, and/or involves any kind of changeover). I’m convinced there is some mathematical formula or theorem of relativity dictating that the more inane the event being discussed, the higher the decibel level needed to discuss it. I firmly believe there should be some sort of (preferably painful) penalty imposed on such inconsiderate individuals for their complete disregard for the comfort and sanity of their fellow travellers and their unashamed levels of oblivion to resulting glares cast in their direction.  I considered re-telling one of these overheard tales as the basis for my post, but frankly, they were clearly all so mind-numbingly dull that I couldn’t recall any.

Secondly, I considered the angle of the conversation overheard in public toilet cubicles. I’m sure most of us at some stage of our lives have fallen victim to one of these overheard tête-à-têtes while we going about our business. Depending on the time of day, the location and often the amount of alcohol imbibed by the participants, the performance can provide varying levels of entertainment. Sometimes, you may even wish to join in, and again, depending on the measure of alcohol consumed, your opinion may even be welcomed enthusiastically (but only if the conversation is centring on some other poor unfortunate, and you are in agreement with the popular opinion.) The unfortunate downside of overheard conversations like these is that one wretched day as you are having some ‘you’ time in a toilet cubicle, you may find yourself as the subject, and the tone may not be generous, and no-one needs me to tell them how unpleasant that can be.  If you do ever find yourself in such an awkward position, I would heartily recommend that, rather than sit there sobbing into the toilet roll and waiting for the perpetrators to leave so you can plot your spiteful revenge in a cloud of victimhood and self-pity, you should quite brazenly march out there, wash your hands and join right in, and take gleeful pleasure in the discomfort of the instigators as they frantically attempt to backtrack. It is comforting to remember that in all likelihood, unless you are 16 years old, and are ensconced in the toilet cubicle for the sole purpose of consuming an illicit, smuggled naggin of vodka at a teenage disco, you are unlikely to find yourself in such a challenging situation, but in this day and age, you can never be too prepared.

I also, while searching for inspiration recalled times, many years ago – back in the Dark Ages, I think – where no-one owned a mobile phone, and conversations with friends and love interests could only be conducted either face-to-face or via the house landline. In my home, an extension line in the bedroom provided ample opportunity for an impatient parent to pick up the handset and interrupt either a riveting blow-by-blow analysis of the day at school or the whisperings of sweet romantic nothings from a new boyfriend by bellowing down the line from the other end of the house in a last-ditch effort to regain use of the line for more pressing matters. Recalling the calibre and cringe level of these overheard conversations, how I gaze enviously now upon my fifteen year-old sister with the array of communications gadgets she has at her disposal.

I considered the ‘voyeuristic’ nature of eavesdropping (what’s the aural equivalent of voyeuristic?). I contemplated the vast array of narrative and film that includes elements of eavesdropping. Shakespeare used the concept to great effect in many of his works, and he wasn’t alone. I learned that there are entire published academic papers dedicated to the psychology of eavesdropping. I reflected on the myriad of websites devoted to witticisms overheard – take Overheard in Dublin as a prime example of a wealth of  bizarre titbits of conversations overheard in this unfair city). I even remembered the kick I’d get while standing on the terraces at a GAA match and savouring the razor-sharp banter between supporters  (indeed, had I thought of this earlier in the evening, I could have written a short novel based on the belly laughs this has given me over the years). I wondered if we are all gossips at heart. Indeed, it dawned on me just how much of the information we glean on a daily basis stems from overheard conversations and made me conscious of my own behaviour in that regard. However, the thing that struck me most is that I never, until now realised just how much – whether we like to admit it or not – we all enjoy the occasional eavesdrop.

Out with the old….

Week 3 of the Great Cake* Experiment
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(Image: Morguefile.com)

The Art of Hoarding. The bane of many an overstuffed wardrobe, groaning attic, dusty garage and open-me-at-your-peril cupboard under the stairs, particularly in homes of a certain age. How many of us have at some point or another waded through a cold (or stiflingly hot) attic, watched warily on either side by rows of dusty, neglected boxes secured with parcel tape, hastily scribbled notes on the side, closed lids protecting their long-forgotten, musty contents? Who among us has not rifled through a crammed wardrobe full of relics from a younger age; impulse buys hanging, abandoned, labels still attached waiting in hope for that day their buyer will lose those stubborn “couple of pounds”? Time meanders on, and with it dust gathers and memories fade in these dark nooks and crannies of our homes and memories.

