Category Archives: opinion

Men: Can’t Get Skinny with Them, Can’t Get Skinny without Them

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In general, all holidays and social situations can be linked to weight changes in both men and women. There’s the commonly recognised periods of weight gain like the Christmas bloat, the Easter sugar level rise, and the summer diet that fails miserably and results in even more chocolate than before. However, there is one particular situation that all women can agree has altered their weight – relationships. And not the obvious types of weight change either like that of pregnancy or leaving yourself go in your eighties because neither care what the other one looks like. This is the type of weight change that, in your loved up state, you don’t notice it creeping up on you. Or it’s the type that you can credit to the bloke who left you not only with a broken heart but drove you into the arms of comfort food. I’m not going to dive into the cliché mind you, no woman really sits there holding a tub of Ben and Jerry’s weeping into his sweatshirt. Women gain weight in real ways for real reasons.

Certain reasons for pilling on pounds during a relationship are purely practical, while others can be attributed to a certain frame of mind. Some women just give up once they’ve bagged a man, considering the fight for a fit body to be over. They’ve won the man and so why struggle to impress anymore? Others don’t even notice it, for gaining weight comes with the couple lifestyle. Club nights, midday yoga and liquid lunches with friends are swapped for movie nights in with a Chinese takeaway. It’s an unnoticed fact that eating with a man-beast who devours cakes whole and asks for a second pizza for himself will make a girl feel less guilty for her third slice. The mentality exists that if he’s having a mountain of food, then I can get away with a bit extra too. For others, exercising is simply pushed as far back in their minds as possible, their couple hibernation comes first and keeping fit is no longer a priority for their time – cuddling is.

Then there’s post relationship weight gain, where after the cheating slime leaves you, your friends finally own up to the fact you’ve put on a few. So he’s left you with a burning hatred for men, two years’ worth of stupid fluffy teddy bears that just take up room and fat ankles as well. At this stage in any chick flick or American sitcom it’s the time for an inspiring montage of the girl standing up, burning the teddy’s, hitting the gym, getting a makeover and taking to the town with her friends. In real life, most Irish girls simply run home to mammy for a whinge and a roast dinner. Your friends sit there offering you cigarettes and endless cups of tea and in your heartbroken state you couldn’t bear the thought of a gym full of self-obsessed men. Wallowing in your own pity party and unable to face the social scene yet, you lie at home eating takeaways in your pyjamas feeding the scraps to your dog. Thus more weight gain.

But eventually your attitude will find balance with your single life. You’ll find the motivation to hit the gym or go for a run in all the obvious places. In the form of pushy friends who want to get fit for the summer. For the look of pure regret on you ex’s face when he sees you and your no longer fat ass in the tightest of tight jeans. And that guy you flirted with once that said hello and actually acknowledged you last week. You’d like to think you’ve thrown out all the takeout menus, except for the one that’s stuffed under the sink, you know just for emergencies. You’ll get approached by luring creeps in the pub again and get stalked by them on Facebook, returning your confidence and balance to the world. The aforementioned certain someone will catch your eye and convince you he’s not like the others, even though he clearly is. Just like the man that has made you gain weight this one will influence you to lose it. You’ll push yourself to look your best to bag him, and when you finally do – let the cycle begin again.

 

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A letter from my pre-college self

regina george

Just as I’m about to graduate college in August (fingers crossed of course), I’m still going to be considered fairly young among the average age of graduates. I started first year journalism in UL at 16, so in August that means I’ll be getting my degree at age 20. For most that’s a very young age to be graduating and entering the big bad world. I never laughed so hard when I was openly discussing those terrifyingly foggy post college real world plans of mine among a group of people in our class. When someone asked what age I was, as people often forget, a mature student was never so shocked. He turned to me and said, “You could literally go to bed and sleep for five years, wake up, and then start your life.”

Now this isn’t going to be one of those hair pulling grit your teeth roll your eyes annoying blog posts about the whiney “What will I do with my life?” question. I don’t know yet, and I’ve come to terms with that. This blog post is looking back at my sixteen year old self the day before she started college, who as part of some long forgotten orientation exercise, had to write a letter to her future self. And for all the cringe factor in the world, I swear I don’t care what you say, I secretly kept it. And I couldn’t be happier that I did because that teenage me was such a naïve loveable idiot.

So for the benefit of all my friends who secretly read this blog hoping to find this exact soppy stuff to torment me with the next day as I do them, here you go:

Dear Roisin,

Im sitting in UL right now and Im a ghost from the past writing to you in the future. Is UL fun? Is your teacher nice? Are you keeping up what I expect is the high intake of alcohol? Are the studies hard? Bet you’ve turned 17 by now. You finally able to say your age? No?

