High Flying Adored

17 05 2012

Checking the post in the morning is always an exciting moment of my day. If a package I’ve ordered has arrived I can fool myself into believing it’s my birthday – even if I paid for it myself. Of course these days the mail is polluted with referendum literature. Try as I might I find my interest wavering after the second sentence and the booklets invariably find their way quickly to the recycling bin. Of course I never mention this when I complain later that we don’t know enough about this damn austerity/stability treaty.

Anyway a couple of days ago I was overjoyed to find a letter addressed to little old me and tore it up with unbridled excitement only to discover it was an invitation to a ‘Group Engagement Session’. It was from the Social Welfare Department and they cunningly followed up the word ‘invitation’ with a string of straight forward threats. If I didn’t attend I’d be forced to declare bankruptcy and locked in a room for a week with 2Unlimited played at speaker-busting volume.

Instantly I had images of ending up betroth to a random Kerry job seeker and wondered why we were being required to get engaged en masse. Shouldn’t my Very Own Newfoundlander be invited too? Before I let myself getting carried away with the idea of an engagement party, instead, I worried about what to wear and then became distracted by something shiny and promptly forgot about it until yesterday morning when I set off to find the venue.

As I walked through the doors I began worrying that it was going to be like Pauline’s sessions in The League of Gentlemen and we’d be divided into the occupational groups of Bramble Pickers and Babysitters. I’d have to ensure no matter what that I’d be chosen to join the pickers side as I have very little patience for screaming kids.

Instead of Pauline and her pens we had a stereotypical Kerryman with an impenetrable accent going through information that I had already received many times before. He informed us of our options to start our own business. But it has to be realistic he warned. You won’t be allowed set up a company offering helicopter rides of North Kerry. You’d be bust in a week – nobody can afford these sort of luxuries these days.

And just like that, without ever knowing before, it became blatantly clear that this is exactly what I wanted to do all my life. What’s not to love about helicopters? They’ve got to be easier to park than cars and there’s hardly ever a traffic jam up there! Mine would be a sturdy but sleek shiny green specimen with an alternating black and grey border.  I ran through some possible names – Conor’s Copters – Air Borne Identity –  Sky Sports. Legal issues surrounding names aside there would be no way this could fail. How on earth could this man dash my brand new life dream – literally before it even began?

In a full on excitable daydream I looked up from my doodles of helicopters to notice that people were leaving and the session was over. Not one wedding had been planned, although we were ‘invited’ to a one-on-one meeting next week, presumably to hone the marriage plans.

I’ll bring up my helicopter business idea then I decided. I have a week to perfect it. All I need to do is devise a business plan, obtain a helicopter pilot licence, overcome a mild fear of heights and change this egregious economy so people can again afford ‘these sorts of luxuries’.

Now, does that mean I should vote yes or no I wonder.  Will the third sentence in that booklet make things clear? The recycling bin it is!

Please mister boss man I need this job more than you know

28 01 2012

The biggest use of my time has of course been attempting to achieve employment. This, it turns out is a full time job. I am signed up to a torrent of job alerts which litter my inbox every morning with vacancies that bear little relation to any of the search terms I requested. Driving instructor, air steward and stripper have all been suggested in the last week along with Japanese translator and Head of a nursing unit. As time goes on I find myself forced into wondering about the merits of a complete career change. Sadly the anti-social working hours of stripping has put me off somewhat.

I have attended three interviews so far. All went very well but it seems not well enough. For two, I met the requirements completely. They were ideal matches and I knew I could have performed brilliantly in the roles. What more do they want from me, blood? My friends keep telling me that something will come up and how could they resist me, they’d be lucky to have me. I’m thinking of rounding up a bunch of them to bring along next time, decked out with pom-poms and Conortje t-shirts. You just never know, perhaps that’s what they’re looking for…

I can’t shake the idea that in Ireland a lot of it comes down to who you know and having lived outside of Ireland for eleven years I’m afraid I have an alarming deficiency in this field. I’m working on dealing with the repeated rejection but boy does it ever make a dent in your ego. I’ve come to loath the bad news e mails that invariably thank me for my interest in their organisation.  It’s increasingly difficult to read that ridiculous sentence without assuming a voice dripping with sarcasm and bitterness. I’d prefer they just concluded with ‘I know this sucks but you know what, just deal with it!’.

