Wednesday, April 30, 2008

That's Men - printed and ready to roll

The best of the That's Men column from The Irish Times

Veritas has just published That's Men, a collection of my Irish Times columns. In picking the columns to go into the book I threw away the ones which had a lot of preaching in them. To me, preaching is the besetting sin of writing on well-being and I'm as guilty on that score as anyone else but I believe that what ended up in the book is informative, entertaining and occasionally annoying - and that's not a bad mix. Readers of this blog will, I think, enjoy the book. A few of the columns that are in the book are also on this blog under the That's Men or That's Men for You (the old name of the column) labels. The launch is on 15th May so here's hoping for a successful run.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

School retreats, 1960s Jesuit-style

Days of silence at Manresa House

The Tubridy Show this morning featured school retreats which seem to be very pleasant affairs involving boosting pupils' self-esteem and all that sort of thing. Ryan Tubridy even mentioned allegations about a retreat which resulted in several pregnancies - and frankly I think someone was pulling the wool over his eyes on that one.

I went on a school retreat in the late 1960s when the Christian Brothers in Naas took us up to Manresa House, a Jesuit-run retreat centre in Clontarf.

All I remember is that:

(a) We were not allowed to talk for three days.

(b) Each morning at breakfast we listened to someone reading the lives of the saints on tape.

(c) Every night a gaunt man in a soutane burst into our rooms trying to catch us using transistor radios.

(d) One classmate had a crisis of some sort and was sent home. This was never explained.

(e) A priest who came in to give us a talk declared when we stood up on his arrival that "When I enter the room, boys, you don't stand, you kneel." He then went on to roar and shout about a girl in a miniskirt whom he had seen on the bus. Something to do with her tempting boys to "destroy a temple of the Holy Ghost." She being the temple, of course.

That's it. God bless you all.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sex with minors: the mess we've made of the law

What a mess we've made of the issue of sex between adults and underage children. A 15-year-old boy is charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 14-year-old girl. A 27-year-old man who makes a 15-year-old babysitter pregnant gets away with two years in jail. We need to get this confused nonsense sorted out. At least the 15-year-old boy, now 17 years of age, is challenging the constitutionality of the law which allows him to be charged while giving immunity to the girl - all part of Michael McDowell's legacy to us as Minister for Justice in 2006.

And while we're getting that sorted out, let's remember we have been promised a constitutional referendum on the rights of children in general. It would suit politicians down to the ground to confine this to the issue of under-age sex and to ignore the myriad of other ways in which the system lets down kids. Campaigners on children's rights need to keep a close eye on that one.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

From lesbian mums to multiple dads - the concept of fatherhood gets more complicated by the week

With traditional families in decline, can fathers meet the new challenges of the role?

This is the text of my That's Men column published in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 22nd April, 2008. "That's Men - The best of the 'That's Men' column from The IrishTimes" is published by Veritas.

The concept of fatherhood grows more complex by the week.

The case of the lesbian couple who were successful in the High Court in fighting off a bid for guardianship and access rights by the child’s biological father provides one example – though not a common one – of this growing complexity.

Recent stories from Britain which featured single mothers with children by several fathers provide another.

In Ireland, the significant number of births outside marriage means that, in many cases, the men the mothers in question eventually marry will not be the biological fathers of at least some of the children in the family.

Divorce, too, means that the role of father becomes blurred when new families form.

Once upon a time, it was all so much simpler. A father was a man who was married to a woman who gave birth to their children and stayed home and minded them while the father supported the family.

When people stepped outside of that basic concept by getting pregnant outside marriage, matters were put to rights either by a hurried wedding or by shipping the mother off to a mother and baby home and the baby to an adoptive family. In this case, the father remained invisible and – to outward appearances at any rate – untouched by the whole thing.

Well, that has all changed and about time too. But are fathers up to the demands of these new roles (I will get back to the issue of same sex couples later)? I haven’t had to do it but it strikes me as a tough job to take on where a man marries, or lives with, a woman who has children from a previous marriage.

Well, that has all changed and about time too. But are fathers up to the demands of these new roles (I will get back to the issue of same sex couples later)? I haven’t had to do it but it strikes me as a tough job to take on where a man marries, or lives with, a woman who has children from a previous marriage.

