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Archive for the ‘Random Wonderfulness’ Category

My pride in being Irish has taken a beating over the past few years. Government corruption and clerical child abuse shook me to the core. When the recruitment ban on public sector jobs left me unemployed almost two years ago, I emigrated to the UK like so many of my peers. But while there I missed the good parts of being Irish – the people, the sense of humour, the music and literature. Our unique worldview. It wasn’t long before I returned – wary this time, but with my eyes wide open.

Although I was lucky and managed to find work, again I was tested – again by the government.  The lies in the lead up to the IMF takeover and the spectacularly unfair subsequent budget made me wonder why I’d returned at all.

However, a wonderful Christmas at home with my family and friends made up for a lot. One of the many highlights was receiving the re-issued Soundings anthology. It reminded me of the fun I had while growing up in Ireland. A memory of happier times proved to be a great antidote to negativity. So I decided to compile a list of the quintessentially Irish aspects of my childhood to anchor myself in what being Irish truly means to me.

1.     Ulster bank’s Henry the hippo

I’ll never forget the joy I experienced when I went into the Ulster bank in the Main Street in Castlebar and exchanged five pounds of my Communion money for a hippo-shaped money-box, a notebook, a folder, a pen, a pencil, a key ring, a ruler and stickers. Turns out it was the only good deal I was to receive at the hands of an Irish bank so needless to say it left a lasting impression.

2.     Fancy paper

From a very young age I was keenly aware that I was never going to be the prettiest, brightest or sportiest girl in my class. But I had one thing no one else did: a bumper set of stationary my aunt sent me from Birmingham, just before fancy paper collections became the Next Big Thing. Fancy paper the only form of currency worth anything in the playground so my set of duplicate pages and envelopes enabled me to strike the canniest of deals, and before long I became the Don Corleone of St. Angela’s National School. Good times.

3.     Red lemonade

Last I heard, the powers-that-be were very keen to get the red stuff taken off the market due to its carcinogenic ingredients. Just as well I made the most of its availability when I was a kid by drinking gallons of the stuff then.


4.     The projected stories that taught me Irish

I loved learning Irish at primary school. It started with Mrs Waldron sticking cardboard cut-out words on a velcro background in junior babies and then progressed to the awesome ‘projector’, a word that I thought meant the cartoon-like stories that our new vocabulary was based on, not the apparatus itself. Like I said, I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

 5.     Mála 

Sure, plasticine is fun, but even more fun is the fact that we have our own word for it.

6.     Token collecting

My childhood version of being taken to Hamley’s in Dundrum was perusing the catalogue of products you could get if you collected tokens from empty Kellogg’s / Monaghan milk packaging. But the king of them all was the Maxol catalogue. From my first Casio watch to the sewing machine that my mother used to make my clothes, it was the Maxol catalogue that facilitated all the landmarks of my early consumer history. However, my budding materialism soon corrupted me; I became devious, inventing reasons to go on long car journeys so my Dad would buy more petrol and get more stamps. I soon realised that no matter how many I had, they were never enough. Taught me a lot, those Maxol stamps did.

7.     Anne & Barry

My mother was a hippy who never took a parental hard-line until it came to teaching me to read. I was a lazy little fecker so the poor woman had her work cut out. My salvation came in the form of my first English reader school book, Anne and Barry. I delighted in the adventures of those crazy kids and didn’t want the books to end. When I was introduced to their Irish language equivalent Áine agus Barra, my life felt complete. My bibliomania has been steadily hurtling out of control since then.  Thanks, Mum and Anne and Barry! [link: http://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/Anne-and-Barry-books-Remember/%5D

These are the things I shall remember the next time a Government announcement has me reaching for my passport. It may be hard to believe at times, but there are still some things that can’t be taxed or devalued. And never can be.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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The ink so far

The ink so far

I’m getting on, getting sensible, getting worried about what people think… ah, who am I kidding? Even writing that line had me mentally reaching for a pack of Marlboro red and a bottle of Jameson at nine in the morning. Perhaps being young and being bould is one in the same thing to me. Which leads me to the current conundrum. To tattoo or not tattoo.

Tattoos started in my early twenties, a little obsession which had me under the needle for a patchwork of hours closing in on a full day of pain and magic creams. At one stage, my five-year-old son had to administer cream to the parts of my back that no contortion would allow me to access. They marked out times, obstacles overcome, relationships ended. Each tattoo planned, begotten and relished. The colours, the shapes, the delicious look of the fresh paint hiding more of me or perhaps revealing more.

