The secret’s out

I recently joined Limerick Camera Club-partly to give me the motivation to keep snapping regularly and also to get some constructive criticism. The group meets on Wednesdays at Mary I, Room 206, at 8pm.

Last week was competition night and this is my black and white photo in the beginner’s category. It was taken down the Dock Road in Limerick. It got some good feedback from some more experienced members, which I was delighted with.

It was an experiment in Photoshop, particularly in pushing up the contrast levels, which I haven’t done before. You get a cool washed out effect. I also like the contrast between old and new in the subject matter. While landscape photos can be amazing, I think pieces of urban landscape like billboards are really interesting to shoot. Seemingly this Wednesday’s night will be dedicated to Photoshop so hopefully I’ll learn something!

At the expense of the nation…

After a few days of being lambasted, Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue announced this evening that he would resign. He is now the new poster boy for the extravagance and general disregard of reason that has made this country great…at self destruction.

Over two years, he claimed over €216,000 in expenses. That’s on top of salary and other allowances. Yep, that’s the price of a three bed semi somewhere, which is probably steeped in negative equity and on the verge of repossession.

As Minister for Fun (Arts, Sports and Tourism), he clocked up a phenomenal amount of air miles at the taxpayers’ expense. His travel bill alone was more than €100,000 in flights, hotels, transport costs and subsistence as Ceann Comhairle travelling abroad with his wife. Being a very patriotic fellow, he spent €27,074 visiting five American states on St Patrick’s Day 2008 and 2009. He’s quite the globetrotter and his 14 lavish trips in the period included Australia and South Africa-each of which cost over €15,000.

He spent €13,227 on flights between his constituency in Kerry and Dublin. Are the roads not good enough for him? That’s a new family car or university fees or myriad other things that thousands of people can no longer afford.

He may be resigning but I think that’s down to pressure becase he obviously doesn’t give a flying f**k and it’s this attitude that typifies those who were in charge at FÁS and many disgraced bankers and developers. They have a blind belief in their own superiority and total disregard for everyone else. They spend other people’s money at will and live in a bubble within which the concepts of ‘shame’ and ‘humility’ just don’t exist. They deserve nothing but contempt. However, what they will invariably get is a windfall and a huge pension with other benefits.

It’s also disappointing that it took so long for someone to start demanding answers and condemning his actions. Unfortunately, I think the reason for the delay is simple. He is not alone in abusing the expenses system and a lot of people are afraid that their own expenses will be scrutinised. Memo to TDs: that €6 you claimed for foreign ATM charges is about to come back to haunt you. We built up a culture of using expenses as a quasi-wage and it’s time we knocked it on the head.

Our very own Willie O’Dea paid €46,000 over two years to Fianna Fáil representatives/activists to deliver leaflets in Limerick and Clare. The money was claimed under the Oireachtas secretarial allowance and the content of the leaflets was ‘constituency matters’. So if you got one of these leaflets in the letterbox, you paid for it and paid for one of his pals to hand deliver it. Do you think you got value for money there?

The bottom line is that they’ve all done it at one time or another because the system is asking to be abused. The only way forward is to clear the slate, assuming there is no serious abuse of expenses in any other case, and reform the whole system. Public representatives should have to publish their expenses every year and all of these bullsh*t, no questions asked ‘Oireachtas’ allowances need to be scrapped. Lack of transparency and accountability is a large part of the problem.

The gravy train is at the end of the line. Last stop, Kerry! It’s only a matter of time before Johnno claims that trip back on expenses…

Irish channels: Curing tv addicts everywhere

Some of my childhood took place during the 80s but to give my parents some credit, the worst deprivation I experienced was that they dressed me in the hideous clothing of the era and took a lot of photos. One thing I always appreciated was that we had cable tv. Some kids I knew had to make do with the terrestrial channels-a mild but heartbreaking form of child abuse in my book. Well folks, my days of being able to flick through hundreds of satellite channels and criticise them for having nothing good on them are over. I now only have the four Irish channels. I don’t even have 3e!

It’s not as bad as it seems. I don’t watch a massive amount of television and only maybe 3/4 shows on a regular basis. But unfortunately, I’ve started to wonder where the licence fee goes.

Thanks to the fact that the Irish stations have accepted that they can’t get by without bought-in American/UK drama, I’m not a complete cultural leper. I still get to watch the same news I always have along with Primetime and the ‘Vincent Browne Evisceration Hour’ or ‘Nightly News’ as it’s formally known.

Some of the ‘homegrown’ stuff is decent- The Clinic, Raw, the new Pat Kenny show, The Frontline, was surprisingly good when I looked at it. Maeve Higgins’ show ‘Fancy Vittles’ is pretty funny. I know he splits opinion but on the rare occasion when I catch the Late Late Show, Ryan Tubridy isn’t bad. Plus, where else will you get your ‘Murder, she wrote’ fix?

That said, the national stations produce some crap altogether. It’s amazing what you can scrape off the bottom of a barrel…nope, it’s not the title of Jason Byrne’s new ‘comedy’ show but it should be. Memo to Jayo. Shouting=not actually comedy. As for the makers of ‘Sarah and Steve’ AKA ‘Dan and Becs go to Tallaght’, they should remember that lightning never strikes twice. Well, outside of funding applications to RTÉ that is.

Fair City still seems to be a soap made by a well-meaning but mediocre amateur dramatic society. Let’s face it; The afternoon Show is no ‘Live at 3′ and you wouldn’t get Derek Davis bullying Sheana Keane.

