Monday, August 31, 2009

Feminism. So, like, not a dirty word.

My rant from Saturday's Evening Herald (the online link has gone AWOL)....

GOD bless the Rose of Tralee and all who sail in her.
Some people have a problem with the competition that this week saw a girl wrestle with a snake, another lip sync to Bon Jovi and – my favourite – a contestant who managed to fit her entire fist into her mouth.

The naysayers call the event outdated and insulting to women. They say that it perpetuates the over-rated value of ninny-headed femininity, so brilliantly skewed by Father Ted’s Lovely Girls episode.

I don’t agree. The party pieces said it all: don’t take this too seriously. It’s like the Blarney Stone – a bit of harmless tourist hokey-cokey. Everyone has a bit of a laugh, the contestants included, and the local economy gets a shot in the arm. Fine.

It’s not like Miss Universe or Miss World. I don’t care how many rocket scientists the organisers like to say are in the line-up of lovelies. Let’s face facts: the target audience is interested in what these women look like in a swimsuit, not what they know about nuclear fission.

But then the minute you start complaining about any representation of women, Rose or Miss, you know people are bracing themselves for the word: sexist.
You’re not allowed to use that word. It makes you a throwback, a burn-your-bra harridan, a man-hater. Sure, women are in charge now apparently. Men are emasculated by women who want too much sex, earn too much money, have too much control over the remote. Women in cutaway swimsuits are all they have.

Give me a break. Women are still second-class citizens in any developing country you care to inspect. And that is most of the world. They are oppressed by patriarchal regimes and religions that require them to be obsequious and invisible.

Even in our ‘developed’ society, there is some done, much much more to do. Men still earn a higher average wage for the same work. A survey just last year showed that women – even those in full-time jobs outside the home – still shoulder the burden of domestic chores and childcare.

Women do not have it all.

It makes me so angry to hear some idiot starlet or celebrity banging on about how they don’t like to call themselves a feminist. To them, feminism is a dirty word. They think it makes them sound hard and unattractive, and implies that they wear dungarees.

Well I am quite happy to say I am a big, dirty, unapologetic feminist. I like men – I even let them hold the door open for me from time to time without belting them with my handbag and calling them chauvinist pigs.

True feminism does not wish death to all males and the creation of an uber-race of Amazonian she-warriors. It wants equality for both sexes – and right now, the balance still tips heavily on the side of men.

To say that is not true is to stamp all over the grave of a woman like Nuala Fennell, who died earlier this month. Under her tenure as junior minister for women’s affairs and family law in the 1980s, she righted some of the very serious wrongs against women that were enshrined in Irish society.

The dizzy young things who think that it’s uncool to say you’re a feminist these days have come to take for granted the better lives that previous generations of politically-aware women secured.

And we could so easily slip backwards. Feminists fought for women to have control over their sexuality; now someone like Paris Hilton confuses sexual confidence with titillation for the boys. Just because I don’t have a problem with the Rose of Tralee doesn’t mean I can’t have a problem with Miss Universe.

That boxer Katy Taylor is only now getting the much-belated nod to compete in the Olympics shows that equality war is ongoing.

We think it ridiculous that women were once perceived to be too weak-minded to vote. You can bet future generations will look back and laugh at us.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sex, murder, action

From yesterday's Review in the Irish Independent...

The brutal killing of Jasmine Fiore by her husband, US reality show star Ryan Jenkins, raises worrying questions about the choice of contestants in this increasingly exploitative format, reports Susan Daly

Saturday August 29 2009

On the small screen, reality TV star Ryan Jenkins was a charming romantic. In the US show, Megan Wants A Millionaire, the 32-year-old estate agent recently vied with other wealthy contestants for the attentions of beauty Megan Hauserman. Jenkins played a strong hand, whisking Megan off in an Aston Martin to a fine French restaurant. "A sexy car for a sexy girl," he purred.

In the 'real' world, Jenkins was a murderer who strangled his new wife, former swimsuit model Jasmine Fiore, cut off her fingers and pulled out her teeth in a bid to prevent police identifying her body. He then stuffed her mutilated corpse in a suitcase and dumped it in a rubbish bin in San Diego.

The week-long manhunt for Jenkins ended last Sunday when he hanged himself in a cheap motel in British Columbia.

Understandably, a new reality show in which Jenkins had participated -- I Love Money 3 -- has been pulled from TV schedules. Yet no matter how deeply the footage is shelved in the VH1 channel's vaults, the fact remains that an extremely unstable person made it past all the psychological screening processes of two national reality shows.

He had a track record -- in 2007, he was convicted of assaulting a former girlfriend.

The case of Ryan Jenkins highlights two major issues: that the 'reality' of reality TV shows is deeply skewed, and how easy it is for a mentally disturbed individual to make it on to one.

Irish broadcaster and journalist Anna Nolan, who took part in the first UK Big Brother -- which after 10 years is being wound down after plummeting ratings -- back in the innocent days of 1999, was just ending a visit to Toronto on Monday as news of Jenkins's fate broke. "It is massive news in Canada," she said. "It was pretty sensational stuff. It reminded me of the way in which Jade Goody died, how horrific it was and so grotesque how her life had crossed over into a public obsession."

It's hard for Nolan to comprehend how far her experience as a reality TV contestant was from the shows that air today. The current series of The X Factor has been criticised for introducing a live audience to the initial audition round -- a development that some mental health experts think puts unnecessary stress on contestants.

Colm O'Driscoll is principal psychologist with the Forest residential treatment centre in Co Wicklow. The Forest clinic has treated several patients dealing with the pressures of living in the public eye.

"I think lots of different types of people present themselves for these shows," says O'Driscoll. "Some people are just talented and want to showcase it and see if they can build a career from there. But some are doing it as emotional compensation for some lack in their lives. They are definitely the more vulnerable group.

"I think they [the judges] are getting better at spotting if someone is fragile. I've seen Simon Cowell do this more and more; he will say, 'Let's get on with this: yes or no?' and wish the person the best. But that's easier to do in a private room with just a camera crew and the other judges. When you introduce a crowd that is heckling in the background, you lose the possibility to soften the blow."

The producers of competitive reality shows say they do their best to protect contestants. Phil Edgar Jones, creative director of Big Brother production company Brighter Pictures (part of Endemol), has spoken of the "talk of doom" BB contestants are given to "manage their expectations" of how their lives will be when they leave the isolation of the house.

Anna Nolan says she received ample offers of support after her time in Big Brother. "It was very funny on the night of the eviction. We had to meet the psychologist half an hour after the final show. He asked me, 'Do you need to speak to me about anything?' and I said, 'No'. He asked, 'How do you feel?' and I said, 'Fine.' That was it. But that was just me and I did feel fine; and I was told that I could have contact with him any time I needed him, whenever.

"Today, I don't know if they are made to go and see the psychologist but when we were in the house, we got an hour or two or whatever we wanted with him in the diary room, completely off the record, every week."

Nolan and her housemates were pretty normal compared to some of the reality TV contestants to follow in their wake. In 2006, mental health charity Sane warned that the UK Big Brother was "playing fast and loose with people's lives" after a number of very vulnerable contestants were placed in the house together. These included "paranoid" pre-operative transsexual Sam, former anorexic Nikki, plastic surgery obsessive Lea and sexual abuse victim Shahbhaz, who threatened to kill himself live on television before quitting the show.

As the premise of most reality shows is that contestants "survive" through to the next round -- and those who don't can return to their lives feeling like failures. Sree Dasari, a contestant on this year's Big Brother, self-harmed in his university dorm after being voted off the show. Several suicides have been attributed to the isolation contestants feel in the aftermath of some shows: in September of last year, Tania Saha, a 21-year-old woman who was rejected from Indian reality show Fatafati swallowed a bottle of poison immediately after her failed audition and died.

Even those who do well on reality shows can be vulnerable. Nolan has her reservations about the new incarnation of The X Factor, a format that was first tested on Britain's Got Talent. It was there, of course, that Susan Boyle, who has learning difficulties, managed to silence the sceptical judges and audiences with her powerful singing performance, but not before she had been sneered and laughed at for her frumpy appearance. A single, middle-aged lady from an isolated Scottish village, she ended up in The Priory suffering from exhaustion after the final.

"I didn't see the new X Factor yet," says Nolan, "but I know I remember feeling badly about Britain's Got Talent. Such pressure, these people having to get up in front of the roughest and the toughest audiences."

Psychologist David Coleman, who has presented TV series like Meet the Family and Teens in the Wild, says that he feels a great responsibility towards the people who appear on his shows. "I wouldn't consider that the shows I have done would equate with reality television," he says.

'It's been directly focused on helping people and the educational value for the viewer. But what I've made very clear is that I follow through with families as long as they want me to -- I am still in touch with the lads from last year's Teens in the Wild.

"But the reality is that there are production companies airing shows where there is a whole difference in how they are made, and they are for entertainment value."

As anyone who enjoys the opening auditions of The X Factor and American Idol knows, the most entertaining contestants are not always the most stable.

The Forest's Colm O'Driscoll has huge concerns about this. "They showcase the really bad acts, but more significantly, the really bad acts who believe they are actually very, very good," he says. "It is among that group where there is a delusional element that you will have a high proportion of people with serious mental issues. And if you are showcasing that, there is an element of exploitation for sure."