My tattoos are mine, they inhabit my back and  – withstanding a sudden re-awakening as a bikini clad supermodel – will be hidden for the rest of their colourful life. That seems a shame. I look at others brandishing tattoos, names and spotted tribals where the desire to pick was too great to resist and feel the pangs. I can do better, I would never have allowed anyone to do that to me. I was lucky to have a great artist etch away at me, and now I’m lucky enough to know another whose work and outlook I admire. So I face the current dilemma, should I take the plunge and do my forearm?  I’ve looked upon its pitted surface for years, the marks of another time and life on it and wished for the colour, the right image, the beautiful band-aid to lend itself to my flesh.

Having my back done means a fleeting flash of colour getting into the shower, a sometimes reminder in a low backed dress. Having your arm done is a daily viewing. I’ve found an image, a little Holden- inspired fun, that I think I won’t detest immediately. It marks the last four years of sacrifice and hardship, but can I take that plunge? Do I still need to declare myself as anything?

So to tattoo, or not tattoo? I want it. Writing this has made me want it more, but the logistical nightmare of long sleeves around my parents (yes, I’m that whipped) for the rest of my days is a torture I may not endure. That said I’m 35 and should be able to make these decisions as a sentient human being (albeit one who still can’t bear her mothers ‘disappointed’ face).

What do you think, ink or not?

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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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To celebrate our 500th post, we Anti-Roomers share how the internet has changed our lives for the better – and the worse. We’d love to hear your early internet stories, life-changing online experiences and whether you love or loathe the interweb…

Anna Carey

The first time I went online was in 1994. I had read in the NME that Courtney Love had been rambling wildly but entertainingly on something called a newsgroup, which as far as my innocent little arts student brain could gather was a way of writing stuff on a computer that could be read by lots of people on different computers all over the world. I knew about e-mail, though I didn’t have an account – at the time, only computer science and maths students at Trinity, where I was in first year, automatically had college e-mail accounts, and I was doing German and History of Art. But this public discussion thing was new to me. So I nagged one of my best friends, who happened to be studying computer science, to show me how to read Courtney’s ravings on a Sun computer in the Hamilton science building. I was unimpressed by Courtney, but mildly intrigued by the whole internet thing – not that I could do much about my interest down in my Arts Block home.

When I started my third year of college in October 1995, arts students finally got Eudora e-mail accounts (though there wasn’t enough server space to accommodate us, so we had to save our mails onto individual floppy discs), and I haven’t looked back since. By 1996, I had discovered the possibilities of hugely entertaining webzines (I miss you, Blair); by 1998, I was engaging in discussions on Hissyfit.com with people who, as I discovered when I met up with some of them while visiting the US a year later, were just as they seemed online: smart, funny and good company. Soon after that I became involved in the forums at a women-centric literature site called Chicklit.com (named before the term took off as a description of popular fiction). Through the Chicklit forums, I was introduced to dozens of authors who have since become my firm favourites and, more importantly, many people who have since become dear and close real-life friends. When I joined Livejournal back in 2002, many of my friends there were from Chicklit, and these days loads of us are on Twitter. We’ve all been talking on the internet, and sometimes meeting in real life, for more than a decade, and my life is definitely better for it.

Since I first read Courtney’s ravings in the Hamilton, the internet has changed my life in many ways. It’s allowed me to keep in touch easily with friends who have moved away. It’s allowed me to make genuine, real friendships with people from Canada to Edinburgh to Dublin, people who were once just words on a screen. In Twitter and indeed the Anti-Room, it’s given me the equivalent of an office full of smart, funny, thought-provoking people, some of whom have also become real-life friends, while I work alone at home. It’s made my job so much easier  – when I started my first job at the Sunday Tribune back in 1998, there was only one computer in the entire building with internet access, and the amount of information available online was much, much smaller. It’s educated and entertained me. It’s given me countless books and music that I would never have had access to before – I got my first credit card purely to buy American stuff from Amazon, back in 1999. It’s enraged me and upset me – there ain’t no drama like internet drama, and over the years I’ve typed a few comments and posts with hands that were almost shaking with rage. It’s made me temporarily lose my faith in humanity – just a few minutes looking at the comments over at Comment is Free robs me of the will to live. It’s distracted me not just from work – entire evenings at home, evenings I should have spent hanging out with my husband or reading a book or playing the piano or working on some art, have been sucked into the maw of Twitter and Google Reader. It’s tapped into my worst qualities – my innate desire for distraction and novelty, my procrastination, my need to have the last word. And it’s put pointless pressure on me – while I do love my iPhone, sometimes I genuinely hate the expectation that we should all be constantly contactable and online at all times.