This isn’t a very impressive letter if you consider Im (or rather UL are) sending this to a student of journalism who by now has a few weeks of worthwhile experience under her belt whereas I have practically none but my Leaving Cert English. Don’t forget we were once proud of that qualification. See ya later chick keep it real. X

In retrospect, that wasn’t all that mortifying to write. I love reading over this little piece of memorabilia. While not much has changed, I definitely know to use more punctuation marks in a sentence. Aside from that, I love how enthusiastic little 16 year old me was. That wasn’t so bad overall now was it? Well, except for the sign off. Who did I think I was, Limericks version of Regina George?

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RTE Radio 1 Documentary on One broadcast entitled: Act like a lady, lift like a beast.

By Declan Brennan published 8 Fed 2014.

This particular radio documentary story profiles a female weight lifter, Clare Connolly, who recently joined a training group called the Dublin Female Strength Club. The producer is a close friend of the weightlifter for over ten years now, and focuses on her new hobby of weightlifting and how she plans to travel to Glasgow to represent Ireland in the World Drug free Powerlifting Championships with the rest of her team. It features on her current lifestyle and how it has changed to incorporate her new profession, from what she eats to how she is seen in society.

Its told through a very conversational interaction between her and the narrator Declan Brennan, the links of which are them constantly switching between Q and A interview format to Declan relaying facts about Clare to the listener. For example, it opens with a very feature-like introduction full of suspense. We hear a knock at a door and a male voice calling out good morning. A woman replies saying come in, and what we automatically assume to be the presenter speaking to this as of yet unidentified woman, saying he has a surprise for her. We then hear her laughing and expressing her joy at seeing a speaking scale. Just as we begin to get the picture, that this is an athlete and it is a fun poked interaction between two friends, the narrator addresses the listener by saying “My friend Clare Connolly is…”

Other link ins include the announcement of where they are or where they are going either by Clare through a proclamation or by Declan through a colourful observation of the place they’re now in. There’s about seven or more of these in total, with Declan painting a brief picture of each scene before they continue the interview. For example when they arrive at the gym, Clare ends whatever she was saying by declaring “were here at the gym now,” and Declan replies “you won’t find any colourful kettle bells in this gym.”

These links from place to place include the gym she trains in, her flat, a bar in Dublin city after she’s had a bad day, her family home in her town of origin. He also begins a countdown halfway through the documentary of her daily weigh-ins either over or under her goals and he documents how many days it is before the competition. Then before the big event, it opens with a discussion between the team of girls, Declan asking questions about some of their weight conscious references we too as listeners would not be aware of. Every time, Declan almost poetically describes the setting. He then continues to narrate the actual competition, building up to it with a discussion with the girls, their breakfast, the opening ceremony music, his explanation of the competitions rules. Then during the actual power lifting, the music picks up and the shouts of the crowds are enhanced. He keeps us updated on her levels of strength through the trials with extra comments from Clare in between.

The entire opening is quick and keeps the listener active with the story, which is exactly the format for the rest of the documentary. The seriousness of the presenter Declan counteracts well with the upbeat tone Clare has, the listener can easily tell Declan is trying to portray Clare and her powerlifting seriously whilst having fun, and Clare is very relaxed and forthcoming with the interview answers. It flows quite well as a feature piece with no awkward pauses.

They hold interviews in places we easily recognise by what I assume the amplified background noises to add dramatic and audio effect to the music. We can hear the clinging of weights above the music as Clare talks about her weight and size, and we hear the fridge door closing when her and Declan discuss her typical diet.

Other sources and characters introduced are some of her teammates, and they’re hugely diverse pastimes. Eimear who is a part-time burlesque dancer and beautician and Lynn with her two kids who accompany her to the gym every Sunday as she is a single mum. The show includes her two kids giggles amplified in the background. After Lynn announces the difficulty of training with two kids, it cuts to her daughter giggling and eventually saying to Declan “Act like a lady, lift like a beast” and the room erupts in laughter. Here we click the humorously cute origin of the documentary’s title, and automatically as a listener you feel a fondness for it.  Another is her mother when they travel to her hometown, a typical Irish mammy filled with concern or her daughter, and the typical Irish dad joking about not wanting her to turn into a man.

The documentary paints an honest picture of Clare, and what the world of female powerlifting really looks like. The difficulties they face, their diverse background, the stress of keeping their weight down in the preparation for the competition and so on. The constant diary like responses Clare gives make us feel closer to her, and both her and Declan’s stark examination of her faults hide nothing from the listener. The background music fits in with the mood of the documentary, between calm and pensive to upbeat and intense when the documentary calls for it. We really hope she wins the competition in the build-up, with her family screaming and the emotional music coming in. Finally we find out she’s taken world champion in her age category, and feel like we’ve been there with her throughout the journey and smile as she deserves her reward as the documentary closes.

