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Archive for the ‘Humour’ Category

My daughter and her all-female class made their First Communions recently. The massed ranks in the church were quite a sight to see. Immaculately coiffed hairdos, amazingly stylish frocks, even a few fake tans.

Yes, the mothers looked stunning. Of course all the little Communicants were beautiful, and they could never be overshadowed by their Mums on their special day. But it has to be said, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Once I had my gúna purchased, I had thought my own preparations were more or less complete. But in the weeks leading up to the big day, sartorial and cosmetic arrangements were the talk of the playground. Who was wearing what, were the blowdry appointments booked, would the few pounds be shed and had the right shoes and jacket been located?

In spite of myself, I gradually found myself being swept along by all this.

A life-long hater of fake tan, I cautiously purchased a bottle of moisturiser which promised a hint of built-in tint. I slapped it on for a few days and fretted about smelling like a biscuit or ending up with orange palms and elbows. As it turned out, I’d been too cautious; the light shade I had chosen made no discernible difference to my skin colour. I did emit a slight biscuitty fragrance though.

I also bought slightly higher-than-normal-for-me shoes (with wedge heel to enable me to walk) even though I’m not that fussed about shoes. I had the eyebrows threaded. I booked a professional blowdry for my very easy to maintain hair.

I realised I was losing it when, seized by a last-minute anxiety about being out-glammed in the church, I began desperately experimenting with different make-up the day before the Communion. Confronted by the slightly scary results in the bathroom mirror, I told myself to get a grip. After all, it wasn’t about me.

Well, we all love dressing up, don't we?

The maternal glamour quotient was extremely high the next morning –  noticeably higher than at my son’s Communion four years ago – and I was glad I’d made the extra effort. Though I did wonder who we were all trying to impress. Each other? The viewers of the family photos in years to come? Was it significant that it was our daughters making their Communions – were we subconsciously trying to compete with them? Surely not.

Of course, on the day our daughters were the stars of the show. Every parent’s heart was full of pride as the girls sang their well rehearsed hymns, brought up gifts and did readings. Whatever your feelings about the First Communion ritual (and stepping back from it a little, the white dresses and the cash gifts are a bit odd really) it was difficult not to be moved by the innocent seriousness with which they took it all.

A wonderful day – and the photos turned out well. Phew.

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It might be that I only became hyper-sensitive about female TV characters after I had my own daughter, but I don’t think so. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t rolling my eyes over the hair-twirling, doe-eyed, boobalicious depictions of female “empowerment” in popular media, but then again, I am a product of The Age Of The Spice Girl (now, I know that it was also The Age Of Grunge, but I wasn’t bombarded with very many images of Courtney Love as I ran the gauntlet of pubescence. Probably just as well, now that I think about it).

Anyway, the message seemed to be that being obnoxiously loud, wearing a Wonderbra, and going out dancing with fourteen other girls was the essence of empowerment, which really got on my nerves, because I didn’t have fourteen girlfriends. It was more than likely the lingering discomfort of this baptism-by-Impulse-body-spray that made me such a cantankerous critic, so when I do come across a brilliant, real, intentionally likeable female character in pop culture media, I tend to expound her merits over-enthusiastically. And it’s not as if there are a shortage of real and likeable female characters on television! There are those who state that TV holds more opportunities for actresses, and they’re probably right.

Most of us have a television. For many of us, the television is on from tea time right through til bedtime. We are bombarded with information through the bloody thing, with a carousel of pretty products and powerful lifestyle options dazzling us every fifteen minutes. The ads themselves are pretty awful in terms of female characterisation – there’s the smug cow who teaches the menfolk how to use a washing machine, or the barely conscious waif offering her bones to the perfume gods. Yet, outside of the commercial breaks, you can find some brilliant ladies on prime-time television, making up, in a big way, for the amount of times I have to explain to my daughter that that’s not Cheryl’s own hair, or that subsisting on two bowls of Special K will make you malnourished rather than vivacious.

Great female characters on television are thick on the ground, but still, I think it’s a fact worth celebrating. So I thought I’d make a list!

I’ve left quite a few out, I know. In some cases I haven’t been familiar enough with the shows in question to add any of their characters, though I’ve heard people wax lyrical about this actress or that role – Mad Men, or Ugly Betty, Damages, etc. I haven’t made room for anyone too ridiculous (Patsy Stone, I love you, but you just ain’t real enough for this), anyone too martyr-like (much as it pains me to turn my back on you, Marge Simpson), or any characters who exist purely as a collection of wisecracks and whose traits change according to a pop culture Hot or Not index (yes, Lois Griffin, I’m looking at you). Nor am I including anyone who you’re not supposed to like or identify with (any of the glorious witches related to Tony Soprano by blood).

