Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Going for the burn

Critics of Big Brother have never been convinced that the reality TV show has any merit as a social experiment. Yet, as the final series draws to a close, it can be credited with teaching us one thing -- people love to tan.

While the design of the house, the challenges and the levels of mental stability among housemates have varied wildly across its 11 series, the sunbathing in the garden has remained a constant. The sight of the contestants lounging around the outdoor area in bikinis and boxers has become as familiar an image of summer as newspaper pics of children eating ice-cream cones.

The 'hot or not' style barometers in women's magazines will occasionally declare that the tanned look is over and that pale is the holy grail of high fashion.

Porcelain-skinned model Agyness Deyn graced the cover of the July edition of British Vogue under the headline 'White Heat'. In the same high-summer month last year, famously pale actress Julianne Moore was the magazine's cover girl.

On the ground, and in our back gardens, it is a different story. A tan has most certainly not fallen out of favour. There is probably a heightened awareness of the dangers of excessive sun, but the market for sunless tanning is steady.

One of the success stories of the last series of entrepreneurial TV show Dragon's Den was TanOrganic, an organic self-tan lotion developed in Ireland. Its creator, Noelle O'Connor, was confident there was a market here, despite the recession. "Irish women are the biggest users of fake tan per capita in the world," she said.

Friends Donna Ledwidge (see panel) and Frances Brennan recently launched another new Irish self-tanner, Wow Brown, directly as the result of a demand from customers for a take-home version of the one they created for their Dublin salon.

"Putting on your tan has become as regular as putting on your make-up," says Donna.

Last week, two of the (male) contestants in the Big Brother house didn't think twice about spending the evening applying fake tan to each other. Pale might be interesting but many seem to prefer living in the bronze age.

What is it about a golden glow that makes us feel better about ourselves? Fans of the tan will claim that it makes them look thinner and more toned. Rosemary Scott, senior health promotion advisor with the Irish Cancer Society, says the celebrity influence is also very strong.

"You do see the presentation of certain 'pale' celebrities like Nicole Kidman and the girl from Girls Aloud but for the most part, celebrities are still very tanned," she says. "The message overall is that the tan is still important."

Certain high-profile fake tan brands believe that capitalising on this starry association boosts sales. How else would we be aware that Vita Liberate is the fake tan of choice for X-Factor contestants; that Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are fans of Fake Bake; or that Victoria Beckham had a St Tropez spray tan booth installed in her home?

It's not that this generation is particularly susceptible to celebrity. High fashion icon Coco Chanel is credited with making the tan fashionable in the 1920s and the appearance of a deeply-bronzed Brigitte Bardot in 1956's And God Created Woman popularised the trend.

Some scientists argue that our positive thoughts about tanned skin are as much about how we feel as how we look. Sunshine stimulates the pineal gland to produce mood-improving chemicals. Research has shown that stock markets rise on sunny days because investors mistake their happiness for confidence in the stocks. On cloudy days, sales of chocolate, cigarettes, coffee and alcohol go up as we try to elevate our mood.

Behavioural psychologists at Monmouth University in the US say that we are more likely to be generous on sunny days. Bellhops in gamblers' paradise Atlantic City found that when they told hotel customers in windowless rooms that it was sunny outside they earned higher tips than when they told them it was grey. Even the promise of sunshine makes us nicer.

In this way, the popularity of the tan is partly a byproduct of the popularity of the sun. Despite the sunsafe campaigns of recent years, the fact that we don't always fake it to make it was written in scaldmarks all over the crowds who flocked to parks and beaches to roast in last month's hot spell.

We know it's not good for us to burn -- but the dangers are pushed away in favour of the short-term gratification. Cases of melanoma skin cancer in Ireland rose by 92pc between 1998 and 2008, from 393 diagnoses to 756. This reflects the damage done decades ago when we were pretty much ignorant of any fallout from baring our goosepimpled, white, Irish skin to the sun.

"People are getting the message," says Rosemary Scott, "even so, you do need to keep saying it and saying it. In the 15-44 years age group, it is still the third biggest cancer. People should know that even though the sun is gone, 80pc of harmful UV radiation can get through cloud cover."

The Department of Health's proposal to ban the use of sunbeds to the under-18s is welcomed by cancer specialists -- but the fact that such a ban had to be brought in at all reflects their ongoing popularity.

David Treacy of Tanzone solariums says that the use of sunbeds has decreased but that there is still a strong seasonal clientele of people -- he estimates around 80pc are women -- coming in to get a 'base' colour for their holidays.

Treacy is adamant that "with sunbeds, if you don't burn, you're not increasing the risk of getting skin cancer".

On the opposite side is the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which last month recommended tanning machines be moved to the "highest cancer risk category" alongside cigarettes and asbestos. The question is, where do the rest of us sit on the question?

Do we believe that any tan is merely a sign of skin damage, or do we still secretly believe in a moderate "healthy" glow?

The answer might lie in our reaction to the term "tanorexic", often used to poke fun at mahogany-tanned celebs like Katie Price and Victoria Beckham. It's bandied about in the same way as someone might say they are a chocoholic, as in a habit that's silly and indulgent but ultimately not that harmful.

Hypnotherapist Katie-Jane Goldin says that, on the contrary, excessive tanning can be the outward manifestation of a very serious addiction.

Researchers at the University of New York this year published a study that found a small proportion of "indoor tanners" were hooked on their tanning sessions in the same way others are dependent on alcohol or drugs.

"They can be addicted to fake tan or sunbeds," says Katie-Jane. "Parents have brought in their teenage daughters who were practically luminescent from fake tan. They don't see what everyone else sees -- in essence, it's a form of body dysmorphia."

Katie-Jane notes that the 'Twilight effect' of teen heart-throb vampire Robert Pattinson has taken a bite out of the popularity of the tan.

"Saying that, the tan has been popular for so long, and we're so invested in it, that it has become an automatic way of thinking."

It may take more than a pair of wan-faced teens to change that.

* DONNA LEDWIDGE is a beauty therapist and co-creator of Wow Brown self-tan.

"To be honest, I probably created Wow Brown for myself because I am one of those Irish people who just can't take a tan. Traditional fake tan doesn't develop well on Irish skin -- our skin is thinner and we have a reddy-pink undertone so trying to get a golden glow rather than an orange one used to be difficult.

"I would wear it all year round. It's as big a part of the average beauty routine now as putting on make-up. You feel slimmer, your cellulite looks better when you're tanned. I wouldn't leave the house without it.

"We don't spray tan anyone under 16 -- we want to let girls be girls -- but they are always going to get a bottle from somewhere.

"Our salon is in Donnybrook (Dublin 4) so we get to see all the girls marching up to Wesley disco every Friday night, wearing the Ugg boots, the blonde hair and lashings of fake tan. It's like a uniform now and I think it's here to stay."

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/beauty/why-we-still-think-bronzing-is-tantastic-2273230.html

Monday, July 26, 2010

Home invaders

The new Criminal Bill allowing householders to use force to defend themselves and their property seems in many ways to unnecessary in as much as the current law already allows that option IF the householder has no way to retreat from the threat of violence.
I thought it would be interesting to ask people how they reacted when confronted by an intruder in their home. As the trauma psychologist I interviewed in the piece confirms, most of us are frozen to the spot, but it is very difficult to predict how you would behave in such a situation.

From last Saturday's news Review section in the Irish Indepedent:

Waking up to find a strange man standing at the end of the bed is a hellish scenario. It happened to mum-of-one Liz McGonigal -- and, six years on, she still remembers it in distressing detail.

Liz, a PR consultant, was sleeping in the spare room, having just returned home from a stint in hospital. She woke from a fitful sleep at around 5am to see the shape of a man standing at the bedroom door, a few feet from the bed where she lay. She wondered for a moment if it was her husband, Martin, coming to check on her.