Listen to the documentary online here:

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/documentary-podcast-female-powerlifting-strength-club.html

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ST Marys Park Floods, Loss turned to Triumph

There’s a distinctive sense of abandonment when there are forces destroying your home and you have no control, your only option but to sit back and watch. That’s how we all felt the morning we woke up last Saturday not to our houses being flooded, but to our entire bottom floors already submerged knee deep in river water. We didn’t even see or hear it coming, we just woke up, heard a gurgle and a creak downstairs and switched on the light to see all our possessions floating past. If we had received a weather warning the night before or were awake to see the first stream come trickling in we wouldn’t have felt as helpless as we did that morning.

The second stage of the nightmare was trying to do a full comparison with the rest of the community. What do we do, should we wade through the water to try and see how the neighbours are doing, or do we sit and wait on the stairs for word from some or any authorities. Our entire blocks bathrooms are situated at the back room of our bottom floor. I did my first and last dash attempt into the water to get to the bathroom that morning. Making my way through the two rooms in a pair of old boots that were spare was possibly the coldest water I have ever put my feet into. Then the blind panic of remembering the animals and pets we had outside. Thankfully my own dog had a wooden dog house that was on a higher level than the rest, so he was okay. But I heard how hard family members further in the centre took the news that their dogs had drowned.

In the midst of peering out our front windows upstairs and everyone posting their photos to Facebook to see if their shock was in line with our own, something truly uplifting happened. People started rescuing other people. Of course, the armed forces and fire brigade were the pillars of our community those few horrible days. But everyone else really stepped up to the plate. St Marys park still remains one of the oldest community’s in our city, and I think that day when everyone was at their lowest and most desperate did its residents remember that. Everybody did their best to restore meaning to the word community that morning, with people rescuing the old and young alike.

When the worst of that day was over and the forces pumped away most of the water there was nothing but quiet assessing left to do. Many people had been evacuated from their homes but my mother, like many others down there, was too proud to leave her house behind. We were all told to stay indoors and upstairs for fear of another flood. To this day, despite the stack of sandbags that’s permanently outside our front door, that fear has been haunting us. That evening, once everyone had received the most help the authorities could give, fear led way to its closest friends – confusion and rumours.

With the few on hand officials and the limited knowledge they could tell us of the floods, rumour began to rip through the houses on our street. The electricity was being shut off at seven. It wasn’t. It’s going to flood again tonight. It didn’t. They’ve stopped giving out sandbags. They hadn’t. It’s natural for a group of people living in fear of the river five feet away to be desperate for information, but the past few days have been a constant torture of relying on ever-changing rumours.

Then it felt like the nightmare was never going to end. After the weekend had passed and we were just about coming to terms with the possessions we lost and the danger we were in, came the contamination warning. Everything the water had touched, from furniture to wallpaper had to be thrown away for fear of contamination. But there’s still the silver lining on the edge of our little grey cloud.  The local government employees are coming around on a daily basis to help clear out furniture and lend a hand. We’ve had local electricians come in to assess the damage and have been given free use of humidifiers for inside the house. There’s even been an immediate relief fund given out to all of us before any real financial aid can be assessed. The entire city has been amazing in its support. We have received all manner of donations from hot lunches to fresh bed sheets from organisations and individuals city wide. Even though we couldn’t be more at a loss at this moment in time, I have never been more grateful to the people we live with. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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Was Frank McCourt the Only One?

English: Limerick, looking northeast up the Ri...

Limerick

My father is an honest man. He’s hard working, family orientated and deserving of every bit of luck he gets in life. He’s lived a hard one, being the second oldest in a family of 14, beginning work at the age of 13 to support a large family. They weren’t the poorest of the poor, because having a dad in the army meant a set sum came home each week to help them along. But he remembers the poor. They were all struggling back then, in the 1960’s. The way they saw it, nothing was given to you in life. You had to work god damn hard for it, and if you could once in a while cut a little corner to make it easier. These are the people who lived the life of Angela’s Ashes, the life of the Limerick slums depicted in the biography of Frank McCourt.

But was that a correct depiction, or was it exaggeration for want of a better story? Did Frank McCourt go to false extremes to add drama to his Pulitzer Prize winning material, or was Limerick really such a god forsaken place for the broken-backed families living under Irish poverty?