I can think of eight off the top of my head, just to get you started. Shall we crack on?


8: Donna Pinciotti – That 70s Show (Laura Prepon)

Oh, gosh, how delicious it was to have Donna Pinciotti as a female lead in a teen sitcom? She’s a outspoken, witty, and intelligent, and … and … a self-professed feminist! And not in any radical, man-hating, ridiculously over-the-top TV comedy way; Donna is self-possessed but never shrew-like, her beliefs and values merely part of who she is, neither a joke nor a burning flag to the audience. And yet, like many of us, she’s betrayed by her insecurities – her big feet, her fear of not being seen as feminine, her worries about her boyfriend’s loyalty. This makes her not only awesome, but real and flawed and very, very loveable. Donna really is a proper arse-kicking Girl Next Door.

7: Calamity Jane – Deadwood (Robin Weigert)

It’s not because Jane is such a tough cookie that I admire her. It’s because she’s such a crumbling cookie. Headstrong and foul-mouthed, she takes her place alongside the boys of Deadwood with an abrasive swagger that barely hides her insecurities, her fear of confrontation, and her heart of gold. Jane spends most of her time in Deadwood spitting and snarling, but we’re never in any doubt that she does so because she’s really not sure how else she’s supposed to fit in. She’s loyal and bright, but I think it’s when she admits to being terrified of Al Swearengen she ceased to be the stereotypical mannish broad and became someone you could really root for. A barrel of complexities and contradictions, constantly at war with herself; how could you not be on her side?

6: Clair Huxtable – The Cosby Show (Phylicia Rashād)

So yeah, Clair Huxtable was, traditionally enough, the feminine voice of reason on The Cosby Show, the calm and collected foil to her eccentric husband Cliff. This would hardly be notable if she wasn’t also professionally successful and devastatingly witty, and Cliff’s equal in every sense. Perhaps she’s not the most empathic character, for being outspoken is no “flaw”, but she’s elegant and fun and you wouldn’t be at all embarrassed about her turning up, all folded arms and raised eyebrows, at the nightclub you weren’t supposed to be at. You’d be terrified, but you wouldn’t be embarrassed. Clair was the original Mom Who Has It All, but unlike Gwyneth Paltrow, she wasn’t an insufferable knob about it.

Here she is being astoundingly awesome, reprimanding her daughter Vanessa for sneaking away to an out-of-town concert.

5: Lois Wilkerson – Malcolm In The Middle  (Jane Kaczmarek)

While Clair Huxtable is admirable for being the Mom Who Has It All, Lois Wilkerson is even more admirable for being The Mom Who Knows She Can’t Have It All But Is Going To Give It A Crazed Shot Anyway. Frazzled disciplinarian is her default setting, but she can’t see any other way to act when she’s mother to five sons and one extremely childish husband. And if frazzled disciplinarian is what she has to be, then by golly, she’s going to do it in the most rambunctious way possible. She’s a hard-working realist who’s far too hot-headed and yes, at times outright tyrannical to ever play victim, and because of this she’s both the heart of the show and the funniest character in it. I don’t wish she was my mother. But who said mothers are supposed to be perfect?

4: Sybil Fawlty – Fawlty Towers (Prunella Scales).

God, I love Sybil. I’ve loved her since I was a wee girl. I think she was my first real ranting inspiration; that scrumptiously scathing dressing-down she gives errant builder O’Reilly is one of the finest monologues ever filmed, I’m sure of it. And yet Sybil is much more than just a sharp-tongued bitch. Yes, she shows very little in the way of affection towards her husband Basil, but you can understand why. She’s extremely hardworking, professional, and self-reliant, much-loved by the guests, her staff, and her social circle; it’s only Basil that can no longer appreciate her for the gem she is. It’s implied that she’s working class, but she strives towards a better life by working hard, not by hanging on to her social superiors like her “aging, Brilliantine stick-insect” husband. The queen of the put-downs? That, and a whole lot more.

3: Claire Dunphy – Modern Family (Julie Bowen)

Claire is … dun dun DUUNNNN … a homemaker. She is a Mammy. That is what she does. But oh Lord, does she do it well. She’s protective of her children (and equally so of her hapless husband Phil), always concerned about making the right decisions for her family’s welfare, always trying to create the perfect home environment. It’s that she fails as often as succeeds that makes her so likeable. I’m not sure if any other contemporary character defines the challenges of modern motherhood quite as brilliantly; there’s a bit of all of us in Claire. She’s a nagging perfectionist who knows it. She’s a vixen who’s often gut-wrenchingly scuppered in her attempts to show it by her husband’s dim-wittedness and her soccer mom status. She’s an intelligent, reasonable woman constantly at odds with the insecure girl she keeps failing to hide from the audience. She is adorable.