Baz Ashmawy. I just don’t get the attraction there. And don’t get me started on ‘Exposé’…(loaded silence).

I caught the tail end of an episode of the Irish ‘Apprentice’ on TV3 on Monday. The show seemed interesting but the post morterm offering, ‘The Apprentice; You’re fired!’ was awful. I can’t stand Brendan O’Connor. He was mean to the poor sap who got fired as well as making some really nasty comments about contestants and his own panel. He’s conjured up a media career out of no talent bar the ability to be a complete prick. I sometimes feel like congratulating him but fear if I got too close, I’d change my mind and punch him instead.

I think I’ll write to RTÉ asking for an itemised reciept as to what they spend the licence money on. There’s plenty of good stuff but I’m pretty sure a sizeable chunk goes on paying some of its ‘personalities’ higher salaries than Barack Obama, which is just insane.

One thing that gave me a good laugh this week was the Top 10 most imaginative excuses that Britons gave for not paying their tv licence. Myy favourite is the last one.

1. “A pigeon fell down the chimney and broke the aerial so I have bad reception.”
2. “My 11-year-old son must have bought the TV during the night. It wasn’t there when I went to bed.”
3. “My payment card’s been stuck in the washing machine so I can’t pay.”
4. “I’ve not paid due to my shop only accepting £5 and £10 notes and I haven’t got any of those.”
5. “I’ve not been making payments as a baby magpie flew into my house and I had to stay in and feed it until it was ok.”
6. “I only use the TV to keep the horses company and one of them is blind so I should only pay half if I have to pay at all.”
7. “I can’t get the TV out of the box – can you help me?”
8. “My dog watches it when I’m at work to keep him company – not me.”
9. “My mum told me to tell you she’s not in.”
10. “I’ve not bought a licence as I dreamt I didn’t have to and the saying is you’ve to follow your dreams.”

Just call me Benji and keep your anti-aging cream…

I’m back and this time it’s personal! Apologies for the recent break in posts. I forced myself to take two weeks off and have some unresolved issues with the internet. Namely, it doesn’t return my calls even though I think we’re soulmates.

Big news this week. Similar to ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, I seem to be aging in reverse. Due to the (intentional) lack of a profile picture here, I should explain that I am in fact deceptively young looking. I can’t buy a packet of wine gums—let alone try to walk into a night-club—without being asked for ID. It’s been a regular source of entertainment for my nearest and dearest for years. My parents have become used to bar-staff looking at them and muttering…probably something about being a bad parent for getting me drunk. Like Brad Pitt’s hotness, it shows no sign of stopping.

While on a recent flight, I went to sit down in one of the overwing seats. Extra leg-room=being responsible for opening an emergency exit door if it crashes. However, a chirpy air hostess nearly foiled my plan. ‘I’m sorry but children can’t sit in these seats. And what age are you?’ she said, in the patronising voice you MUST use when talking to children.
‘I’m 24. Can I sit down now?’ I’m not sure who was more embarassed. I was repeatedly asked my age in France and my first night out after my arrival back, I got asked for ID in the supermarket buying drink and asked my age when going into the club later that night.

I must say, every cloud has a silver lining. I got out of paying admission recently because ‘children’ got in for free. Don’t judge me, we’re in a recession and being honest, if I had kept my school uniform I could’ve saved myself a fortune on student discounts. And interviewees often underestimate me because I (genuine quotes) “only look 18 or 19” or “I thought you were just a student on work placement”.
I think I’m the only journalist in Limerick who could do a gonzo exposé on shenanigans at underage discos and for the right offer I could be a convincing ringer in any secondary school quiz competitions.

While it can be frustrating to be mistaken for a younger version of myself, I own up and endure the laughter and/or good natured ribbing. One particularly unfortunate person I once knew used to try to hide their real age by claiming to be eight years younger, acting 15 years younger and backing it all up with an emotional maturity level unchanged by two decades. It begs the question of who’s fooling who? I’ve lived and learned from every one of my years and I wouldn’t want it any other way….but obviously, I’m noting who laughs the hardest when I get carded so I can throw it back in their face at some point.

I’m also mildly suspicious that the office water cooler may be the fountain of eternal youth so if I invite you to my christening, it won’t be because I’m becoming a born-again Christian.

PS: I want to thank everyone who posted comments about Knockanstockan. It only illustrates my point about the positive atmosphere ☺

Two Minute Hate

I’m having one of those days and a scene from the book ‘1984’ jumped into my head just now. The ‘two minute hate’ was a daily period where party members from Oceania “must watch a film depicting The Party’s enemies (notably Emmanuel Goldstein and his followers) and express their hatred for them and the principles of democracy”. Far from being a bad thing, I think we should incorporate such an event into our daily lives.

Okay, so democracy doesn’t piss me off that much but by God, other stuff does. I’m so filled with ennui and distaste at this moment that I can’t even be bothered to discuss the various incidents of stupidity and ignorance I’ve come across so far this week.

Long story short—I think an allocated venting period would actually be very helpful and thanks to the world we live in there’d be no shortage of footage for the video.

In San Diego, one clever woman—obviously having been pushed to the edges of her sanity more than once—came up with a business where you pay to rent a room and they supply you with breakables to bounce off walls etc. They also have speakers that can blare any angry music you like and give you permanent markers to create effigies on the plates you’re smashing.

It’ll be a happy day when that appears on ‘Dragon’s Den’…