On the one hand, the man is not the children’s father. On the other hand, he will inevitably find himself taking on some of the “care and control” aspects of a fathering role. If a young teenager who was meant to be home at nine o’clock doesn’t turn up until one in the morning, it would be a poor show indeed if he shrugged his shoulders and declared it was nothing to do with him. Similarly, if a child from the previous marriage was being bullied at school, it would be despicable of the mother’s new partner to wash his hands of the whole thing.

Suppose we are not talking about children from a previous marriage or from one previous relationship. Suppose, as in those British cases that have been in the news, there are several children with several fathers. Is any subsequent partner up to fathering all of these children? I know there are other fathers in the vicinity, so to speak, but the partner is “on site” and the one who faces the most immediate challenges. Frankly, I don’t think any partner is up to facing those challenges in this situation unless he is an extraordinary human being. Most of us are not extraordinary human beings. Most of us would fall down on that particular job.

In same-sex couples with a child born either through sperm donation or through surrogacy (in the case of men) the situation is either more or less difficult, depending on how you look at it. In the UK, as I understand it, if the child was conceived from sperm donated through a licensed clinic, then the biological parent has neither rights nor obligations. If the child was conceived through a private arrangement, the biological parent may have rights and responsibilities – a man could be forced to pay maintenance for the upkeep of the child, for instance.

In the same-sex couple, will one partner take on the role of father in an emotional and psychological sense? I expect that is how it will work out. I hope so – if I was a bold child I wouldn’t want to have two mothers angry with me at the same time (sorry, girls). Oh alright, for the sake of balance, two fathers either.

So, fathering has become as complicated as it could get and we have a lot of work to do to figure out how to handle it. A little courage on the part of policy makers would help. And so would a determination to deal with the world as it is and not as we think if ought to be.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oddments No. 6

Weekly bric a brac from Padraig O'Morain

Photo property of
Ellen Kent Productions

The opera: a celebration of frailty?
Two trips to the opera this weekend left me wondering if part of the appeal of the opera is its celebration of human frailty?

The operas, in National Concert Hall in Dublin were the Ukrainian National Opera of Odessa's presentation of Madama Butterfly and La Traviata in an Ellen Kent touring production.

In both operas there is a wealth of human frailty on display: lust, gullibility, prejudice, general foolishness, greed and so on. Frailty of one kind or another is displayed by most of the main characters and the consequences are catastrophic. In the end, characters redeem themselves through remorse - not something we often see happening in modern dramas.

But there is something healing, I think, about this display of frailty: it normalises what is, yes, normal human experience but which we often fail to acknowledge as such. It also undermines the notion of perfectionism which causes more trouble than it is worth.

Opera does all this sumptuously and beautifully - and these lovely productions from the Odessa opera company were no exception.

Indian texters hiding behind the burka
Young Indian guys and gals are using texting to get around strict social conventions on dating, says this fascinating story by Anand Giridharadas in the New York Times. "Young Indians, girls especially, are taught not to show any interest in the opposite sex," says the story. "The prohibition extends to such behaviors as giggling at a man’s jokes....Most young, middle-class Indians live with their parents, leaving few opportunities for trips back to 'my place.' They often share rooms with siblings into their late 20s, making it hard even to speak privately by telephone. And should they canoodle in public, they risk being found out by ubiquitous uncles and aunts and family friends, who are likely to snitch on them."

Texting helps the young to communicate without being scrutinised by family. For this reason, it has caught on, big time. In Jamshedpur, a steel company town, "the desire to text became so fervent at one all-women’s college that students began renting burqas from Muslim shopkeepers, according to a local news report," the story says. "From under the folds, the women typed amorously to boyfriends and arranged secret trysts off campus."

Imagine that - the burqa as a facilitator of illicit meetings!

False teeth - a memory from the 1960s
The messenger boy got new false teeth, too big, too white, big gawky gob on him, always hanging around, grinning to make sure everybody saw the new teeth. Then one of the guys said, "Hey, those teeth, yah know?" The messenger boy grinned a big, toothy grin. "They make yah look like shite, yah know?"

That wiped the grin off his face alright. That's all I remember.

It's my world, really, and you're all just living in it. Patton Dodd's description of an attitude of mind in Shambala Sun, January 2008.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kissed - thanks to Ireland's smoking ban

Two women "starting again" deliver kisses in the garden

Photo by Lady_AnnDerground (Flickr)

This is the text of my That's Men column published in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 15th April, 2008. A collection of That's Men columns will be published by Veritas this summer:

It's not every day you get kissed by two women while you're minding your own business but, thanks to the smoking ban, it happened to me last week.