2: Fran Katzenjammer – Black Books (Tamsin Greig)

Black Books is an absurd TV show. Bernard staples betting slips to Manny’s hands so he won’t lose them. Manny accidentally ingests The Little Book of Calm and turns alarmingly Messiah-like. But Fran is not as ludicrous as either of her male associates. She’s a very real person in a very strange world and that’s what makes her so bloody fun. Fran is kind, clever, manipulative, sarcastic, resourceful, impatient, unforgiving … the kind of train wreck you hope never, ever changes. She doesn’t settle down with either male lead (although it’s hinted that she had a brief sexual encounter with Bernard that she now won’t allow him to remember). She doesn’t have boyfriend issues (she’d rather just have sex). She doesn’t behave in a manner befitting of a lady; though she frequently tries to infuse her life with more respectability, prettier things, healthier pursuits, she always gives it all up ten minutes later in extreme irritation to return to her boozy, grouchy ways. Which of us can’t identify with that? I must moisturise more often. I must do yoga. I must take up a class. Oh, fuck it, I’ll just have this bottle of Shiraz and bitch with my best friend instead. And I love the fact that her best friend is a straight man on whom she has no designs whatsoever.

1: Turanga Leela – Futurama (Katey Sagal)

Futurama’s Leela is the least cartoony cartoon hero there ever was and probably ever will be. In fact, the only cartoonish thing about her is the fact that she has one eye and … well, was conceived by Matt Groening. Captain of the Planet Express delivery ship, pretty much because she was the only competent person around when her boss was doling out roles, Leela is your typical strong, independent chica – straight-talking, capable, athletic, a literal ass-kicker. She’s also vulnerable. Now, I know that the strong woman who’s also vulnerable is a grating cliché, but what I love about Leela is that she’s never vulnerable enough to stick with a shitty relationship because she’s afraid to be alone. She’s happy to boot a guy to the kerb (again, literally) if he doesn’t share her intrinsic decency; she refused lovelorn, slobbish Fry for years because she knew he wasn’t good enough for her. And for all her straight talking, she still has enough patience with her privileged friend Amy not to kick her into the teeth when she’s being condescending. Oh, and she had pity sex with Zapp Brannigan. And has regretted it horribly ever since. We’ve all been there, love!

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I didn’t take up drinking tea until very late in life – my twenties, as it happens.

Yes, I know that one’s twenties don’t exactly qualify as autumn years, but so engrained is the concept of The Tay in Ireland, not supping of a cuppa until you’ve moved out from home is as alien as growing feet on your ears. I taught myself to like tea because I was sick of various mammies dropping the pot in terror when I refused a splash. Whole armies of Missus Doyles stood against me. I couldn’t beat them. Not with reason, not with stroppiness, not with grandiose fabrications of horrible allergies; it was easier just to temper my tastebuds and get on with it.

Well, to an extent anyway. I drink my tea black without sugar, which wrecks their heads to an degree I’m placated by.

I began drinking tea. A little after that, I stopped eating meat. And the whole frantic rìrà began anew.

“You don’t eat meat? You … wha’? I don’t understand. How can you not eat meat? What do you eat instead?”

It started, as most things do, with my mother, who was amazed and appalled in equal measure, as if I’d suddenly become able to peel my face off at will. “Would you not have a bit of ham?” she would offer, as ham is, in her mind, not Real Meat and therefore perfectly acceptable fare for vegetarians. And in a sense, she has a point. Commercial ham slices are mostly salted water mixed with márla.

“I won’t have a bit of ham, no.”

“Chicken?”

“No, Mam. Vegetarians don’t eat chicken.”

“Mary Flaherty’s daughter eats chicken and she’s a vegetarian.”

“She’s not a vegetarian, Mam; she’s just health-conscious.”

“Jaysus. Well, what will I feed you?” And she’d stand in the middle of her kitchen, arms and eyes to heaven, hoping for divine intervention to recondition her unconventional spawn, praying for a celestial cow to fall into my gullet.

In the end she got used to the idea, and now, whenever I travel home to see her, she heats up two frozen veggie burgers and sticks them in the middle of a big white plate for me. Small mercies, dear reader. Baby steps.

It’s not just my mammy, who’s so set in her ways you could use her as a mathematical constant. Vegetarianism is not an uncommon lifestyle choice, but it still provokes some befuddling reactions here in Ireland. Let’s face it, this is a country where you were always expected to eat-that-up-it’s-good-for-you and thank the Lawrd above that you weren’t a starving child in Africa who’d have been only too delighted to finish that cabbage. We come from a long line of putter-ups or shutter-ups. The Celtic Tiger, and foreign holidays, and the influx of English bohemians who gave our comely maidens funny ideas about animal rights and breastfeeding – sure what else could you blame for this generation of Irish who have particular tastes and strong notions?