But it’s also entertained me, made me laugh, given me good friends, and shown me how incredibly nice and kind people can be. And for that, I can only be grateful.

Sinéad Gleeson
Sometime in early 1996, I remember getting up very early one morning to queue in UCD for an email account. Not an internet one – the two were distinctly separate – but one solely for email, with no other web access. The idea now seems positively antediluvian. The only reason I wanted said account, was because my brother had just moved to Australia. Email was a far more affordable way of talking about records and gigs than 3am phonecalls when I’d wandered home from a club. The clunky, minutes-to-load account was life-changing, and a bazillion gigabytes away from today’s smart phones with their Sci-fi apps. My consumption of online life has intrinsically increased. It’s invaluable for my job, for music, for contact with distant friends, for rewatching TV shows, laughing at viral nonsense… But it’s also the biggest time sponge I know, and the reason why I have umpteen unfinished short stories sitting on my laptop. It’s a leveller and a curse; indispensable and completely disposable. You learn to live with the duality of something that is both an enormous help and a hindrance. I’ve killed my Facebook account four times, but Twitter is the most instantaneous news ticker I know. I’ve made lots of friends, from my early days as Editor of an online magazine (Sigla) to Arts & Culture blogging and now among the wonderful women of the Anti Room. The key is balance. To embrace it, but to also plug out more and remember that when you’re not online – like those Saturday nights in your early 20s when you were broke and had to stay in – that you’re not missing very much anyway.

Sarah Franklin
I thought this topic was an utter no-brainer for me. Gorgeous Twitter, which some days feels like my own personal version of Sliding Doors. Where else can I chat to people I probably sat next to in college French lectures, people I unknowingly drank alongside in Soho dive bars, people like, well, the ladies of the Anti Room, who I should have known years ago? All at once? Without even leaving my desk? (although, as Keith Ridgeway put it so mesmerically, beware the false sense of company).  Yep; Twitter’s changed my life more than any other section of the internet, I thought.

But then I thought back a bit, to the prehistoric times of 2005. Twitter was but a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s eye and both Skype and my elder son had both entered their infancy. We were living in Seattle, a good place for knowing about emergent technologies and a TERRIBLE place to be if you want to show your newborn child to your extended family, and they’re all 5,000 miles away. Skype honestly changed my life at that point. Post-natal blues were so much easier to handle with the baby and the laptop both wedged on my lap, my son’s head given a ReadyBrek glow from the screen as he slept and my grandmother gazed at him, rapt.

It’s a funny old thing, the internet. Sure, it means we can shop without leaving our sofa, that we’re never more than a mouse click away from knowing who wrote the song lyrics you can’t stop trilling, but that’s not really the power of it. Seeing people, real people, people you love, from thousands of miles away; watching that family bond come down the interpipes; that’s amazing.

Lisa McInerney

I can’t really say the internet has changed my life. It’s made my life; there wasn’t a time, from my teens on, when there wasn’t an internet to teach, and entertain, and distress, and provoke me. I embraced an online life from the beginning – chat rooms, message boards, amateur web design … blogging. Most obviously blogging. The fact that we’re living in The Information Age is something I find endlessly fascinating, and I think it’s shaping the world we live so radically it’s practically … biblical. No, honestly. I waffle on about this a lot. The Book of Genesis, in which ignorance was equated with beauty and innocence, to the Information Age, in which there are absolutely no limits to personal pursuit of knowledge; we’ve come 360 and that’s thrilling and kind of disconcerting, if you’re a superstitious type. Who knows what effect all this info will have on us? But that’s a subject for another day, possibly one spent in a cafe in Amsterdam. Personally, the internet has been good to me. It allowed me a platform to write, an instant audience to make me improve, the knowledge that shaped me as an adult. And gosh, have I met some really amazing people. Some of my closest friends were originally “internet people”. I can’t imagine my life without them. And as for those who moan about the “evils” of Facebook – learn to streamline your experience, read up on the privacy options, and make the bloody thing work for you. I have whole legions of far-away relatives whose faces I’d have forgotten if we didn’t have Facebook to weld us together. Play me off, keyboard cat!

