Monthly Archives: December 2009

Be Fifty-Two (Bummer)

It’s my birthday!!!!!

I am 52 today, and will be receiving lovingly chosen presents (well, I chose them, and loved doing it) any minute now, if any of my children ever get up.

Google informs me that I was born in the same year as Stephen Fry, Osama Bin Laden and Princess Caroline of Monaco, which is a bit disturbing, since at least two of them look far younger than I do (and Bin Laden, for all we know, might look quite youthful as well under all that beardy fuzz).

I was born in the year that Elvis bought Gracelands, that Bridge on the River Kwai came out and the song Net als toen (Mwa will tell us what it means) won the Eurovision Song Contest for the Netherlands.

To put my sheer ancientness into perspective for all my young, young readers, the first man in space, the rise (never mind the fall) of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis and the shooting of JFK have all happened during my lifetime. (It is a well-known fact that everyone alive at the time knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot. Like many well-known facts it is not entirely true. I have no idea what I was doing but, since I was almost six, I’m sure it involved toy soldiers, or mud).  

I had a moment’s panic just now where I suddenly feared that I might actually be older than sliced bread, but Google (again, if they’d had it when I was at college I’d have a doctorate by now. Sadly, they only barely had computers in those days, and they were huge and had to have their own air-conditioned rooms, like a technological Mariah Carey) tells me that sliced bread was invented in 1928, so I may still be the best thing since it.

On the bright side, I have lived longer than Jesus, Mozart, the aforementioned Berlin Wall and the Betamax Video recorder.

Happy birthday to me.

Dragons’ Den, No 1: Totally Crackers

(Dragons’ Den is a programme on BBC in which people with business ideas pitch for investment in front of a group of five rich people, the so-called Dragons. This short series of posts (very short at the moment, this is the only idea I’ve got so far) tells of episodes which didn’t make the air).

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“Good afternoon, Dragons, my name is Tinman, and I’m here to show you my business idea.”

“Good afternoon, Tinman.”

“Here’s my idea – I’ll just hand one to James and Duncan here.”

“Don’t we get one each?”

“No, one between you, that’s the whole idea. Now, let me show you what it does.”

“I’d be amazed if it does anything – it seems to be a toilet-roll core covered in coloured paper, with each end of the paper twisted into a tulip shape. I’ve a five-year old daughter who could make this.”

“Er, really? Well, tell her I thought of it first. Now, James and Duncan, I want you to grab an end each and try to pull it away from the other person.”

“Why? I don’t want it.”

“Well, pretend that you do. Now, pull hard!”

“Oh dear, they’ve ripped it in two.”

“That’s ok, Deborah, that’s supposed to happen. Now, did you all hear the bang?”

“Which one? The bang that came from the product, or the sound of James and his chair toppling backwards onto the floor?”

“The first one. That’s caused by a small strip of sulphur stuck inside. Now, Duncan, you got the bigger half, so you get the prizes inside.”

“Big deal. All that’s in here is something paper in an elastic band, and another piece of paper with writing on it.”

“Actually, there was something else. It shot out at speed.”

“Well spotted, Peter. That was the toy.”

“Really? What was it?”

“Just some indeterminate plastic blob. Don’t worry, the toy will always shoot out and vanish.  In fact, after a couple of years I plan to stop putting the toy in at all, and people will just assume it’s shot into the fire. Now Duncan, I see you’ve taken the rubber band off the paper. See what it is?”

“It appears to be a pink paper crown.”

“It is. Now, put it on.”

“But I don’t want -“

“PUT IT ON!! Ha, ha, er, sorry about that. It’s just that whoever gets the hat must wear it.”

“Says who?”

“I don’t know – it seems to be some sort of law of nature. Now, read the joke on the other piece of paper.”

“Er, what do penguins order in McDonalds? Iceberg-ers.”

“That’s not very funny, is it?”

“You’re not wrong there, Theo. Wait, there’s another one. What do you get if you cross a stoat, an octogenarian and a blind lapdancer?”

“Now that’s more like it. What’s the answer?”

“Er, dunno, the piece of paper runs out.”

“Tinman?”

“I don’t know either. That’s the advantage of the short piece of paper, you don’t have to think up punchlines.”