It’s not as if I’m a raw food fanatic, or fruitarian, or even a plain ole’ vegan. I just don’t eat dead things. I don’t give a (living, breathing) monkey who else eats meat. I don’t. That’s all.

“Do you eat fish?” is the most common question I’m asked.

“Nope.”

“But fish aren’t animals!”

“They are.”

“Fish have no memories,” I’m informed.

“Evidence suggests that they do,” I reply. “And anyway, I know plenty of people with terrible memories and I don’t go about attacking them with chilli sauce and cutlery.”

“Are you one of those mad people that won’t eat eggs?”

“I love eggs.”

“Well, I suppose that’s ok so,” they say, backing away slowly.

None of this is because vegetarians are considered dangerously insane, mind. I firmly believe that such bewildered reactions to my diet come from our hospitable culture – you wouldn’t have visitors to your house without offering them refreshment, and it’s a pain in your homely bosom if your visitors have unpredictable attitude towards dead pigs. Worse if you’ve got a veggie coming to dinner; what on earth can they eat, if not steak/chops/chicken/salmon? You cannot leave a guest hungry at an Irish table. It would be mortifying.

There’s also an attitude, not confined to Ireland, that vegetarians are prissy, overly-principled, preachy and awkward. All of which apply to me on a general basis, but my vegetarianism genuinely isn’t something I prop my chin up on. I’m really easy to please. Just give me spuds and salt. Job done.

The lack of understanding what a vegetarian is, as opposed to having to understand their motivations, is what flummoxes me. Vegetarians don’t eat dead animals. Dead animals are what meat’s cut from, so no meat. The most complicated thing is cheese, and in fairness, I do understand that many carnivores won’t be aware that some cheese isn’t vegetarian – I don’t understand why Irish restaurants don’t know this, though. Surely chefs know the difference between vegetarian rennet and animal rennet? The amount of veggie dishes in Irish restaurants liberally and lovingly sprinkled with parmesan really confounds me – parmesan is made to a traditional recipe which includes calf rennet – but then again, I recently bought Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals (I’m the only veggie in my house) and the majority of his “vegetarian” recipes had more parmesan in than a waddling procession of overfed Italians. If Jamie Oliver, the world’s most famous chef, doesn’t know what parmesan is, then I can’t really blame the local beee-strow.

In the meantime, I’ve resigned myself to sticking to coffee in McDonalds and nibbling my fingernails at catered events. Oh, and surviving on the occasional, lonely veggie burger when at the homestead. One day, we’ll get the hang of these alternative lifestyles.

And on that day, I intend to stuff. My. Face.

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Easily the funniest thing you will see anywhere on the internet today. Imagine Kate’s delight. I hope she and Wills have bought a full set of these….

The Fairytale Romantic Union of All the Centuries

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Snidely goes Cabaret

Nevermind the fact that a gay man who claims a gypsy mother would find little favour with the Hitler he professes to love, that there was plenty of room on those cattle cars for folks who weren’t Jewish.  John Galliano’s rabid anti-Semitic outburst was a vehicle to attack women for being ‘ugly.’

Galliano’s point as a man who made millions in fashion was the women on the receiving end of nasty tantrums were ‘ugly,’ had no style and should therefore be exterminated.  If that’s the case, Galliano should have taken a look-see in the mirror.  His personal style is not only ugly, it’s uninspired, derivative,  a mere imitation of the original cheesed-out figure he decided to mimic.  Nearly half the results on a google image search feature Galliano as a lesser-than Mickey Rourke ( not from the PYT era of the actor’s former screen credits , such as Angel Heart, either).  The sure-fire way to tell them apart is by the absence of a little dog in tow (R.I.P Loki!).  There are scores of photographs where Galliano appears as hybrid copy of Axl Rose, Bret Michaels and Kid Rock.  Nary a fashion plate in the bunch, I might add.

Axl? Bret?

He attempts impersonations from the film Cabaret, Snidely Whiplash and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Galliano even throws second-rate shades of Lafayette from True Blood in front of the camera.

We’ve all witnessed this type of creepy dude, one who shreds women for the least imperfection while they rate as an unmitigated aesthetic disaster.

Jack Sparrow with extra grease?

Dude, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Lafayette would totally rock this in the garden

Oops.  Too late.

Galliano channels Mickey Rourke

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Lisa McInerney: I remember well the February 14th I realised Valentine’s Day was not for me. I was eighteen, lurching through drizzle to get to a lecture, when a friend stopped me and asked excitedly what I had gotten for my boyfriend.

“Nothing,” I said. “Am I supposed to?”