"But I knew in the back of my head that it wasn't," she says. "I wasn't entirely with it but it didn't feel right. The person didn't move, they were completely motionless."

Luckily for Liz, she dozed off again, only realising the Dublin city-centre apartment had been burgled when she and her husband rose that morning. Valuable items such as her engagement ring and camera were gone but more shocking was what had been left behind: A kitchen knife had been placed on the coffee table.

"Would he have used it if he had been challenged?" Liz wonders now. "He scaled three floors to get to our apartment -- he shinned up the drainpipe.

"When the police checked for prints, they found his full handprint on the right-hand top of the bedroom door. I found that incredibly chilling."

The fears that we entertain about what would happen if someone threatened us in our homes -- and what we might do about it -- have again come to the fore with the publication of a new Criminal Justice Bill. The bill makes new provision for homeowners to use "reasonable force" to defend themselves against intruders.

But for Liz, the real damage was in the aftermath of that nightmarish experience. "I wasn't hurt but for a long time afterwards I couldn't sleep properly if my husband was away from home for the night," she says.

Maeve Ryan, co-ordinator of the National Crime Victims Helpline, says that the fallout from such "minor" incidents can actually be more difficult to deal with than the crime itself.

"The most common feeling we hear about from people who call our helpline is of vulnerability," she says. "Home is the place you are meant to feel safe and that has been violated, so people can spend a long time afterwards lying awake at night, every little noise magnified."

Even though Liz and her husband moved from the apartment, the anxiety was harder to escape. "You just don't feel safe," she says.

"Here's something that might sound silly: for a time I wouldn't put on the house alarm when I was at home alone because I was terrified what would happen if it ever went off."

A frightening experience at the hands of an intruder some years back still inspires journalist Myles McWeeney to religiously secure all his doors and windows before he goes to bed at night. Again, it was that most terrifying of scenarios -- waking up to a shadowy presence in the bedroom -- that played out in his south Dublin home.

"I had heard a noise and thought it was my wife having a bad dream," recalls Myles.

"When I turned to her, I realised she was still asleep. It was very dark but I could tell there was someone at the end of the bed."

His reaction to the intruder was instantaneous and, as Myles admits, a pure gut response. He yelled and and the would-be burglar took flight.

"He turned tail, luckily," says Myles. "I followed him out. I wasn't even thinking. You're in your bedroom, there's nowhere else to go. It's as if you're at the back of a cage."

The intruder had broken in through a tiny window in the utility room, so narrow that he had apparently stripped down to his T-shirt to wriggle through, leaving a jacket and shirt behind.

Most frightening still was what could have happened. "He had left two syringes filled with blood around the house, presumably intending to use them as a weapon," says Myles. "I am so aware now of how vulnerable we can be in our own home."

Myles and Liz are not on their own. Last year's eircom Phonewatch burglary report found that home invasion is the security issue of most concern to Irish people (46pc cited it as their greatest fear). Perhaps the concern is justified. Eight out of 10 robberies took place in 2009 while people were at home -- suggesting, says the report, "that burglars are not deterred by home occupancy when selecting their target".

Consultant psychologist Owen Connolly specialises in the treatment of traumatic stress at his clinic in Stillorgan, Dublin. The trauma a person can suffer as a result of having their home invaded is similar to that suffered by someone involved in a car crash or even attacked on the street.

"It is the interpretation the brain makes of the event," he says. "The literal reaction the brain can have is 'I'm going to die'. The body prepares itself for the worst eventuality. The heart and lungs get a rush of blood when the central nervous system kicks in and the blood supply to the stomach can be restricted.

"What engages is that 'fight or flight' instinct."

This adrenaline-filled reaction is not always logical but in essence the nervous system overrules the head. Oliver*, a businessman from Co Roscommon, explains his reaction to the attempted robbery of his car in this context.

"I woke up when I heard the car start up outside at five in the morning," he says. "I don't remember how I got there but the next thing I was chasing them down the street in the nude. They stopped the car, I opened the door and grabbed the keys from the ignition."

The would-be thief threatened to stab Oliver with a screwdriver but Oliver punched him and he ran away. "I later found his glasses, which I'd knocked off. I must have been half-asleep at the time and hadn't the time to think. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't have done that."

It's not just men who can be overwhelmed by the instinct to fight back. When Margaret* was a student nurse working nights, she would often find herself alone during the daytime in her shared rented flat.

One afternoon, as she stood at the kitchen table cutting a sandwich, a man started to squeeze through the open kitchen window.

"I don't know who got the bigger fright," she says. "He didn't expect me to be standing there and of course I had the knife in my hand. I started yelling that I would 'effing kill' him and he ran off. It wasn't bravery. I couldn't stop shaking for the rest of the day."

The most common reaction to such a threat, says Connolly, is to freeze.

"The brain tells them, 'If I stay quiet and say nothing, I will survive this'," he says.

"I was dealing with a client who was held hostage for five hours and he went into completely calm mode. That probably saved his bacon. But as soon as his attacker was arrested, he fell apart.

"That person was recently released from prison and the poor man was brought back to the way he felt the first day he was attacked. We talk about putting someone away for a few years for a crime, but the person who was attacked is left with a lifelong sentence of fear that can live on."

Not all people are traumatised by these experiences, thankfully. "But those who are need to know that their reaction is a valid one, and that they should seek counselling to help," says Connolly.

Maeve Ryan says that her volunteer's experience is that many people who call their helpline feel better just for having spoken about how they have been affected by what might be considered a "petty" crime.

"We send out a leaflet to them that reassures them that the stress, the vulnerability and inability to relax in their home are normal effects and they can recover," she says. "They just have to know that they are not going mad."

*Names have been changed on request

The National Crime Victims' Helpline offers confidential support to victims of crime in Ireland. Ring 1850 211 407, email info@crimevictimshelpline.ie or send a text to 085 1337711 and a volunteer will ring you back as soon as possible. A comprehensive list of regional support service for victims of crime is listed on www.csvc.ie

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/home-garden/the-night-i-woke-up-to-find-a-burglar-in-my-bedroom-2270900.html

Romance at the races

By Susan Daly
Friday Jul 23 2010

THE thrill of the chase is not confined to the track during the Galway Races. While some racegoers admittedly come to watch hundreds of kilos of horseflesh sweating to the finishing line, for many the excitement is all in the heaving throngs of bodies in the course bars.
WB Yeats put it plainly in his poem 'At Galway Races': "There where the course is, Delight makes all of the one mind." He might have been referring to the gee-gees, but he could just as easily have been speaking of romance at the races. When the social lubricants of booze and banter are mixed in, it makes a heady cocktail.

"The champagne tent is a great place to meet people, and I would say that the Long Bar in the Millennium Stand are where most of the action is," says Sandra McGinnelly, public relations officer at Ballybrit Racecourse.

Naturally, the potential for a fling in such circumstances is high. Some last about as long as the festival -- "what goes on in Galway, stays in Galway", one society beauty told the Irish Independent -- but the festival has also spawned its fair share of long-lasting love affairs and marriages.

Property developer Sean Dunne and former gossip columnist Gayle Killilea famously met at the Galway Races in 2002. They went on to marry in 2004, celebrating with friends in a ¿1.5m bash onboard the Cristina O, the luxury yacht where Aristotle Onassis once wed Jackie Kennedy.

The euphoric atmosphere at the races is almost certainly to blame for a few romantic matches. Dr Jane Mulrooney runs a cosmetic dermatology clinic in Sandymount, Dublin, with her sister Katherine (where their list of clients includes most of Ireland's who's who) and both women make a point of returning to their native Galway for the fun of the races every July.

"You couldn't miss the Galway Races," says Jane, "because everybody is in a party mood. There are a lot of guys there because of the sport and everyone is up for a chat, swapping tips, flirting, bantering. It's so easy to meet people."