I was having a pint in the conservatory bar of a public house when the heat from the sun sent me out to the pub garden. Sitting in such a place is like watching a series of one-act plays as customers – ranging from the young and beautiful to those with one foot in the grave – come out for their smoke.

Among them were two well-oiled, as they say, women, one in high spirits, the other subdued. The one in high spirits was advising the other on the question of chatting up men. The subdued one did not know how to chat up men, could think of nothing to say to them and didn't know what to do about it. Her companion urged her to have a go - "All you have to do is say Hello Gorgeous" - and see what happened. Her own philosophy, she explained, was that when she was in the nursing home in her old age – “They’ll send me there to get their hands on the house,” she said of her loving family – she wanted to be thinking about the fun she had and not be marooned on a chair watching Bosco on the television. I certainly identified with her on that one: such indignities as might be inflicted by incapacity must be endured but being forced to watch Bosco counts as an act of inhumanity.

This did not reasurre the subdued one who objected that the men you meet in nightclubs only want the one thing. "Well don't give it to them," her companion advised. “That’s what I do, well, most of the time,” she laughed.

At their age - fortyish - most of the good catches were married or gay so it wasn't all that easy to get a man worth having, she added. That's why you had to get out there where you could be seen.

"Amn't I right?" she asked me, well aware that I had been listening to everything they said despite my pretence that I was absorbed in my Irish Times and my packet of peanuts. I agreed, of course – there was no future in disagreeing.

Having established that I was on the right side, she returned to the demanding task of educating her doubtful companion on how to become a woman of the world. Then the cigarettes were finished and it was time to go back.

"But I'm kissing him first," she said and bounced over to me, threw her arms around me and administered a good, solid kiss on the cheek, almost smothering me in her ample bosoms.

But it seems that her efforts at persuasion had not been entirely lost on her companion.

"I'm going to kiss him as well, so," said the subdued one when her mentor had withdrawn. She then gave me an appropriately subdued kiss on the cheek and off they both went, leaving me alone with my peanuts.

That ended my adventure but I have to say that my sympathies were entirely with the subdued lady. I gathered from their talk that they were both “starting out again” on the search for an enduring relationship.

The ebullient one may have seen it all as great fun but I suspect the subdued one has many more sympathisers among those who are separated, or dumped, or still single after all those years.

For many such people the thoughts of having to go anywhere near a nightclub is off-putting to such a degree that they just can’t face it. The same applies to chatting people up in bars. Their motto is, Never again!

I suppose they could try internet dating like the service run by and I’ve met a couple of people who were happy they took the internet route. They hadn’t yet found their soul companion but they had found people they liked.

But if you don’t want to do that, or to suffer in nightclubs or embarrass yourself in bars, you could just hang around the smoking areas of pubs minding your own business and see what happens.

I’ll be the one with the Irish Times, the pint and the packet of peanuts.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lesbian couple with child a family, Irish High Court rules

Ireland's High Court has ruled that a lesbian couple living together in a long-term committed relationship with a child can be regarded as a de facto family enjoying rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, says this report in The Irish Times.

The ruling, I suspect, will have wider implications than are inherent in the case itself. For instance, how will it affect the position of same-sex couples, whether gay or lesbian, who have children, in relation to tax, social welfare and employment benefits? I expect this will be working its way through the system for the next few years

The court denied guardianship and access rights to the child's biological father who had donated sperm to the mother, says the Irish Times report.

Mr Justice Hedigan said there was nothing in Irish law to suggest that a family of two women and a child "has any lesser right to be recognised as a de facto family than a family composed of a man and a woman unmarried to each other".

He said the rights of a man who acted as a sperm donor were at least no greater than those of an unmarried father. In considering his application for guardianship the child's welfare was the paramount consideration, the Irish Times report says.

He believed there existed such personal ties between the couple and the child as to give rise to family rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which do not conflict with Irish law.

For more details, see this report in The Irish Independent.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nuala O'Faolain opens the way for other terminally ill people to say how they feel

This is the text of my article which appeared in The Evening Herald on Monday, 15th April 2008. Please note that many listeners found listening to the interview distressing. A transcript is here on the Irish Independent website. O'Faolain is author of Are you somebody, Almost there, My dream of you and The story of Chicago May.