REALITY BITES: When the fallout of TV infamy becomes too much for contestants.
JULY 1997: Sinisa Savija was the first person to be voted off a Survivor-style Swedish show called Expedition Robinson – he threw himself under a train, and his widow said that he had felt “degraded as a person”.
February 2005: Boxer Najai Turpin, father to a two-year-old girl, shot himself in his car on Valentine’s Day after losing a bout on a Sylvester Stallone-hosted boxing reality show, The Contender. He was 23.
July 2005: Carina Stephenson , 17, and her family spent four months filming the historical re-enactment show The Colony in the Australian outback but she hung herself on their return to their home in Yorkshire, England. Her family said she had become withdrawn after coming out as a lesbian and it was discovered that she had been exploring suicide websites.
September 2005: Bipolar disorder sufferer Kellie McGee died in the fallout from her sister Deleese Williams’ appearance on the US version of Extreme Makeover. Producers had Kellie make disparaging remarks about her sister’s appearance on camera. Deleese’s operation was cancelled at the last minute, sending her home asking, ‘How can I leave home as ugly as I left?’ Guilt-stricken Kellie killed herself.
July 2007: Cheryl Kosewicz, a contestant on CBS show Pirate Masters, killed herself two months after her boyfriend Ryan O’Neil committed suicide. She wrote on a fellow contestant’s MySpace page that: “I’ve lost the strong Cheryl and I’m just floating around lost. This frik’n show… was such a contention between Ryan and I plus it’s not getting good reviews… then I made the National Enquirer today so… the hits just keep on coming.”
October 2007: Nathan Clutter, a bipolar sufferer and a depressive, killed himself by jumping from a mobile mast weeks after finishing filming on Paradise Island 2 in the US.
February 2007: Former S Club 7 star Jo O’Meara told how she tried to commit suicide when she was accused of racially bullying Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty alongside Jade Goody. Her suicide bid, a cocktail of whiskey and Nurofen, was foiled when a friend found her unconscious in her bathroom.
November 2008: Paula Goodspeed had been stalking American Idol judge Paula Abdul for 17 years when she managed to audition for the show. She overdosed on prescription drugs in her car near Abdul’s house after she failed in her audition. Abdul said that she had asked producers not to let Goodspeed on the show but they ignored her pleas.
April 2008: Simon Foster, a participant on the UK’s Wife Swap, died of a methadone and alcohol overdose in Brighton after his life took a serious turn for the worse after the show aired. A friend said that the show had put “an enormous strain” on Simon, who had been shown to each openly have a girlfriend outside their marriage. His wife took their two children to live with her lover, Foster lost his job and he became homeless.
May 2009: Susan Boyle still lived in the rural cottage she was born in, with her cat Pebbles, when her turn on Britain’s Got Talent, made her a YouTube phenomenon and a global celebrity. She was admitted to The Priory clinic in London to be treated for exhaustion just days after the show’s finale. Her family spoke of how she had been “battered non-stop for the last seven weeks and it has taken its toll”.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The to-do list

My Nightwatch column in today's Day and Night magazine - it's based on my trip earlier this month to the Flat Lake festival outside Clones, Co Monaghan - the most unusual boutique festival in Ireland. (Check it out at

By Susan Daly

Friday August 28 2009

I never thought it would happen to me. Isn't that what Lotto winners say? Or people who have had the roof ripped off their kitchen by a freak tornado in Mayo?

Well it did. Happen to me. In a tent in a field in Monaghan. Against that unlikely backdrop, I came face to face with my two 'free pass' celebs.

For those of you not familiar with the 'free pass' game, the idea is that you have a list of famous people with whom you are allowed to have your wicked way should the opportunity arise. It doesn't matter if you are dating someone else, engaged to your school sweetheart or married to Christ. If your star crush somehow comes into your earthly orbit, you have a get-out-of-jail-free card for the night.

It's kind of like the plotline for Indecent Proposal except the celeb is unlikely to also pay you $1m. You might have to pay them, though.

Most people play it with a group of pals. If you are slightly dysfunctional, you play it with your partner.

Naturally, The Fella and I have done so.

His choice is Penelope Cruz, which I applaud because: A. She is super hot, and B. He's about as likely to bump into her in Hogan's bar as I am to screen test for Pedro Almodóvar.

Saying that, he did once meet Michelle Pfeiffer and Salma Hayek on the same day. He shared an elevator with La Pfeiffer ("very quiet") and held the door open for Hayek (she doesn't enter rooms, apparently, she "explodes" into them).

Salma -- not a bad substitute for Penelope if one was stuck -- thanked him for his chivalry, but, alas for him, it went no further.

Mind you, this all happened at a large international film festival. The odds of getting within slobbering distance of the A-list actor of your dreams are rather better there than, say, at the penguin enclosure at Dublin Zoo.

Or indeed at a small arts festival at some country pile outside Clones. I'm a big fan of the Flat Lake Fest, hosted by the inimitable Pat 'The Butcher Boy' McCabe and Keith 'Lily's dad' Allen and his brother, Kevin 'Lily's uncle' Allen. It's got brass bands, death metallers, a tug-of-war, poet deathmatches and Shane Macgowan's best suit for auction.

And now, the stuff of The Fella's nightmares. Our first call this year was to the theatre tent for a tribute to playwright Harold Pinter. Oh I know, my life is a whiteknuckle ride. It gets better.

On stage was Dominic West; in the audience was Cillian Murphy. The two celebs on my 'to do' list.

If I have to explain who Dominic West or The Wire is to you then, excellent. I will not have to fight you for him.

Back to this sweltering tent in Monaghan: I nearly went cross-eyed trying to keep a lascivious eye on them both. Dominic -- I think he would like it if I called him that -- had dropped his Baltimore drawl from The Wire to read Pinter in his native, crystal-cut English accent and he had shaved his head. But the minute he smirked at the audience, he was pure McNulty. Swoon.

To my disappointment, Cillian slipped out of the tent after a few minutes.

"He came back in," said The Fella. "He was standing beside me for the rest of it." Right beside The Fella meant right behind me.

"Why didn't you give me a nudge?" I moaned. The Fella arched an eyebrow. I got the point. He might be game to go along with my free pass windfall -- but he sure as hell wasn't going to be the facilitator.

Of course the problem with being within 10ft of your celeb crushes is that it makes them real.

And you can't be silly about real people.

Dominic was queuing for organic sausage sandwiches with his pretty wife and tiny baby when I next saw him. They seemed very happy together, dammit.

Cillian looked decidedly normal cracking open a can of Heineken and playing tunes from his iMac for a crowded barn dance. He had nice hair and a Cork accent that would turn the Liffey red and white.

In the end, neither of them kept me in chocolate brownies and beer all weekend. Neither of them passed me spare baby wipes over the door of the eco-loo. Dear reader, I went home with The Fella.

The straight man

Judd Apatow interview from today's Independent -

By Susan Daly

Friday August 28 2009

Judd Apatow is not a movie star like his great friend Adam Sandler. He jacked in stand-up comedy years ago because he felt he just wasn't good enough. He took instead to writing jokes for the likes of Roseanne Barr and Ben Stiller. He had two brilliant TV shows, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, but both were cancelled after one season.

So how is Apatow, now 41, ranked as one of the most influential men in Hollywood comedy?

His picture was almost on the cover of Time magazine last month (only to be bumped off at the last minute by the slightly more recognisable Barack Obama). However, the editors did make it up to him by including him in their Most Influential 2009 awards gala, sandwiching him on the red carpet between Obama and Oprah.

Vanity Fair listed his directorial debut, The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), as one of 15 of the most influential films of the past three decades. Are you spotting a pattern here?

Even though his latest film, Funny People, is only the third to have him in the director's chair -- he also helmed Knocked Up (2007) -- Apatow has been responsible for an entire new wave of movie comedy.

Influential is not even the word: his comic sensibilities have been virulently infectious. He has had a hand, as producer or writer, in Superbad, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Drillbit Taylor, You Don't Mess With The Zohan, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express and Year One, all released in the past two years.

Apatow can barely believe it himself. "I never thought I would produce movies and people would know I produced them," he says. "And that they would catalogue them as all one flavour. Who are producers that anyone knows?" He scratches his beard and yawns politely in a basement meeting room of a London hotel.

If you were to pass Apatow on the street, you would not take a second glance at the mild-mannered American with tired brown eyes. Goodness knows what the readers of Time would have made of him had he made the cover.

The films he has had a finger in -- and that's the kind of phrase his scripts would have a ball with -- are a different matter. Audiences flock to an Apatow movie expecting certain things. An ensemble cast of losers, stoners and slackers, a bunch of foul-mouthed kidults fumbling their way through a world that wants them to grow up. A script replete with pot and penis jokes. Hot women inexplicably falling for the charms of ultimately sweet, but socially inept, geeks.

Apatow also single-handedly introduced the concept of the 'bromance' -- the brotherly love between straight men that over-rides all of their other relationships -- to a mainstream audience.

He is aware that his creations may have become a golden cage for his name. "Some people thought I was involved in I Love You, Man and Role Models," he admits. "They were all my friends who made them and they're great movies, but ... I think because people love Paul Rudd and Jason Segel and Role Models and McLovin they think that they come out of our world."

You could forgive an audience for getting mixed up. Judd Apatow has become the new Kevin Bacon: everyone in Hollywood is six degrees of separation or less from him. Seth Rogen, for example, co-stars in Funny People with Adam Sandler. Apatow and Sandler were room-mates when they were both starting out as stand-up comedians 20 years ago in LA, and pals ever since (it's a similar story with Steve Carrell, who was the 40-Year-Old Virgin).

Rogen wrote the Apatow-produced Superbad (2007) and has been an actor, producer and/or writer in 11 of Apatow's projects. Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill (who is also in Funny People) have acted in seven of Apatow's films. Rudd also featured in the aforementioned Apatow-alike films I Love You, Man and Role Models.

Jason Segel wrote the Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall, starring in it and three other Apatow movies. Director Adam McKay has taken charge of four films for Apatow. Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann, has starred in five of his films, including Knocked Up and Funny People. Even their two daughters, Maude and Iris, appear as Leslie's kids in Knocked Up and again in Funny People.

Interestingly, Apatow has no reservations about putting his girls on screen. "To me, I've always loved the movies which have had real relationships, whether it's seeing a de Niro and Scorsese movie and you know that they are so close that there's more happening because of that. Or Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow in Woody Allen movies -- you know that they're all revealing more of themselves because they know each other so well.

"It's very hard to get performances from children in movies where they don't look like they just met the people playing their parents the day before. And my kids have known Adam since they were born, they've known Seth since they were born, so you get a type of behaviour that you can not get from actors."

In Funny People, he has wrung a rather brilliant performance from Sandler, although it caused him personal pain to watch scenes where his friend is suffering illness and depression.