Rosita Boland
The A-Z of my internet life…

@ the new 27th letter of the alphabet. Antiroom blog – a must-read, everyone!
Bewildered to know how I would live without the internet now.
Couldn’t live without the internet now – did I mention that?
Dial up – took forever and sounded like a freight train.
E-mail - it changed everything about the way I communicated with people.
Floppy disk – never really understood them. Facebook – never did that.
Galway – where I went to my first ever internet café, in Cornmarket Lane, about 15 years ago.
Help! – Sound I emitted many a time when I thought I’d broken the internet.
Information superhighway – remember that?
Journalism – I hope it never dies, no matter what the future of digital media holds.
Kansas – what I would rename the internet.
Letters – sadly, I no longer write them, although I used to write six a week for years.
Macs – been through two laptops so far.
Netbook – my latest on-the-hoof bit of gear.
Online. Online. Online – are we ever offline these days?
Paywall – we put them up at the Irish Times, we took them down; as busy as the construction industry in Ireland this last decade.
Questions – are there any the internet considers it cannot answer?
Real Player – more new language I now take for granted.
Skype – talking and waving to my faraway friends for free.
Tibet – the very first word I ever keyed into a search engine. Twitter - where I’ve found so many new friends.
Unknown – there are always so many new places the internet takes me.
Virtual – a dazzling experience the internet allows; it has let me see video clips from literally all over the world, and almost feel like I’m there.
Web – a word I’ve already discarded.
X – internet, I heart you!
YouTube – my favourite clip ever is the mad music video, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.
Z – often difficult to get any when engrossed with The Twitter or any of the many joys of the internet.

Jude Leavy
Picture the scene; the romantic incomer – beguiling, charming and undeniably fascinating, with a metaphorical sweep of opera cape, a suggestive bit of eyebrow play and a mutter of sweet sentiments it snares me into its loving embrace where I swoon…

I am a fan of the internet.

Years ago it successfully courted and seduced me implanting itself into almost every aspect of my life. Work, leisure time, friendships, I saw the world with the tickets I’d booked online, attended plays and enjoyed concerts through it, reconnected with old acquaintances and kept in touch with new ones.

I made friends through the internet, true friendships sometimes with people from other ends of the globe; some I went on to meet up face to face, others I know I never will. It even played a role in introducing me to my fiancé (which I wrote about here) thereby changing my life in the biggest way possible.

I also have to it to thank for being here, writing with this amazing group of extraordinary women; the people I wished I’d known when I was becoming the adult I am.

Of late I’ve found my beloved internet to be a demanding lover, I’ve allowed it to muscle in other potential love interests in its quest to dominate. So have been forced to be strong and cut back on the hours we spend together, to recover more of my off-line life. I had expected it to cause me many a pang on leaving it, but strangely this hasn’t really been the case. Perhaps my red hot love is not the real passion of my life, but just a passing fancy?

I do hope not.

Eleanor Fitzsimons
Despite living a good portion of my life in the real rather than the virtual world I simply can’t imagine life offline at this stage. I remember the day we first connected, way back in 1996. Sneering in the face of a potentially skyrocketing phone bill the husband & I hooked up a laptop to our phone socket via a labyrinthine tangle of trailing wires that snaked across the living room and caused us to temporarily lose telephone contact with the outside world. I looked on sceptically as he typed in the long numerical string that he assured me was our IP address, no user-friendly front-end back in the day. I can’t remember what we looked up, something utterly innocuous I’d imagine, but I was hooked.

Several years later, while living in London, I was booking tickets to must-see shows and iconic sporting events, not to mention flights and train journeys all over a world that had become my oyster. I had serious RPS and my credit card was on fire. Before I knew it (and yes I am cringing as I type) I had signed up for daily internet updates on my first pregnancy.

Nowadays I simply can’t imagine life without the internet. You might as well ask me to live in a cave and forage for bush tucker. I use it for work and for connecting with friends, old and new. I tweet and blog and file copy and mess about and still book holidays and shows and sporting events. I’ve shaken off the shackles of the desktop and shed the weight of the laptop by getting an iPhone. Next step is undoubtedly an implant in my brain. There must be a website offering that…

Jennie Ridyard

Hail, hail the new religion, for is that not what the Holy Trinity of Internet, Facebook and Twitter are? Lo, on Sunday mornings we gather in the light of a screen, or sit alone in silent contemplation, picking out like a mantra our online prayer, “OMG”. We bow before the Gospel according to Google and Wikipedia, and confess everything to the all-knowing, all-embracing Status Update. Then we mutter endless Hail Mary Byrnes – is she really singing the next Bond theme tune? Some merely dip a toe in, checking church times online and googling their own names. Others are found in the pews morning, noon and night, tweeting each passing thought, blogging their sermons, and singing the praises of lolcats and failblog, while damning 13-year-old Rebecca Black to hell.