“Well, I don’t know, Tinman, why do you think anyone will – PUT THE HAT BACK ON, DUNCAN!!, er sorry, don’t know what came over me there – buy this?”

“Because it’s FUN, Deborah. Remember how James fell over backwards? Just picture your granny doing that at the dinner table, the whole family would be in stitches. And then there’s the bang, and the hat, and the jokes. How could you not love it? I hope to sell fifty million a year, at twenty quid for a box of six.”

“What’s it called?”

“I call it the Cheerful Cracker. Anyone interested?”

“I’m out.”

“I’m out.”

“I’m out.”

“I’m out.”

“Theo?”

“It’s expensive,  it’s tacky, it’s annoying and it will cause family rows.”

“Wow, you’re right. I should call it the Christmas Cracker.”

“Do that, and I’m in.”

Slower, Lower, Frailer

Changes are being made to the Olympic Stadium in London ahead of the 2012 games.

A ninth lane is being added to the running track, so that any Irish athletes who do not qualify for the final will be allowed to run anyway.

Panic-stricken Olympic Council members, fearful of Irish protests whenever things don’t go our way, have tried to pre-empt the situation by giving us every possible chance of success.

Other measures which they are taking include:

  • since we have never really adapted to the metric system in any case (we still drink pints, and drive in miles per hour), we will be allowed to run yards while other athletes run in metres giving us a 10% advantage;
  • John and Edward will compete for us in the Synchronised Swimming. Those who saw their attempts at dancing in the X-Factor will know they have no idea what the word synchronised means, but apparently they’ll be guaranteed at least a bronze as long as they don’t actually drown;
  • our golfers will be allowed two Mulligans;
  • the Rose of Tralee competition and the Ballybunion Bachelor of the Year contest are both being recognised as Olympic sports;
  • as we have no 50-metre swimming pools, the races will take place in the kind of conditions our swimmers train in – in a pool twenty-feet long, full of kids and smelling disturbingly of wee.

Meanwhile, following our horrified discovery that there is an entire Olympic sport called “handball”, we have demanded that this be removed from the games.

Please don’t laugh at any of the above (don’t worry, Tinman, we weren’t planning to). FIFA president Sepp Blatter laughed openly at our suggestion that we be admitted to the World Cup as a 33rd team and was forced to apologise by enraged Irish officials.

Now I happen to think that Sepp Blatter is an unctuous git who looks like the love-child of George Graham and Silvio Berlusconi, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong to laugh.

Summer’s Gone

In a comment on a recent post, Laughykate in New Zealand asks:

And while we’re talking about the weather, Tinman could you please send me the tracking number for summer? I need to carry out a track and trace as it appears that summer has not arrived as expected. Spring did, but I’m vaguely suspicious that someone’s cracked themselves up and sent our summer to Australia.

I’d been hoping this wouldn’t come up. Because now we Irish have a confession to make.

Summer is like the trophy in one of those competitions where the idea that the final might be a draw doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone, and what happens then is that each team holds the cup for six months. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres share summer on a similar basis, though only for three months each (who gets it the rest of the time? The Martians?) Our turn was from June to August.

And sometime during those three months, we lost summer.

We’re fairly sure we remember seeing it during June. But then it disappeared, and we couldn’t find it anywhere.

Anyway, our time of ownership ran out, and we were expected to hand it over. We had a quick last look in the pocket of our raincoats, behind clouds and, as you do, in hundreds of places that we’d already looked in just minutes before. Shit, we thought, there’ll be trouble over this.

So (and here comes the confession part) what we did was we packaged up two overcast days from March and sent them down instead. After all, we told ourselves, we’ve all seen the Lord of the Rings, the rain is absolutely shite down there, they’ll be thrilled with what we’re sending them, they’ll probably look back on this in years to come as the best summer they ever had.

Turns out, though, that New Zealanders are brighter than, well, their weather, so it seems we’ve been rumbled.

So all we can do is apologise, and promise to keep looking. We’ll find it eventually, probably while we’re looking for something else we’ve lost.

Like our economy, perhaps.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

As you’ve all noticed, it’s snowing on my blog.

WordPress offered this as an option for the Christmas period last year. I noticed it on about the 23rd and cheerfully clicked the button. I didn’t realise then that I was signing up to get it every year. Nor did I realise that their idea of the Christmas period is the entire month of December. Since my own belief is that Christmas starts when you finish work on the 22nd and ends at midnight on the 25th, I’m not too happy about this.

