Thursday, December 31, 2009

That was the Noughties...

The Review of the Decade magazine I edited is FREE with today's Irish Independent - plenty to read when you're hibernating at home tomorrow. Having switched so much to writing these past two years, it was great to get my teeth back into a meaty piece of editing for a month or so.

Listen to me plug it here on the Tom Dunne Show on Newstalk...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Global gifts

I would love if people would read this piece and consider giving one of Concern's Global Gifts as a stocking filler to loved ones this year - see the range at

'Kindness is not a weakness'
Having seen the impact of Irish generosity in Africa, Lorraine Keane is on a mission to show that a little kindness goes a long way, both in charity and everyday life, writes Susan Daly (cover story from Irish Independent's Weekend magazine)

It's not often that Lorraine Keane is left struggling for words. But she is as she tries to explain how she felt when she met a five-week-old baby infected with the HIV virus.

"It was the saddest moment of the trip," says Keane. The TV presenter met the baby boy and his 29-year-old mother, Clara, when she travelled to Zimbabwe and Mozambique this month to publicise the work of Trócaire's Global Gifts campaign.

Clara had been very sick towards the end of her pregnancy and she didn't know why. "It turned out that Clara was HIV positive and, because she wasn't aware of it, she wasn't given drugs during the pregnancy to stop the virus passing to her baby. When her husband found out, he left. Now she's living back with her mother, the baby and her other three children."

These are the kind of heartbreaking stories that Keane has been haunted by since her return from the Trócaire projects. "But this is why we must keep giving. Clara's baby still weighs only five pounds, but he put on weight for the first time last week because of medicine and nutrition he received from Trócaire -- Irish people's money is literally keeping people alive here."

The last time I met Lorraine Keane was exactly one year ago in entirely contrasting circumstances. Back then, she was still the central presenter of the TV3 fluff-fest Xposé and posing with her colleagues for the cover of Weekend magazine's Christmas edition. The floor of a ballroom in the Shelbourne Hotel was covered with glittery gowns for the shoot, hair and make-up artists primping and powdering the girls for our photographer.

Keane had arrived with her hair and make-up already styled, courtesy of two of her younger sisters, Tori and Becky, "my A-team". While courteous and professional, she was clearly there to get the job done and get out. She managed -- pleasantly, mind -- to insert her own agenda into proceedings by making reference to her clothing line with designer Michelina Stacpoole.

She happily admits she's a PR person at heart. "My actual qualification is PR. I went to college and studied broadcasting and journalism, but my real qualification is PR, which I did at night."

But this isn't the red-carpet Keane the Irish public is accustomed to. Hair in plaits, in T-shirt and flat sandals, she toured mud huts and schools made of bamboo, seeing first-hand the effects that gifts of a goat, lunch for a schoolchild and clean water have had on lives there.

"We visited the Amazon school in Insiza, Zimbabwe, where the children get their only meal of the day from Trócaire's Global Gifts. It costs an Irish person just €10 to feed one African child for a year. Some of those children were walking up to 12km each way in their bare feet -- they wouldn't make it if they weren't being fed. It's difficult to put into words how heart-breaking they are."

A week earlier, sitting in the kitchen of her home in Dublin, she confessed that she wasn't expecting the trip to be a pleasant experience. "I'm just so scared," she said. "I don't know what I'm going to see."

Hands wrapped around a mug of tea, she said: "I'm not worried about me (physically)," she said, "but since I've had the girls, I'm a mess. I just can't handle sick babies or anything."

At this stage, with eldest daughter Emelia (now six) and Romy (three), her maternal instincts are finely tuned. She was dreading the latter half of the Trócaire trip, to Mozambique. "That's where we're going to be visiting orphanages and AIDS babies, moms and babies with HIV, and sick and vulnerable people," she said. "Those are the people that weren't helped by funding last year but are to be helped by funding this year. It's important to show both sides of it."

Even as she put on a defiant face -- "if we raise money, I don't care what it does to me" -- her speech came more haltingly than at any other point in the conversation. She was feeling particularly vulnerable after the death of her daughter Emelia's schoolfriend, Ruby Ayoub, the little Dublin girl whose meningitis was misdiagnosed twice as swine flu. When I first rang to arrange this interview, Keane and her daughters had just been releasing balloons in a ceremony to mark what should have been Ruby's sixth birthday.