Like a religion, the plugged-in world offers an answer to everything and a friend to everyone. You can be reborn on Avatar, you can embrace kibbutzim on Farmville. Equally, you can cure diseases on WebMD, make your offerings via Paypal, and wage war on the sinners, the Muslims, the Bible-thumpers, the atheists, the smokers, the non-smokers, the obese, the anorexic, the ugly, the beautiful, and Justin Bieber. Oh, and you can wage actual war in Libya too, wielding the sword of eternal truth that is Twitter. Indeed, through the miracle of YouTube the scales fall from our eyes as we bear witness to modern miracles like Monkey Rapes Frog and Fire Fart Goes Wrong.

Yea, I tell thee, this is the way, the truth, and the light. It’s also how to lose your way, spread untruths and spend days alone in the dark.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Internet -The good: new friends (real & virtual); reconnecting with old friends; access to a world of information; being able to send things (manuscripts, photos) without the palaver of Post Office visits with kids in tow; online banking; online shopping (very important when you live in the sticks); literary blogs; freely available music; new audience for my books; cheap PR for cash-poor writers; speed of access to Important People in publishing etc.

Internet -The bad: e-mail pile-up; obsessing about being able to be online and/or feeling bereft if the internet connection is down; stalkers; reconnecting with old friends; people picking fights with you over innocuous/innocent statements; people being nasty in general; going online when drunk and being over-chatty; people knowing far too much about your life; time-wasting; isolation; Facebook competitiveness and boasting.

Antonia Hart

In about 1988, in the school computer room, in order to draw a green box on the black screen we had to type the following commands in LOGO:

TO DRAW
CLEARSCREEN
SHOW TURTLE
FORWARD 50
RIGHT 90
FORWARD 50
RIGHT 90
FORWARD 50
RIGHT 90
FORWARD 50
HIDE TURTLE
It was more fun than double R.E. but not much. I’m not a techno-refusenik. My credentials: at college I rescued a ditched black and white screened Apple Mac Classic (the nicest computer in the world, ever) from a skip outside the Physics Building and fooled around with HyperCard, running off a floppy disk. I met the World Wide Web proper in about 1996, and it seemed, as a series of pages linked to and fro by embedded directions, to be based on Hypercard. I discovered Telnet and FTP and wrote stories for the Sunday Business Post using Borland Sprint, an MS DOS based word processor. I did an MSc in Multimedia Systems at Trinity in 1997, the first year it ran, and it felt then as if we were part of the breaking news of the internet. I worked in web design, and online advertising. Got that? I practically invented the internet.
Of course it’s changed my life. Without it I wouldn’t be able to work from home, so would either have no children or no job. I wouldn’t be contemplating a summer house exchange. I wouldn’t be writing this post. My music would have ground to a halt at about fifty CDs. It’s changed my life for the better, but I want less of it, not more. I’ve read about six emails since I started typing this post. Getting to a point of concentration is like climbing down steps into a well, deeper and deeper until you can sense the water. You finally get a toe in. You’re aiming for submersion. With the internet, and the ways of working it makes possible, I find myself constantly climbing up again, down, up, down, up, and never reaching the water. Have I exhausted my metaphor yet? I don’t like the way it fractures my thinking, the shortness of its texts, the virtue it makes of hopping about. I don’t tweet, because I am guarding my time and I cannot afford to donate any more chunks of it to online conversations, no matter how relevant or witty they are. I think Facebook – despite its usefulness as a place to promote events and small businesses – is just vacuous, endless pages of self-promotion and self-portraits and all that information being sold to the highest advertising bidder.
I need time to do things for longer, to do them more slowly, to think about them in greater depth. I want more reflection time, more reaction time, more satisfying contemplation. I want to read slowly and with care, I want to take days to think about what I’ve read and what I think about it. I want to be in the world, not experiencing it through an online prism.
I also want an iPad 2.