[Note: Nuala O'Faolain died on 9th May 2008]Many people have wondered if Nuala O’Faolain’s interview with Marian Finucane on RTÉ Radio One on Saturday was distressing to persons with terminal illness. I would suggest that the interview was distressing to all of us but potentially comforting as well, two reasons.

The first is that we all have a terminal illness because, like her, we will all suffer death though not all of us will know about it at the time. The second is that people with terminal illnesses are expected by society to face the end in a particular way, namely with serenity, yet for many this is not the way they want to do it.

The bleakness and despair in her interview struck home particularly, I think, because it echoed that awful bleakness that a person can feel when they are awake alone in the middle of the night and the gloomiest of thoughts come to haunt them.

Nuala brought that bleakness into the light of a Saturday morning when most of us do not want to be reminded of it.

Psychologists say that one of the great crises we face in our lives is the realisation that we are going to die. We all know intellectually that one day we will die but it can take decades for us to feel the full force of that realisation. It can be triggered by the death of another person, even somebody we do not know very well.

When the realisation happens, we must come to terms with a reality that shakes us to foundations. Some people respond to the reality by denying it. They aim for eternal life on earth and take any treatment that promises to prevent the inevitable. Others become depressed or anxious or turn to drink or drugs. Most of us, I think, take the realisation of the inevitability of death as a wake-up call suggesting that we had better get on with doing the things we wanted to do in life.

In her interview, Nuala sound like somebody whom that realisation only hit six weeks ago when she got her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She is trying to cope with the realisation and the reality at the same time, an enormous demand on any human being. In saying that, I realise that I am presuming a great deal and that I may be entirely wrong.

One of the ways we deny the reality of death is to expect other people to die with a smile on their lips. Nearly twenty years ago, Therese Brady, who was then director of post-graduate training in clinical psychology at University College Dublin, complained about the expectation that people should face the death in ways that everybody else approved of. She developed the bereavement counselling service for the Irish Hospice Foundation. People who were dying were expected to do so in line with the expectations of a society which had, she said, “outlawed distress.”

It seems to me that by outlawing distress we have denied dying people the right to talk about this most significant of events. How often is the person who is dying told, when they want to express their feelings about it, “Don’t be talking like that, shure you’ll outlive us all”? What does it feel like, I wonder, to have to put up with that sort of nonsense when you are trying to make sense of your own death?

We will all face death in our own different ways. What Nuala’s interview has done, I hope, is to give permission to those who wish, in the words of Dylan Thomas, to “rage, rage against the dying of the light” to go right ahead and do so regardless of how the rest of us feel about it.

I wish Nuala some comfort in her journey.

Oddments No. 5

Weekly bric a brac from Padraig O'Morain.

Au Clair de la Lune – not Mary had a little lamb – the world’s first recording?
From the New York Times, 27th March 2008, via Cronaca: For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, (above), a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Full story here.

Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, on the bus
In his recent autobiography Good Times and Bad, veteran foreign correspondent Seamus Martin has this childhood anecdote about his brother, Diarmuid Martin, now Archbishop of Dublin: "My brother had no interest in football and in any case this playmates were from a diffferent age cohort, so we didn't see much of each other out on the streets. At home, however, there were elaborate motor races in which mother's clothes pegs were used as cards, and in the backyard Diarmuid's fascination with the bus routes of Dublin was indulged. He knew the number and destinations of all the buses in Dublin and drove them around the yard in his imagination and much to the fascination of his elders. One neighbour, Paddy Keller, made quite realistic-looking bus stops that were planted in the ground at suitable intevals to allow him to stop and take on imaginary passengers."

No such thing as a free lunch? Try New Orleans about two centuries ago
The free lunch is said to have been invented in New Orleans when 19th century midday drinkers were given snacks on the side. As snacks go, the free lunch was substantial by today's standards: soup, ham or beef, a potato, meat pie and oyster patties, according to Omni Hotels which claims its invention for the St Louis Exchange Hotel, destroyed by fire in 1841, resurrected and now trading as the Omni Royal Orleans.

Sleeping commuter - sign of the times?
Seen on the Luas (tram) from Dublin to Tallaght: A woman asleep, holding in her right hand her mobile phone, open and with her fingers in mid-text; in her left hand, a cup of coffee. All perfectly co-ordinated.