"With Ruby dying, it just knocked all the stuffing out of me," she says. "I'm a friend of Ruby's mom. That Friday [before she died] Ruby ran up to me in the schoolyard wanting to pick Romy up because she just loves babies and it's just ... it frightens the life out of me. That made me fear this trip even more; I get really upset when I see children sick or dying."

Keane comes from a family that values industry. Her father was a member of The Indians showband (and still is; they celebrate 40 years performing next year). Her mother raised seven children and Keane, as second eldest, saw how hard her parents worked to make them happy, to educate them and occasionally to spoil them. "My parents separated 16, 17 years ago," says Keane. "I think they worked so hard that they didn't have time for each other. In the end, they lost what they started out with."

Keane has reiterated frequently since April that her departure from TV3 was a decision based on wanting to spend more time with her family and was something she had been talking about to her husband, Peter Devlin, for months. His new job as musical director on RTE's All Ireland Talent Show must have made any decision that might have affected the family finances a lot easier.

There is no doubt that, on a personal level, she is happier. Sometimes, when her daughters would call out at night she would say, "Oh no, Peter will you go in? I'm just so wrecked and I'm up early and I'm on the telly", then feel awful about it, "riddled" with the guilt of the career mum.

This candour makes Keane likeable -- "kindness is not a weakness" -- but she is clearly shrewd. Because her resignation from TV3 seemed sudden and she was reportedly unhappy with changes being imposed on Xposé from on high, it is understandable that people have been fascinated by the minutiae of her departure. When I ask if she realised that she was "missing out on more important things in life" after she left, rather than before, she shuts down with a definitive, "No. It's why I left".

She spent much of the summer away from Ireland with family -- she and Devlin have a holiday home in the south of France -- so Keane didn't see the Total Xposure! reality contest TV3 ran to find a new Xposé presenter. "Thank God," she says, laughing. "I believe I didn't miss much." She adds: "I always try to get the positive out of things, so I took it as flattery. They took an entire programme over a summer to try and find a replacement."

There's that PR instinct again; the positive spin. Asked about her future plans for TV she says that she "can't give too much away", but adds, "I like talking. You might have noticed, I like dealing with people; I like the idea of sitting down on a couch and being allowed to ask any question you want. Like you are now". So I take it that she's either got a chat show on the cards, or she's cultivating the idea that she would make a great talk-show host.

There is plenty to admire about Keane's personal motto that "just because you're nice, doesn't mean you're marshmallow". She's unapologetic about liking the finer things in life: she began collecting art as a young woman, paying for pieces in monthly instalments from her AA Roadwatch cheques.

Now, she has a small Guggi in her kitchen (a wedding present from the artist/musician who is a family friend) and a giant Graham Knuttel tapestry in her elegant living room.

On the other hand, the family sponsors a child in Nigeria called Clemence, and Emelia in particular is very sensitive to the world beyond the elegant front door of their Georgian home.

"Our children are privileged, as we all are, as my own childhood was. You have to let them know that it's not like that everywhere and to appreciate it," she says, using that as a cue to explain how half a million children in Mozambique don't have birth certs because their impoverished parents can't afford the €10 to register them.

"So as a result, the child's not entitled to anything. Medication, education, food; they can't avail of any of that. So €10 can make a child exist and therefore make them survive.

"I'm in the business a long time and I'm kind of hard to say 'No' to anyway," she laughs.

To purchase a Trócaire Global Gift this Christmas log onto or call 1850 408 408 (ROI); 0800 912 1200 (NI)

- Susan Daly

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wham bam? No thank you, ma'am is a website aimed at the more mature internet user - I've been recommending some movies that reach the parts Vin Diesel cannot...
Check it out here -

Some older people shy away from the cinema because it seems that the big film studios are intent on targeting young male audiences with wham-bam action thrillers. Susan Daly previews a few upcoming gems that will appeal to a more mature audience

When animation studio Pixar released a feature called Up last month, it might have been one to bring the grandchildren to see. An old man, tired of his dreary lot, ties helium-filled balloons to his house and floats away on the adventure of a lifetime. However, this was no piece of childish whimsy. The film captivated older viewers who could relate to the poignancy of ageing but also to the joy of fulfilling long-held dreams.