June Caldwell

I can’t remember my first email in the same way I can’t remember my first roast potato, but I do recall getting addicted to random chatrooms very early on. Rubbish chatyack where you simply logged on and saw streams of absurd irrational messages dropping in real-time like plunging neon, before wasting eight hours of my working life, missing deadlines. Immediacy and anonymity were overwhelming features of my unspecified shadowy self on de web. Of course this would get me into trouble very early on. In the mid 1990s I mistakenly sent an email to my boss instead of the man I was having a fling with in the office, to disastrous consequences (especially as I was, er, mentioning what a prick the boss was at the time).

It was also the year I sat through a rather trite PgDip in Journalism, where I realised how easy it was to sift through cyber offscourings for feature ideas to sell. A tiny ancillary fact about an increase in unmarried fathers phoning Parentline about child access problems, turned into my first published article: ‘Clowning Around With Fatherhood’, published in the Big Issues in 1997. An article I wrote on narcolepsy a month later was picked up by a health supplement in the New York Times. I could barely fathom how any of this ‘global village’ stuff could happen! The ‘world wide web’ very quickly became a de rigueur necessity of both my working day and my off-duty life.

Flurry and melodrama surrounding this newfound instant access to info still manages to fool me, and I often fail to see the danger in mouthing off without reserve. A few weeks ago a 14-year-old girl hacked into my partner’s Facebook account, printing off all our private messages [some of which were unsuitably sexual, others which were raw and noxious drunken arguments dating back to a horrendous few years in Belfast) and is now claiming to be Pandora’s box disturbed by what she read. Her mother had ‘encouraged’ her to excavate this material, without any care in the world for how it might damage her. This is the kind of horrific payoff that seems tout de suite worth it in the midst of relationship breakup. The experience has made me feel sad and sick to the core. Likewise, the existence of trolls (even on this blog) upsets me immensely when they dig in claws for little or no reason. Or the flagrant paedo who keeps looking me up on Linkedin and any other website I’m registered to/with due to his lack of life, or the knowledge that I wrote things online very early on that I had no idea would linger everlastingly (rubbish poems, half-finished stories, crap ideas).

However, it’s not all bedlam and mobocracy, I have met some incredible new friends (antiroom peeps more recently), sourced much-needed work, shared opinions through Facebook updates, splashed about different demeanours and ‘frames of mind’ [especially on Twitter] I’d never get a chance to in the humdrum of ordinary daily life. A piece I wrote on depression won ‘Best Blog Post’ at the recent Irish Blog Awards – only a few short months into my newfound blogging life – and a poem I wrote was picked up and published by a UK magazine. As a writer, it’s becoming increasingly clear how vital an online presence is, not just for freedom of expression or the ability to rant, but to stay in touch with people who might want to hear what you have to say.

Digital stratosphere is also great for following other writers in the same genre I’m interested in. As a shy gobshite all my life, this type of connectedness is nothing short of love. Then there was the time I was being bullied by a paramilitary landlord in Carrickfergus and having got so totally bored with his daily intrusions, I lost my mind and contacted a local sex addict who took me to an abandoned salt mine where he did some ‘stuff’ that took my mind right off my ills for more than a day. But who wants to hear a glut of unsavoury details of how my cyber life led me astray when there’s so much goodwill and kindheartedness to mull over instead?

Claire Hennessy
I grew up with the internet, so I’ve never known what it’s like to be a grown-up without it. But a lot of the complaints I hear people make – the obligations to present a public persona, to update their various social media outlets, the busyness of it all – just sound to me like the sort of things adulthood seemed to be about. Being capable of making one’s own choices, but still having obligations and commitments, whether it was attending some work event or chatting to someone at the supermarket. Many of these things often sounded suspiciously close to fun, and if they were really that dreadful then why didn’t grown-ups just, well, not do them?

That little child-voice in my head that wonders why grown-ups talk about the things they ‘have’ to do when they don’t really have to speaks up a lot when I think about the internet and how time-consuming it can be, how we can feel under pressure to respond immediately to emails or represent ourselves in an interesting way on Twitter or whatever it might be. It’s the same voice that reminds me that despite all the complaining we can do, the truth is that for most of us, the internet, like growing-up, is infinitely better than the alternative.

Catherine Crichton

My contribution is all about Twitter. So, what have I got out of it?

  • A bottle of wine from @grapesofsloth, just for posting him a useful link
  • Two free theatre tickets from @darraghdoyle for entering a competition
  • A copy of Mary Poppins from @patomahony1, which I passed on in turn to @snastablasta

But those are just the added extras. Twitter is a source of news, information, fun, great conversations and recommendations for films, books, restaurants and music. It’s all out there if you follow the right people. TV becomes communal; many programmes just aren’t the same without a simultaneous Twitter stream of comments and observations.