"He was willing to write an hour stand-up act that I could tap for the movie, he sings in the movie, plays very hard comedy, does sad, rough moments. We would laugh about it, when we were shooting he would say, 'I'm really doing it all for you Judd! You can't say I'm giving you a half-assed try -- you're getting the full package!'"

It's not just old friends who are welcome visitors to Apatown. New protégé actors of his include Juno's Michael Cera, James Franco and Russell Brand, who reprises his role as obnoxious rocker Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, for Apatow's upcoming production Get Him To The Greek (co-starring Jonah Hill, naturally).

"We love those guys and we support them. There is a common sensibility and I'm thrilled that everyone is doing well," he says of any who have found their career boosted by association.

But Apatow is growing restless. The evidence of this is Funny People, which is almost two-and-a-half hours long and which he frames as a "dramedy". It was an hour longer than that until he nervously sat down 50 of his friends and colleagues to watch it and give him feedback. He expects Apatow fans to be "challenged" by his new tale, in which Adam Sandler is a wildly successful comedian who is forced to re-evaluate his life in the face of serious illness.

"I want to make a movie that people want to talk about for a long time, not try to create a movie that you just have a blast at and forget by the time you get to your car," he says.

His actors, too, have had the gauntlet thrown down to them. He asked Sandler, Rogen, who plays Sandler's put-upon assistant, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzmann, who play Rogen's room-mates, to perform in front of real comedy club audiences for the stand-up scenes.

"More importantly, I needed them all to feel the terror you feel when you do stand-up," he says. "I wanted them to feel that pain," he says, laughing. Could this be the end of bromance?

Considering that Apatow tells me that he only wants to direct the films that feel personal to him, are we to take it that his depiction of the world of comedians in Funny People is truthful? The rivalry, the tensions between mentors and their protégées, the sheer hard work that goes into being funny?

"I think it's very accurate about the world of comedians. It was very satisfying to finish the movie and get a lot of emails from people I admire like Jerry Seinfeld and Dennis Miller, people like that, who said, 'Wow, somebody did it, somebody captured this world'," he says.

But it all looks like so much less, well, fun than I imagined. Rogen, Hill and Schwartzmann's would-be comedians spend hours working on their gags like accountants trying to balance the books.

"Seth and Jason and Jonah are what we're really like," confirms Apatow. "People work really hard -- they are pretty obsessed about their careers and they stay home and they write. The reason Seth Rogen is so successful is because, unlike a lot of other guys, he sat at home and wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express with his friend Evan (Goldberg). It took a tonne of work and you can't do that if you're just the stoned slacker."

JUDDGMENT DAY … Judd Apatow picks his favourite stand-ups:
THE HOLY TRINITY: “For me there’s nobody better than Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and George Carlin. Go back and watch the tapes. They’re still the best three comedians of all time.”
JERRY SEINFELD: “I always wanted to be Seinfeld when I started out. What a legendary guy.”
CHRIS ROCK: “Currently, there’s probably nobody better than Chris Rock. We all went to see him in Vegas about a year ago, and it’s outstanding how funny and smart and insightful he is.”
PATTON OSWALT: “Patton Oswalt is a really great comedian. He was the voice of Ratatouille, and he helped us write jokes for Adam and Seth. He’s one of the great stand-up comedians right now.”
DAVE CHAPPELLE: “Chappelle’s stuff is pretty great too. I caught a half-hour special he made for HBO and I can’t believe how good it is.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Go on ya good thing ya!

An op-ed written in record time early this morning for today's Evening Herald...

I CAME up from the country to meet someone just like Ryan Tubridy. No, really. Someone whose car wouldn’t smell like the inside of a heifer and who subscribed to The New Scientist rather than The Farmer’s Journal.
The pretext of my arrival in the Big Smoke was to find a job. I would send money home to other culchie relatives so that they might be able to pay the traffickers to smuggle them across the Tipperary border and into the Pale.
But really, I was on the hunt for a man. Any man. As long as he had a pulse and a DART travelcard, the passport of the sophisticated suburbanite.
Tubridy knows it – he has just given an interview in which he expounds the firm belief that country girls are less fussy than their city counterparts. “They’d say, ‘Well your man is a bit of an eyesore but he’s good craic so let’s go for him’,” said Tubridy.
Sure aren’t we so stuck for choice in the countryside that we are beside ourselves when we get to the city and there are men everywhere? Big men, baldy men, men with limps, men with tattoos. Pull into Heuston on the train, drop the bag at the new digs (shared with three other country girls called Bridie, Mary and Rosie of course), and head out to grab the first warm body who might buy us a coffee in Bewleys. That’s our idea of romance, and isn’t Maeve Binchy just our favourite author ever?
You might gather that I don’t entirely agree with the new host of the Late Late Show. And if this is his idea of stirring up a debate, we might as well bring back Pat Kenny.
For all his spit-shiny shoes and neat little suits, Tubridy is outing himself as something less than a gentleman. Is he suggesting that country girls are easy? He remembers being ignored by girls in Blackrock College because the good-looking women of south Dublin went for the good-looking guys. (Which makes one wonder if Ryan considered that trying his hand at the average-looking women to be beneath him.)
“But (then) bang into third level and everything changed,” he said. “Why? Because I could meet girls who were not from Dublin and they weren’t as fussy.”
Thank God for country girls, eh? A fish dinner at Burdock’s, a miniature bottle of your freshest wine and we’re yours.
I’m sure Ryan’s new girlfriend, Mayo woman Aoibheann Ni Shuilleabhain, will be absolutely delighted by his appreciation of her easygoing culchie nature. As a former Rose of Tralee, she’s probably the very personification of what Tubbers regards to be the perfect Lovely Girl. I wonder if he asks her to wear her sash for him from time to time when they’re alone.
It’s lucky that he met her when he did. Otherwise he might have had the misfortune to bump into country girls like myself who have had the green rubbed off us by many years spent in the city. It would be a terrible shame to ruin Ryan’s fantasies of our innocent appeal with our demanding ways and cynical expectations.
You would want to hear the things country girls would be talking about these days, Ryan – it would burn your sticky-outy ears (see: a nice country girl wouldn’t have passed a remark like that on an aspect of your appearance).
We’re talking about how we like men to have all their own teeth, an intimate acquaintance with Listerine, and a passing resemblance to Don Draper from Mad Men. At the very least, we expect men to do their best with what they have, keep fit and look after themselves. A bit like Mr Tubridy would expect us ladies to manage our upkeep, no doubt.
It’s not that we can’t be flexible – I’m not holding out for George Clooney to whisk me off to Paris – but make no mistake: we ARE fussy.

My trumpet-playing goldfish

Was on the Tom Dunne Show on Newstalk this morning shooting the breeze about IKEA. Got this message on Twitter shortly afterwards -
BrianConn - @BiddyEarly I'm a media broadcast monitor and look what I sent to Ikea earlier!about 2 hours ago from TwitPic

Thanks Brian! Hopefully IKEA will voice their gratitude for the mention in the form of a new armchair.
This was what he sent to them.... I LOVE that the next item on the show was about a piano-playing cat. Prime Time, here I come!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Via Dolorosa

I scored Dolores O'Riordan's only feature interview for the release of her new album - this was two months ago before she moved to Canada with her hubby and kids. The woman has never lost the sharp edge of a county Limerick accent; I'm not sure if it's because she was pretty much forcibly cut off from the rest of the world (see article) during the heighth of her fame, or if it's just the most uncompromising accent in the world. And steady on, Limerick-ites, my folks are both from there!

Anyhoo, here she is:

By Susan Daly

Friday August 21 2009

The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan is back from the brink and going solo—she tells Susan Daly why she’s taking on the pressures of fame once again...

Dolores O'Riordan will not be reading this article. She doesn't care to know what I, or anyone else, thinks of her. “One of the mistakes in my younger days was reading the press,” she says. “I should have said, ‘You've done it, move on, que sera sera, you know?' You're just going to be psychoanalysing yourself. I've got bigger fish to fry.”

It's not as aggressive as it sounds. It's a note to self. Must not get stressed. Must keep things in perspective. The bigger fish are not the usual self-aggrandising ambitions of a rock-star ego. They are her kids, her marriage and her mental health. Looking after all of these involves practising a degree of self-protection that it took a nervous breakdown and physical collapse to learn.

O'Riordan at 37 looks a lot like the tiny, sharp-faced teenager who fronted Limerick band The Cranberries to international stardom. Her hair has reverted to a severe peroxide crop similar to the one she sported on the cover of The Cranberries' second album, No Need To Argue (1994).

The rock chick 'do replaces the earth-mother, tumbling brunette locks from the time of her debut solo album, Are You Listening? two years ago. That was her first outing since The Cranberries went on hiatus in 2003. She, the brothers Noel and Mike Hogan, and drummer Fergal Lawler are still friends. They have 12 children between the four of them, a unifying factor that gets them together socially.

“We are all in that incubation period so it made sense to step away from each other and have a bit of time out,” she says.

For all that, she brands this period as one of R&R rather than rock 'n' roll, O'Riordan releases her second solo album this month. No Baggage has a raw acoustic feel to many of the songs, and the emotive O'Riordan keen is still in full throttle.

It's not about multi-platinum sales this time, she says. She already knows what it is to have 40 million album sales under her belt. “I'm not one of these people who is really serious about her career — I write because I have to write. It's what I was put on this earth for. I'm a writer. I'm an artist. I can't help it,” she says. A little trace of ego, then.

The album came to her easily, “an eclectic bunch of songs”inspired by the present and the past. She likes the“freshness” to it, a result, she thinks, of walking through the fields for weeks, listening to demos made at her home in Howth, Co Dublin on her iPod and then laying down finished vocals in three or four takes.

“For the four years I was at home, I was living in the full-time motherhood world. Then when I brought out Are You Listening? it was a huge change. Back in a bus, living with a load of lads, huge change, there was no lack of inspiration,” she says.

“There are songs, as well, about the thought process, about what goes on inside your mind when you're under pressure.”

The track Skeleton, for instance, reflects on the “shadows from the past” that haunted O'Riordan even while The Cranberries were selling 40 million albums worldwide. Fame was a terrible weight around the neck of the sensitive country girl who suffered so badly from stage fright at early gigs she would sing with her back to the audience. It was a vulnerable state in which to be catapulted into rock's premier league on the back of first album Everybody Else Is Doing It, Why Can't We?