The wonderful news is that while Up might have departed most cinemas (but will soon be available on DVD), there are plenty of movies on the way that are worth the ticket price. Anyone with an interest in the intriguing Orson Welles, director of classics such as Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai, should see the newly released Me and Orson Welles. The mannerisms, voice and charisma of the young Welles in his early career as a theatre mogul are brilliantly captured by actor Christian McKay.

Others to watch out for
Where The Wild Things Are (in cinemas from December 11), like Up, has cross-generational appeal. This semi-animated feature is based on the 1960s children’s book of the same name. It centres on a troubled boy called Max as he escapes home to enter a world of fantasy. Wise, older eyes will recognise it as a charming rite-of-passage tale.

The Beatles are still a favourite with authors, film-makers and music lovers almost 40 years after they split up. Nowhere Boy (from December 26) focuses on the teenage years of John Lennon as he struggles with his complex relationships with a largely absent mother and the aunt who raised him.

Holmes aficionados can compare their favourite TV and film Sherlock (Basil Rathborne or perhaps Jeremy Brett?) to Robert Downey Jr’s version in Sherlock Holmes (from December 26). The inimitable Dr John H Watson is played by Jude Law.

The film trailer for The Road (from January 8) has been somewhat misleading in depicting the movie as a post-apocalyptic action thriller. Those sequences are in fact a very small part of the film, which is based on the stunning Cormac McCarthy novel. The rest is a profound contemplation on what makes us human and it asks questions about mortality and spirituality that few of us dare to face.

Light of heart
If you would prefer to start the New Year in a more light-hearted mood, try It’s Complicated (from January 8), which stars the luminous Meryl Streep. She plays a divorcee whose ex (played by Alex Baldwin) decides he wants her back just as she begins to fall for nice-but-shy Steve Martin. It’s directed by Nancy Meyers who brought Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton together in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give.

There are Oscar bells ringing all over Precious (from January 29), an Oprah-backed tale of a teenage girl who strives to overcome abuse, neglect and illiteracy. It has been recommended warmly as “inspiring and funny” by the Reel Geezers, a dynamic octogenarian film critic couple called Marcia and Lorenzo who record their movie reviews for the internet. They are an excellent port of call for down-to-earth recommendations on new releases.

Two other films to look out for at the start of next year are Everybody’s Fine and Invictus. Everybody’s Fine, due out on February 26, is a sweet, moving story that sees Robert deNiro as a widower who tries to reconnect with his adult children after his wife’s death.

The release date for Invictus has yet to be announced but this Clint Eastwood-directed biopic of Nelson Mandela is highly anticipated. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, an event that went some way to heal the nation after the fall of apartheid.

Looking for a classic?
For those who insist that the oldies are the goldies, it’s worth noting that the Wild Strawberries club at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) in Dublin returns with two screenings of festive favourite White Christmas on December 16 and 18. Join the IFI and your ticket is €4 including tea and coffee. Now there’s a winter warmer!

Useful Websites
The Irish Film Institute and the Wild Strawberries film club:
Film reviews from Marcia and Lorenzo, aka The Reel Geezers:
For film listings for the whole country, click on the ‘Cinema’ tag at

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I'm getting too old for this...

My Nightwatch col from yesterday's Day and Night magazine. The headline as published in the magazine was 'Sleep is for wimps'.
Check out the headline as it appeared in the online link for a good laugh -

Vampires and zombies are so hot right now. And rightly so -- they're the trademark bookends of an excellent night out. You start the evening, all smoky-eye make-up and trailing an aura of mystique. If you're lucky, you get to sink your fangs into someone.

By the wee hours, though, you've shapeshifted into the other; drooling, mascara on a downward slide, arms stretched out ahead trying to feel your way home. Very few people know this next bit is a scientific fact. After 3am, if you close your eyes while walking, your internal GPS will kick in and bring you the most direct route to your bed. That route will also magically take in a chipper. It's biological genius.

What is not so genius is timing your arrival home after your first all-night party in ages -- ages, I tell you! -- with the departure of the new neighbour for work. Three words to strike dread into the heart: Walk Of Shame (WOS).

He's all "Oh, good night was it?", wink, wink. You're all mortified, fumbling with a key that turns out to be the one to your gym locker. It's all well and good to watch the sun rise on a beach in Barcelona. It's another to have to walk against a tide of office workers in one shoe.