For I had thought Valentine’s Day was about single people, which I realise sounds perverse, but it makes sense when you think about it. When you’re a kid, you use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to send lovelorn, barely anonymous cards to stodgy idiots too stupid to play detective. When you’re a slightly bigger kid, it becomes an excuse to go on the lash wearing a suggestive grin and a Traffic Lights Disco sticker on your cheeky chest (amber, of course – no one ever wore a green sticker coz that was, like, desperate). When you get to the stage where you’ve sealed the deal with your desired one, Valentine’s Day becomes trashy, tragic… a day for drunken boors, and weeping chicklit weirdoes. Doesn’t it?

“You have to get him something!” mouthed my friend, so close to dumbstruck was she.

“Nah. Sure he’s not going to get me anything either,” says I.

Naturally, he arrived at my flat a couple of hours later with a self-penned, TERRIBLE poem and a teddy-bear clutching a satin heart. I had nothing to give him but a sheepish hug. I figured that as he was a boy, he’d only have been embarrassed by any cuddly-wuddly gifts I would have proffered, so that I’d get away with it. But he stood there, looking sad and unloved.

He broke up with me a week later. Just as well; it never would have worked. He was far too big a sap.

Still have the teddy, though.

Sinéad Gleeson: I have had numerous heart-in-mouth Valentine’s Days. Teen ones where you pretend not to care and then ambush the postman at the front door. One year, five pink and red envelopes fanned the hall floor and I wondered if a portion of them were pity missives, as I was on crutches. Another year, 12 red roses arrived anonymously. The mystery! The romance! The idiot! Who spends a small fortune on 12 red roses and doesn’t sign the card?

Then there were my own delivery efforts. The memory of rushing up someone’s driveway in the dead of night, Ninja-style to drop a card in the letterbox. Or elaborately disguising your handwriting so that a guy you’d never spoken to would – gasp!  – not suspect it was you. When I was 15, I had a planet-sized crush on a guy in my school. He possessed creamy skin, cow brown eyes, an aquiline nose and floppy hair beloved of 1990s indie boys. He was incomparably gorgeous. About 50 other girls felt similarly, so I lingered in this imaginary, adoring queue and admired from a distance. I would see him approaching on the school corridor, hiding behind his fringe and my heart would totter from one side of my chest to the other. We liked the same bands, and one day his friend stopped me. I turned and standing beside him – and about three feet from me – there HE was. He – let’s call him John – nodded to my scratchy, canvas schoolbag and asked if I really did like The House of Love. The handwritten logo had taken hours of painstaking copying. I nearly keeled over. But not before noting his striking resemblance to the band’s guitarist Terry Bickers.

When Valentine’s Day came around, I decided I would send a card under cover of  ruthless anonymity. Or so I thought. I bought a calligraphy pen and copied the text from a House of Love 12” – “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”. I procured his address and posted it off.

Apparently John got EIGHT cards that year, a nugget casually passed along by our mutual friend some weeks later.

Me: “Really? Wow. That’s a lot of cards”.

Friend: “Yes. But he got this one card that he that was so cool.”

Me: “Oh yeah?” (being as nonchalant as a loved-up 15-year-old in pre-OMG days can be).

Friend: “Yeah. One with the exact same font as a House of Love song. Any ideas who, er, would have sent that?”

Me: (panicked now) “Um. No. Er, great. Well, seeya. ”

He looked at me and smiled, as he had probably smiled at the other seven girls who had sent his friend a card. For the next two years, John and the Leaving Cert did equal battle for my headspace. We spoke occasionally and I never said a word about how I felt. Years later, on a casual night out, someone revealed that John had actually liked me back. I laughed, of course. Then I thought about it. And then I wished I was gymnastic enough to kick myself.  But it was a good lesson. Life is too short. If you like someone, tell them. And bypass the calligraphy. It’s an almighty pain in the ass. And it’s so 1990s.

Catherine Crichton: As a skinny, speccy, swotty teenager, Valentine’s Day was a form of torture for me. Other girls, infinitely cooler and more popular than I, would swan into class brandishing their haul of cards for all to see. The ones who had actual boyfriends got gigantic garish padded cards and cuddly toys, others received mystery greetings from unknown admirers, covered in amusing and romantic verses. I could only gaze on in silent envy. My experience of boys was limited to the odd wordless slow dance at the school disco; I had never had a real conversation with one.

After several years of this, my luck changed and a card addressed to me hit the mat on the big day. It featured hearts and teddy bears, and had the requisite ‘roses are red’ verses scrawled all over it. It was perfect. I had no clue who it could be from, but of course that only added to the thrill.

I shyly showed it to my mother.  “What’s this?” she cried, unable to hide her surprise. “Ah sure, that’s only some of your friends messing”.

My Valentine balloon was well and truly burst.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir: Valentine’s Day. All I hear is people complaining about it. ‘It’s too commercial.’ ‘It’s a made-up celebration.’ Blah, blah. I love it, I have to say.