True to form, Jane met now-husband Philip Hackett (of Hackett Bookmakers) at the Galway Races in 2003. As was the Celtic Tiger trend at the time, Jane and Philip met on a helicopter taking revellers out to Ballybrit from the city.

"It was Ladies' Day and the phones were down because it was so busy," says Jane. "He lost all his friends and I lost mine. He got a tip for a horse that came in at 14 to 1 -- I was sticking to him after that!"

Sadly, Jane's father died not long after the races so she was not socialising for several months afterwards, but she and Philip reunited for dinner in Dublin that October. When she moved to London in 2004 to specialise in dermatology it put the couple to the test, but they finally married in May of this year.

Even those folks supposedly focused on the horses have found themselves drawn into the seductive Ballybrit atmosphere. Top-flight trainer Aidan O'Brien met his wife Anne Marie Crowley there over 20 years ago when they were both riding as amateur jockeys in the same race.

"I went up to have a chat to Aidan behind the barriers," Anne Marie says. "We had a bit of a bet going on Aidan's horse." Aidan's horse came in first, Anne Marie came in third and they sealed their partnership by marrying shortly afterwards.

Jockey Barry Geraghty was also celebrating when he met wife-to-be Paula Heaphy at the Galway Races in 2004. "He had had a few winners and was celebrating when a mutual friend introduced us," says Paula. "He was in great form!" The pair didn't meet again until that September at the race festival in Listowel, close to Paula's home, but they went on to have a daughter Siofra, now 4, and were married in Killarney last January.

"We got engaged in Cheltenham. On the Friday they throw a party in the weigh-in room for friends and family," says Paula. "As we had always said we would have a small wedding, I think Barry had it in the back of his mind that we would have a big engagement party. He had told Ruby (Walsh) earlier on that he was going to do it, so Ruby stood up and announced that Barry had a few words to say. The next thing he was on his knee -- that was the best part of it, it was such a big surprise!"

The Geraghtys are looking forward to their Galway outing next week as newlyweds. "Galway is one of our favourites and it will always be special to us because that is where we met," says Paula.

Galway seems to spark big romantic gestures. Take Seamus Forde, for example. Last year he watched as his girlfriend, Mary Therese McDonnell from Co Mayo, was chosen as Best Dressed Lady on the Thursday. Seeing her on the podium in all her pomp, Seamus decided he just had to make her his wife. He proposed two days later and today, they marry in Westport.

"We left Galway that Saturday to go on holidays in Portugal and Seamus proposed," says a delighted Mary Therese. "He told me that he decided on Thursday when was looking up at me on the podium in Ballybrit. He was so hugely proud of me and so glad to be there and part of it."

Spontaneous Seamus contacted a jeweller in Malahide about a ring. "Seamus got the jeweller to take a picture of the ring and sent it to his BlackBerry so he could show it to me when he proposed," says Mary Therese.

The couple will miss this year's Ladies' Day because they will be on honeymoon. "That day at the Galway Races really did change my life," says Mary Therese. "We are looking forward to going back next year as Mr and Mrs Forde."

There is a long tradition of mixing the serious business of racing with pleasure. One of the great romances sparked at the Galway Races was between Lord Killanin, Michael Morris, in whose memory the new Killanin Stand at Ballybrit is named, and his wife Sheila. He was chairman of the Galway Races trust for many years.

"It was just after the war and life was starting all over again," recalls Breda Ryan, whose late husband Patrick was also once chairman of the Galway races. "Lord Killanin was from one of the tribes of Galway and Sheila Dunlop's father was a clergyman in Oughterard. She was home from London, they met in the Great Southern Hotel on one of the race nights and that was it."

The family is still very much part of the fabric of Galway week -- the Killanins' youngest son is respected horse trainer Michael 'Mouse' Morris.

Incidentally, Breda's second-ever date with her husband Patrick was to the races in 1959. "We were introduced at a party and he invited me back to the races," she says. "He later told me that he had previously noticed me cycling past on a bicycle in a yellow dress." They were married for 45 years until Patrick's death in 2004.

In the 1940s, Galway was just a two-day race meet, but Breda recalls that the excitement and glamour was no less for that. "In the war, petrol was scarce so they went out to Ballybrit in jaunting cars and bicycles. My mother-in-law would be trimming hats weeks in advance for women to wear.

"Nothing has changed there -- it was always a place for ladies of great flair to strut their stuff," says Breda, whose son Anthony Ryan, MD of the family department store on Shop Street, is sponsoring the Best Dressed Ladies competition on the Thursday.

The romantic story of the Killanins might be just the thing to inspire the singletons who will be saddling up for potential romance on the second floor of the Killanin stand on the Friday evening of the races.

In the largest-ever singles event held at a racecourse, AnotherFriend.com and the Galway Races are hosting The Singles Party, which kicks off with the first race at 5pm and continues until 10pm and the 'lover buses' run to Eyre Square all evening, should you find a dead cert for romance and wish to go on to celebrate!

It's a new twist to finding romance on the Ballybrit stands as the country's finest horse flesh flashes by. Tickets are e25 and include admission, a drinks voucher, a free e5 tote bet and the services of a DJ to help punters show off their finest mating moves on the dancefloor (see anotherfriend.com for more info).

The Galway Races have always been a good place to mingle with other singles but getting them all together under one roof? Those are surely excellent odds for finding a mate at Race Week.

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/love-sex/meeting-your-true-love-at-the-galway-races-2269958.html

How the west won Daithi

The Galway Races are upon us so for the Irish Independent's special supplement, I got a guided tour of Galway hotspots by TG4 weatherman Daithi O Se:

DID you hear the one about the Kerry weatherman who got caught in the rain without a brolly? Dingle native Daithi O Se is used to being the punchline to playful jokes in his adopted hometown of Galway.

He has made the city his home base since joining TG4 over a decade ago. "So I'm not a blow-in as such," he says. "But the lads in the pub do love to give me an awful going-over. I'm 'fear an aimsir' and they love taking the mick when I'd get the weather wrong.

"I remember getting caught out once, running out into the rain and no umbrella with me, and some old fella says, 'You're some weather man all right'."

The Galwegian talent for banter has made O Se -- anointed with the gift of the gab himself -- feel right at home and the 34-year-old takes full advantage of his new life in the only medieval city in Connacht.

"I think that part of Galway's charm is linked to the fact that we are surrounded by this other language. Even though a lot of people in the city might not be able to speak it fluently, they can understand it and they salute each other in Irish almost unbeknownst to themselves.

"Thinking in a different language gives Galway people a different outlook on life. Very individual, more philosophical and relaxed about it all."

Not that O Se has had the chance to take it easy of late. He's just back from driving through America for TG4's upcoming series Daithi ar Route 1 and, next month, he'll present his first Rose of Tralee on RTE.

But first, he has six days of the Galway races to look forward to, starting with the evening meeting next Monday. This is very much a locals' night out. O Se has a particular way of gearing himself up for a hectic day at Ballybrit.

"I'm an early riser and nothing beats throwing yourself into Galway Bay for a swim to clear the head," he says.

"I love walking along the pier and along the prom at Salthill but I would encourage people [who are] down for the races to go for a swim as well. The water would be cold enough but it will stand to you later in the day," he adds with a broad beam. A man who knows how to handle 18-hour days during race week.

Those of a less hardy nature could opt for O Se's second morning cure-all: the big fry-up. He'll be hosting a number of old friends from Dingle for the Galway Races and tradition has it that no-one makes a move out of the house in the morning without Daithi whipping out the frying pan.

"It's great soakage but to be honest, I think people who go racing eat once and make sure it sets them up for the day," he says.