Waiting to cut the hay
Like me, Erica Funkhauser grew up on a farm. I, too, remember the old tractors with the metal - perhaps cast iron?- heart shaped seats. In Waiting to cut the hay here's how she writes about the tractor:

In the toolshed the best thing
is the heart-shaped seat of the tractor.
You don't have to know anything to sit in it.
You don't have to squeeze out the choke
and pump the gas pedal before you can go anywhere.
You don't have to steer the front wheel around
like the neck of a stubborn horse
in order to get out to the fields.

Read the rest here, on Poetry Daily.

Got an opinion? Comment here.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

From sex to hot coffee - how the unconscious shapes our choices every day

This is the text of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 8th April, 2008. A collection of That's Men columns will be published by Veritas this summer.

Oh dear, can it really be true that those sexy images in the ads influence the behaviour of men?

I am afraid it is. But the women need not snigger. They too are prone to being influenced by attractive men in ways they might not expect.

Researchers at Stanford University showed men a series of erotic images and then invited them to gamble some money. The gambling exercise had no overt relationship to what went before. And yet the men who had viewed erotic images took greater risks in gambling than did men who had not seen these images.

But women interviewing men for jobs can find in their decisions influenced, unconsciously, by the attractiveness of the chap in the seat opposite.

Women in a mock job interview situation who were shown photographs of applicants tended to pick the more attractive looking men for the more high status jobs. They were also more generous to attractive men than to attractive women applicants.

Men in this experiment did not seem to discriminate between more and less attractive females. That surprises me given the number of guys in high status jobs who just happen to choose very pretty secretaries.

So I am not saying that these pieces of research are the last word on the influence of sex on men and women. And yet the influence of the unconscious on our everyday behaviour – sometimes in remarkable ways – is well established.

Consider this piece of research reported by Dr Christian Jarrett in the latest Psychologist (access restricted). A number of university students was asked questions, individually, by a researcher. While the questioning were going on, there were asked to hold the researcher’s drink. In some cases this was a hot coffee and in others it was an iced coffee. Later, another researcher came along and had a little chat with each of them.

The students were then asked whether they would recommend the second researcher for a job. The ones who had held the hot coffee cup said they would. The ones who held the cold cup said they wouldn’t.

So if you want someone to give you a job, buying them a hot coffee might work. This is especially so since people who drink coffee are more open to persuasion. For instance, in an Australian study, participants given a drink laced with caffeine were more likely to change their views on controversial topics such as euthanasia than those who were not.

Which goes to show that fellows who ask a girl in for a “coffee” at two o’clock in the morning are being a lot more clever than you might think.

Now, suppose you got a job from the manager who had a coffee in his hand at the time and suppose he sends you into a negotiation which you really need to win.

You take the bright new shiny briefcase your mother bought for you and you plonk it on the table, just to show you mean business, right? Wrong. If you ask two people to play cards and you place a briefcase in view, they will play more competitively than otherwise. So no briefcase, please.

Needless to say, you will offer your competitor a nice cup of coffee, though, won’t you? And if you want to be really sneaky, you yourself will just have a glass of cold water, thanks very much.

Here’s another one you can use. Getting people into a state of disgust or sadness will strongly influence their subsequent buying behaviour. In one experiment, students shown a film calculated to make them feel sad (The Champ) were later prepared to pay more for a bottle of water than people shown a film which made them feel disgusted (Trainspotting). So don’t make ’em laugh, make ’em cry and you’re on the road to riches.

And if you can’t make ’em cry, at least you can imitate them. Studies show that if you mimic the body language and mannerisms of a person with whom you are negotiating, you will end up with a better deal than if you do not. And, by the way, persons whose behaviour is mimicked are subsequently more benevolent towards others, a Dutch study shows.

The lesson? Don’t beat yourself up too much over your sillier decisions. It’s nothing to do with you, really.

Now, coffee anyone?

Got an opinion? Comment here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Surely not another complaint about Quesia.Com's billing methods - where is Ken Lay when we need him? provides access to thousands of academic texts and newspaper and magazine articles - but you need to beware of its trigger-happy billing system which can mean that using could very easily cost more than you think.