O'Riordan references the other major Irish rock act to break America. “With U2, it was their third album when they broke through. They came from a city, they were used to crowds. I was a girl — I didn't even know the boys; they were strangers, I jumped on the bus with them.”

Unformed and naïve, she was isolated in a celebrity bubble. “It was hard because in those days there were no mobiles, no emails. So if you wanted to call your mum, you had to get your few coppers and go down to the phone box in the hotel.”

Her inexperience saw her “sign my soul away” and struggle under a heavy workload. “I remember there was a stage where I was doing two gigs a night — I was going on stage at six and coming off at eight. That's how we got there, how we got so big in America. Going back on at nine and coming off at 11. No wonder I got burnt out.”

She was already well down the road to depression when, halfway through the promotion of No Need To Argue, O'Riordan was in a skiing accident, aged 22. “I ended up in a hospital for a month. I was on morphine. I had major surgery, was on bedpans. No one spoke English. The band were so big, and suddenly I was in hospital and I got depressed. Then I got it again, six months down the road.”

By the time her naturally thin frame registered a frail six and a half stone on the weighing scales in 1996, O'Riordan was already a physical and mental wreck.

“I look back and see photographs of myself and I do recognise that I was 23 and, oh God, I was so bony.” She pulled out of a worldwide tour with the band and was sent from doctor to doctor to verify for insurance purposes that she was too unwell to be on stage.

She can talk about all this now because she feels she has dealt with it. While she makes some sweeping statements about fate and destiny, O'Riordan also speaks about accepting her “demons”. She says things like, “If aperson is judgmental on me, it's just because they don't love themselves.” The hallmarks, one thinks, of much soul-searching and therapy.

“And I find writing very therapeutic and very healing. It's really terrible when your life spirals out of control like that, but later on you can look back and you can talk about it honestly, without being ashamed of your weaknesses and what happened to you.”

It seems strange to me that someone with such a dysfunctional relationship with fame would want to put her head above the parapet again. Are You Listening? plunged her straight back into the quagmire of record-label difficulties when Sanctuary Records, who she signed to on going solo, were taken over by Universal. “So I only got the chance to release one single and my CDs were pulled out of the shops. It was a nightmare. I went from the frying pan into the bloody fire!”

This is where O'Riordan's newly acquired steeliness comes in. She slightly reworked a favourite track, Apple Of My Eye (about husband Don Burton), from that album and rereleased it on No Baggage to make it her property again. “I wrote it years ago, but it's a nice old love song. I think it would be a lovely single,” she says.

O'Riordan fixes me with an uncompromising eye. She's stronger now, she says. She has Don, the former Duran Duran tour manager whom she married in 1994, by her side. She is stepmother to his 17-year-old son; mother to their three children aged from 12 down to three years.

Family comes first, which is why they are moving to Canada for now so that 12-year-old Taylor can attend high school. I don't know it when I meet her, but O'Riordan will cancel the US tour she had planned for late summer, without stating a specific reason. Dolores comes first these days.

“My husband is with me now and I'm a lot older now. I'm like the mother now. It's not like I'm a little girl who's developing things and I don't know what the heck they are. Once you've hatched a few chickens yourself, there's nothing that can embarrass you. I'm a lot more relaxed and what-not.”

Relaxed Dolores is a funny concept. The woman opposite me is a fizzing ball of energy, “hyper” as she might be described in her native Limerick, almost too bright-eyed and “on”.

But she insists she is at peace. She paints abstract canvases, some of which she posts on her website for her devoted fanbase to view. “It's very, very hard to rise me now. I guess I have been through a lot for my age. I feel like I have survived some kind of thing, in a way.”

It's not correct to say that Dolores O'Riordan comes with no baggage. There's plenty of it. She just knows better how to pack it away.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

D'aul nostalgia...

We feature scribes in the Indo had to recall how we spent our childhood summers in various parts of the country. I was bigging it up for my homies in southwest Tipp/east Limerick, to be specific.

Once upon a time in Tipperary

By Susan Daly

Wednesday August 19 2009

I was eight or nine years old when I first saw the sea. But don't cry for me, Ballybunion. Growing up in landlocked south Tipperary, kids who knew how to swim were the glamorous exception rather than the rule.

Ironically, the village of Emly where I was raised had teetered on the edge of a small lake in historic times. A local farmer drained and reclaimed the marshy areas in the land- hungry 1800s. By the time I was mucking about in my size three red wellies, the neat patchwork of fields behind our house was intersected only by shallow streams.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we were obsessed with water. The first job on day one of the summer holidays was to build a dam across an ankle-deep ditch we euphemistically referred to as The River.

(Every feature in the landscape of childhood summers was the definitive. The wall behind our tiny housing estate was The Bog Wall; the low-lying field prone to winter flooding was The Marsh; and a piece of wasteland where we played shop in a deserted tumbledown cottage was The Jungle. Tipperary town nine miles away was, well, Town).

The purpose of the dam was to create a shin-level pool where we would trap helpless brickeens (or tiddlers) in jam jars. Sometimes we set them free straight away.

Sometimes we brought them home to show our parents, before abandoning them to their fate on a sun-flooded windowsill with all the casual cruelty of childhood.

A week later we'd discover the forgotten jam jar, stinking with stagnant green river water and three brickeens floating belly-up on the surface. We would be briefly devastated before drifting away to watch some kid make a go-cart out of two planks of wood, four mismatched bockety wheels and a piece of twine for steerage.

Going to the seaside for your holidays was mind-boggling. When the girl two doors down from my house came back after a week in Lahinch or some such beachy paradise, the rest of us crowded around to inspect the criss-cross tanlines stencilled on her back by her swimsuit straps. We could not have been more impressed had Coco Chanel, pioneer of bronzing, landed in our midst.

Summertime was all about that touch of the exotic. School terms were dictated by routine -- school, homework, shopping in the L&N in Town on Saturdays, trip to the grandparents on Sundays.

In the holidays there were only a few appointments to be met. The triumphant return of local hurling hero Nicky English in early September.

The daily saunters to Byrne's shop for a cola-flavoured Mr Freeze. The dash to the post office every second Thursday to pick up my elder sister's copy of Smash Hits.

It was from this bible of pop music that we pored over the lyrics of songs that will forever be my soundtrack of summer. Madonna's 'La Isla Bonita', Wham's 'Club Tropicana', Eddie Grant's 'Electric Avenue'. Anglo-Bajan reggae fit perfectly to the relaxed rhythm of 1980s rural Ireland.

I finally got to see the sea through the intercession of that great bit of visiting glamorama, The English Cousins. The accents! The trendy outfits from English high-street stores we had never heard of! The general air of worldiness of people who had eaten in Pizza Hut!

My father's brother, his wife and two children arrived one summer, bundling us all into a rental car made to seat five. The car wound slowly over the border into Limerick, crossed the Shannon -- stopping at the Two-Mile Inn for pints of Harp and Dwan's red lemonade -- sped through Ennis and out to the cliff-edge of Clare. Never, ever will I forget the tang of seaweed in my nostrils as we approached Kilkee and that first glorious glimpse of the water as we crested the final hill into the town.

It lashed rain but I went into the water anyway and was nearly knocked unconscious by a wave. I was the happiest concussed kid in Munster.

It remains the case that Ireland's most amazing tourist attractions are largely ignored by the people living next to them. We had the Glen of Aherlow on our doorstep, a lushly forested valley carved deep into the foothills of the Galtee Mountains. English friends of my parents on a visit from London decided they and their accents wanted to explore it.

They managed to find a trout farm, a discovery to us all. We had to listen to the unfortunate fish flopping about in the boot of the Mini all the way home.

I remember my mother grimly gutting the trout at the sink, no doubt wondering why her visitors couldn't be happy with a few chops for dinner.

It was the same with the continentals who swung through the village in their unwieldy camper vans on their way to glowering Galtymore. Mountain hiking was not something locals did. How was sweating unnecessarily to the top a form of relaxation? Madness.

But when I nipped over the border to stay with my grandparents in east Limerick, I was the tourist. We would cycle our bikes with Grandad O'Regan to Grange Stone Circle outside Bruff, where he would talk about the Neolithic people who had died there 4,000 years earlier as if they built their funny circular huts only yesterday.

This was their clock, he would say, pointing out the two proud stones through which the sun would shine in a perfect line every summer solstice.

We would nose around an old wedge tomb for the bleached bones of those first farmers, and look out for Carraig Aille, where Grandad's own father had helped sift painstakingly through the soil during the excavations by Professor Sean P O Riordan.

"My father would say sitting on a potato sack with a small brush was an easier job than saving the hay," Grandad would laugh. I thought so too: I went on to study archaeology in my first year at UCC.

Onto Lough Gur (The Lake, natch) where we clambered up Knockfennell Hill to survey our kingdom and feast on Polo biscuits and bottles of milk. Knockfennell was an easy trot -- it was only climbing the Galtees that was idiocy. Summers smelled exotically of coconut: the dessicated white shards of it in the Polo biccies and the sweet coco-nutty scent from gorse bushes.

Afterwards Grandad would grab my sister and I by a hand each and run full tilt down the hill, laughing like a maniac. That man knows no danger, Granny used to tut, but his wildness was intoxicating to us.

You think your grandparents can walk on water at that age. And true to form, Grandad rode his bicycle across the surface of the lake when it froze hard in the winter of 1939.

He also let us sit in front of him on the lozenge-shaped saddle of his Honda 50, us 'steering' the motorbike. "Jack!" my granny would yell as she spotted our approach towards the cross near the house. "We're for it now," he'd nudge and wink. He's 90 now, and still climbing ditches. The thrill-seeking didn't end there. Oh no.

The Pride of Tipperary festival would bring a funfair to town. We had chair-o-planes. We had disco waltzers. We had a stupendous tower with a spiral staircase in the middle.

The stair brought you to a doorway at the top from where a slide twisted its way down the outside of the structure. You were plonked down onto a bristly doormat, given a push-off from whatever spotty teen was "in charge" and whizzed to the bottom. Danger? We hardly knew you.