My Occasionally Spanish Friend suggested I request some feedback after the most recent interview so I spent a morning composing a friendly e mail asking for any suggestions or advice to help with future interviews. They didn’t even acknowledge my e mail. I’ve been pondering the idea of sending them a follow up thanking them for their disinterest in Conortje.

The scary thing about unemployment is that the longer it continues the less confidence you have of ever getting a job. Your belief in your own abilities begins to evaporate and this is a dangerous snowball.

What hasn’t yet disintegrated is my optimism. When the ‘thank you for your interest’ e mail arrives I spend the following hour or so repeatedly refreshing my inbox in the ludicrous hope that they sent me the wrong message and the correct one will arrive shortly.

Perhaps I need to build on this optimism and learn to turn negative thoughts into positive actions. Should I start learning Japanese or how to remove my shirt in a titillating manner. I’ve a feeling Japanese would be easier. Maybe I could combine both or even incorporate the driving instruction too. I’m sure that’s just what Ireland needs, a Japanese speaking driving instructor who can remove their pants while shifting from third to fourth gear.

It makes me want to hear it on and on and on

1 01 2012

Between looking for a job, jabbing people with needles in Ghana, popping in and out of Canada pretending that I live there and befriending the post man I also heard some great tunes. Just in case anyone is interested I’ve gathered them all together . It’s like a box of Quality Street, surely there’ll be at least one or two that you like!

15. Safari Disco Club – Yello

Just great pop music that makes me wish I was in Paris swinging my bits to the hits.

14. Velcro – BellX1

Doing what BellX1 do best – making catchy, listener-friendly nuggets of fun

13.  Sweet Dancer – The Waterboys

One of a number of standout tracks from the album An Appointment with Mr Yeats. The words are by WB Yeats and the music by Mike Scott, a match made made in heaven it would seem.

12. Oh Sleep – Lisa Hannigan & Ray Lamontagne

A wonderful duet by two singers I’ve always loved. A sweet lullaby that was the golden moment of Lisa’s album for me.

11. Written on the forehead – PJ Harvey

It’s kind of ridiculous choosing just one song from this incredible album – my favourites change constantly and the whole is far greater than the sum of their parts. But this was the first song I heard from the album and instantly loved its bizarre reggae and the image of people throwing dinars at the bellydancers.

10. Ü Berlin – R.E.M.

A classic R.E.M. song from a pretty great final album. I for one will definitely miss them.

9. Ah! – Linnea Olsson

A great song to jump right into the world of Linnea Olsson and see if, like me, it makes you say Ah!

8.Train – Younger Brother

A wonderfully atmospheric song that grooves along like a train bringing you to a place you’ve always wanted to go to.

7. January Hymn – The Decemberists

An exquisite tune about a separation in the depths of winter when shoveling the snow brings the green ground below. What were the words I meant to say before you left, when I could see your breath lead where you were going to. Stunning!

6. The Stand – Mother Mother

How I absolutely love Mother Mother, the combination and harmonies of their voices with that special pop sprinkled rock is just something I need more of in my life. This was the lead single of their great new album.

5. Shattering Sea – Tori Amos

Just Like with PJ it’s close to impossible to pick just one song from this collection but as the first on the album it’s a great representation of what you might expect. Just like the rest of this album, Shattering Sea is remarkable in its music and scope. It is not necessarily accessible on the first listen but it didn’t take me too long to fall in love.

Shattering Sea

4. Bad as Me – Tom Waits

Waits returned this year with a guttural roar. This track makes me want to pick up a megaphone and shout to passerbys how utterly fabulous this man is. No good you say, well that’s good enough for me. It’s classic Waits’ twisted lyrics, dirty beats and it even has a mid point countdown in Spanish. Crank it up loud, the world needs this!