Galway has no shortage of great dining options and as we walk around the streets of the city, the Dingle man points out some of his favourites. He name-checks Vina Mara on Middle Street for fresh seafood or Ard Bia at Nimmos beside the historic Spanish Arch on the Claddagh for a real treat. But it's iconic chipper McDonagh's that gets his regular custom.

"They serve pints of milk in there which is one of the reasons why I love it and the chips are homemade. The fish is basically just out of the water, you get a nice side of baked beans and you're sorted for the next 24 hours," says O Se, who lists fisherman as one of his many career paths -- alongside butcher, nightclub bouncer and teacher.

If you're Daithi O Se, you might get your chips dropped up to Freeney's Bar by owner Peter McDonagh.

"That's kinda cool alright; he'll do that from time to time," says O Se, taking care to look at least a little bit bashful. O Se is musical. "I don't play music but I used to sing," says Daithi, who fesses up to singing on a Chieftains album that was nominated for a world music Grammy some years back with his friend, Dingle singer Seamus Begley. "Myself and my friend Laurence sang with him for a while. We called ourselves the Three Fivers -- we weren't even The Three Tenors!"

Now's the perfect time for exploring his musical tastes, by heading to Tigh Neachtain, one of Galway's most famous pubs, located on the corner of Cross Street and Quay Street.

O Se reckons there is a pub in Galway to suit every taste. We pass the Claddagh (where the famous Claddagh Ring originated) and the famous tourist attraction of the Spanish Arch, which was not built by the Spaniard but to keep them out. We head to the triangle of trad music bars, Taaffe's, Tigh Coili and The Crane.

"I love the trad bars because you sit down and next thing, there's Sharon Shannon beside you with her accordion. It's unreal," he says.

"Paul Brady could call in every now and then you could look up and Dolores Keane is singing in the corner."

If Daithi's not in the mood to loosen the vocal cords, he will head to one of the "talking pubs" as he calls them. There's Murphy's and Fay's, which sit neatly poised across the road from each other -- with a bookie's beside Murphy's, handy for the thirsty punter.

"You might land in there before getting the bus to Ballybrit from Eyre Square and if the craic is good enough, you might never get the bus at all."

O Se downs his coffee and grows momentarily serious. "That's the one problem with Galway in race week. There are too many tips. I met four people last year who swore black and blue that their horse was going to win -- and that was in the same race."

With the exception of a couple of high-rollers, few come to Galway to make money in race week. Some are not even -- whisper it -- as concerned with what goes on trackside as they are about simply enjoying the atmosphere.

"What I love about Galway race week is that it's all about having the chat. Talking about who you have a 20 on in the next race is just the ice-breaker," says O Se. He's decamped to the Champagne Tent at Ballybrit on occasion, but says the whole area is like a big party.

"Galway is always in semi-party mode. Go into one of those music pubs at 5pm on a Monday evening in the middle of November and they're packed. Coming from a town like Dingle that would be very quiet in the winter, it was a real eye-opener. When you arrive in Galway it's like you're on a stag for your whole life."

Living life like you're on a permanent stag weekend isn't entirely advisable of course and O Se likes that Galway -- perched on the edge of some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland -- affords him the chance to spend time on one of his favourite spots. The Aran Islands are special to him and he eulogises about happy times there.

"One of the most gorgeous times I ever had there was when I camped out there overnight with Lucy Kennedy for her RTE show, Living With Lucy," he remembers.

O Se uses the word gorgeous a lot, letting the 'r' roll off his tongue with that gaelgeoir inflection, as if no other word can articulate how in love he is with Connemara sunsets, or the grace of a Galway hooker boat, in full flight.

"Fishing is one of those things that I love to do if I get a day off. Give me an evening in September casting off from the rocks. Gorrrrgeous."

He catches white pollock, takes it home, bakes it if he's being good but more often than not revs up the trusty frying pan and throws it in with a knob of garlic butter.

"Sure if you cooked your socks in garlic butter, you'd ate them," he laughs.

Galway's artistic reputation is not lost on the Kerry man. The highly-respected Film Fleadh and Arts Festival have just finished but O Se points out, the arts are a year-round obsession for its citizens.

"I'd go to the Town Hall Theatre and the Druid when I could," he says. He particularly enjoyed Druid's recent version of Juno and the Paycock. "I did it for my Leaving Cert but this was on a different level altogether," says O Se.

Visitors to Charlie Byrne's bookshop at Cornstore Mall might be surprised to find the normally ebullient O Se quietly browsing the history and biography sections.

"I'd give an hour or two there all right if I had a day off," he says. "Then I might take the book to McCambridge's (café) on Shop Street and while the afternoon away.

"I have my quiet times too you know," he says with a wink before he heads off to see a man about a horse.

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/sport/horse-racing/galway-races/how-the-west-won-daithi-2270227.html

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who cares if these guys are just not into you?

A few years ago, a book title proposed a simple six-word explanation for shoddy male romantic behaviour: He's Just Not That Into You.

The book was inspired by an episode of Sex and the City -- of course -- in which Carrie's boyfriend Berger claims that women waste too much time trying to analyse why men turn cold/avoid commitment/don't call when they say they will.

Don't take it personally girls, says Berger. When a man behaves like this it is because 'he's just not that into you'. Forget him and find a man who is.

Liberating as this little aphorism is, it is beyond simplistic. It also implies that if a guy is acting peculiar, it's not him, it's you.

Dating columnist Zoe Strimpel decided that there must be more behind the mixed messages women receive from men than simple disinterest. (There's probably a book waiting to be written about signals flying from the opposite direction too.)

Instead of torturing herself over cocktails with her girlfriends about what goes on inside a man's mind, Strimpel spent a year interviewing hundreds of men for her new book: What The Hell Is He Thinking? She stresses that the men she interviewed were “all articulate, smart, thoughtful and basically good guys”.

Yet even the saintliest of these -- even if they didn't condone certain bad behaviour among their cohorts -- could at least explain why it happens.

“The name of the game is not to be thrown when a guy does something weird,” says Strimpel. “Rather, to recognise what it might mean, and where it's coming from.”

So, straight from the horses' mouths came these surprising revelations:

Men read women's magazines ...

Some men do actually pick up tips from women's mags -- and it is not necessarily a good thing. Strimpel relates the tale of Christian, a guy who brought her on luxurious dates, bought her a toothbrush to keep at his, and texted her loving messages while away on business.

After a perfect weekend together, he left her at a train station on Sunday evening with a chilly 'Don't be a stranger' parting.

One man explained: “Unlike dogs, men can and do read what's written about them, so they also know how to manipulate perceptions.

“While it suited him he was more than happy to keep the relationship going, and pulling all the tricks he'd learnt from reading girlfriend's copies of Cosmopolitan... But when it didn't suit him he let it slip.”

Your mum wasn't wrong when she said, 'Once a cheater, always a cheater' ...

Most of the men interviewed were clear about one thing with adultery: if you end up in a relationship with an attached man, never fool yourself that you were simply too irresistible.

Says Gary: “The chance to cheat is constantly available and yet so far I've resisted it. I could do all sorts of psychoanalysis, but the bottom line is: that's just who they are. And the bottom line for (a cheater): that's just who they are ... . If he cheats on you, he's an adulterer at heart.” We have been warned.

Some women end up finishing a relationship -- when it's really the man who wants out ...

A woman ends a relationship because she can't seem to make her man happy: why then does she feel so bad when she's the one who has done the dumping?

Barry, a “lovely guy” and old school friend of Strimpel's, explains: “Obviously if you've been going out with a girl you like her, so you don't necessarily want to dump her and you don't want to hurt her. So you just make the relationship deteriorate until she is forced to dump you.”

Rob, a serial monogamist, is more blunt: “Men are cowards. If we can avoid confrontation and letting someone down, we will.”

So women get to do the dirty work. Thanks guys.