I'll come to my gripe (and explain the Ken Lay reference) in a minute, but first some other gripes from the Net:

Sara, on complained of difficulties in cancelling a three month subscription with Questia which renewed the subscription without reference to her. Kerim, on the anthropology blog, Savage Minds, complains also about the ease with which turned a trial subscription into a recurring subscription. Here's one on about's habit of renewing people's subscriptions without telling them.

And I notice that Lansbridge University, which uses, warns students of "Questia's policy on automatically renewing subscriptions. If you decide not to keep your Questia account before your trial period is up, be sure to contact Questia to have it deactivated. Otherwise, it will automatically be switched over to a monthly billing and you will be charged accordingly."

In my own experience, I signed up for a package which they renewed at a higher price than agreed. We sorted that out a year ago, or so I thought. This March they helped themselves to $8.62 from my credit card (which, incidentally, had expired six months earlier, thanks a lot, NIB Visa) with no explanation when my subscription, which I had no intention of renewing, still had a month to run. A small amount? Yes, but I don't exist for the purpose of giving money for nothing. I could not get an explanation from them as to why they took my money - their emails when I complained largely side-stepped that issue - and, of course, I didn't get my money back.

I wouldn't deny for a minute that this company has thousands of satisfied customers but I wonder how much's renewal policy makes for them every year? I don't know but if you don't want to be a contributor to their coffers, be very careful about doing business with these guys.

And Ken Lay?

This item from a report on on in 2002 said that "In three previous rounds of financing, over $165 million dollars had been raised, including an investment from former Enron CEO Ken Lay. Lay is also on the company's board of directors." Publisher's Lunch reports that Lay will stay on the board at least for the time being and quotes Questia's Helen Wilson as saying it would be 'premature' to speculate about his future."

Well, she was right about that alright.

Got an opinion? Comment here.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Annoying? Yes, but I don't mean to be so don't be mean to me

Photo by slushpup (Flickr)

The photocopier is out of toner.


You wait until all the bosses leave so you can make a hundred copies of your CV and the photocopier is out of toner.

What do you do? Some people will just shrug their shoulders and walk away. Some will swear, under their breath or out loud. Some will kick the photocopier.

What makes the difference? Everybody is annoyed that the darn thing is out of toner but only some get really angry.

In all likelihood, the ones who get really angry are the ones who believe, at some level of their minds, that the photocopier ran out of toner for the express purpose of annoying them. Or maybe it's not the photocopier. Maybe it's the gods. Maybe they're sitting up there on Mount Olympus figuring out ways to annoy people. Or it's the company. The company, which doesn't even know how badly its employees need to photocopy their CVs, has let the photocopier run out of toner so that the people who work there will be annoyed.

The essential point is that people get madder than usual if they think something that annoys them was done in order to annoy them. I believe we all think in this way far more often than we realise. The belief that people do things to annoy us is running along there at the back of our minds along with all those other beliefs to which we don't pay much attention.

It's annoying enough if the secretary doesn't type a letter on time, a delivery arrives late or the boss or waits until Friday evening to ask you to stay back on Friday evening. That, however, does not mean these people do things things for the purpose of annoying us. Similarly your teenage daughter did not paint the walls of her room black just in order to torment you. It's enough to be annoyed over the black walls without also assuming she actually set out to bug you (hang in there, by the time she's 30 she'll be a regular Martha Stewart, hopefully without the criminal record).

In the self-help movement Recovery Incorporated, they like to say that disappointments, accidents and annoyances come along about every five minutes so don't make it worse by assuming that these things are being done intentionally to get at you.

Every five minutes? Well, I've had days like that.

But how do you know that things are not being done deliberately to annoy you? Sometimes it's obvious, of course. The rain doesn't really wait for you to leave the office before it comes pouring down. You know that, however much you might grumble that it does. And it's very doubtful indeed if any supplier in his or her right mind is going to delay a delivery just to make you mad at them. In other cases you don't actually know what the motivation of the other person is. That's ok. You can just stay in that "don't know" zone instead of assuming the worst.

If you insist on assuming the worst, you're going to give yourself a much harder life than is necessary and you won't exactly be a bundle of joy for other people to be around either.

We live in a world which, almost of necessity, is largely indifferent to us. It cannot revolve around any one of us because you cannot organise a world that way. Therefore the world is full of events which don't suit any one of us. In fact it is an absolute dead certainty that our lives will be peppered with inconveniences. Some of these inconveniences we can change but most have to be accepted with grace. Otherwise we are in danger of becoming, in the oft-quoted words of George Bernard Shaw, "a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy".