3. Lose it – Austra

Just a delicious song from a totally new name for me. Austra is clearly ridiculously talented and I look forward to where she goes from here seeing as this is the standard of her debut! So good that you have two versions, stripped down or 80’s-tastic – take your pick.

2. Somebody that I used to know – Gotye

Pop songs don’t often come as well rounded as this. He may not be the most consistent artist but when he gets it right he really excels. Everything about this song is perfect.

1. Do you remember – Ane Brun

I think I knew I wouldn’t hear anything finer all year when those first drums beats announced the return of the incredible Ane Brun. I love the rhythms, the melody, the excitement, the vocals, and of course the extraordinary video. Superb! My very favourite of 2011.

A Simple Prop to Occupy My Time (4)

21 12 2011

Prop 4 – Conversation Mugging

Most of my conversations of late have been with people I hardly know or have never even met before. Being ‘stranded’ in Tralee means that I am so far away from my real friends that I’ve had to improvise with anyone who crosses my path, whether they are willing or not. Or even if they haven’t gone anywhere near my path.

It’s a highlight of my day if I can spot the postman and rush out to collect the mail directly as this means we can swap a few words. Even if they might be mumbled in a thick Kerry accent. One nasty wet and windy day when I felt glad I didn’t have to leave the house I spied the man coming up the drive clutching a few envelopes and the promise of some human interaction. Gao..ch… ahirid.. day he said with a concerned look and gestured around him. Wading through the impenetrable dense Kerry fog of pronunciation I assumed that he was complaining about the weather. I mean everyone’s at it – it’s either that or the economy really so I felt pretty safe in responding oh I know, it’s terrible isn’t it? All of a sudden his enunciation improved dramatically and he looked at me in fierce alarm as he replied with accusation I said isn’t it a grand soft day. 

After that I took to conversing online. Well not so much conversing as leaving opinions on news articles on thejournal.ie.  I was delighted when people replied. It stroked my need for interaction, at least somewhat. And then I discovered that people not only can show their appreciation of your view point by clicking a little ‘thumbs up’ icon but also convey their disgust by choosing the downward pointing alternative. I began to quickly despise those nasty little thumbs and wondered with hurt how so many people could vote me down. Butthe more comments I read the more I was shocked at how many horribly racist and narrow minded people are on that site thumbing down anyone with reason or a progressive mind. I vowed to abandon this medium of communication but not before I sprinkled a shower of thumbs up in the hope that a few there would feel good about themselves.

Instead I found myself texting radio shows and writing to newspapers. Unexpectedly I then became penpals with my local Supervalu supermarket. But the less said about that the better as it more than borders mortification (although I will admit that they subsequently provided a box to recycle batteries and restocked my favourite products).

One successful venture was my communication with the Oxford English Dictionary. On the topic of same sex marriage one (of the many) fools on thejournal.ie had said the word marriage should not be used as the Oxford Dictionary defined it as ‘The formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law’. Cue the following frantic e mail to said dictionary;


Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to question your definition of the world marriage as ‘the formal union of a man or woman’. I have countless friends around the world who are married to a partner of the same sex. Their marriage is completely recognised by the law and society. In fact there is no other term to describe their union. This is not a judgment or an opinion but a fact.

Even more puzzling is that the OED further implies that there is an informal use of the term between married partners of the same sex. I will admit that there can be an informal use to describe other unions between differing and same sex couples however a legal marriage is clearly different. I must reiterate that my friends are legally married – this is not informal in any way and there simply is no other term that can be used in this case. It is not a civil partnership but a marriage, as recognised by the law.

I would appreciate if you could clarify what English word they are to use to describe their union as the OED would seem to imply that there is none.

Thank you for your time and attention,



I was ecstatic with joy when I received the following the very next day;


Dear Mr Conortje,

Many thanks for your email to Oxford Dictionaries regarding our definition of marriage. Your point is a very valid one, and we have been considering this issue in some detail recently.

As a result we have revised the wording of the definition so that the subsense previously reading ‘informal a union between partners of the same sex; a civil partnership’, now reads ‘(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex’. This revised definition will appear on our website at the next update (which should be in around a month’s time).

Thank you, once again, for your comments on this matter. They are most appreciated.