A man who doesn't mind if you leave a whole set of clothes at their house might freak out over a few bracelets left by the sink ...

Women are supposed to be the drama queens in relationships but if some of the men in Strimpel's book are to go by, we don't read half as much into the little things as men do.

One guy dumps a new-ish girlfriend when she leaves her watch and bracelets in the bathroom. Many of her male interviewees understood his reaction.

“I wouldn't mind if my girlfriend, who stays at mine regularly, leaves in my room a toothbrush, contact lenses liquid or even a spare pair of pants for practical reasons,” says Peter.

But anything other than purely functional items are seen as precursors to leaving a lot more, “and then, basically, her moving in “.

Men have feelings too ...

There is a common perception that men are more libidinous than women and that if they are not looking for some action of an evening they are tired, burnt out or drunk.

Sometimes men -- just like women -- lack the confidence to make the first move.

“It's not that I have any weird issue with it, “ says one poor soul, “It's like you're frozen by an irrational fear of being rejected, even though you know you won't be.”

Intelligence can be a turn-off ...

I know, I know. All those bras burned for nothing.

“Women should be intelligent, yes, but lovely and smelling of roses,” says a charmer called Rob. What?! “It's just biology: it's hard-wired into us.”

Thankfully many of Strimpel's interviewees disagreed.

“Maybe it comes down to ambition rather than intelligence,” suggests one.

“No one, man or woman, wants to feel like they'll play second fiddle to someone else's career. There are ways to talk about how much you like your job that don't make it seem it's the only thing in your life.”

Women need to toughen up ...

Clearly, men are not all either wimps or bastards, but there are some serious bad pennies out there.

The key to not getting landed with one, say Strimpel's men, is to demand to be treated well and to leave if you're not. Women should take more responsibility, they conclude.

“Hardly the response you'd expect when the guy is the one acting like a tosser,” says Strimpel.

“But we need to get tough and have the courage to walk away. If we hang about for sub-standard treatment, it's our fault when we get it.”

What The Hell Is He Thinking: All the questions you've ever asked about men answered. By Zoe Strimpel, published by Penguin, €10.80, on sale now.

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/love-sex/revealed-the-real-reasons-why-hes-just-not-that-into-you-2263848.html


What he says: I bought you a toothbrush to keep at my place.

What he means: I've seen Sex and The City. I know a toothbrush will buy me time before you want to actually move in.

What he says: I'm not in love with my ex but I think her new guy just isn't right for her.

What he means: I'm still in love with my ex.

What he says: I would love to have sex but I don't want to ruin our friendship.

What he means: I don't want you to be my girlfriend but I quite fancy having a friend-with-benefits.

What he says: I was going to tell my wife about us last night but she was ill/busy with the kids/upset about the dog dying.

What he means: I will never leave my wife. Why would I? I am having my cake and eating it too.

What he says: It's not you, it's me.

What he means: It's not me, it's you. I just want you to end up comforting me as I break your heart.

Read more: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/love-sex/what-the-badlybehaved-male-says-and-what-he-actually-means-2263850.html

THE QUICKFIRE ROUND: Honest answers on love's big questions:
What's the maximum number of guys a girl can have slept with for you to feel comfortable?

"Ten is the absolute max. If it's more than that, just lie." -- Victor

How do you feel about a girl making the first move?

"I think it's brilliant! It's only too forward if you're not actually all that keen on the woman." -- Tim B

Is intelligence more important than beauty in a woman?

"Sure I'd date a stupid woman. I'm not sure how long it would last." -- Tim V

What is so scary about moving in with someone?

"Moving in together feels like an all-to-play-for move. If you've ever had to move out of a place you've shared with a girlfriend, you know that it feels like 'My Little Divorce'." -- James E

What is the most common excuse men use to keep things casual?

"If you're not that into her, you'll say, 'I'm going out with the boys, come meet me afterwards', rather than ask her to 'come with'. It's a subtle booty call which is a big hint." -- Victor L

Monday, July 19, 2010

Are we all white, there?

The bride wore white and the groom wore a proud grin from ear to ear.

The photograph of Brian O'Driscoll and Amy Huberman in the porch of a church in Leitrim in their finery is shaping up to be the most reproduced wedding pic of the year.

The image of a beloved sportsman and his beautiful bride subscribes to all the fantasies. It's easy to imagine this generation of Irish girls studying the picture of Amy in a princess-skirted dress, and vowing: one day, my prince too shall come.

It's not entirely about pulling Prince Charming: for girls, little and not-so-little, it's mostly about The Dress. We know that the wedding has not gone out of fashion. More than 19,000 couples will tie the knot in Ireland this year. One might assume, however, that the traditional white frock might be going the same way as the dowry.

After all, our society has changed immeasurably in the past 20 years. Many people have cohabited before marriage. Some have bought houses or already have children. Certainly, it's a given that there are not too many virgins walking down the aisle these days, any more than there's a virgin groom waiting for them at the altar. Yet the big white/ivory/cream/any-shade-of-pale dress is still the focus of the big day for the majority of brides.

Even Sarah Jessica Parker has admitted that she regrets wearing a black dress to wed husband Matthew Broderick. "I would white it up," she said in 2008. "I'd wear a beautiful, proper wedding dress, like I should have that day." Ciara Elliott, editor of bridal magazine Confetti, says: "The big, white dress endures as the key element for most Irish brides. You can wear a beautiful dress for any nice occasion, but you only get to put on the white dress once and I think people feel special when they put it on."

It's this transformative effect that relationship counsellor David Kavanagh says is key to why most Irish women live modern, unfussy lives -- but have no problem becoming Princess Di for their wedding day. In his experience in running pre-marriage guidance courses, Kavanagh has noticed that Irish women are still very much influenced by traditional expectations of what 'looking like a bride' will do for them.

"Wearing that white dress conforms to the fantastical notion of beauty we would have had from when we had fairy tales told to us as children by our parents," he says. "When people put these dresses on, they feel a sense of joy because endorphins are released as they tap back into those good memories of being told that this is the happy ending." For some brides, the psychology of wearing the white dress is simple: it's easier to wear,

than not to. "Some people wear alternatives but they are a small percentage," says Ciara. "We are a traditional country and when it comes down to it, people feel pressure to do the traditional thing. I knew a woman who was going to wear a pink dress, but her mum was horrified and she buckled."

It's not just pushy mums who are at it. Celebrity PR agent Joanne Byrne said in an interview last month that when her client Cecelia Ahern had her secret wedding, the media were obsessed with one detail. "The only question I asked the couple was who did Cecelia's dress, as I was being inundated with that question," she said. (Oscar de la Renta, if you're interested.)

The irony is that the white wedding dress might be seen as a tradition -- but it's not as time-honoured as we think. Blue was traditionally associated with purity, but, in fact, the earliest wedding gowns tended to be in plush, luxurious colours, like purple and red. In the Middle Ages, such expensive coloured dyes showed that the bride was coming from a family with money. The value of her purity was second to her value in cash.

Social media agony aunt Amanda Brown wore a strapless, linen two-piece to her civil wedding. "I couldn't wear the traditional white dress," she says. "I find that convention oppressive. You are dressing yourself up as chattel: it's a tradition I could do without being a part of."

There are some changes afoot in the world of bridalwear, however. Some cash-conscious ladies are steering away from the dressing-up box clearly marked 'Bridal'.

"The special dress has retained its value in the same way as the engagement ring has," says Tanya Grimson, stylist and fashion editor at Irish Brides. "But I am being asked a lot by readers: 'Who could make me something bespoke?' Designers who are not bridal designers are being asked to create something because people want to be able to wear it again.

"There will always be the die-hard traditionalist who wants the tiara, the veil, the pearls and the Gina shoes. But the long veil is gone for most brides. The idea of unveiling yourself to your husband, as if there is no sex before marriage ... oh, please."