Let me admit at once that I have been that clod and will probably be that clod again from time to time. But I hope to avoid cloddism as much as I can. And I think my best chance of avoiding that fate lies in repeating to myself, as often as is called for, a favourite phrase of members of Recovery Inc:

People do things that annoy me, not to annoy me.

(This article first appeared in my series The Other Side in Business & Finance magazine in September 2004).

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Oddments No. 4

Weekly bric a brac from Padraig O'Morain

In remembrance of things to come
I read in Rory Sutherland's Wiki Man column in The Spectator that in 1911 Marcel Proust (above) "found another excuse not to get out of bed by subscribing to Paris’s Théâtrophone service. This allowed him to enjoy live Paris plays, concerts and news broadcasts via headphones in the comfort of his own cork-lined home." Sutherland was writing in the context of developments in the US and UK which allow cinemas to broadcast simultaneous "livecasts" of concerts and sporting events. ".....chains in Tennessee and New Jersey now sell $25 tickets to La Scala operas, while there are cinema simulcasts not only of the New York Mets but of the Met: live cinema audiences for the Metropolitan Opera reached 300,000 in the first year, and should reach a million in 2008."

Christmas in New York
"I'm never asking them to mind the children again," a Dublin woman at a table in the dining room of a fancy hotel in Manhattan on Christmas Day says to another woman. "They" are husbands who had left the table for the bar and who, she says, had declared that "We didn't come to New York to mind effing children."

"I was stuck with them yesterday and the day before," the woman, who had a washed-out face and dabbed at her eyes with a table napkin, complains. I had noticed that the two guys had looked tense throughout the meal. A third woman, who had left for the bar with the men, had looked ready to explode.

The second woman says something I can't catch about "not doing it again." "Me too," the first woman says, "You can bet on that."

Then they get up and follow the others to the bar. What are they not doing again?

Poetry too as You've been great wins a Poetry Business Award
My first collection, You've been great, will be published this May by Smith/Doorstop which publishes the poetry magazine The North as well as books and pamphlets. The collection of 20 poems was one of four winners of the 2007 competition run by The Poetry Business which is associated with Smith/Doorstop. Also winning and having their collections published are Julia Deakin, Yvonne Green and Ann Pilling.

Anyway, here's the title poem from the collection:

A bronzed man pirouettes
on the TV in the corner
for his afternoon audience
in the nation's dayrooms.
They ignore his antics,
they are viewing re-runs
of home movies in their heads.
He spins faster and faster,
still no-one one takes an interest.
He cracks a joke, he titters,
he says you've been great and winks
to what he thinks is his audience
of frustrated housewives.
Someone says see you soon.
A medicine trolley rattles.

More poems here.

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And here is the rest of it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Still driving the cattle - men as stubborn as mules in the face of illness

This is the text of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 1st April, 2008. A collection of That's Men columns will be published by Veritas this summer.

I have a childhood memory of my father insisting on driving cattle along the road to a mart in Kilcullen even though it was raining and even though he had been diagnosed with pleurisy.

By “driving” cattle I mean walking after them with a stick and a dog while they headed up every side-road they encountered.

I don’t know what the treatment for pleurisy is but I’m pretty sure that walking after cattle in the rain is, as they say, “contra-indicated.”

But my father got into that stubborn state that men get into about these things and was quite determined that pleurisy was not going to deter him from selling cattle regardless of the consequences.

As it happened, there were no consequences. He survived both experiences.

Nevertheless this type of behaviour in the face of illness is, I think, a particularly male thing and I was reminded of my father’s stubbornness on reading of new research from Holland and the US on how couples react to a diagnosis of cancer.

The researchers found that if one member of a couple is diagnosed with cancer, the woman suffers more distress than the man. Even if it was the man who had the cancer, it was the woman who was the more distressed, according to a report on the research in the Psychological Bulletin.

"In practical terms, breast cancer patients are going to be, on average, more distressed than their husbands; but the wives of prostate cancer patients are going to be, on average, more distressed than their husbands," according to the study’s lead author, Professor Mariët Hagedoorn.
In coming to their conclusions, the researchers analysed 43 studies from around the world on distress in couples with a cancer diagnosis.