The credit munch

The number of calls I got from radio stations looking to get in touch with the woman I interview in the article below is a pretty strong indication of what people are obsessing over at the moment. (Money, or the lack of it). Or, it could be that we media are obsessed with the idea that it's what people want to hear...

Here it is anyway - from Tuesday's Indo:

How I can feed a family of five on less than €100 a week
This mum knows how to plan ahead, writes Susan Daly

Tuesday August 18 2009

Cooking has become a spectator sport. At a time when we are being advised to cook purse-friendly meals at home to beat the pinch, celebrity chefs are still crowding our TV screens.

Even Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep has gotten in on the act, with her turn as Julia Childs in new movie Julie and Julia. Childs was a TV chef credited with popularising sophisticated French cooking among convenience food-obsessed Americans of the 1960s.

Food campaigner Michael Pollan has pointed out it is ironic that Streep resurrects Childs' achievements at a time when the art of home cooking has almost died out.

"How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen, but so much less eager to brown them ourselves?" he asked.

Other foodies are taking a more constructive attitude to the loss of cooking skills. The BBC has begun a new series called Economy Gastronomy (BBC2, Wednesdays, 8pm). The aim of the series is to show families how to assemble simple, nourishing dishes using good-quality, affordable ingredients. Waste nothing is the key phrase.

Yvonne Rosenkrantz, who runs a cookery school for children from her house in Blackrock, Co Dublin, is a keen advocate of cheap and healthy family cooking. She and her husband have a 12-year-old son, Caelum. They also take in Spanish students for the summer. Here Yvonne makes a menu she would use to keep her food bill under €100, feeding 4 to 5.


"Porridge is my cupboard staple, nutritious and cheap. I sometimes make pancakes using brown flour and if you make muffins, they can be used again for lunch. Once a week, we might have a special breakfast, honey, yoghurts, small Canadian pancakes -- it's not much effort and it breaks up the rest of the week."


"Half-brown and half-white bread sandwiches cost no more than usual but look more interesting to kids. It doesn't blow the budget to use little pitta breads from time to time. I toast them, fill them with leftover chicken and wrap in foil. I empty a fruit yoghurt into a bigger spill-proof cup and add chopped fruit. Homemade fruit cake is a big hit with us, as are homemade crisps -- just throw some thinly sliced root veg on a roasting tray with olive oil and a pinch of salt."


"Fizzy drinks are a waste of money. I keep squash concentrates like Robinson's, where a little goes a long way when diluted with water. Kids get used to what they are given. I make a batch of flapjack bars at the start of the week and keep in an airtight container. They are a doddle and full of things in your cupboard; nuts, oats, honey, seeds."



"It's normally a roast on Sunday so I make a white sauce, add mushrooms and the leftover chicken to pasta for an easy carbonara.

Chicken pies are good too -- puff pastry is tricky to make so I don't mind buying frozen. It's only an expensive option when people roll it out too thickly. I get 14 squares (one square per little pie) out of one roll of pastry. It's only really a cover for the pie. Leftover pies can be kept frozen."


"I never buy vegetables on a Monday because most fresh ingredients don't go into the shops until Monday evening. Do a shop then if you can because your veg will last much longer at home. It's a mince day today. Irish people tend to use too much meat in our mince dishes like spaghetti bolognese, so I would bulk up the veg content with celery, onion and garlic and stretch the mince over two days, maybe to a lasagne."


"The other half of the mince is gorgeous in tortilla wraps -- kids always love this meal. Use the same spag bol sauce, stuff your wraps, top off with a little cheese in the oven and it's just divine. I give the mix an edge with different spices I keep in the store cupboard."


"If my son has had meat at lunch, I would maybe use up eggs in a Spanish omelette. You can throw anything into it you want so that nothing goes to waste at the bottom of the fridge -- potatoes, onions, bits of rashers, carrots, and so on."


"Salmon is expensive but there are lots of cheap fish out there. I like hoki, which is very good value and has no bones, so it's great for family meals. I make homemade fish and chips by cutting the fish fillets into strips, rolling them in flour, egg and breadcrumbs (or I use up stale cream crackers by crumbling them up very finely) and frying.

"Forget bags of oven chips -- it only takes a minute to scrub a few spuds, chop them in eighths, toss in olive oil and mixed herbs, roast, and you have lovely potato wedges."


"Instead of a takeaway, there is a simple sweet and sour chow mein that I get kids making from the age of four up. You stir fry chicken and whatever veg you have -- frozen or fresh, I always have a bag of peas in the freezer.

"For the sauce, mix a tablespoon of runny honey, garlic and ginger, 2tbs soy sauce, juice of half an orange, 1tsp of cornflour, and a little chicken stock and toss everything in it before cooking. It's a cheat Chinese. I really begrudge paying €40 or €50 a head to eat out these days."


"Generally, I have potatoes left over for the roast so this is just the price of a good chicken or meat joint, and a few veg."

For information on courses at Yvonne's Junior Chef cookery school, visit or ring 01 2780382.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sells Like Teen Spirit

From Review, Irish Independent, last Saturday, Aug 15...

SOME of the world’s most influential people took to one stage last weekend.
The event generated acres of newsprint, 53 million references on the internet, was watched by nearly 4 million people and represents an industry worth at least e75 billion.
This wasn’t a convention of oil-producing countries, nor was it a meeting of the leaders of the free world. It was the Teen Choice Awards 2009 and it was, like, totally awesome.
A few of the presenters and performers at the LA show would be familiar to people of all age groups – Britney Spears, for example, who received a special award for her contribution to entertainment.
But unless you have a 12-year-old girl in your household it is possible that the juggernaut of Robert Pattison’s fame has passed you by. Or that of Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, David Archuleta, Chace Crawford, Leighton Meester and Kristen Stewart. Yet to the tween and teen market, these are A-list idols in music, movies and TV.
The Teen Choice Awards are a public recognition of what any marketing exec already knows: teenagers and their taste in clothes, gadgets, food and entertainment is very big business. Teenagers and their likes and dislikes didn’t exist 100 years ago when the end of childhood was signalled by the moment a young person was capable of earning their keep.
But by 1959, Life magazine was soberly identifying the emergence of the New Teen-age Market. American teenage girls were spending $20m on lipstick and both sexes were “gobbling” 145 million gallons of ice-cream a year. Elvis Presley, Life noted, was their “musical idol”, selling 25 million singles in four years.
Fast forward 50 years and Miley Cyrus, whose alter-ego Hannah Montana is the darling of Disney’s kiddie TV, is flogging millions of records and has written an autobiography at the age of 16. When she charged e85 a ticket for her upcoming gigs in the O2 venue in Dublin, they sold out in minutes.
Cyrus therefore caused a bit of an uproar therefore when she slipped out of her sweet persona to perform a pole dance during her performance at the Teen Choice Awards last Sunday night. Fox television, who was broadcasting the show, cut away so that viewers (or more like, their parents) would not be offended.
She was probably well aware of the implications of her raunchy moves, which reflect the steps away she has taken in her singing career from the cutesie child star vehicle of Hannah Montana. We saw this before with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera marking their maturity by kissing Madonna on stage at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.
Teen idols are meant to appeal to their target audience’s burgeoning sexuality – but remain unthreatening and almost attainable. This is why boyband and girlband members have traditionally been coy about their private romances. Teens, the wisdom goes, like to think that they might one day marry their crush. (Well Katie Holmes did it with Tom Cruise, right?)
The problem with being a teen idol is that your fanbase tends to grow out of your music or your films, or you grow out of your baby-faced good looks. For every Elvis and Frank Sinatra, there is a David Cassidy or Hanson whose star waned as their audience grew up and away from them. That’s why marketing to teens has become so aggressive – their obsessive devotion is shortlived, be it to High School Musical or Hello Kitty merchandise.
What’s hot and what’s not has been hugely influenced by teen TV. Where there were once a handful of TV programmes aimed at teens – from American Bandstand to Top of The Pops – now there are entire channels and networks. Cyrus built global fame on her TV show, as did cast members of The OC and Gossip Girl.
MTV’s biggest hit of recent years, the quasi-reality show The Hills, has made a bunch of rich Beverley Hills teenagers cultural icons. In the show, they don’t sing, they don’t make dance, they just pout their way through minor dating crises. Yet when Lauren Conrad, one of the show’s stars, sported black Chanel nail polish in one episode, the product instantly sold out worldwide.
That’s the kind of selling power every big brand would love to harness, if only they knew how. The teen sector is notorious for being a ‘stubborn’ one. Things get old real quick. This generation has grown up with 24-hour television and internet access and are a lot more savvy about being given the hard sell.
So marketers have to be seen to be authentic. Red Bull energy drinks for example became a phenomenon among teens thanks to a clever marketing campaign that initially limited supply of the product to make it seem more exclusive and used cryptic, fun ads like ‘Red Bull gives you wings!’
In some ways, far from being exploited, teens are dictating the market. The huge sales of Stephanie Meyer’s teenage vampire books were unforeseen – but it prompted film bosses to quickly snap up their film incarnation, the Twilight movie, which took 11 of the Teen Choice awards last weekend.
It is so difficult for a 40-year-old marketing exec to get into the fickle mind of a 16-year-old that teenagers find themselves being solicited for feedback. Online sites pay cash for teens to fill out their surveys; teen trendspotters keep major companies informed about what’s popular with kids on the streets. When 15-year-old intern Matthew Robson wrote a report for investment bank Morgan Stanley last month that argued social networking website Twitter was “not for teens”, it made the front page of the Financial Times.
Robson outlined the crux in the battle to understand what teens want: no-one knows better than teens themselves. They are the only generation to fully communicate through the internet, which is why the most popular websites were founded for the most part by kids barely in their 20s. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in his college dorm at the age of 20 and became the world’s youngest billionaire. Teens don’t buy CDs anymore, they download tunes – so every band in the world has samples of their music on MySpace.
Apple, a coveted teen brand, has set up ‘Genius Bars’ in cities across the State and beyond where kids can exchange tips and info on the latest tecchie sensations. Geeks are chic – as with most teen trends, it’s just one more thing we adults didn’t see coming.