Meet some brides who chose an alternative to the big, white wedding dress.

BARBARA SCULLY Home-maker, writer and blogger

"I was 34 when I married, so I felt I was quite old -- well, relatively. I also already had a daughter. I didn't go for subtle, though: I wore a Grecian-style traffic-light-red dress. I'm 6ft tall and when I came down the stairs at home that morning, my two brothers said, 'Jesus, you're Mighty Aphrodite'. It must run in the family. My mother got married in a red suit in the 1960s."
PRISCILLA DIAMOND Financial controller

"Being from Galway but getting married in Kildare, I thought it would be nice to bring the Galway colours with me. I didn't try on any all-white dresses, but I did have a few panic attacks as the big day got closer, wondering if people would wonder, 'What was she thinking with that dress?' But I loved it and it was the dress for me."


"I didn't go for the traditional white dress because I'm not a 'traditional' person. I got married in a cave (Wookey Hole in Somerset, England), in November. I also think the whole white dress thing is a bit dated. It's meant to symbolise purity, and I think it's quite safe to say that nowadays most brides are not still virgins by their wedding day."

SOOZI HADJ LAZIB Project co-ordinator

"As I married my husband in his family home in Algeria, I wore traditional dress -- but it was a traditional Berber dress, as his family are of Berber [original ethnic group of North Africa] stock. I have definitely loved having more colourful pictures to look back on and show friends."

AISLING McGRANE PRO for Project Arts Theatre

"I love well-tailored clothes and have always loved the '40s look, so I guess it was inevitable I would be drawn to this dress. I saw it in Costume and I also thought that champagne was more flattering on the skin than traditional white. I chose a dress that I was comfortable in and can wear again, if I choose to."

ANNIE WEST Illustrator

"I just wasn't into the thought of a meringue, so, exasperated with trying to find something, I ended up spending a cool 40 quid on a lovely dress from an Indian shop and dressed up a very plain hat. I bought two dresses in Marks and Spencer for the bridesmaids Anna and my daughter Amy [also in the picture and now 19]. They were a bit too new-looking, so I soaked them in tea overnight to get a nice sepia effect."

-Susan Daly

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/fashion/pure-nostalgia-white-weddings-2262743.html
AND HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/fashion/its-not-all-white-2264396.html

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Movie review: Inception

My review, in 700 words, of Christopher Nolan's Inception from the Irish Independent's Day and Night magazine:

INCEPTION (12A, General release) ****
Summer season at the cinema is not traditionally a good time to go looking for smart, original films. Expectations have weighed heavily on Christopher Nolan’s Inception to cut a swathe through the sea of insipid sequels and till-ringing remakes.

This is a director who doesn’t deal in the predictable and generic. Ten years ago, he reinvented the psychological thriller with Memento, which didn’t so much tamper with the normal rules of narrative as completely dismember them. When he got his hands on the Batman franchise, he remoulded the tired superhero flick into that rare creature, an intelligent blockbuster.

Inception is Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight (2008). The buzz surrounding it has been stoked by the director’s insistence on keeping the most minor details of the plot under wraps.

The basic outline isn’t revolutionary. Leonardo di Caprio plays Dom Cobb, mastermind of corporate espionage. He steals secrets from one side and sells to the other. He has tired of his lonely, risky lifestyle and agrees to a final big job that will free him to go home and become a Normal Dad to his two children.

Yet this is anything but a typical one-last-job heist movie. Cobb is no ordinary thief. He and his team of egghead accomplices invade the dreams of their targets and prise secrets from their subconscious. This being Nolan’s world, dream-snatching is not as simple as waiting for their man to fall asleep. Cobb and right-hand-man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) construct entire dreamscapes designed to lure the subject into a fantasy world that they control.

Recently though, Cobb’s own guilt-ridden subconscious has been throwing a spanner in the works. A sinister projection of his dead wife Mal threatens to sabotage the missions. Marion Cotillard is riveting as Mal although it is hard to forget her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, mostly because Nolan has bizarrely chosen to use Piaf’s torch song ‘Je ne regrette rien’ as a key narrative trigger here.

Di Caprio, however, is brilliant as the haunted Cobb. As in the recent Shutter Island, Leo looks like he has the world on his shoulders and his fingertips barely clinging to reality. He is no position to refuse the escape hatch cracked open by powerful businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe). Saito offers to clear up Cobb’s personal problems if Cobb and company abandon the usual business of ‘extraction’ in favour of an ‘inception’: implanting an idea into the mind of a business rival.

Apparently this is a near-impossible task. We know this because straight-laced Arthur keeps protesting along the lines of, “This is a near-impossible task.” Instead it is the jumping-off point for Nolan’s mind-bending sci fi proposal involving multiple planes of consciousness and the sketchy human grip of reality over fantasy.

Cobb bolsters his team of operatives with wideboy fraudster Eames (Tom Hardy) and narcolepsy-inducing chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao). Nolan favourite Michael Caine dispenses a few bon mots as Cobb’s father but these auxiliary characters don’t really have heart. They seem to exist just to jolly the plot along by pressing the right button to blow up the right fantasy universe at the right time.

Our own Cillian Murphy succeeds in injecting Saito’s rival Robert Fischer with a pathos that fleshes out his role as the hapless ‘mark’ and Ellen Page brings some smarts to dreamworld architect Ariadne.

Mercifully, Ariadne also serves the function of helping the audience navigate the densely-layered fabric of Nolan’s plot. There are dreams within dreams, and dreams within those dreams and – frankly – it can get confusing. When Cobb explains the logic underpinning his intricate theories to new gal Ariadne, he is simultaneously explaining it to us.

The dreamscapes are gorgeously realised. The visuals are there to be marvelled at, a cityscape folding over onto itself, a snow-crusted fortress imploding into ice crystals at the blink of the mind’s eye.

Nolan masterfully ratchets up the tension as the film’s denouement plays out on four different stages. Inception lacks a deep emotional core but it messes with the mind. It is a bold vision that takes its cue from Eames who declares: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger.”

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE (in truncated form): http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/day-and-night/movies/movies-inception-2261052.html

Nightwatch: Costume change

My Friday Nightwatch column from the Irish Independent:
Friday July 16 2010

Surely the surprising thing is not that Lindsay Lohan is going to jail on Tuesday -- it's not even that she had 'Fuck U' painted across her fingernails for her probation hearing.

I mean, come on, I've had expletives written on my nails for all my probation hearings, and the judge always finds them hilarious and not at all disrespectful.It's that she changed outfit three times during the hearing.

Had she mistaken her day in court for a presenter gig at the MTV Movie Awards or something? She arrived in the morning in a sombre, all-black trouser suit. At lunch, she decided to accessorise with a blazer and necklace. By the time the judge came to sentence her, she had stuck on a jumpsuit. Which, to be fair, was a good way to acclimatise to what she'll be wearing in prison.

Now, I know it's not the done thing to admire Li-Lo at the moment. She's not really the kind of gal you'd want organising your girls' night out, for example. Not unless you wanted to wake up in an open boxcar on the train to Albuquerque with a blank memory, a raging hangover and the number of some guy called Bubba written on your bra. Or, depending on your definition of what constitutes a good night out, maybe she is.

I do, however, admire her ability to 'pull together' a variety of sartorial options in a moment of crisis.

This is not a simple case of dressing yourself in the morning. I do manage -- most days -- to make it out the door with shoes on both feet and the requisite foundation garments. Sometimes, I even put something on top of those again.

I watch the American version of What Not to Wear, the one with the aggressive Noo Yoicker female presenter and her poor woman's Gok Wan sidekick. I get the basic tenets of dressing appropriately: no belly tops, no stonewashed denim, vertical stripes.