There were millions of families just like Frank McCourt’s struggling in Limerick, my fathers’ one of them. But Mister McCourt spoke of beggars at the church doors, starving children, a stinking rat-infested city. My father doesn’t remember such a city. “Sure, you had the odd hole in your sock, you carried a paper Tesco bag in your hand instead of a school bag on your back and you ate boiled potatoes every day till it came out your ears. But we weren’t poverty stricken. The worst I ever saw was borrowing money off the loan sharks.”

One of the biggest presences amongst struggling families in the old walls of Limerick was the church. They went to mass and paid their dues in the hope it would pay off. They went to school and learned from them, and were scolded by them. One thing Frank McCourt didn’t fail to mention was the absolute power of the church – the fear and respect they incited in the children and the poor alike. Visiting the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick an exact replica of a classroom is on display, teachers cane included. The museum itself was once Frank McCourt’s former school, Leamy House. Tour guide Dorothy Cantrell explains that Mr McCourt attended such an establishment, and he writes of corporal punishment in his book.

 

Mostly nuns taught in primary schools and after that the secondary education available to young boys in Limerick was the Christian brothers. My father’s memories of punishment are very similar to that in Angela’s Ashes. He remembers the nuns wouldn’t put force into the stick but the “brothers”, as he calls them, would. “We feared them because if you got something wrong, they’d ring you up in front of the class and slap you across the hand with a stick, or worse a leather strap. They could whack you four or five times over and there was certain bitterness about the way they hit you. It was both a punishment and warning to the class.” Even outside the classroom they held a high status in Irish society. “We were brought up to respect them, to bow your head if you saw them in the street passing,” remembers my father.

But what he doesn’t remember are beggars at the church door, which was a big presence in Mr McCourt’s memoirs. There were individual members of the clergy that were generous and would help people out of their own will. But collectively the church did nothing for the poor aside from the odd collection, according to my father’s memories. “Some would steal from the candle boxes and collection boxes for the poor. The priests claimed the money was for the poor but personally I never believed it. Which is why some boys I knew would steal from them, it was supposed to be going to them anyway right?”

In his memoirs, Mr McCourt writes about stealing the odd loaf of bread or carton of milk to help his family along. This depiction of a family trying to make ends meet does not seem to be an exaggeration. Petty crime was big back then, more so out of survival than anything else. It was an innocent crime of hungry children. “We were as naive that when you broke into a bakery, you’d rob a few buns but not even think to look at the till for the hunger in your stomach commanded you,” recalls my father, speaking from experience.

My father recollects a lot about the way of life of a struggling Limerick family. In order to make ends meet, they had to try things differently. Their mentality was the way of the underdog; nothing was fairly given to them, so why should they play by the rules. He remembers most of the fathers of the families he lived near went down to the Dock Road of a Saturday morning. “They’d follow behind the horse and cart that carried the coal, and the coal that fell off they’d bag it and keep. Some would go home and use it, others would sell it, and I remember a lot of men coming into the pub to swap it for a few pints. We all had our own recycling systems going,” he laughs.

But there has been some outrage amongst members of the community in how Mr McCourt depicted the city. There have been public accusations of lying against him when he appeared on TV shows. The museums guide, Mrs Cantrell, commented that it was always a case of for and against when it came to Angela’s Ashes. “I can only say that here in the museum we have a comment book, our visitors like to write in it after they’ve seen the museum. Every single one of those comments is positive.” Their museum has encouraged a foreign interest in both the story and the city of Limerick, with visitors ranging from Japan to Texas.

So was Angela’s Ashes accurate, did it debase an entire city or did it bring it fame? It has upset Limerick residences and its author has been accused of lying. Then again it has brought a huge foreign interest to Limerick. His story has certainly left its legacy on his city. Mrs Cantrell says that both Mr McCourt’s story and the museum, in his honour, stand as a reminder. “To remind us what it was like for the majority of families in Limerick, it holds on to the story and offers hope. Hope for those less fortunate, that you can still aim high and that you can reach to the level of a Pulitzer prize, just like Frank did.”

The book strayed from a kinder view of Limerick to that of a harsh one. Life in the slums, although it was poor and sometimes cold, was not a constant stream of misery. One of the things my father looks back on fondly is the city’s sense of community. Community being another aspect which Mr McCourt failed to write about. It was a tale of sorrow, but a tale from only one man among thousands. It may have been the life of Frank McCourt, but it wasn’t the life of every Limerick resident. There are many more people left to tell their versions, people just like my father. So no, Frank McCourt wasn’t and will not be the only one to share his memories. Limerick city remains full of untold stories.