I often work from home, and while Twitter can be a terrible distraction, it also helps to make tedious work bearable and lessens the feelings of isolation. During a recent hospital stay I was really touched by all the good wishes I received from my Twitter friends. And, sad though this may sound, I do regard some of my Twitter contacts as friends. I have met a few of them in the real world, and hope to meet more.

As @nickmcgivney wrote in this recent blog post, Twitter can help people to virtually meet their heroes. I have had a tragic middle-aged crush on actor David Morrissey (@davemorrissey64) since once briefly meeting him. Lo and behold, he joined Twitter and posts interesting tweets and an excellent daily music track of the day. Not only that, but he also engages with his followers including, occasionally and thrillingly, me. I have also had a few exchanges with the highly amusing @hughbon. Oh yes Downton Abbey fans, only Lord Grantham himself!

But the best thing about Twitter is that it inspired me to move beyond 140 characters and to start writing, on a (recently neglected) blog of my own, and here at the Anti Room. Nothing beats the feeling of someone commenting that they enjoyed something I have written. So I want to raise a glass to Sinead, Anna and all the other Anti Room women. Here’s to the next 500 posts.

Amanda Brown

Answering people’s social media problems in the Irish Times for the past year has taught me a thing or two.

Stuff I knew already: Irish people are intensely private, mostly because if it gets out their grandmother will know within five seconds, problems on the Internet feel as all-encompassing as problems off the Internet – they are real problems – and everyone’s compartmentalised social spheres are becoming  melded together.

Things that have impressed on me include; just how intensely personal problems on the Internet are, how little most people who use it know about how to protect themselves on it, how unwilling most people are to be rude on the Internet – except the copious amounts of people who become incredibly rude when they are on the Internet.

The ramifications of the move of large parts of our social lives online are profound and currently little known.

What we do know is society has always had technology and technology has always been a part of society. There are negative books  about the Internet being spat out as if the printed word were going out of fashion (snark), the most recent being a tome called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. These types of books claim the revolution of social media on the Internet is making us socially poorer by creating an illusion of being surrounded by friends when the essential elements of real friendship (regular real world meetings, face to face communication etc) are not there.

There are other, more positive books, notably The Cognitive Surplas by Clay Shirky, which recognises the enormous power of good that has occurred from millions of people democratically connecting in order to entertain, inform and even encourage each other to give charitably and improve the real world.

The arguments against the Internet continue to rumble on ploughing the exact same ground as all those spouted against television.

My bottom line, having dealt primarily for the last year with people’s problems online, is that the Internet and more specifically Social Media, widens our lives out in a mostly positive way by making connection and meaningful, as well as meaningless, communication possible at the touch of a fingertip

As Adam Gopnik wrote in his superb New Yorker article on the subject, “Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them.”

Social media delivers far more people’s thoughts far more effectively than any previous media revolution.

That will take us where we decide to take ourselves.

Aoife Barry

My first forays onto the internet took place when I was in secondary school. I’d go online with a friend, using her creaky dial-up connection. We’d sit chomping on Pringles while patiently waiting for the beep-beep-brriing-buzz noises to signal that we were on our way to the super cyber highway. Though the internet seemed a huge and somewhat unfathomable beast, with an infinite amount of information at my fingertips, I always ended up doing exact the same thing – going to Alta Vista and searching for very basic items like song lyrics, or information on TV shows. Wild days, to be sure.

That said, at one stage, unsure of what else to do online, I’d just search for ‘chatrooms’. Not my finest moment, it has to be said – up there with when I used to think LOL meant ‘lots of love’. That naivety makes me laugh now, but back then the internet really was unchartered territory. Today, I’m wholeheartedly pro-internet. Just last night, I caught the end of a documentary on Robert Moog, the creator of the Moog synthesiser, on TV. That led me online, searching for Youtube videos about early electronic music; watching old Delia Derbyshire videos and marvelling, as always, at her perfect ear for beat-matching; and then discovering legendary Theremin players.

I believe the net has enhanced women’s lives immeasurably. Online, we can join communities, connect with people with similar ideals to us; find out more about feminism; and read about women’s rights in other countries. We can blog about our experiences, in private, using a pseudonym. We can talk about sex, contraception, relationships, in the ‘open’, perhaps for the first time in our individual lives.

