Monthly Archives: November 2012

My Girl

They say that girls are made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”. They talk about them reaching “Sweet Sixteen”.

The overwhelming impression this gives is of a syrupy stickiness, like Sandy from Grease injected with candy-floss.

And of course they are sweet. Tingirl has a smile that lights up her whole face, and turns on one dimple, just on her right cheek, which she got from me. She is funny and kind and great company.

But teenage girls are so much more. There are the Slump Days, a full day spent lying on the couch in a dressing-gown, pyjamas and a giant one-foot slipper. But these days arise because of the vitality of the other days – the days out with friends, so many friends, and so many activities, such as her acting classes, or her trips to the cinema, or her string of texts promising that she will be on the very next bus home.

There are the reading days – she has introduced me to The Perks of Being A Wallflower and the Hunger Games trilogy, and I have introduced her to the Sherlock Holmes stories and Before I Die. 

There are the Mum and Daughter days, days filled with hugs, and intimate conversations, and healthy bickering. There are the Dad and Daughter days, where we sit through long evenings watching baseball on TV, for we are both fans, and laughing a lot. There is the Dad and Daughter tradition of telephone-voting for Song 9 in the Eurovision Song Contest each year without even waiting to find out what country it is, or what it sounds like.

There is a girl full of love, and friendship, and loyalty to those friends, and a fierce determination when it comes to something she wants to do, and a remarkable talent for getting out of anything she doesn’t.

She may be made of sugar and spice, but she is made of so many other, far more interesting things.

Tingirl is sixteen today. Happy Birthday to our wonderful girl.



Lost At Sea

Sandy Island was nowhere to be found when Australian scientists this week reached the South Pacific location, halfway between Australia and French-owned New Caledonia, where it is supposedly situated, and where it appears on Google Earth… 


Just as King Kong was the larger cousin of ordinary apes, Moby Dick was the larger cousin of ordinary whales and Godzilla was, well, a creature made up for films, Jonas was the larger cousin of ordinary dolphins. He was a Giant Lesser-Spotted Dolphin, over one hundred years old, half a mile long and five hundred yards wide.

Jonas lived alone. He preferred it that way. His brother had moved to Scotland where he lived in some lake, scaring visitors and helping the finances of a region which otherwise would have had no tourist trade other than those who believe that golf is a sport.

His smaller relatives sickened him, wasting their intelligence on appeasing and entertaining man by jumping through hoops and head-butting beach-balls. Flipper in particular infuriated him, making a sound like a Renault Clio trying to start on a cold morning in order to tell his owner (owner!) that Timmy had fallen down a well, or something like that anyway.

Because Jonas navigated the deep by sonar he could pick up radio stations, and because he had a normal dolphin’s IQ in a brain a thousand times bigger he could understand human speech. He spent his days at the bottom of the ocean, happily investigating shipwrecks and listening to BBC Radio 4.

Occasionally, though, he would have to clear his blow-hole, which would fill with plankton, seaweed and bottles with messages in them. In order to do this he would surface, pinch his snout really hard with his flippers, and blow.

The eighty-foot-high jet of rubbish that would ensue was as famous an unexplained phenomenon in the South Pacific as St Elmo’s Fire. Natives called it the N’ehru’haga, meaning Snot-Fountain.

And on one such Purging Day, while he was on the surface for a mere thirty seconds, he was photographed by Google Earth. The Lesser-Spotted Dolphin was less lesser-spotted.

They decided that he was an island. They called him Sandy Island, a name in which both words were wrong, since he was in no way red-headed.

He learnt that he was in French territorial waters, and his resolve to stay hidden remained stronger than ever. After all, the French ate snails, frogs and horse, he didn’t want to chance it.

Now, he had heard, a group of scientists was coming to confirm the existence of the island. He watched them appear on the horizon, then sank to the ocean depths while they sailed around in circles and increasing bewilderment. Eventually they made ready to leave, and one man at the stern began to pull in their equipment.

Jonas couldn’t resist it. He swam softly upwards, then popped his face, the size of a cliff, above the surface, and spoke.

“You’re going to need a bigger boat,” he said.

Long Haul Flight

On this day… “November 24th, 1930: Ruth Nichols is the first woman pilot to fly on a transcontinental air flight. She flies from Mineola, New York to California in a Lockheed-Vega. The journey takes 7 days.”


Day 1: Took off from Mineola (with my two-month old daughter, my babysitter fell through at the last minute). Was overtaken on the runway by four male pilots, all of whom shouted at me because I was driving within the speed limit. Hadn’t realised that my route took me over Manhattan, so I parked the plane in Times Square. Went to Macy’s and bought three pairs of shoes, a handbag and a coat that is two sizes too big for me, but was on special offer. It was too dark to take off by the time I finished, so I had to spend the night in New York.