So-called ‘coolhunters’ are employed by marketers to give them the heads-up on the next big thing in youth culture. This is a selection of the latest trends as identified by pioneering coolhunting firms such as Youth Intelligence, Label Networks and Look-Look…
DJ HERO: Just as the guitar simulator Guitar Hero became the biggest gaming sensation in years, this Christmas, teens will be adding DJ Hero to their wishlist. The simulated record turntable is not for sale until the end of autumn but gaming bosses know it’s going to be big – there is already another competitor making its way to the market called Scratch: The Ultimate DJ.
PRE-PAID CREDIT CARDS: Pre-paid cards have existed for some time but financial institutions are cottoning onto the fact that teens are major online shoppers. Parents will be targeted to sign up for cards that they can preload with pocket money, rather than be pestered for the use of their own.
SUMMER START-UPS: With the casual summer jobs market drying up, teens are turning to entrepreneurship. Start-up business courses in the US reported a 30 per cent increase in enquiries from under-18s this summer, which suggests a flash of bedroom-based businesses is on the way. Expect to be offered web services from internet-savvy teens, or products based on hobbies – cupcake-baking; jewellery-making; musical prodigies for hire.
DECLINE IN TV WATCHING: Trend-obsessed youths in Japan are worth watching for their trickle-down influence. The time Japanese teens spend watching TV declined by one hour per day in 2007, but their viewing of MTV shows and streaming of programmes onto their PCs increased – a similar situation is now developing in the west.
GIRLS IN EXTREME SPORTS: Forget tennis babe Maria Sharapova – female teen interest in adrenaline-pumped minority sports is on the rise. Surfing brands like Quiksilver and Roxy are on top, as are those linked to women’s motorcross, like Rockstar Energy drinks. Iconic skateboarder Tony Hawk’s foundation says that young women are the future of that sport.

Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron didn’t invent the phenomenon of the teen idol. Rudolph Valentino kicked it off with his heart-throb film roles in the early 20th century and each subsequent generation has had its own crushes…..
FRANK SINATRA: Sinatra was idolised by the “bobbysoxers” of the 1940s. While his career stalled in the early ’50s, he reignited it to appeal to an older fanbase as a member of the Rat Pack and actor.
ELVIS PRESLEY: Elvis was famously filmed from the waist up only on his performance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956 to protect impressionable female viewers from his hip gyrations. On the flipside, Presley was so hated by jealous boys that his car was firebombed by a teen gang during a concert in Texas.
JAMES DEAN: Like Holden Caulfield, the teen narrator of cult novel Catcher in The Rye, James Dean remains a powerful icon for teenage outsiders. His portrayal of the misunderstood Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) was a watershed portrayal of the generation gap.
FRANKIE AVALON: Singer and star of beach-based movie comedies of the 1960s, Avalon was one of the first idols whose image was tailored to appeal to the teen market, first on 1950s show American Bandstand and later with simple pop songs like Venus and Why.
THE BEATLES: Before the Fab Four grew out their mop tops, Beatlemania gripped the screaming masses in the early ’60s. Elvis Presley (maybe a bit put out by their success) asked President Nixon in 1966 to ban them from entering the States. Ironically, John Lennon said that his most formative musical influence was Elvis.
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: The Rollers dominated the charts in the 1970s with peppy hits like Bye Bye Baby. While not a record label creation, their youthful appeal resembled that of The Monkees, the world’s cleanest-cut rock band from the 1960s TV show.
DAVID CASSIDY: The eldest ‘son’ of singing TV clan The Partridge Family was the bedroom poster boy of the ’70s although he has since said he hated the bubblegum pop he was contracted to sing. A 14-year-old girl died and 650 fans were injured in a hysterical stampede at one of his concerts in London in 1974.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: Boybands never really went away - Motown mass marketed Jackson 5 youth-targeted merchandise like colouring books, posters and sew-on clothes badges in the ’70s. NKOTB sparked a new targeted assault on the market in the late ’80s that continued from Take That to Boyzone, through to N’Sync , The Backstreet Boys and Westlife.
BRITNEY SPEARS: Now all grown up, not entirely happily, Britney is nonetheless the big sister of the current crop of female teen idols. She and Christina Aguilera brought their child fans from Disney’s Mickey Mouse Show to their debuts as teen solo acts. The Forbes Rich List 2009 had her earning $35m in one year and she was won the Ultimate Choice Award at last week’s Teen Choice Awards.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Girls' night out, the Boo Hoo Factor and M3 tolls

I've been a bit neglectful of posting my stuff for the last week, so here are three bitteens you may have missed...

From last Friday's Day and Night magazine:


By Susan Daly

Friday August 07 2009

By the power of Jimmy Choo, I despise all those "girls' night out" ads. That includes the one for a brand of sparkling wine that has the unmistakeable bang of a gone-off Sex and The City plotline about it.

Two girls sit in a bar, one with a face on her like a rabid wasp, the other waving her hands and looking a bit mad because she's telling the Most Hilarious Joke Ever. Then their third gal pal arrives, breathless, just in time to clink glasses.

Ah! There's the punchline! She's the One Who's Always Late; the crazy hand-waver is the group's Joker and the humourless cow is the Organiser who is a stickler for punctuality.

And all are absolute tools.

It's the laziest type of marketing for women: Girls! Which one of these lady stereotypes do you conform to?

We had it with the Spice Girls and we had it with Sex in the bloody City and their personality-by-hair diktat. (The red one was angry, the brunette straight-laced, the curly one a bit quirky, and the blonde a slapper.)

But -- whisper it -- I suspect the Girls' Night Out is over. I came to this conclusion at dinner with my two best female friends last week. That might sound like a contradiction, but it's not.

We did not start the night trying on each other's bras or whatever the male advertising exec fantasises about. We didn't ban boys; they just weren't around. We were three friends catching up over a meal, and we just happened to be women.

"Do you think we're the odd ones out in this room?" I asked, looking around.

"You're the oddest person in most rooms," said my pregnant friend.

The pregnant bit is important: she gets away with cracks like that, and she is allowed two-thirds of the communal dish of fries. If we were really on a Girls' Night Out, I would have rushed to the bathroom to sob because that's what the hormonal imbalance of a room full of girl drama does to you.

What I meant was we were the only table of women in the restaurant on a Saturday night in Dublin. Time was when, to paraphrase Joyce, you couldn't draw a line across Dublin city without hitting a bistro stuffed with gaggles of ladies who dine. The one we were eating in would have been attractive to girl-girl-girl-girl seating arrangements: soft lighting, cute waiters, scrumptious chocolate desserts.

On that night we were surrounded by families, tourists, male-female twosomes and a gay couple who were feeding each other. Oestrogen and testosterone were both equally on the menu.

And -- now that we thought about it -- this was our first dinner out together in months. We had seen plenty of each other, but nothing that required a taxi into town.

I'm not sure anyone I know is going out as frequently as they did two years ago. There's less of this 'oh, it's cocktails with the girls tonight, romantic dinner a deux tomorrow, his pub night with the lads on Sunday'. You might pick one blow-out night -- and you have to be open to catch up with everyone.

It happened seamlessly last Saturday. After Ms Expectancy had waved regally out the back window of her taxi home, my other friend and I went off for a post-prandial snifter. The Fella rang to see if we were around, and he and his mates joined us. (They had been watching a match and eating curry, so I guess some gender stereotypes remain intact.)

Even if I'm wrong and the whole world but me is on a never-ending pink-cowboy-hatted hen night, would it be a bad thing if the term Girls' Night Out got the bullet?

To me, it denotes Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan losing their knick-knacks somewhere between their house and getting out of their limo. It's Carrie Bradshaw, the single most irritating fictional character ever created, self-obsessedly moaning to her friends while they knock back Cosmopolitans to numb the whine of her voice.

It's not about sisters doing it for themselves and being freer in each other's company. Girls' Night Out is fun facism: if you're not bankrupting yourself on Mojitos, a new dress, stilettos and fake eyelashes in BTs, then apparently you're not putting in the effort.

In any case, I like talking to men and women. I like the vibe when you have a room full of interesting, friendly people who don't discriminate by naughty bits. So shoot me. Or buy me a pint.

From last Saturday's Review section in the Indo...

The boo hoo factor
The X Factor publicity machine knows the sweetest tune to our ears is the one that plays on our heartstrings.


Saturday August 08 2009

The producers of the ITV phenomenon The X Factor have noses like bloodhounds. If there is a sob story lurking in the swarms of hopefuls who audition for the hit show, they will hunt it down.

As this year's show launch date of August 22 edged closer this week, the publicity machine cranked up a notch. Judge Dannii Minogue let slip the "amazing" backstory of one of the latest batch of contestants, a 21-year-old Asperger's Syndrome sufferer who had hidden himself away in his bedroom for years.

Scott James managed to make it to the X Factor auditions in Manchester however -- and blew the judges away with his performance of that reliable tear-jerker 'You Raise Me Up'.

"He told us that because of his Asperger's Syndrome and the fact that he'd been picked on, he hadn't left the house in seven years," Minogue relayed breathlessly to an interviewer this week. "Then he started singing. You will not believe his performance when you see it."

Whatever about his voice, Scott's life story has the X Factor. The show thrives on its image as a second chance for the underdog who fights through the tough times on sheer talent. It's a sort of Rocky for pop music.

The show's canny producers -- of which chief judge Simon Cowell is the masterminding force -- know that there is no tune more seductive than the one plucked out on our heartstrings. Scott James is blessed with a two-pronged attraction. The hardships he has had to overcome have been great, and he has raw talent.

This potent combination is what transformed Susan Boyle from quiet-living Scottish spinster to SuBo, unlikely star of Britain's Got Talent (a show which is also a Cowell creation). She too had suffered bullying and social difficulties.

She was frumpy and frizzy-haired. Then she opened her mouth and silenced the sneering judges and audience with her soaring vocals.