But dressing coherently under pressure? Forget it. This hit home last Thursday evening, the official start of the weekend. (I do wonder if Li-Lo's drinking habits would be considered as dangerous in Ireland as they are in the US.)

It was one of those 12-hour work days caused by doing three hours of graft, and five hours of Facebook and Twitter, the previous day. I was to meet a group of women in a pub to discuss a project we're all working on. I knew some of them by acquaintance; more I didn't know at all. Two words bounced around my brain. No, not Li-Lo's charming fingernail invitation. First. Impressions.

It's a lie to say that women don't dress for men. Clearly, if you're going on a date, you're not going to get out the sackcloth and ashes to make sure it's just your personality he's after. But it's also very true -- much more so, I would argue -- that women dress for other women.

Pathetic as it sounds, there's a lot of judgey-wudgey stuff going on when women are trying to get a handle on each other. A man might look at another man's feet briefly and think: I like/don't like/have no opinion at all on those runners. I look at women who wear heels that are too high for them to walk in and I immediately make a judgment call on what's in their head, as much as what's on their feet. It's not nice, but it's true, and I'm sure it has been done to me many a time.

So I put a small bomb in the base of the wardrobe and stood back to let it do its work. Not really. But the room did look like it had been hit by a few sticks of gelignite after I had spent an hour pulling things off the hangers and upending the laundry basket to see if the perfect outfit might be hiding in there. (Oh admit it -- everyone has sniffed a T-shirt at least once in their life to see if they might get one more wear out of it.)

In desperation, I ended up going out the door -- late, of course -- in purple tights, a denim dress and mustard-coloured wedges. And yes, it did look as odd as it sounds.

And shame on me for my cynicism: none of the women I met batted an eyelid. One actually told me she liked the colour combo of the tights and shoes -- and sounded sincere rather than just kind.

"Oh, these old things?" I said. "I just threw them on before I came out the door."

- Susan Daly


Page one girls

Women's magazines have always been a competitive market, growing increasingly so as impulse buys at the newsstand dwindle and each has to jostle for attention on the shelves. I had a look at what Irish mag editors believe catches the consumer's eye.
Interesting factoid: Women don't like men on their magazine covers, not even Justin Timberlake. Read on....

Celebrities are so approachable these days. You can spend your lunch hour with Glenda Gilson, take Cheryl Cole on the train to Cork and have a sit down and a glass of wine with Lorraine Keane. At a few euro a pop, they're cheap company too.

The celebs are not actually for hire in person, but they are available to pick up at any newsstand. Magazine editors know that celebrity cover girls sell copies and that some sell better than others.

The editor of Vogue recently named Kate Moss as her guaranteed crowd-puller; the more mid-range title Glamour says that Cheryl Cole is "the new [Princess] Diana in terms of sales".

Cheryl is a hit, apparently, because she's easy to relate to, dresses trendily but not too outre and, with her dimpled smile, looks like she's auditioning to be our friend. We're drawn to reach out for anything with her on the cover in the same way it's impossible to resist popping a length of bubble wrap. She's got that touchability factor.

"There is an element of trial and error in finding out who attracts readers," says Irish Tatler editor Jessie Collins. "But Irish women seem to like people who they feel an affinity with. They like strong, bright Irish women. Colette Fitzpatrick has worked well for us in the past, and I think Lorraine Keane is maybe the only person we've had on two covers.

"The presentation of them as smiling, approachable and not super-intimidating is attractive."

Time was when only models were deemed the perfect cover girls. These days, even high-fashion bible Vogue consistently plumps for a red-hot celebrity over the chiselled cheekbones of some beautiful -- but anonymous -- model.

Prudence magazine editor Annette O'Meara says that she called a halt a year ago to the policy of putting the model from their fashion shoot on the cover. "We really haven't looked back," she says. "Our sales went up last year -- part of that is to do with our content, which is geared to recessionary living, but it also coincided with when we started putting Irish celebrities on our cover. Our first one was Glenda Gilson and she was incredibly popular."

Perhaps it's down to a prurient interest in Gilson's chequered love life -- she's had high-profile dalliances with rugby star Brian O'Driscoll and property player Johnny Ronan -- or simply a matter of her photogenic face and body.

Whatever it is, Gilson is clearly a source of public fascination and that is a big cover-girl credential. A picture of her flashing her pearly-white smile in a bright-pink dress gave Stellar magazine one of its highest-selling issues ever.

British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has said that even though her magazine features some seriously daring outfits in its fashion spreads, the cover girls are never wearing anything too in-your-face. Bright colours such as pink help our eye to focus on one mag over another when confronted by such a huge choice on the shelves.

Pink dress aside, Prudence's O'Meara believes Gilson has "broad appeal" to readers. "When people are on TV five days a week, they have a broad recognition factor. Our current edition has Claudia Carroll, who is a very popular author and is also known from her stint in Fair City." Carroll played unlucky-in-love Nicola in the soap for 14 years.

Gilson has also done the business for the fortnightly U magazine. "Glenda and in fact all the girls from Xposé are very popular," says U's editor Jennifer Stevens.

Does this mean we magazine fans are a terribly shallow bunch, only interested in looking at women who are on the telly and wear pretty dresses? Irish Tatler's Collins thinks we're more sophisticated than that. "The reason the cover is so important to get right is that women have complicated tastes," she says. "There is an element of trial and error in it, but it does seem that readers want to see someone who, yes, ties in with them but also whose life is of interest."

News-driven magazines such as U, for example, find Cheryl Cole has indeed been a popular cover girl in the past six months, but only when there is a strong story to put alongside her picture.

"With online news content and access to paparazzi pictures, readers are very discerning and up to date," says Stevens. "Our next cover is Cecelia Ahern because of her secret wedding -- we are probably closer to Grazia and Look in England than to other Irish mags because, for us, the story drives who goes on the cover as much as a picture we might have of them."

There are some rules that editors stick to. Apparently, we like our cover girls to make eye contact with us, as if they're saying: 'Take me home! Let's have a girlie night in while I tell you how I keep my husband in line/get my hair so shiny!'

Sombre colours on the cover -- and green, for some reason -- are out. "Rosanna Davison in bright yellow on our most recent issue was our absolute top-selling cover," says Stellar's editor Susan Vasquez. "It was fresh, it was bright, it was vibrant and it jumped off the shelves. Particularly at this time, people are looking for light relief and magazines are a form of escapism and time out."

Prudence magazine conducted an interesting experiment for its March issue. They posted three very different photographs of Gillian Quinn on their website, allowing readers to vote for which one should make the cover.

The winning picture had Quinn, hair soft and feathered, smiling in a flowing, rose-pink chiffon dress. "People voted overwhelmingly for it," says O'Meara.

The first picture had her in an uber-sexy metallic gold dress, cut to the navel, and the third was a black-and-white headshot of Quinn, beautiful but unsmiling.

"It goes back to the fact that while arty photographers don't want people smiling, readers want someone like Gillian, who they feel they can relate to as a mother and wife of a beloved footballer, looking pleasant and appealing."

Bad girls are not entirely out of a cover-girl job. Stellar agonised over putting Angelina Jolie on the cover of an edition in March because of their readers' general sympathies "with Team Aniston".

But because the cover was related to the Pitt-Jolie split rumours circulating at the time, it sold well.

"The only thing I can say with certainty is that putting guys on the cover is a no-no," says Vasquez. When she was editor of Irish teen mag Kiss, they put Justin Timberlake on the cover at the height of his fame. "It just absolutely bombed," she says.

We know men like to look at the ladies but so too, apparently, do the ladies.

FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/independent-woman/fashion/secrets-of-the-page-one-girls-2253508.html

Book review: Without Him by Fiona O'Brien

Published in Irish Independent Review, Saturday, July 10, 2010

The decadent antics of Dublin socialites have been a rich seam of inspiration for author Fiona O'Brien this past eight years.