Day 2: Flew as far as Chicago. While trying to reverse my plane into a parking bay at the terminal I bumped into the plane beside it, knocking it against the next one and setting up a domino-effect of planes tipping over to one side. The airport had to be closed for the day.

Day 3: Flew to Detroit. Realised I had read the map wrongly and was flying in the wrong direction. Flew out of Detroit. By nightfall had reached Chicago again but when I asked for permission to land they threatened to shoot me down. Spent the night in a field in Wisconsin.

Day 4: Discovered that I had a flat tyre, and had to wait, in a field in the middle of nowhere, for eleven hours until a man passed by who could change it for me.

Day 5: Needing to re-fuel, I spotted a small town below and landed. I found myself in Toto, Kansas, the only Amish community in the entire State. Twenty of us had to push the plane to a gas station in Kansas City.

Day 6: Since they’d been so helpful, spent the day giving joy-rides to the Amish, none of whom had ever been in a plane before. Flew a loop-the-loop for them, and all of their hats and bonnets fell off.

Day 7: Reached California (I don’t know where exactly, did I mention I can’t read maps?). Landed the plane while changing the baby’s nappy, finishing typing my blog about the journey, ironing the outfit I was going to wear to meet the press, planning my husband’s dinner (he hasn’t eaten since I left home, he doesn’t know how to open the fridge), giving an interview to XQPZ radio, sketching plans for a re-design of the cockpit and taking a congratulatory call from President Hoover.

Women may not be the fastest drivers, but we sure know how to multi-task.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inspiration

WordPress had a midweek Photo Challenge this week, asking us to post pictures of where the inspiration for our blog comes from. Since I can’t think of any way of taking a photo of the inside of my head I offer this tale instead…


“…. ‘the lone and level sands stretch far away’,” finished Shelley. He looked proudly round at the others. “It’s called Ozymandias,” he said. “What do you think?”

He was at a meeting of Inkstanzs, a Poets’ Group who met once a week to read to each other, to encourage each other and to provide positive feedback to each other. In reality it was a chance for each of them to feel happy if they’d written something good, and miserable (which for a poet is almost better) if they hadn’t.

“What’s an “antique land”?” asked Wordsworth.

“Somewhere that sells souvenirs, I suppose,” said Keats. “Donkeys wearing sombreros, little models of the Vatican, T-shirts that say “kiss me, I’m Irish”, that kind of crap.”

“No,” said Shelley, “it means -” but he was too late, they’d moved on.

“Lord Byron?” asked Wordsworth.

“Couldn’t think of anything this week,” confessed Byron. They all nodded in sympathy.

“We’ve all been there,” said Keats.

“Yes, poetry is the toughest muse of all to follow,” said Shelley. “All Constable has to do is paint some eejit who drove his cart into a river by mistake and he’s made for life, while we sit starving for weeks trying to think of a word that rhymes with ‘onomatopoeia’.”

“Sam?” asked Wordsworth gently.

Coleridge raised his head from the table, where it had been resting since the meeting started. He was obviously very pissed about something, and obviously very pissed.

“Gobshite!” he shouted eventually. “Thick, interfering, inbred Porlock gobshite.” His head sank back onto the table.

“Er, very pithy,” said Byron.

“And powerful,” added Keats.

“One of your best,” said Shelley.

The head lifted briefly from the table, gave them a glare of utter contempt, then lowered again.

“Moving on,” said Wordsworth. “Emily?”

Emily Dickinson had jet-black hair, was dressed in black and was wearing black nail-polish. She was the world’s first Goth girl.

“I’ve written a poem about Death,” she said. This came as no surprise, she always had. She read it, sombrely. This time, because she couldn’t stop for Death he had kindly stopped for her. He seemed to the others to be her stalker.

“There’s more to life than death, Em,” said Byron, when she finished.

“Besides,” said Shelley, “we’ll all live on through our poetry.”

“Big deal,” said Emily. “I’d rather live on through my nineties.”

“Himalaya,” said Wordsworth suddenly.

“What?” said Keats.

“It rhymes with ‘onomatopoeia’,” said Wordsworth.

“There is no such word,” said Byron. “No one, ever, has climbed a Himalaya.”

Wordsworth looked hurt. “Why don’t you read now, Will?” said Shelley quickly.

Wordsworth shuffled his pages sulkily. “It’s a bit all over the place, but I’ll read it anyway,” he said. The poem was about daffodils. The others said it was ‘sweet’, though Coleridge muttered something that sounded like “Porlocks”, but probably wasn’t.

“That just leaves you, John,” said Shelley.

“Ok,” said Keats. “Mine’s called “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.

“When Death comes, to ashes I must burn
And be placed within a Grecian Urn.” said Emily gloomily.