That magical moment of discovery, an instant YouTube hit, is known in TV circles as "the reveal". Boyle would have had to perform several times for producers to get to the filmed audition. From the pantomime jeers to the perfect 'O' of surprise which took shape in Amanda Holden's mouth, a talented choreographer had been hard at work.

But that would be the view of a cynic and The X Factor's success relies on its fans to be the least cynical of all TV audiences. The desperate, the destitute and the plain pathetic all have a place in our hearts -- and the show has an unerring talent in rooting them out.

The stories swing from the trite to the traumatic. A female auditionee told how she had fallen down a staircase and was almost paralysed; a soldier elaborated on his memories of serving in Iraq and witnessing the deaths of two friends.

There is some authenticity -- after all, a person putting themselves through such a public ordeal as The X Factor must be seriously motivated to change their circumstances. (Even so, there appear to be a disproportionate number of agoraphobics who manage to cope admirably to achieve a lifelong dream to top the charts).

The talented Shayne Ward won X Factor 2006 but the runner-up, bin man Andy Abraham (42) had his blue-collar struggle remembered when he was chosen to represent the UK in last year's Eurovision. He came last.

Ward, initially a chart-topper and tipped for American stardom, has largely disappeared, showing that an X Factor win on any basis is not a guarantee of career longevity unless you are Leona Lewis. Last year's winner Alexandra Burke went double platinum with 'Hallelujah' but where is she now?

Like Abraham, former Happy Mondays backing singer Rowetta Satchell attracted attention for her visit to last-chance saloon in the 2005 series. She didn't take the charts by storm but continues to perform, and revealed her alcoholism on reality show Rehab last year.

At the other end of the age spectrum came 15-year-old Eoghan Quigg from Co Derry, his baby face and fluffy mop of hair charming audiences into voting him into the final three of last year's X Factor. His debut album was greeted with dire reviews in April but he's been touring with Boyzone this summer and, sure, hasn't he his whole life ahead of him?

More rivetting still are the contestants haunted by past traumas and the beloved departed. Natasha Benjamin's life with a violent partner was aired in her first audition for the 2007 show. Her seven-year-old daughter Jazmine was sent to stand at the table with the judges while mum performed her heart out.

That year's show also featured Niki Evans who had a poignant reason for auditioning: she found an application for X Factor in her late father's personal belongings.

Judge Louis Walsh said at the end of X Factor 2007 that "there were far too many sob stories and far too much crying in this series. This is supposed to be a talent show, not Jeremy Kyle".

Nonetheless, with 2008 came the pinnacle in the Boo Hoo Factor. Daniel Evans was targeted for interview by X Factor presenter Dermot O'Leary at general auditions as he sat cuddling his cute blonde toddler daughter. By the time he stood nervously before the judges we knew this was going to be a masterclass in pathos.

"Why are you here today?" asks Louis, evidently no longer jaded by contestants' motivations. Daniel dropped the bombshell. His wife had died in childbirth. He was a swimming pool cleaner struggling to raise three children.

As doe-eyed Cheryl Cole dabbed away tears, sad music swelled in the background -- the cue for the rest of us to take Daniel and his dead wife to our hearts.

Evans later declared: "I want the X Factor to be about me and my singing. I don't want to be seen as the sob story guy."

Also featured last year was Rachel Hylton, a former drug addict who had three of her children taken into care by the age of 26. Hylton didn't play up the 'second chance' card herself -- but the programme made such frequent reference to it that Hylton later said she felt "exploited".

Contestant Andy Turner's hopes also went under in 2008 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His appeal for his real parents to come forward and get to know him was rubbished by his birth father who said he had recently spoken to him by phone.

The hype has been cleverly constructed to the point that everyone has an opinion on The X Factor -- even Oasis's Noel Gallagher. "It's a bit s***e really, to be honest," he said last December. "'Oh, my f*****g god, my cat died, and his outstretched paw was pointing to an X, so I'm going to sing 'What's New Pussycat'!"

Now that's publicity you just can't buy.

From yesterday's Herald... (and er, no, that's not me biting the steering wheel...)

By Susan Daly

Thursday August 13 2009

With all these business big wigs going bust, it must surely be a good time to get a helicopter on the cheap.

God knows, commuters are going to need some alternative to travelling the new tolled M3.

Commandeering a chopper may well work out as economic as stumping up nearly €12 a day to pay the tolls on a return trip from Kells to Dublin.

That's the equivalent of throwing a 10-cent piece out the window of your car every single kilometre of that 120km total drive. (Or €2,600 a year for a Monday-to-Friday commute, if you prefer the bigger picture).

There is always the new train to Navan of course -- as long as you don't live north of that town and can wait until 2015.

But even the helicopter plan has a catch (Just the one, you ask?). Even if you manage to persuade some snivelling developer to part with his old Bell chopper for a knockdown price, you might end up paying the M3 road toll anyway.

The bright sparks in charge of negotiating the Government's deal with the private company who will manage the M3 tolls have allowed them to insert a "minimum traffic" agreement into the contract.

That means that the company, Eurolink, will be compensated by the Government if the number of motorists using the M3 falls below target. Not that we know what that target is. Nobody in the National Roads Authority wants us to know.

Suffice to say that if we motorists don't stump up and use the road to the level envisaged by Eurolink, then they will be looking for the Government to make up the difference.

And by the Government, of course, that doesn't mean Brian Cowen will have to personally shoulder the burden.

It means every taxpayer will take the hit, even the ones who chose not to use the overpriced piece of tarmac in the first place.

Seriously, what kind of buffoon signs off on a contract like that?

There cannot be another business in this country that is guaranteed to be kept afloat by the Government in the middle of a recession, which is essentially what they are promising in this case (I would mention NAMA here if I wasn't in danger of exploding into angry boils).

People don't like your product? Don't worry, we'll bridge the gap for you until they buy into it.

The advice generally given to anyone opening even a sweet shop is to get yourself on to a FAS small business course double quick.

Learn the essentials before you put so much as a price tag on a Curly Wurly.

They're not the only ones who could do with a crash course in the fundamentals of enterprise.

The problem with the Department of Transport, the NRA, and pretty much every section of Government that has its fingers in our collective till is that they haven't a scrap of business nous between them.

Remember how delighted people were to give George Lee a vote because he is an actual qualified economist? And he's stuck on the Opposition bench!

But it doesn't even take a genius business mind to have some common sense.

If anyone in Leinster House had their eyes open, they would see the large 'Sale' signs in shop windows all over the city.

The revolutionary idea is this: If custom is falling, you find other ways of getting punters in. You slash prices, come up with special offers, find a way to tempt them through the door.

If the M3 is short of traffic, it will be because drivers would rather find the longest, windiest back road to Dublin than pay a ludicrous toll fee.

Why the NRA feels the need to back up such greed instead of ordering a toll price cut is beyond me.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Whatta man

Cover story from last Friday's Day and Night mag....

Pulling Power

By Susan Daly

Friday July 31 2009

WHEN 90s hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa wrote Whatta Man, their ode to the ideal guy, they knew what they wanted. "A body like Arnold, with a Denzel face."

The Body went on to become the Governator of California. The Face, we dreamed, was set for president. Hey, if Ronald Reagan could make the leap from Hollywood to the White House, then so could Denzel. Courageous, strong, dignified, intelligent: he had all the qualities desirable in the leader of the free world. And his surname is Washington.

As we know, Denzel Washington did not become the first black president of the United States. But even the man who did has reserved a place at the Oval desk for him. When Barack Obama was the hottest senator on the presidential campaign trail in 2008, Tyra Banks asked him who he would like to play him in the movie of his life.

"Initially, Denzel would be the choice," said the future prez, to whoops of delight from Tyra's mainly female audience. "But somebody pointed out, with my ears, it might have to go to Will [Smith]." It was a typically cute move on Obama's part -- self-deprecating, but smart enough to at least put himself in the same frame as Denzel. The Denzel reference said: 'I'm dynamic, revolutionary and kind of hot. I respect Morgan Freeman as your fantasy president, but I ain't no old dude.'

It has been the fate of Washington to be idealised. Several factors dovetailed in his ascension: that perfectly symmetrical face, his position as heir to Sidney Poitier's dignified legacy, his own portrayal of historically significant characters including Steve Biko and Malcolm X.

With his new movie, The Taking of Pelham 123, a remake of the 1974 subway hijack thriller, Washington is turning his back on the perfect man. He plays Walter Garber, a paunchy New York City subway dispatcher who brings his lunch to work in a plastic bag and spills coffee on his ugly brown tank top.

This being the actor who underwent army bootcamp for Courage Under Fire (1996), lost 60 pounds and trained as a boxer for a year for The Hurricane (1999), he had no problem applying himself to the serious job of piling on the pounds.

"You just don't exercise, eat late and have that burger and all the fries and the shake and dessert and you can get there really easy!" laughs Washington. At the age of 54, he says, putting on weight was easy. "Yes, I had been heading that way and so I went with it and kept going."

He goes on to say that he finds Garber a sympathetic character. "He's overweight, he's clumsy but he's a decent guy."

Of course, Washington has played flawed characters before, from drug-dealer Frank Lucas in American Gangster (2007) to homophobic lawyer Joe Miller in Philadelphia (1993) to twisted narcotics cop Alonzo Harris in Training Day (2001). It was Harris and not one of his more heroic alter-egos who brought Washington his first Oscar for Best Actor. (Although he earned a Best Supporting Actor statuette in 1989 for Trip, his defiant ex-slave in Glory.)

With Washington, even his portrayal of imperfect men demonstrates how untouchable he is as an actor. The Chicago Tribune describes his performance in Pelham 123 as an illustration of "that valuable paradox: the relatable supernova". He is credible as the ordinary guy caught up in an extraordinary situation, but quietly commands the screen. He masterfully underplays the character of Garber, while John Travolta rages psychotically as the hijacker who takes control of a subway train and vows to shoot the passengers if he isn't delivered a massive ransom within the hour.

Washington, so warmly praised by previous co-stars including Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, had the unusual situation of not filming face-to-face with Travolta for the first weeks on set.

"We actually filmed separately the first three or four weeks and so much of it is us talking back and forth on the microphone," he says. "But over the mike, we'd exchange, 'Good morning, John, how are you today?' and sing songs and tell jokes. It was an interesting relationship and interesting the way it developed, the way it did in the film."