That's why this is the perfect time of year to pull an all-nighter. As long as you make it home by 8am, you can do the WOS under cover of darkness. The temptation might be to put the head under the duvet and sleep until spring. But hibernation is death my friends. (Not literally. Unless you're a tortoise. If they're not fat enough when they go to sleep, they never wake up. Sad, no?)

This is the kind of reasoning that kept me from giving into my wintertime circadian rhythms last Friday night. When the clock struck three, I decided I could go home or I could stay and see what cocktails were to be constructed from Kahlua, gin and red lemonade. Naturally, the Portobello Power Punch(™) won out.

The house party is the best place to pull an all-nighter. It gets an injection of energy when a wave of people arrive as the pubs close. Three o'clock is the new midnight. Six is the new three. Seven is ... time to start clearing up and making tea.

You're among friends, or at least like-minded lushes. Chances are there is always someone who wants to be the last one standing. As long as that's not you, it's quite easy to not feel like a complete saddo for re-enacting Billie Jean on someone's kitchen tiles at half past five in the morning. Billie Jean will always be cool. Another scientific fact.

Also, the universe has been sending me signs recently that staying up is the right thing to do. A friend has acquired a turf-burning brazier. This means we can clink beers in the back garden without the earth-destroying guilt that goes with sitting under a patio heater for the night. The downside of this is that I woke up on Saturday wondering what was burning. It was the smell of a night of smoky peat in my hair.

There is also the curious case of 'little helpers' for the sleep-deprived (legal, I assure you) that seem to be popping up all over the place. I asked the guy in Spar if he'd tried the new Red Bull shot capsules. No, he said, but he'd heard they were "rocket fuel". I might save it for emergencies.

Then the local coffee shop started offering something called an 'intense' americano. I'll be having one of those, thank you, I told the girl behind the counter. She looked around her as if to check for the caffeine cops, leaned in and said: You know there are four shots of espresso in that?

"I can handle it, baby!" I said before going outside and gagging like a contestant in a bushtucker trial. If all this sounds like an endurance test, then I guess it is. But like the best tests of mettle -- climbing Everest, watching the Late Late Toy Show -- it's a bonding experience. You'll never have a friend like the one that sits up playing the ukulele with you till dawn.

- Susan Daly

Friday, December 4, 2009

Have yourself a mini little Christmas

A bit of fun from Wednesday's Indo. Freelance tip #234 - sometimes the number of calls you have to make to research an article is larger than the number of words in the finished piece.

The 12 Tips of Christmas

The Late Late Toy Show has come and gone, 'Fairytale of New York' is on the radio. Christmas is coming and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the seasonal build-up.

We have assembled a team of experts to advise on how to make your Christmas smell, taste and look great (and on how to avoid fisticuffs at the office party). As a famous Cork footballer once said: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

1. FOOD: Have yourself a mini little Christmas

Thousands of Irish people have to work on Christmas Day, a fact that doesn't lend itself to spending five hours in the kitchen. Donal Skehan, author of Good Mood Food (just published by Mercier), has a simple idea for a festive dinner.

"You can buy turkey breasts on their own," says Donal, "Take one per person, slice in half but not all the way through and fill with ready-made stuffing. Wrap the turkey in slices of pancetta and pop in a hot oven to cook for 15 minutes, until the meat is cooked through.

"You can put chunks of parsnips, carrots and potatoes on a tray, drizzle with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Roast and in just under an hour, you're done!"

2. GIFTS: Yesterday's news is today's gift wrap

Nichola Doyle of Daintree Paper on Camden Street, Dublin, suggests layering different colours of tissue paper to make your gifts look sumptuous.

"We've been using other materials too," says Nichola, "wrapping strips of brightly-coloured magazine pages around red wrapping paper. Personalise the wrapping -- one of the girls here used the Sudoku page from the paper to wrap a band around a present for her father who likes puzzles. Then she pasted Sudoku squares on the top."

3. PETS: Be(a)ware of the dog

Dog trainer Samantha Rawson ( says now is the time to get your pet ready for the chaos.

"Take pre-emptive action," says Samantha. "At Christmas the family schedule is out the window so prepare now by varying the time you feed pets or when you walk them so they won't be too upset when the routine is disrupted."

Samantha insists that people should never feed pets dried fruit such as sultanas and raisins, or chocolate, all of which are highly toxic to dogs. As for cats, never leave them alone where there is a Christmas tree. "They think; 'Wow, look at the toy they've put in the sitting room just for me!'"