“Er, mine’s not quite that dark,” said Keats. He stood, held his pages in his right hand, extended his left, and began:

“‘Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness’ -”

“Bloody hell,” whispered Byron. They all sat forward to listen.

On and on the poem soared, through the pipes and timbrels, the wild ecstasy, the Bold Lover who could never kiss, the heifer lowing at the skies, the maidens overwrought, right to the final “Beauty is truth” couplet.

There was a stunned, hushed silence when it ended. All of the poets knew that they had just heard greatness. All of the poets were far too jealous to let Keats know that.

“Not bad,” said Shelley, eventually. “But, basically, it’s just a poem about a pot.”

“Yes,” said Byron, “and when it comes to poems about crockery, we’ve already got the much catchier “I’m a little teapot, short and stout”.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

The WordPress Photo Challenge as taken on by a man with no camera…


The doors hissed open and a ramp slid to the ground, and onto the surface of Earth came Garro (yes, he slid down the ramp, wouldn’t you?), a wide-eyed, green-skinned stereotype from the planet Yarrt.

The atmosphere was breathable, if rank. Unbeknownst to Garro he had landed in Ireland in mid-summer, and the air smelled of damp, due to the summer rain, and of burnt sausage, due to the Irish refusal to admit that we do not have Australia’s climate and our consequent determination hold a barbecue every weekend.

The vegetation was tall, thick and jungle-like. Garro cut his way through it with his laser-gun, all the while keeping an eye out for humans. He was looking for a pink, narrow-eyed, hair-topped creature, because Yarrtans believe in stereotypes too.

This is why he didn’t notice the Earthling until he walked right into him.

Garro stared at the creature in wonder. The word “wow” came to his mind, along with the word “eeuww”. Humans were not a pretty sight.

But there was worse. They were green, they had huge eyes, they had long, narrow legs. Just like Yarrtans, in fact, and Garro could think of only one explanation. At some stage in the long distant past Earth had visited Yarrt and, by the look of it, visited its women in particular.

There was one major difference. Yarrtans had never heard of McDonalds, of beer or of deep-fried Mars bars, and so were universally thin. The earthling, who seemed to have no neck, so that his face seemed part of his torso, was not.

The thought that Garro was descended from these beings filled him with horror, though not as much as the thought that his people might be just a few steps behind on the same evolutionary path.

Still, Garro was there to make First Contact and he was determined to do so, even if the point of that first contact was a creature who made Buddha (if the Gods exist then they obviously do so on every planet, so of course he knew who Buddha was) look like Victoria Beckham (let’s face it, he’d have heard of the Beckhams too). Bravely he stepped forward.

“Greetings, Earthling!”, he said. “Take me to your leader.”

“Ribbit,” said the frog.

When people hear the term “little green men” it’s always the second word that they focus on, and don’t pay enough attention to the first.

Yarrtans are only one foot tall.

Blowing My Own Strumpet


The title of this piece probably needs some explanation.

Someone at the Irish Writers Centre made a plea for help recently, saying that a very old Dublin Drama Group had fallen on hard times in terms of membership and asking us to come along to a meeting to see what they could do to revive themselves. Since she mentioned that they need writers some of us said yes, and although I have no interest whatsoever in acting I have since found myself at fortnightly workshops where I have facially expressed quizzicality, bodily expressed happiness and internally suppressed wind.

But the writing part has arrived, though not in the way I’d expected.

Each year Dublin has “One City, One Book”, in which a famous book connected with Dublin is chosen as, effectively, our Book of the Year. In the past it has been The Picture of Dorian Grey, this year it’s James Joyce’s Dubliners.

And apparently each year this Drama Group of which I’m definitely not a member stage something based around that year’s book.

Next year’s book is Strumpet City, by James Plunkett, and in March the group are going to put on an adaptation of it, an adaptation that myself and two of the girls from our Writers Group have somehow found ourselves promising to write.

There are one or two problems.

None of us have ever turned a book into a play before.
None of us have ever collaborated with another writer on anything before.
None of us lives even vaguely near either of the others.
The play is planned for March, which means that the actors probably won’t want to be handed the script on, say, the 26th of February. In other words, we’ve only a couple of months, with Christmas in the middle of them.
Because its linked to “One City, One Book” the Group get funding from Dublin City Council, so this is a serious venture.

I have one further problem, and perhaps I should have mentioned this one sooner. I have never read Strumpet City.

I gather though that it’s exactly the kind of writing that I don’t do. The book’s popularity derives from its realism and its naturalistic presentation of traumatic historical events. There are no made up words like “austeritised”, no intentional anachronisms and no character who is the re-incarnation of Cleopatra.

I didn’t write the sentence before last, I stole it off the back cover of the book. Since I’m planning to steal the whole of what’s inside the cover then I might as well get in practice.