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It’s Only Ok if We Say it

Comedy

 

Throughout the world we Irish have been revered for our poetry, our ballads, our nostalgia and most importantly of all, our love of laughter. To the untrained eye an Irish sense of humour can be a great thing. We can take a good ribbing and dish it back out tenfold, smile and laugh and tip our hats to a good joke. In a survey done by Empathy Marketing in the year 2009, it was discovered that a sense of humour was considered the number one Irish characteristic. But dig a little deeper and you can find an undertone of sensitivity and pride lurking in our laughter.

Our comedians are bestowed with the highest honour of respect a society can give, right up there with our singers and artists. We hold on to them and cherish them like they were our own, and given that everyone is related in this tiny country, they probably are. And their best comedic material? Why us of course.

We notoriously love to laugh at ourselves. Be it out of sorrow, irony or familiarity, the Irish laugh about the Irish. Haven’t you seen the shows like Mrs Browns Boys, Killinaskully, Father Ted or even the mocking Limerick duo the Rubberbandits? Or the stand-up shows like Dara O’Briain and Tommy Tiernan and the success that comes with them? When were taken the piss out of, we find it hilarious. It’s something very innate, the recognition of whatever humorous condition we have and the nonstop stream of insulting jokes about it thereafter. We just love it.

But here is where the sensitivity comes in to play. It’s only ok if we are the ones that are making the jokes – no one else. It’s an indignant and sensitive condition of the Irish. We’re allowed rip into each other because in some shape or form we’ve suffered in the same way. Be it your dog tore your washing off the line or you both lost your jobs, we find unity in humour. When our problems are made light of and we get to laugh along with millions of other people. But when another nation comes along to do the same thing, it’s out of order. It means they’re reinforcing stereotypes, we find it condescending and insulting to be labelled by traits that they know nothing about.

We’re a pretty easy going country to say the least. But we don’t like being pigeonholed by our shortcomings. We’ve had our times of darkness, our losses, our strife’s and our hardships. Our sense of humour has stemmed from that, made us a stronger and a more appreciative nation. We’ve paid our dues and now it’s time to laugh about it – but only amongst ourselves. No other state could begin to appreciate our jokes. And we won’t apologise for laughing. For if you don’t laugh then you’re going to cry, and the last thing we want is a stream of tears approaching the dole office that’ll get the stuffing kicked out of you. And its only ok if I say that, what with being Irish and familiar with the dole office. Get it now?

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Dog Yoga

A dog might stretch after taking a nap, just a...

First seen on “The Only Way is Essex”, dog yoga is the new money wasting fad for those with more time than brain cells. Forget about walking them or taking them for a run, why not squeeze a headband on them and let them stretch and relax. Just feeding your dog is no longer good enough; neither is walking them, playing with them or even entering them into competitions. Now you must also create a spiritual connection between you and your pooch. A requirement which is possibly at the pinnacle of third world problems – “I just can’t get my dog onto a spiritual level, what about his well-being?”

If you want your dog to unwind and partake in “downwards facing dog”, unfortunately there’s no place in Ireland ridiculous enough to host it, yet. But click on YouTube and you will find a range of instruction videos and what poses are best to help your dog remain calm. So go ahead, get those doggy paws up and remember, breathe, bark and breathe.

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Body Modification

Rick, the Zombie boy

Rick, the Zombie boy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a slippery slope alright, this whole body modification thing. You start off with one piercing, maybe even go as far as a tattoo, but before you know it bam – you’ve turned yourself into a cat clone or a walking zombie. I’m not condemning these people who feel being human just isn’t enough anymore – but I wouldn’t want to hold a conversation with one.

It’s an art form, its self-expression, its visionary – it’s creepy. Who in their right mind would want to look like a giant cat? Well there’s a few out there. One man has a leopard print tattoo all over his body. He is named Tom Leppard and appropriately adopts his persona by living in an isolated cabin off Scotland and travelling ashore by canoe once a week to collect his pension – oh did I mention he’s 73?

Now as far as cat people go, the least I can say is that I find it unnerving. I don’t like body modification, I don’t get it and I don’t ever want to get it. But there is one guy who throws me off a little; because I think what he has done is kinda cool, albeit crazy. You may have seen him in one of Lady’s Gaga music videos, ‘Born This Way’? Does Rick Genest ring a bell?

Now this guy is known as ‘Zombie Boy’, but he is by far the coolest and best looking zombie I’ve ever seen. Props must go to Miss Gaga for unearthing this modern walking sensation. I can’t say that he’s changed my mind on the entire issue, and he’s probably going to look like a wrinkly skeleton when he’s sixty. But right now he’s young, handsome (you know, in that rugged zombie way) and has caught my attention. While it lasts.

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