4. CHILDREN: Sites for bored eyes

There is an assumption that kids and the internet are a problematic mix, but these kid-specific website are safe, non-commercial and cool.

* -- A magical site with activities related to Santa's kingdom.
* -- Games that don't need battery power.
* coloring -- Use the mouse to paint in a Christmas scene.
* -- Slightly older children can download their picture to the site and star in their own Christmas elf e-card.
* -- A great resource for stories.

5. OFFICE PARTY: Express yourself (safely)

Relationship psychologist David Kavanagh ( says that some inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party is forgivable to a point.

"But there is a line that needs to be gauged," says David. "If you feel like you might tell that middle manager what you really think of them once you have a few drinks in, you need to tackle that days before the party.

"Send yourself an email (on your personal email, not your work one) or, better still, write down on paper what it is exactly that bugs you about that person. Use every swear word, every detail; then burn the letter in a grate and walk away.

"Writing like this is a tool to take what is in our subconscious and make us conscious of it so it doesn't blow up in our face."

6. HOUSE: Smells like Christmas spirit

Gisele Scanlon, author of the best-selling Goddess Guide and The Goddess Experience (HarperCollins), makes a wonderful festive potpourri. "You could make extra and give it as a gift to a few people nicely bagged and ribboned," says Gisele.

Take one orange, one lemon, one satsuma peel, one sliced apple, some pine cones, a few pine twigs with needles nipped from the Christmas tree, some rosemary, half a handful of cloves, two cinnamon sticks, and eucalyptus.

Bake it in the oven on a very low heat for a couple of hours until it dries out and then place around the room in little bowls.

7. BUDGET: Write down everything you spend

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service is a solid source of advice to people worried about debt. For this Christmas, expected to be difficult financially for many families, they say children should be encouraged to pick what they would like Santa to bring before TV ads decide it for them.

MABS has created a simple to use Christmas budget planner at

8. EXERCISE: How to sneak in a bit of the burn

The new series of RTE's Operation Transformation hits our screens in January. Its exercise guru Karl Henry ( suggests ways to keep moving over Christmas.

"If you take two weeks out of gym it's going to be a nightmare in January," says Karl, "but at least make exercise feasible by walking to friends' houses where possible when visiting. It's a great time to try something new -- maybe go hillwalking. By all means, get the kids an X-Box game but also include a football or rugby ball in their stocking. I'm a big fan of the Wii Fit and EA's Sports Active. The whole family can get involved."

9. CASH FOR OLD ROPE: (Well, old gold actually)

The idea of earning cash around Christmas is always attractive. Richard Walsh's Galway-based (091 877340) facilitates home 'gold parties', popular with groups who get together for a drink, a catch-up and possibly to make some money from unwanted or broken bits of jewellery (or unwanted presents!)

"Our agent comes to the house and uses two testing procedures to check the value of the pieces. They then make an offer depending on the weight and purity of the gold or silver," says Richard. "People don't have to accept the offer."

10. HOUSE PARTY: Get the whole picture

Darren Rowse of has a smart idea for recording the party fun.

"A few years ago, I set up a little place where I asked everyone who came to sit for me so that I could take a nice shot of them," says Rowse.

"I photographed everyone as they came in and then left the camera set up on a tripod and set to a short self timer time so people could photograph themselves.

"I left a few Santa hats and tinsel for people to decorate themselves with. It was the hit of the party."

11. STYLE: All that glitters

There's no getting away from it. Sparkle = Christmas style, says Wendy Duggan of alwear.

"The way to play it is to make it understated," says Wendy. "There are sequins on everything -- jackets, dresses, tops. They key is to not be full-on, to wear one sparkly piece with tights.

"Key accessories to update your Christmas look this year would be the crossover Chanel-style bag, and the leather jacket is very big this season."

12. RESOLVE ... to take it easy

Life coach psychologist Elaine Ryan ( says that Christmas can be overshadowed by thoughts of having to buckle down on January 1.

"New Year's Day is not the time to be implementing resolutions," says Elaine. "It should only be the time to start laying the plans for change." She recommends a SMART plan for formulating resolutions: the goals should be Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-Phased.

"Around Christmas, it's fine to start thinking of the how, why, what, when of your new resolutions, and in the early New Year to set out a plan. If your goal is to stop smoking, you can decide to reduce by one a day and record it."