Have a problem? Google it. It’s perhaps no surprise that type in the words ‘Am I…’ into Google and the first suggestion is ‘Am I pregnant?’

But just as the internet offers freedom, it offers constraints too. It’s not free of the prejudices which can plague life off-line – sexism, racism, homophobia. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people online, and women are exposed to the same abuse on the net as they may be in real life situations, albeit in a non-physical manner. Though the internet offers anonymity, and that includes the ability to hide your sex, if you ‘out’ yourself as female, or male, or transgender, you leave yourself open to being judged on that.

I find the internet can also impinge on my real life – sucking up precious minutes and hours when I should be working, playing on my innate ability to procrastinate and sitting like the proverbial shoulder-devil, tempting me with just ‘one more’ look at a new site or Twitter feed.

But despite all of its pitfalls, I will forever be grateful for the internet – and do not take the fact I live in a country where I have uncensored access to it for granted. It gives me knowledge, it gives me space to vent, and has even been beneficial to my career.  And now that I’ve learned not to spend time arguing with people on forums (that’s a top tip there if you want to stay sane on the internet!), ‘surfing the net’ is a rather pleasant experience indeed, even if it does have its ups and downs.


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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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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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January. Don’t we all just hate it? The dark mornings, the return to dull routine, the lack of cash, the lack of a waistline.

But for me, every January there is a small gleam in the darkness, courtesy of the BDO Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships. In our house, this is genuinely one of the TV sporting highlights of the year. Though we don’t do much TV sport, in fairness.

Darts - a January TV highlight

There’s much to love about darts. First of all, the players themselves. Every man (and it is mostly men) has a nickname, a ‘walk-on’ song and a static-filled synthetic shirt, often with a wacky image stitched on the back.  An unwelcome development this year has been some toning down in the sartorial department – too many polite, minimally adorned polo shirts for my liking. Tats and sovs are still very much in evidence however.

Top players include Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams, Tony ‘Silverback’ O’Shea and John ‘Boy’ Walton. My favourite is Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey, who sadly crashed out in the first round of this year’s competition. He resembles an overweight Dracula, walks on wearing a cape and throws rubber bats into the crowd. He plays with a scarily intense, surly demeanour and is prone to bouts of ‘oche rage’. He’s great.

The venue, a vast function room in the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, Surrey, plays host to packed houses every night. The fans are noisy and enthusiastic, dressing up in tribute to their favourite players and waving 180 banners in the air every time the maximum score for a throw is achieved. Altogether now – ‘Ooooonehuuuuuundred – aynd- eeeiiightteeeeeee’. For all their fervour, the crowds are also very sporting, respecting the calls for ‘best of order’ at crucial moments.

This also applies to the players. Rather than polite handshakes at the end of a match, you’re more likely to see full-on bear hugs and big smiles all round, albeit a little forced on the part of the loser.

The BBC coverage is also excellent. The commentators come up with regular gems – the other night they likened John Boy Walton to a ‘battered cod’ who was being ‘reeled in’ by his opponent. At the climax of the match they were calling for a milk float so they could see who had the biggest bottle. The BBC has also secured the services of darts legend and never knowingly under-bejewelled Bobby ‘Dazzler’ George as guest pundit. Bobby knows his darts, is never afraid to voice a frank opinion and loves a catchphrase – ‘trebles for show, doubles for dough’ being a favourite.

Ultimately however, the real joy lies in the incredible skill of the players. Their accuracy and consistency of scoring is quite amazing to watch, not to mention their mental arithmetic as they constantly recalculate what scores they need to achieve in order to check out on a double. The game also requires extreme mental toughness. Like all individual sports, there is often as big a challenge from nerves as there is from the opposing player. Players can suddenly lose their ability to hit the target, when they could do no wrong minutes before.

At these moments, the TV picture cuts away to the long-suffering wives and girlfriends, mums and dads. They are living every throw – and it’s pure torture.

Women players don’t feature hugely in the BDO tournament coverage. Unfortunately they are treated almost as also-rans and their matches are only ever a somewhat pathetic best-of-three sets, as opposed to best-of-13 for the men’s final. Things may be different over at the rival darts organisation, the PDC, (there was a split years ago) but as we don’t have any sports channels we are once a year BDO fans only.

This Sunday afternoon will see myself and my husband glued to coverage of the live final. Our kids are vaguely embarrassed by our enthusiasm at this stage, so may not join us in our little January ritual. They don’t know what they’re missing.

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