I wonder if this has something to do with men’s resistance to “giving in” to illness? I have very often heard women shaking their heads at their husbands’ reluctance to go along freely with the treatment laid down by the doctors.

In many cases, though of course not all, it is left to the wife to oversee the medication regime, especially if it’s complicated. If the doctor needs to be spoken to, that is left to the wife as well.

Some of what is going on here is a power struggle, I suspect. By accepting that you have an illness – cancer, pleurisy or anything else – you are putting yourself in a weak position in the sense that you are not the big, strong man you are expected to be.

Now along comes your wife with concern, advice, medication and an eagle eye – a caring eagle eye certainly, but an eagle eye nevertheless. This must be resisted in the same way that Superman must resist anyone who might suggest that he expose himself to green kryptonite.

But how do you resist? Why, by only grudgingly agreeing to take your medication, by forgetting out-patient appointments and by insisting on driving cattle along the road in the rain.

This behaviour is also linked, I think, to the “it’s only a flesh wound” scenario in the movies. A bad guy fires a bullet through the hero’s shoulder, an experience which would knock most of us into the day after tomorrow. Not our (always male) hero. “It’s only a flesh wound,” he declares and carries right on, fighting the good fight, perhaps with a fainted female slung over the good shoulder. When it’s all over there’s not a bother on him, except for the bullet holes in his shirt – and with luck that fainted female remembered to bring her sewing kit along.

By the way, that study also found, perhaps surprisingly, that cancer patients in general suffer only moderate levels of distress when compared with the general population.

"Only a minority of cancer patients suffer clinically significant distress," according to Professor Hagedoorn. "The myth that all cancer patients are distressed gets in the way of getting the proper attention to those patients who do become significantly distressed and who could benefit from a clinical intervention."

But that’s another story. Meanwhile, what about all those stubborn men? We are, of course, in the 21st century, the era of the New Man so all that stuff really belongs to another age. We new men would never behave in such a silly way.

Would we?

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Oddments No. 3

Weekly bric a brac from Padraig O'Morain

Photo by Ijcybergal (Flickr)

Coffee beats beer?
Strolling in Nice on a Sunday morning I pass a café where men sit outside drinking small cups of coffee. Given the absence of booze, I assume they're Muslims. On another street I pass a bar where two Aryan types are drinking beer. I realise afterwards that the men drinking coffee looked happier than the men drinking beer.
So, am I ready to abandon the beer for the coffee? Sure. But only on Sunday mornings.

L'Oréal pour les hommes - c'est pour vous ?
I am one of those guys who won't be seen wearing makeup this side of the funeral parlour. I think I'm still a member of the majority in this, though it's changing it's changing slowly.

My eye was caught recently by a blog by journalist Natasha Hughes in the Sydney Morning Herald in which she expressed amazement at seeing the groom at a wedding wearing what she called "slap-full coverage foundation."

Now, I don't know what "slap-full coverage foundation" is but her amazement reminded me of my own surprise at one manifestation of the interest in men and makeup. Last year on my blog I wrote a single paragraph piece under the heading Men, eyeliner and sex appeal in reference to something I had read somewhere else. Since then, this headline has been consistently in the top three drawing readers to the blog.

Why? You don't see that many guys going around wearing eyeliner unless they're Goths and I don't think the Goths are big readers of mine.

Do some of us have a secret habit? Are there lots of guys standing in front of the bathroom mirror wielding the eyeliner and slapping on the "full coverage foundation" and then removing it before the wife comes home?

Well, I'm sure there are some, but that many?

Actually there is one possible use of male make-up which I hadn't come across before. One guy responding to Natasha Hughes' article revealed that he finds "a little concealer" is always useful "to hide those bags under the eyes after a big night."

So there you are, chaps. If a night on the tiles has left you unable to face your usual jumbo breakfast roll, just pop into the pharmacy and ask for a little concealer.

So, how would you like to die?
Here are three questions that brought me up short. They're from an article by Joan Halifax in the Buddhist magazine Tricyle. The article, about the care of dying people, invites readers to ask themselves these three questions and to reflect on them:

What is your worst-case scenario of how you will die?

How do you really want to die?

What are you willing to do to die the way you want to die?

As the article says, "Practicing dying is also practicing living."

Or is it? Over to you.

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