Spring arrives, and with it, the spring-cleaning enthusiasts. “It’s time to freshen up!” they cry. “Reclaim some living space!” “Allow energy to flow through your home!” “Out with the old!” And wearily, you may pick up your duster and your vacuum cleaner, and all the various paraphernalia, grimly determined to do a “good clear-out” and gain yourself some new space to eh, put more stuff in.

You begin, and you begin well. Before you know it, you’ve filled a black sack for the charity shop. You’re not sure about that jacket you just put in there, but you’ll leave it there for now – it’s a size too small after all, and besides, you’ve nothing that matches it. Be ruthless! Corduroy is SO three years ago. You add – not before administering a tender lingering caress – the shoes you wore to your debs  that  years ago that never quite fit and resulted in some rather spectacular week-long blisters. You discover the dress you wore that night and you smile… you’re transported back to that magical flurry of hairspray, butterflies, poorly applied fake tan and teenage traumas where times, had you only known it, were so much simpler. You decide you can’t bear to part with it, and reinstate it in its rightful place. That dress cost you six months worth of pocket money and days of agonising, and besides, your daughter (still just a twinkle in her as-yet-nameless, faceless daddy’s eye) might just wear it some day….

You move on to the bookshelves, where shockingly, there are still mementoes of your schooldays. You make a mental note to clean more often. The first thing you stumble upon is a mix tape you made when you were 17, dating from those heady days of false IDs and badly applied makeup when you started “going out out”. You look for a cassette player, and realise you don’t possess one any more. Fortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly in a house of this nature, there’s one in the attic somewhere. So up you clamber, and before long you are a teenager again, lost in the strains of Robert Palmer and The Eurythmics while you wander around the nightclub for a “lap”, guarding your vodka and orange fiercely while keeping a firm eye from on a distance upon the then-object of your affections. (Growing up in a small town, it took the big hits of the late 90s a while to reach us). You listen to Madonna and remember the sheer gut-wrenching, heart-crushing devastation of seeing the aforementioned object kissing someone else behind a pillar. Horrifically, you discover a diary from the same era. A colour-bound, dog-eared document of utter cringe, a shrine to your innocence and teenage angst. You read it and dissolve in the utter hilarity/mortification of your own tiny, all-consuming dramas. You berate your 17-year old self for being so goddamn serious and sensitive. You resolve to share these pearls of wisdom also with your own daughter if the day comes. And you place that document back on the shelf, knowing that you can’t just coldly discard those words, those pages so full of feeling. And there it sits – your own unashamed self-obsession bound in those pages forever.

You rediscover notes and letters from school friends, crammed with laughter and innocence and references to the local heroes of the time. Had the local GAA players only known the depths of appreciation that existed for their many talents… Your school yearbook. Printed emails from college friends. Cards commemorating milestone birthdays. Your very first Valentine card, and dusty pressed remains of the first red rose you ever received. Mementoes of trips taken – sunny days on the train to Dublin – what an adventure – fuelled by soft drinks and nail polish fumes. Photographs – boxes and boxes of photographs – taken long before the days when digital took over. The charity shop bag, long abandoned, sits forlornly in the middle of the floor. Time passes.

You feel a little wistful when you realise that your own daughter may never have this simple pleasure. There’ll be no lovingly written notes and scribbled cartoons to be rediscovered, just texts and electronic social media messages, quickly relegated to the digital archives. She’ll probably never know the anticipation of collecting from the pharmacy a set of prints taken during the latest night out, praying that the one shot you wanted came out okay – oh, how we cursed the automatic flash! – or leafing through a long-forgotten photo album. She will never know the sheer frustrating agony of waiting hours to tape a song off the radio, only to be scuppered by the DJ playing a request in the middle of the last verse. And you smile as you replace those precious keepsakes of a bygone era, and realise there’s a lot to be said for hoarding.

Especially now you’ve heard that corduroy will be HUGE this Autumn.