I haven’t always loved it – as a young teenager I longed for a secret admirer to send me a card, but it never happened. And one boyfriend sent his 9-year-old brother to buy my card (he was the type to tell you that, in case you got above yourself.) I think he was also the boyfriend who got me a Thin Lizzy LP, though I had zero interest in them at the time and no record player either…

Nowadays, I relish the day. Any excuse to be gooey and romantic, and crack open a bottle of Prosecco and a box of dark chocolates with my husband. The card is the big thing for me – I love cards for every occasion – and I usually end up getting two for my man: something arty and something cute.

I always send my sons anonymous Valentine’s cards. They know they are from me but I’ve been doing it so long now it would be a shame to stop. And seeing that my husband proposed beside the relics of Saint Valentine in Dublin, I feel morally obliged to have fun on his special day. Roll on Monday!

June Caldwell: I was snared rapid at age 12 sending a card to myself because my friends recognised the obscure verse as being only possible by my neurotic hand (yes, I was headmashed even then): ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, a car is yellow and a gate is green.’ Signed by a ubiquitous ‘Edgar’. Boy did they laugh and boy did I cry. At least I knew from then on I’d make a lousy fraudster. In later years Valentines’ Day (VD day for short) came to symbolise something a bit more sinister: my first boyfriend very kindly gave me genital warts which were diagnosed on February 14th at an NHS clinic in Hounslow/London – though I waited till he went down that evening to break the news -and of course he didn’t take it well. Cheers Garry!

Many moons later a man I was in love with decided to get his demented, derailed girlfriend knocked up and took me out for a meal to announce his imminent and certain exit from my life. This on top of the fact that I’ve *never* received a poxy Valentine’s Card (not even from my mother, who would normally be prepared to adopt any hideous gesture to help make us ‘feel better’) means that I abhor, despise, dislike, hate, loathe the very idea that one day could be more superior a show of bravura and love towards a humped one that the other 364 days in the homosapien calendar… that we are somehow meant to sit in a shabby restaurant somewhere, sharing a plate of deep fried garlic mushrooms (times are tough and the gourmet food is gone) to celebrate a bucketload of saints & martyrs who were all called Valentine?

Preposterous, the entire thing. A National Day of Farting would be far more contempo and cutting edge. Who is St. Valentine anyway?

Hazel Larkin: It’s a Hallmark holiday. The one day of the year when a single red rose will cost you about five times the amount it would cost on any other day of the year. The one night when, if you haven’t booked a table for two, you’ll be lucky to be fed in your local chipper.

St. Valentine’s Day is an outrageous affront to love and lovers everywhere. Yet, millions of people across the world buy into it, and feel pressurised to make a display of how much they love their other halves. Surely, if you love someone, you should remember to tell them – and not need a day set aside to remind you? Surely, there is supposed to be a degree of spontaneity in love and its expression? Having a day set aside specifically dedicated to looking after the emotional well-being of the person you’re supposed to love seems almost as silly –and outrageously affronting – as having a ‘feed your children day’.

Of course, I might just be jealous. I’ve never received a V-day card in my entire life – never mind a red rose or the offer of a night out on the 14th. Neither one of my ex-husbands made the effort for my birthday or our anniversaries; so expecting them to do something romantic for V-day would have been expecting too much. Boyfriends before and since my husbands (and I include the father of one of my children in that mix) have displayed a similar attitude to this particular Hallmark Holiday. Maybe if I get a card this year, I’ll revise my attitude to Valentine’s Day – watch this space!

Jennie Ridyard: At my high school there was an annual V-Day fundraiser, when carnations could be purchased anonymously and delivered to the dreamboat who’d stolen your heart, the dreamboat who dragged it through the hallways, the dreamboat who never knew you existed.

I was 13, and breathlessly I sent a carnation to Jacques — tall, dark, athletic, the greenest eyes in the whole world, a full four years older than me and (possibly) four-foot taller. I’d first loved him at the age of eight when he asked me to dance at the primary school disco. Yes, now I realise it was a Big Boy joke and, yes, his friends sniggered as I boogied, yet as I did my rhythmic sidestep all I saw was him and I thought I’d explode with happiness, especially when he smiled so kindly at the end of the song, touching my shoulder as he said thank-you.

So on this first high school Valentine’s Day I glowed, waiting for break, waiting to see my carnation pinned to his glorious chest, and there it was. Well, I presume it was there, somewhere amongst the veritable bouquet on his blazer, the great field of flowers that he’d sweetly crafted into a big L: L for Lisa, Lisa his girlfriend.