Best wishes



While I have all this time on my hands nobody is safe from me pouncing on them to elicit some sort of response to remind me that I am still alive. Most of my attempts sadly end up annoying or embarrassing me, but I have time on my hands and I can only take so much daytime TV. Although it’s startling how your tolerance for mediocrity can change when you’re unemployed. Of course all this means that if you write to me I will definitely reply, probably every day for a month. Whether you like it or not!

A Simple Prop to Occupy My Time (3)

20 12 2011

Prop 3 – My relationship with my Kindle

We got on famously from the very beginning and then in the summer I almost exploded with love for the thing and eventually I couldn’t contain it anymore and I proposed. Unfortunately it’s still not legal to marry in this jurisdiction and so we are simply living in wonderful sin.

As I may have mentioned I have read an inordinate amount this year and a lot of that is thanks to my trusty Kindle. It allowed me to keep up my habit in Ghana without weighing down my bags and I even managed to stay in touch with the outside world thanks to its (free) 3G internet.

Sadly when I got back to Ireland I discovered the first negative thing about my new obsession; you can’t tell what people are reading.

On my trip back to Kerry on the train from Dublin a lady sat down next to me and began reading a book I had been curious about for a few months. So before even leaving the station I asked her what she thought of it. This began a four hour long conversation about books, friends, life, careers, the economy, children and the world in general. When we parted in Tralee, each armed with book recommendations from the other, she gave me a kiss and a huge hug and I felt like I had made a wonderful new friend. This would never have happened had she, like me, been reading on a kindle.

I always love having a sneak at what people around me are reading. I can tell from their face where in the book they are. I offer knowing nods when they are clearly at the emotional passages and beam big smiles when they get to the funny parts. I remember finishing The Elegance of the Hedgehog in floods of tears on an impossibly packed bus in Bolivia. The Andean lady next to me, all decked out in folds of colourful alpaca wool and trademark hat, stared in shock at me, possibly wondering what the white guy had to cry about on this simple bus. I lifted up my book in explanation which instantly appeased her and elicited an understanding smile. If I had brandished my kindle instead I most likely would have been escorted off the bus.

I have fallen in love with strangers because of the reactions they are having reading book I know and cherish. I have also unjustly judged people reading books that I looked down on. Terrible I know but it’s hard to take anyone seriously reading Katie Price’s 42nd autobiography.

Wouldn’t it be great if the back of the kindle could proudly show the cover of the book you’re reading? Failing that I would request that I am the only one allowed use the kindle and the rest of the world needs to display the printed version in order to keep me up to date on the tastes of my fellow readers and allow the path to friendship and conversation to remain open.

A Simple Prop to Occupy My Time (1 & 2)

19 12 2011

Props 1 & 2 – Reading and Being Controversial


Probably the best thing about having so much free time is being able to read and read and read. Oh and getting up at questionable times of the day. And then reading. Back in bed.

I’ve read some wonderful books this year, some so-so offerings and one particular novel that I loathed. My favourites, in the order I feel today, are

10. On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry

9. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

8. Afterwards – Rosamund Lupton

7. Pigeon English  – Stephen Kelman

6. The Book of Negroes – Lawrence Hill

5.  There But For The – Ali Smith

4. The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

3. State of Wonder – Ann Patchett

2. Cutting For Stone – Abraham Verghese

1. Come Thou Tortoise – Jessica Grant


I wasn’t madly taken with the critics favourites The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht, The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver or The Marriage Plot – Jeffery Eugenides although they were all worth reading and had some moments of brilliance.  Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay was just foolish chick lit which was a huge shame as it had the bones of an incredibly moving and unique holocaust story. Sadly the author seemed more interested in a tedious modern love story. It was also the worst written novel I read all year – by far, although maybe that was due to its translation. Runner up for least favourite book I read this year is Canadian misery in print, Mercy Among the Children – David Adams Richards.  There were many others that I enjoyed but don’t particularly merit a mention either way. Better to talk about the standout novel which made me despair and wonder about all these critics who seem to fall over themselves celebrating anyone from Ireland who can string a sentence together – Skippy Dies – Paul Murray.