All The Fun

WordPress asks us to write an entire post without using three letter words (their prompt actually includes a three letter word, so copying the exact prompt would have brought instant failure, I wonder if they intended that). What counts as an entire post remains unspecified, I could stop at this sentence’s conclusion (nearly blew it there) happy that I have succeeded with their challenge. This feels a touch unsporting, though, so I have given myself a target of eighty words. That’s twenty words fewer than what I originally selected, a figure that would have brought failure.

I am fortunate that “what a waste of my afternoon” is a phrase free of three letter words. That takes me past my target, which means that I am free to snooze my afternoon away in front of this afternoon’s televised football game (which is Fulham v Sunderland, no disrespect to either team but I would wager that even their most dedicated fans will admit that it isn’t exactly Barcelona v Real Madrid, many of them might slumber through it themselves), hopefully waking refreshed enough to enjoy Tinson1’s weekly Skype call.

Done it. Joy.

Hot Competition

Ryan Tubridy is the best known presenter on Irish radio, and on Wednesday night Mrs Tin told me that this week he is running a competition where he reads out a line, and then you’ve to finish the story in under 150 words. He is on the air from 9 to 11 am, while I am at work, but yesterday morning Mrs Tin emailed me his line anyway, which was “Deep in the woods the grand wizard Enda gathered his forces to meet the Merkellian”.

Enda is Enda Kenny, our Taoiseach (Prime Minister), and the Merkellian is obviously Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and most of the 146 words that follow may be lost on most of you, but this is what (yes, during work-time) I sent in… 

Deep in the woods the grand wizard Enda gathered his forces to meet the Merkellian. The Merkellian was an Ice Queen who had emerged from the gateaus of the Black Forest to rule over the 27 kingdoms.

Many had faced her withering Medusan gaze and been defeated. The Greeks had come bearing gifts and had fled austeritised. Berlusconi had tried the Bunga-Bunga spell and was now in the dungeons. The Spanish had found their kingdom captured by towels placed on their deck-chairs.

But Enda’s forces included the Everlasting Bankers, who could not be moved, and the Droning Noonan, who could not be understood.

The Merkellian was defeated. She granted Enda’s land the Bond of Delay, which meant that Enda still had to pay her all his kingdom’s gold, just on a different day.

Apparently this was a Good Thing, and we all paid happily ever after.   

I’ve won a Playstation 3, though hearing him reading out my story (via Mrs Tin’s phone held up to the radio) was the real thrill.

There is a slight downside, though. The five daily winners went into a draw for a family cruise. I didn’t win.

Now I’ve to think up reasons why this would have been no fun.

Rules Are Rules

The prompts at our Inksplinters Writers Group this week were all palindromes. One was “some men interpret nine memos”…
“How many?” asked Aaron.

“Nine,” said Moses.

“Nine rules?” said Aaron. “That’s an awful lot. We didn’t have that many when we were slaves in Egypt.”

“Yeah,” said Joshua. “Basically there were just two – if you found yourself thrown to the lions try to keep away from the toothy end, and if the Red Sea suddenly parts, run like hell, it’s not going to stay that way forever.”

“Well, there’s nine here,” said Moses. Joshua muttered something under his breath that sounded like “calls this a promised land”.

“Lets hear them, then,” said Aaron.

“First, I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me,” said Moses.

“Are they all written like that?” asked Joshua.

“Of course,” said Moses. “This is God talking.”

“Well, just give us the gist of the rest of them,” said Joshua. “What’s next?”

It was around this time that Moses began to regret not carrying the tablets down the mountain with him. But they’d been made of stone and he felt weak, since he’d eaten nothing but manna (a kind of meringue) for three weeks, so he’d just read quickly through the list, confident that he’d remember them. On the way down he realised that he’d forgotten one already, which was why he had presented the others with the notion of nine commandments. Now, as the others blathered on, he found himself struggling even with them.

“Keep Sunday free,” he said suddenly.

“Why, said Aaron, “what’s happening?”

“No, that was one of them,” said Moses. “Then there was do not kill, or steal. Look after your mum and dad. Don’t lie. And, um,” (he thought frantically) “oh yes, don’t covet your neighbour’s wife’s ass.”

“Not even Isaiah’s wife?” said Aaron.

They all thought for a few seconds about Isaiah’s wife, the Pippa Middleton of the desert, and her incredible bum.

“No, apparently not even her,” said Moses, wistfully.

“Jesus Christ,” said Joshua.

“Oh, thanks, I’d forgotten that one,” said Moses. “You can’t say ’Jesus Christ’ like that.”

“Fuck me,” said Joshua.

“Whereas oddly, that seems to be OK,” said Moses. “Now, how many is that?”

There was silence. None of them wanted to admit that they couldn’t count higher than four.

“Er, nine,” said Aaron eventually.

“There you are then,” said Moses. “The nine memos from God.”