Eventually the flower sellers arrived in my classroom, and I feigned nonchalance just like everyone else did, pretending not to notice as Jane got flowers, and Tai, and Cheryl and Sheryl, and then the sellers were gone, my lapel was empty, and I wanted to die.

I wasn’t alone though. The only truth I know about Valentine’s Day is that if you’re alone, if you’re unloved and undesired, you certainly have company.

But come each new Valentine’s Day it’s the hope that gets you every time…

Claire Hennessy: Valentine’s Day bothers me. It’s not a Being Single versus Being Coupled thing – in fact, I think it bothers me more when coupled. Gentlemen I have been entangled with have had to put up with my ‘let’s not do Valentine’s Day, okay?’ speech – and I’ve had to curb my eye-rolling at flowers (flowers! For flip’s sake!), teddy bears with hearts embedded in their tummies, chocolates, and other officially-sanctioned emblems of romance. All right, to be fair, chocolates are always welcome.

The thought of being someone who genuinely expects certain things (roses, chocolates, jewellery, fine wines, romantic getaways) on Valentine’s Day is repulsive – as is the idea of being someone who despairs, aloud, at how unromantic her ‘other half’ is. I hate the thought of having to be on your best behaviour because it’s a romantic holiday, one that’s commercial rather than personal. I hate the thought of expectations, implicit or explicit, that money needs to be spent in order to demonstrate one’s love. I hate the focus on romantic relationships at the exclusion of all else – the notion that there is one person in your life who fulfils all of your emotional needs.

I’m a cynic. But I do think cynicism and romance are two sides of the same coin, and the truth is, I love the idea of a day when people consciously check in and remind themselves why they are with someone, and why that particular someone instead of just Being Coupled for the sake of it. When they appreciate that person instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day rushing about. I just don’t think Valentine’s Day quite does the trick.

Eleanor Fitzsimons: Nowadays my Valentine cards tend to be handmade, not shop bought. Delightfully crayoned, heart-studded wonders sweated over in the classroom and triumphantly handed over to thirty teary mums at going home time. This year’s offering, addressed to “Dad & Mum” made me realise that I might have drifted slightly off-centre in my son’s universe. Could the two tickets that “Dad” scored for Ireland v France in the Aviva Stadium have something to do with that?

It’s quite some time since I received a card from a boy my own age. Recently number-one-son allowed us a glimpse of the future when he handed over his latest masterpiece to a girl in his class and hung around shyly to watch her giggle and whisper with her friends. My lovely husband is very generous with his affection but more likely to fill the dishwasher and put a wash on than buy a cheesy Hallmark token….and I’m all for that.

I was never one who overburdened the postman in mid-February but I do treasure the memory of the few cards I received. So, where did it all start? In Anglo-Saxon England it would appear. Once ‘twere customary for a young lad to hand over a token of his esteem, usually a pair of gloves (‘twas nippy back in those pre-central heating days), to his lady; But before we sigh a collective “Awww” be aware that gloves were a symbol of authority and benevolence, often given by landlords to their peasant tenants. Inhabitants of Norwich, the second largest city in England, after London, in the eleventh century, would leave a small package on the doorstep of the object of their desire on Valentine’s eve containing a terse “a Good-morrow to you Valentine”. They would then ring the bell and run away, no doubt to peep out from behind a nearby wall and gauge the reaction.

This innocent practice was bound to be commercialised eventually. In the seventeenth century a book of verse entitled A Valentine Writer put in an appearance and at this time Samuel Pepys records the practice of delivering “substantial” gifts (boys take note). The invention of the envelope helped with anonymity and the penny post removed the necessity for knocking on doors and running away. Victorian Valentine cards were complex and intricate concoctions of lace and ribbon (similar to the doily-adorned delight that Sinéad Gleeson received this year) containing messages hidden carefully from the keen eyes of a prying Victorian Daddy.

Before the pre-printed card a love struck lad or lass had to resort to one of the many books of suitable verse doing the rounds back in the day or, if really dedicated, invent something suitable themselves. Those whose intentions were less serious might turn to The New Quizzical Valentine Writer, which contained a “most excellent collection of all the humorous, droll, and merry valentines ever published.” As the century turned to the 1900s paper Valentines became so popular that factories were established to manufacture them and that’s where we are today. You can buy just about anything with a Valentine theme these days but I wouldn’t part with my half-share of a slightly scruffy handmade card, even if the accompanying chocolate heart was scoffed by its donor before we even got beyond the school gates.

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I don’t buy magazines anymore. Not at all. Not even for the train. I prefer to read news sites, tweets, pompous novels, and the backs of cornflakes boxes; the only magazines you might find in my house are gaming bible Edge (which I nick from my other half because I’m far too cheap to procure it for myself) and Primary Times, which comes free in my daughter’s schoolbag every so often and chiefly functions as an advertising outlet for suburban activity centres. Nevertheless, I was, for the most part, raised by magazines. Magazines and my grandmother, who was far too busy baking brown bread and making eyes at Gay Byrne to teach me how to function as a modern girl-child. Everything I learned about love, life, career, and eyeshadow, I learned from the following periodicals.

