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Barbeques, spoons and backs.

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There are some friends that are always going to be there for support, advice and, most important of all, barbeques. paul D hosts one at least once a year, and yesterday’s was no exception. Even Jac turned up, hobbling around uttering “I’ve got a bad back” to everyone within earshot. The highlight for me was a game of spoons, which Paul’s girlfriend Liz kept winning, and which drew to a climax when Jac, ever the competitor, tried to grab a spoon so aggresively that his fold-up chair buckles, allowing him to collapse disastrously into a nicely warm – and now nicely dented – barbeque uttering “OOOOW, MY BAAAACK.” I had tears in my eyes, and they weren’t in sympathy…

One Day in Ireland – a step back in time

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I’d only been to Ireland once, and most of that was a haze. My 25th birthday had been marked by a celebratory visit to Dublin, but I was conscious that i wasn’t seeing the real Ireland, but rather a commercialised, but highly enjoyable, version of it.
The real Ireland finally greeted me with open fields early last week on a hastily arranged business trip. I landed at Shannon Airport late on Monday night, on instruction to go and fix some issues at a client of ours in a ominously sounding place called Aughinish Island. A surprise booking in the Club Class section of the aircraft soothed my brow as turbulence hit with unnerving frequency. Being in club Class, I noted, didn’t improve the food – I finally managed to digest the in-flight meal as we were coming in to land. The airport was modern, and the Hertz Car Rental helpdesk assistant was surprisingly cheery as the clock suggested I was probably keeping him from a warm cup of cocoa and an early night. “Oooh, nice,” he said, “A Hyundai Getz…”. I realised as I approached the car that his comment may have been sarcasm. Before me was one of the smallest cars I’d ever seen. I managed to spoon myself into the drivers’ seat, pushed the chair back as far as it could go, and set off into the night with my head planted on the ceiling.
Whenever I set off in a new car, I find the clutch almost impossible to control. I’ve no idea whether this is an affliction that affects all car drivers or whether its just my own personal driving dyslexia, but everyone on the exit road from Limerick Airport at 9pm last Monday will remember a large man in a tiny car bunnyhopping down the road for many weeks, i suspect.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the police stopped me. In fact, I was only 400 metres away from my parking space when I was flagged down by a stern officer, who insinuated I was driving “erratically”. Nonsense, I declared, but the officer proceeded with his questioning. It turned out the airport was on high alert for a car thief that had just stolen a number of cars and, relieved, I sped away once the officer was satisfied I was mostly innocent, save for my “suspicious English accent”.
Well, “sped”. Southern Ireland have recently introduced speeding fines, and as a result the usual high speed traffic had reduced to a snails pace, leaving yours truly with the tricky task of overtaking in a car that barely touched 70mph. My confidence grew with every overtaking move and I was making blistering progress as both the light and my patience dimmed.
The progress was certainly blistering, but sadly it was in the wrong direction. I was looking for the Ennis Road Roundabout, which I assumed would be in Ennis. Sadly, the Ennis Road is a long one, and I’d been going the wrong way. A short, fifteen minute journey to the hotel had become an hours long trek, and the fading light hurried me on, ever faster.
I got to the hotel at 10.30pm, completely bushed. I fell asleep within seconds.
The following day started early, and I attempted to eat breakfast in the worst Little Chef I have ever found… to date. And then, Aughinish Island. It was a short trek from the hotel, and I took in the sights and sounds of the countryside. There was a distinct lack of development anywhere but the most established towns – the roads, the hotel and its restaurant, even the cars themselves, had clearly never been refurbished since it was built. In fact that was true of most of the places I found during my one day stay – the lack of development, the lack of technology, the lack of pace – it’s all a world away from back home. Even the inhabitants were unaware of any place over 20 miles from their home, which made for interesting directions the night before.
And finally, Aughinish loomed on the horizon. The entire island was taken up by one huge structure, held together with a network of tubes and a maze of roads. I was instructed to wear goggles at the security gate for fear of comtamination – of what I don’t know – but my embarrassment was softened when I saw that the entire 600-strong workforce at the plant were all similarly goggled.
I won’t bore you with my work there – save to say that I managed to fix the bugger 5 minutes before I was due to leave for the airport, and the thrashing the little Getz got in my hurried trip back has probably rendered the gearbox completely limp. I made it onto the plane with moments to spare – and after an uneventful trip back home managed to hit the sack at around 10pm.
The overall impression of Southern Ireland? Well, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice – take a book.

James Hunter Has Arrived

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“Lucy’s waters have broken. Will keep you posted.”
The text message we had all been waiting for woke Michelle and I at 7:42 this morning. Jac’s message, moments later –

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“Look, Simon, he’s got your chins…”
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“The floodgates are open” – had me in fits of giggles, and I abandoned all hope of returning to sleep. It was a bittersweet moment – of course, the excitement and exhilaration of Simon H and Lucy having their baby was amazing, but it was coupled with an immense sense of loss as my ?5 bet on a Monday birth had been found wanting.
I paced around Michelle’s house, wondering when I was going to get a call, wondering if I would get a visit in before I went back home. Thirty minutes later, I was still pacing. No news, I hoped, was good news, so I pottered off to the gym for an hour.
I came back. Still no news. Then, at 2.30pm, Jac phoned. “JAMES HUNTER!” he exclaimed, and I breathed a sigh of relief, slumped back in my chair and resumed playing with my newly-acquired XBOX.
And so it was that James Hunter was born (all 9.9lbs of him), at 2.05pm, to an emotional and extremely tired Lucy and Simon. Congratulations of the highest order, and I wish you all the happiness in the world. And James, make sure you give them hell, there’s a good lad…

An iraqi perspective

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The war must be on – my dad hasn’t left the chair in front of the television since 7am this morning. A different perspective from the usual dramatic TV news is an Iraqi weblog from inside Baghdad. “Raed” writes an online diary, and updates it whenever he can dodge the bombs. Visit his website – “Where is Raed ?“.

Moving House

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Well, it looks like we’re officially moving house. i came home tonight to a barely furnished house. Well, I thought, better sit down and watch some television. Ah. No chairs. I’ll play on my computer then. No chair.
I’m currently writing this sitting on an upturned box, with the dog looking baffled by it all. At least she’s still got her basket…

Zoe’s 21st Birthday Party

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Oh, and WHAT a party it was last night. Elli’s sister Zoe kindly had a 21st birthday, an excuse we all immediately pounced on for a knees up. Once again, the Cowell residence did themselves proud, with neverending food, neverending champagne and almost neverending Pimms fueling some drunken goon-like dancing, women sporting particularly short skirts, and outrageous “happenings” on the outside bench. The highlight of the night was possibly when Jac fell asleep in the loudest room in the house, with the DJ pumping out classic after classic, and slowly but surely falling off his chair into a crumpled heap. His brand new ?500 dinner suit went down a storm, however, and he snogged for the second time in two days, breaking all previous records. Quite why this has happened we’re still trying to work out. “As it’s your 21st birthday,” I announced, “we thought we’d go for a gardening theme” somehow covered the fact that I was actually in a B & Q store when I suddenly remembered her birthday. Our customary stupid presents culminated in a bag of fresh moss and a garden hoe. Lucky, lucky girl, eh?

Quotes of the moment
Me, after revealing a present: “You don’t want to get the hoe covered in earth. There’s nothing worse that having a dirty hoe on your conscience, believe me”, cunningly exploiting the Jerry Springer definition of ‘hoe’ to great effect.
Jac, after being told he looked “dishy”: “I hope that’s not in the ceramic sense.”