Reading & Controversy

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is relentless, not least of all in its unnecessary length – a good third being excessive video game fantasy and scientific drivel, which became tedious to say the least. You are confronted on almost every page with homophobia the like of which I have never encountered in a book before. Without exception every character is devoid of morals, compassion and backbone. Not one adult in the book shows the slightest regard for the children in their lives and the children themselves exhibit extreme cruelty after cruelty to everyone around them. My problem is that there is zero questioning of the homophobia, racism and hatred that spring from every page.  I accept that many people are okay with that but I prefer to read more rounded stories with characters that show more than one dimension. Life is full of hardship but there is also kindness and hope to be found everywhere, no matter how small – something that is entirely absent here. In fact none of the cruelty, racism or homophobia is challenged in any way, why?

I felt the unchallenged onslaught of homophobia by almost every character to be like a chisel slowly hacking away at me. I worry that, like in the school, when you hear something so often it becomes acceptable – but I for one can never read or hear these words of hatred and not be affected. I certainly didn’t laugh at them as many reviewers have been able to.

One of many, many examples of why I severely dislike this novel is the following scene, directed at an Asian lady working in the doughnut shop.

    In her gook voice the words come out, `Can ah help yo?’ like she is retarded. `Yes, I would like an Agent Orange juice please.     You doh have? Okay I will have a napalm sandwich’
`Those gooks have wormy little dicks’. He makes an imaginary rifle with his hands and points it at Gookette and fires two bullets into her. `You stupid bitch, he wants a blow job’. He takes a five-euro note from his wallet and crumples it up and throws it at her.’
Why did the narrative need to take on the appalling racism too? Surely there were enough characters taking on that role to leave the tiniest space for a different voice, an alternative point of view?

I finished the book wondering if it should be acceptable to package racism, homophobia, child abuse, drug abuse and intense cruelty as a story and justify it by saying that this is what occurs in boarding schools – without any balance, justification or humanity? While degrees of this are undoubtedly present in today’s society I found it infuriating and one-dimensional to see people depicted only in such a linear way. Society is made up of many colours and I found Paul Murray’s characters (every single one of them) to be, not even black and white, but pure black.

A few weeks after Skippy Dies I had the luck to read Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman. Now Mr Murray here is a way to tell a very similar story but in a far more realistic and compassionate way. The main character, Harrrison, is confronted with much the same hardships found in Skippy Dies but manages to retain a strong individual spirit despite the horrific cruelty that exists in school and the inner-city housing estate where he lives. These are very similar themes as in Murray’s book but here you not only see the negative aspects of life and youth but also the optimism and genuine desire to be happy. It is a wonderfully charming and indeed heart wrenching story. It is sensitively written in a way that the humour is rich and the experiences realistic. The characters’ reactions to the very negative situations they find themselves in is the very spirit of the book and it packs a huge emotional punch for that very reason. The drive behind the story and characters is inspiring and understandable. It glows brightly where Skippy Dies manages to suck the life out of everyone.

It is in every way as compelling as Skippy was one-dimensional – a wonderful read.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans

18 12 2011

While patiently waiting to become a real person again I have found myself doing all sorts of things to bide my time and distract me from the realities of finding a job in this disastrous economy.

Clearly blogging has not been one of these. My Occasionally Genius Sister asked me why I wasn’t keeping up my blog and my answer was sure what on earth would I write about?. I suppose I could blog about how I’ve become an expert on daytime television or my unlikely chats with the postman. Would anyone be remotely interested in these, or how I discovered the loveliest lady on earth working in the supermarket. My engineering of strategic queuing to ensure I’m at her checkout is something I’m certain would not make for engaging reading. Maybe I should ask her to be a guest writer instead…

But now my patience for watching other people buying property in the country or singing bad karaoke in the hope of being famous has worn desperately thin. And in truth I have been doing other things, unremarkable though they are. So this week I’ll attempt a roundup of these activities. When you start shaking with desperation at the tedium let me know and I’ll point you towards the week’s finest afternoon television extravaganza.


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