I learned about boobs from The Sunday World.

Twinkle: Back in the 80s, girls were made from sugar and spice and all things nice, not from guts and determination and all these new-fangled ideas actual Spice Girls rode into town on. Twinkle was a pastel slice of placid imagination: business ambitions were channelled into teddy bear hospitals, relationship issues began and ended with naughty but adorable baby brothers. Twinkle didn’t teach me to be a hardass in shoulder pads, but it did make an army of friends out of my stuffed animals; because of Twinkle, I didn’t grow up the weirdo I might otherwise have been, with no one to keep me company but those cold portraits of Padre Pio and The Sacred Heart.

Bunty: One generally moved from Twinkle to Bunty in the late 80s, didn’t they? I remember there was a rival in the form of Mandy & Judy, which apparently was once two separate magazines, amalgamated like a papery Cerberus in order to challenge the preppy, blonde market-leader. I paid M&J very little attention. M&J didn’t have The Four Marys. Or The Comp. Or Luv, Lisa. Bunty taught me how to be a jolly decent little pre-teen, all about integrity and fellowship and lacrosse sticks. Incidentally, I only learned how to pronounce lacrosse the other day, when watching MTV’s If You Really Knew Me; a pretty blonde jock who was into the ould lacrosse learned to appreciate her older sister’s guidance, which was a lesson Bunty herself would have been happy to impart. Ah, the circle of life.

Horse & Pony: Too old for Bunty, too young for boys to start looking attractive (or even for them to be taller than me), I turned my attention instead to a magazine aimed at girls who wished and wished for their very own pony, but lacked the disrespect for the ISPCA to actually get one. Some of the boys and girls I knew had ponies and kept them on building sites, but after reading H&P cover to squee-ishly gorgeous cover for a year, I knew exactly what a horsey needed and that a building site was completely the wrong environment. Basically, I was a walking, useless, equine encyclopaedia. Luckily, puberty came along and saved me from many more years of crushing disappointme … oh, wait.

Smash Hits: My best friend, Caroline, bought pop magazine BIG, but I was that bit cooler and so I bought Smash Hits. It had longer interviews and an obsession with Britpop. Also, I was into, like, indie boys, and Smash Hits gave away stickers of Damon Albarn way more than it gave away stickers of Mark Owen or whoever it was Caroline was into at the time. Smash Hits taught me irreverence, a love for absurdity, and how to be extremely pedantic about song lyrics. And it once had a serialised interview with the godlike Ryan Giggs, a footballer. But that was Smash Hits. Always thinking outside the box.

Sugar: While some girls worried about tampons and bra sizes and The Willies Of Boys, myself and the aforementioned Caroline sailed through adolescence because Sugar had already taught us everything we needed to know. Well, outside of how to wire a plug, but I think that was covered in Junior Cert physics. Celebrity culture is all-pervading nowadays, but I don’t remember much gushing over celebrities in Sugar back in the mid-nineties – if there was, we had very little interest in it. Sugar was all about community, creating a shared experience out of the pubertal nightmare; it had so many problem pages, it is not a stretch to suggest that it was wholly dedicated to soothing the banal frettings of an entire generation. From Sugar, I leaned that sex is best when it’s with someone you’re completely comfortable with, that it’s never worth falling out with your friends over a boy, and that if your crush touches you when he talks to you, he’s probably looking to snog you to East 17’s Stay Another Day. God, they don’t make Christmas No. 1s like they used to. Nor magazines, for Sugar is set to cease publication this year. Woe!

More!: When dull and dreary became the perverted pages of Sugar – which dared to tell teenage girls that sex wasn’t automatically Wrong and Cheap – it was time to move on to More!, which was aimed at Uni-age girls who shopped and went on holidays and paid rent and Did It in armchairs if they bloody well wanted to. This was utterly enlightening for a while, though the armchairs thing never happened to me, as I shared my flat with four other girls, all of whom would have been most disconcerted had they arrived home from a lecture to find me and whatever Oh-Yeah-He’s-The-One I had at the time all akimbo in front of the afternoon’s Pokémon episode. More! magazine taught me how to tan, be sick in my handbag, apply for a credit card, and overspend in Penney’s. I realised shortly afterwards that I didn’t really want to know any of that.

Which is probably why More! was my last magazine, disregarding a brief dalliance with the ugliest kind of madness a few years later when I got sucked into the vortex of bridal publications, and barely escaped with my wedding budget still intact.

Anyone else with some lovely, glossy, print-media memories?

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