Part of the problem is that my two posts for December to date have been grumbly ones, and snow drifting gently across my rant somewhat spoils the tone. I feel like Ronald McDonald trying to look sad at a funeral.     

And I don’t know how to turn it off.

Bottom of the Class

The Tinkids go to a Secondary School called Coláiste Chraobh Abhann, a brand new school in Kilcoole and a real pronunciatorial challenge for my overseas readers. 

The school started just six years ago, and last year 82 students, including Tinson1, were its first class ever to face the state’s Leaving Certificate exam. They all seemed to do fine. Tinson1 is (I may have mentioned this) doing Science in Trinity, as is one of his classmates. Other friends are in UCG, UCD and NCI, and these are just the ones that I know about.

But last week the Irish Independent and the Irish Times published league tables regarding students going on to college from each school. And while I don’t read rubbish like that, apparently CCA sits at the bottom of County Wicklow’s list, with just 18% of its students listed as going on to third level education.

The school has sent a letter home to all the parents, pointing out that many colleges didn’t have the school’s name in their database, and simply put down “unknown”. They also point out that many students, from all schools, enter pre-university courses or take a gap year before entering college. In an established school, the roll-over of such students from previous years would cancel out the ones taking time out this year, while our school didn’t have any past-year pupils. 

In conclusion, they tell us that 86.6% of of the 82 are in further education of some sort, and 11% are in full-time employment or apprenticeships.

Hopefully the letter will reassure the parents of pupils in the school. Now all they have to do is find some way of spreading the message to the rest of the county, to the parents of younger children, and even to those just at the child-planning stage.

There was a long and vigorous debate when the idea of school league tables, copied slavishly from the UK, was first promoted. Many of those who opposed them were dismissed as schools or teachers fearing that their inadequacies would be exposed. Others pointed out that schools in disadvantaged areas, many of which would have virtually no pupils going on to college, were in most cases excellent schools doing excellent work, and that a simple league table would not recognise this. These concerns were ignored.

When you see the kind of statistical failings upon which the table is based you see that it’s about as useful as the website ratemyteacher as a basis for selecting a school for your child. But the flaws in the data just mask the real problem, which is that a league table for schools based purely on college placement is as meaningful as a list of top films based purely on the number of people who’ve seen them (for example, do you know anyone who hasn’t seen Sister Act? See?).

A couple of moments’ reflection tells you that the fact that School X has Y% of its pupils going on the college (look, I remember algebra, and my own school probably isn’t very high up the list) is meaningless. How many of them got into the course they had their heart set on? How many will send their own children to the same school? How many, in short, enjoyed their school life?

There is so much more to a school than the number of points that its cleverer students get. CCA (have a quick look at the website, Tinson1 is in one of the pictures) is a great school with remarkable facilities, young and enthusiastic teachers, terrific extra-curricular activities and a real sense of pride in itself.

Our children are happy there, and there is no table for that.

Before the Flood

Sorry I’ve been missing. I’ve been up to my eyes at work.

In these straitened times, that should be a good thing, but it isn’t. Another river of shit is flowing towards the wonderful people who work with me. We’re all going to get paid less when we come back after Christmas, and some, though thankfully only a few, won’t be coming back at all.

I’ve been so busy because I’ve had to pull together information that the people at the top will use to control the river, to decide in what directions to channel it and where to let it burst its banks. Shit happens, and they have to decide who to. They hate it, and I don’t envy them.

Meanwhile the staff carry on working, and discussing next week’s (much-diluted from last year) Christmas party.

I feel so sorry for the ones who’ll be going. The rest of us, well, we’ll manage. we’ll get by on our lower salaries and, if things ever pick up again, we’ll see good times again.

But the anger at the Government and the financial misfits who caused all this will still burn inside. It will not burn with flashy and short-lasting flames of rage and shouting. It will smoulder deep, deep inside, and because of this it will last much longer. And this deep-felt anger is burning  in other companies, in the public service, in all of society.

We keep being told that things are going to change. Unless the powers-that-be really are as divorced from the people as they appear, then they must see that things will have to. Because the people of Ireland have had enough.