Washington's Garber has the unhappy task of trying to negotiate the release of the hostages with Travolta's criminal mastermind Ryder. Garber was a policeman in the original 1974 film, but Washington didn't want to repeat the role he played in Inside Man three years ago, when he played a cop and a hostage negotiator.

"Early on, I said to Tony [Scott, director and four-time Washington collaborator] ... I said, 'I don't want to be a cop. How about if he's never had anything to do with hostage negotiations or handling guns?' So the fact of the matter is Ryder, John's character, just likes the guy and he's a sociopath and thinks he has a relationship with my character and only wants to talk to him."

You see, Washington doesn't like to be typecast. After garnering A-list recognition in Cry Freedom (1987), Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues (1990) and Malcolm X (1992), he was approached with scripts for every black American historical figure going, from Martin Luther King to baseball icon Jackie Robinson. He turned down both those roles, as he did the offer to star in Amistad, saying he didn't feel like wearing chains around his neck at that moment. He was done with being anybody's poster boy.

Washington is protective of his image and the universality of his appeal. He keeps his off-screen life private. He is a devout Christian who has raised a family of four with wife Pauletta, whom he met in 1977.

And while he is credited with advancing a positive image of African-American manhood in the US, he has been notably cautious about portraying interracial love scenes in his films. He refused to kiss white female co-star Kelly Lynch in Virtuosity (1995) -- she said in an interview that he was concerned that the target white male audience would react negatively. Julia Roberts wanted romance with his character in The Pelican Brief, but it didn't happen.

Today, Washington resists any interpretation of his choice of roles. "What I've done is done, the past is the past and I don't believe in looking back," he says. "I never even thought about that kind of evaluation. A thought might come into my head occasionally about what I did and why, but I don't sit around trying to look for a reason. If you are looking for a reason, you'll find one -- but it doesn't mean it's the right one!"

For all his reluctance to be analysed, he does give an insight into the journey he has taken from son of a Pentecostal minister and a beautician in upstate New York to Hollywood superstar. The filming of Pelham 123 required him to spend weeks grubbing around on the dangerous trainlines of the New York subway system.

"I hadn't taken the subway in over 20 years because I used to spend two hours each way on it every day going to school and back and did everything on it -- slept, ate, homework -- and I swore as soon as I had two pennies to rub together I would never ride it again and I didn't! Until this movie, of course!" he says.

Not that Washington was afraid to get his A-list hands dirty. He, Travolta and the crew had to undertake full safety training for scenes they would be shooting underground, a place where he says you have to "always be on your toes if you want to stay alive".

The third rail, he discovered, is the most dangerous. "They showed you pictures of what happens to people -- they fry and it's not nice -- but what happens is you relax after a few weeks or months, so I made sure not to. They were turning power on and off for us all the time, but I kept acting like the power was always on."

The physical strain of the underground filming must have been immense, especially as Washington was carrying extra weight -- and had just had knee surgery. One scene in which he is "running hard" while chasing Travolta had to be shot 18 or 19 times, he thinks. "So that was challenging, because then your ego is involved and you are thinking, 'I can't be out here huffing and puffing and looking bad' even though I'm overweight and had surgery. So I'm thinking, 'Wait, I have to have some sense of style and grace about this!'"

On the whole, though, vanity appears to have passed one of movie's most beautiful people by. When Barack Obama's biopic comments were put to him, Washington apparently demurred modestly, saying that by the time the 47-year-old Obama's story is ready to be told, he would be far too old to play him.

Whatta man.

CASTING DENZEL…. While Washington has revelled in taking risks and playing the anti-hero, we would still love to see him in a few more iconic historical roles:
Barack Obama: Age is not important, Denzel. We at Day and Night still think you’re the only man to convincingly swat a fly while simultaneously reviving the international reputation of the US.
Desmond Tutu: Washington likes to study his subjects and has already met Tutu, when the Nobel Prize-winning Archbishop renewed Denzel and his wife’s wedding vows in 1995.
Nelson Mandela: If he’s going to do Tutu, he might as well take on the middle years of the talisman of the South African anti-apartheid struggle.
Morgan Freeman: Denzel might be the man who would be president, but Morgan is the voice of God. And it would be interesting to see how he would play a man who said that the only way to end racism is to stop talking about it.

When are you going to make me a granny?

From yesterday's Indo...

It's a taboo subject for many couples, but presenter Miriam O'Callaghan brought it into the spotlight when she revealed that she had fertility treatment to help her conceive. Susan Daly reports

Wednesday August 05 2009

'So when are you going to make me a grandmother?" It's a flippant remark but it can be devastating for a couple struggling with infertility.

The National Infertility Support and Information Group estimate that one in six Irish couples seek outside assistance to achieve pregnancy. Observe any busy street: it's impossible to tell which passer-by is secretly nursing the heartache of childlessness but it's a guarantee that some are.

RTE Prime Time presenter Miriam O'Callaghan, for example, is not a woman one would associate with reproductive problems. She surprised many last week when she told how she sought treatment from a fertility expert in England after the birth of her first child.

"After my first child I couldn't get pregnant, so I went to a gynaecologist, a man called Peter Snow (the broadcaster Jon Snow's cousin)," she said. "I got three children in 10 months. A very effective fertility drug!"

Miriam had a daughter, and then twins 10 months later. Multiple births are a frequent consequence of fertility treatment.

Miriam, as we know, is now a mum of eight but says that she "didn't find it easy" to have children. "I am now their best success story in this fertility clinic. But, hey, I want to put it out there, because I know for some people it is hard to have babies," she added.

There are a number of fertility clinics in Ireland, some private and some linked to major maternity hospitals.

But there is still a taboo about saying you sought help to have your child says Anna (31) who had twins 10 months ago after a course of IVF (in vitro fertilisation). Anna asked for her real name to be kept out of this article. Although she has been open with family and friends about her treatment, she has just started a new business and feels that strangers might not understand.

As it was, she says, even her GP seemed wary of advising her on fertility treatments. "We got married when I was 26, and after a few years of trying, we went to the GP. All the GP would say was 'Take a break for a while, relax, it will happen'. But we were young and healthy, and it just wasn't happening. We felt we had to push the issue. In general, I feel that GPs aren't educated to the possibilities out there."

Anna was referred to HARI (Human Assisted Reproduction Ireland) in the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin, but says they faced a five-month wait to get a consultation. She and her husband turned to a private fertility clinic in Dublin. They had a procedure called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) where the sperm is injected into the egg outside the body -- "it's more proactive than letting them mix in a Petri dish" -- and were successful on their first cycle of IVF when the fertilised embryos were implanted in Anna's uterus.

"We were very lucky," she says. "A very good friend of mine has had three failed attempts at IVF. She feels like she's hitting a brick wall while all around her, friends are having families. She's tortured, that's the only word for it."

The treatments, and the possibility of failure, can put huge emotional strain on a couple. "Everyone has a different opinion on the hormone injections you have to give yourself, but it can be very trying. We just kept very positive in our thinking, saying 'We're giving ourselves the best possible chance'. But you are pumping yourself full of hormones and you're swaying from low to high for about 10 days a month," says Anna.

Ireland doesn't have any cohesive data on babies born as a result of fertility treatment but the latest figures from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology state that around 30pc of patients who go through IVF and ICSI have successful pregnancies. Many couples begin with IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) where prepared sperm from a woman's partner is injected directly into the uterus at the time of ovulation. It's less invasive than IVF and ICSI because eggs don't have to be harvested and fertilised outside the body, but often it's not enough and women go on to those procedures.

Dr David Walsh of SIMS, one of Ireland's largest fertility clinics, says that people do not seek their help lightly. "Occasionally, we might be approached by someone who has been trying for about six months," he says. "But often that is an older woman, over 35, and it is on her mind that she has a limited time frame and just wants to check there is no major reason why she has not yet conceived."

Dr Walsh says there are three major risks associated with fertility treatment: failure to conceive, or miscarriage, and the emotional trauma that inflicts; over-stimulation of the ovaries (there has been one death in Ireland from this condition); and the possibility of multiple births.

"The incidence of twins is significant with fertility treatments and a lot of clinics are trying to reduce that, especially for younger women," says Dr Walsh. "But in the example of say a 39-year-old who is trying for her first child, twins can be very welcome."

Anna says she and her husband almost fell off their chairs with shock when they were told they were expecting twins.

They said because of our age and a 40pc chance of the treatment working, that there was a one in six chance that two eggs could take. To be honest, you are thinking the odds are against you."

On hearing the news, she says, "we wobbled out of the clinic that day!" Now they are delighted. "We count it as double luck."

The high cost of fertility treatment is another stumbling block for many couples. While units like the Merrion Fertility Clinic, which is linked to the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dublin, is a non-profit charitable organisation, private clinics can charge €4,000 and up for a cycle of IVF. Even a cycle of IUI is around €1,000 a go.

Ethical concerns revolve around what happens to the 'leftover embryos' that result when multiple eggs are fertilised in the hope of creating healthy embryos. In February of this year, Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Hugh Geoghegan described as "extraordinary" the fact that the Government has taken no steps to legislate fertility treatment here. The result is that there is still hot debate over whether an embryo has the legal protection of an "unborn" child if it is not actually implanted in a mother's womb.

Freakish stories from other countries about the possible abuse of fertility treatment add fuel to the fire.

Leading embryologists voiced their concerns that the birth of eight babies to Nadya Suleman in California, USA this year constituted "inappropriate medical therapy". The controversial Spanish woman Maria del Carmen Bousada, who gave birth to twins at the age of 66 as a result of fertility treatment, died of cancer last month. Her twin boys are now orphans at the age of two.

There are alternatives to the IVF route -- private clinics like the Galway Clinic, which offers the NaPro reproductive treatment, and the Cork Natural Fertility Clinic claim to address the issue of infertility on a more holistic level.

For Anna, having successfully had her first two children by IVF, she is hoping to try for a third child at the clinic. "I won't have to go through the harvesting of the eggs again as we have our embryos stored," she says. "That's a relief."