A former advertising executive who was born, bred and is still living in the D4 area, she has written entertainingly and with authority on multi-millionaire businessmen, their brittle, stick-thin wives and champagne lifestyle.

Although her fifth novel again mines this familiar territory, the premise of Without Him is more intriguing for the D4 set's recent fall from grace. The Veuve Cliquot has stopped flowing and the high-fliers are now at the epicentre of the economic crash. This is an opportunity for O'Brien, one of the smartest writers of popular fiction around, to get her teeth into deeper, seamier material.

The opening chapters don't disappoint. Shelley is the beautiful wife of charismatic developer Charlie Fitzgibbon. They once had a dream life: three gorgeous children, a suburban mansion, pots of money and social status.

When we meet Shelley, the dream has crumbled. Charlie's business has collapsed, he has fled the country to God knows where and she and the children are forced to move into the modest home of Charlie's estranged mother Vera after their mansion is repossessed. Charlie, the cad, has forged Shelley's co-signature on the house deeds and handed them over to one of his more demanding creditors.

Pity has been in short supply for those whom we have come to see as the architects of the nation's financial woes, but O'Brien makes a strong case for considering the fallout on the families of the central players. (The property big boys in the novel are fictionalised, of course, but O'Brien is clearly influenced by certain high-profile cases.)

A scene in which workmen come to remove the designer kitchen from Shelley's luxury home is powerful and poignant. Shelley's devastation is utterly believable.

It is not all doom and gloom. A touch of escapism arrives in the unlikely form of sultan of bling, Lukaz, a Russian oligarch looking to buy up half of Dublin. His outrageous tastes inject enough fun and fantasy to qualify the book as a rollicking holiday read.

The character of Charlie is less exciting. Absent for most of the story, he is a charismatic enigma when portrayed through the eyes of his mother, his wife and his children. When we get the full truth of the family secrets that have shaped him, he emerges as some sort of victim of circumstance both in business and in his personal life.

O'Brien may have misstepped here. Her readership is paying dearly for the greed of failed fat cats in real life. Will they be happy to swallow a fictional Champagne Charlie who claims to have simply been misunderstood?
- Susan Daly
FIRST PUBLISHED HERE: http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/review-without-him-2253360.html

Monday, July 5, 2010

When Johnny played Ozzy...

By SUSAN DALY (from last Saturday's Weekend mag in the Irish Independent
WOMEN who look like Scarlett Johansson, wisdom has it, can pretty much do what they like. But even Scarlett might be pushing it with her latest demand. She has decided that she would be just perfect to play wild woman rocker Courtney Love in an upcoming biopic of Love’s tragic husband Kurt Cobain.

Johansson has flirted with a music career previously, recording her breathy vocals on a solo album two years ago. But does that qualify the cushion-lipped actress to play bad girl singer Love? Say what you like about Love but she’s got a wild, passionate energy that it’s hard to imagine the louche, laidback Johansson doing justice to.

Mind you, Love seems to have given her the stamp of approval, already sending the actress the script of the film. But then who – even Courtney Love – doesn’t fantasise about a gorgeous A-lister playing them in the movie of their life? Ozzy Osbourne, for example, recently decided that Johnny Depp is the only man to play him in a biopic. Clearly the drugs have done some lasting damage to Ozzy’s grip on reality.

Who knows? Perhaps Johnny Depp would be on for playing the Prince of Darkness. There is something about movie biopics that is catnip to Hollywood stars. They recognise the whiff of guaranteed Oscar glory if they get them right, as happened for Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams must both surely be eyeing the glittering prize when they take on the role of Marilyn Monroe in upcoming rival movies.

Movie bosses are all for the biopic, knowing there is nothing we love more than to watch a famous person play another famous person. When it’s good – Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, Benicio del Toro as Che Guevara, Angela Bassett as Tina Turner – it’s very, very good. But when it’s bad it’s, well, Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart.

Last year’s movie Amelia was a hit – on paper: Oscar-winning actress plays free-spirited legendary aviator. On the big screen, it was a dud, with most of the talk of Berry’s wan performance centering on her bad hair and teeth day.

Miscasting movie roles is easily done – Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in The World is Not Enough, anyone? – but it’s most embarrassing and obvious when it happens in biopics. The 2008 movie How to Lose Friends and Alienate People had a pop at inappropriate casting when sexpot Megan Fox’s actress character lands the role of a lifetime as… Mother Teresa.

Sometimes the travesty is down to a star’s ego being unable to accept that they are wrong for the role. Madonna kept knocking on Alan Parker’s door until she persuaded him to cast her as Eva Peron in Evita, “the role I was born to play” as she called it. Sadly, although Madonna is a great businesswoman and pop hitmaker, she’s not much of an actress. Evita, a musical, also showed up her limitations as a singer.

It could have been worse. In the 1980s squeaky-clean Olivia Newton John was touted to play the manipulative Peron, as was Liza Minnelli – in a blonde wig.
Wigs and fake teeth don’t necessarily fool an audience. Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose landed her an Oscar as suicidal author Virginia Woolf in The Hours (2002) but there surely isn’t enough Latex in the world to transform Kidman into soul queen Dusty Springfield. That idea was put about two years ago but the idea of poker-faced Kidman tackling Dusty’s bisexual, drugs-and-drink lifestyle has subsequently sunk without trace.

That’s the problem with getting white-bread stars to play iconic roles. Invariably your average Botoxed, protein-shake-personal-trainer-regime star is never half as interesting as the exciting life they are being asked to portray. All-American boy
Chris O’Donnell as macho, boozy, bullfighting author Ernest Hemingway? Please. Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig as doomed poet Sylvia Plath and womanizing Ted Hughes had, as one critic put it, “all the sexual chemistry of a couple of bored professors”.

Paltrow in particular is guilty of getting ideas above her station. The yoga bunny is being talked about to portray Marlene Dietrich, a bisexual cabaret-cruiser who had more lovers than Paltrow has had wheatgrass shots.

Then there are those actors who can’t bear the thought of ‘uglying up’ enough to accurately portray a real-life person. Hollywood reimagining ‘plain Jane’ Austen as the doe-eyed Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane. Children’s author Beatrix Potter got a bosom-heaving turn from Renee Zellwegger in Miss Potter.

Julia Roberts apparently intended to persuade us that she was feminist icon Andrea Dworkin in a 2005 film. (Yes, Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, whose most famous role insisted that becoming a prostitute was a valid way to bag a rich husband, as a feminist icon.)

When an icon is dead and half-forgotten for long enough, it should theoretically be easier to get an audience to believe in an actor’s portrayal of them. Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace will always be Mel Gibson in a kilt to me, for example.

Even so, it’s remarkable how we know when something is just not right even when a historical figure is hidden in the mists of time. We might be a bit hazy on the feats of Alexander the Great, but we’re fairly sure he wasn’t a mummy’s boy with blond highlights a la Colin Farrell.

The best thing is probably for a star to play it safe and portray someone whose life is extraordinary but largely unknown until a film is made about them. Ms Roberts finally got it right when she won an Oscar for playing single-mom campaigner Erin Brockovich, as did Sean Penn when he portrayed gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

And yet, as sure as Tom Cruise will one day decide he wants to play L Ron Hubbard in Alien 5: The Story of Scientology, there will always be bad casting decisions. We don’t have far to look: Kate Winslet is being tipped to play Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl kidnapped and kept in a cellar for 8 years. Winslet is a good actress but playing a 10-year-old girl? She’s not that good.

SPITTING IMAGE – Who should play who in the movies of their lives…
Who has played him: Morgan Freeman in Invictus (2009).
Who should play him: Morgan Freeman. Invictus was too lacklustre to do the role any justice. We say: give Morgan another script – and another chance.
Who wants to play her: Scarlett Johansson in upcoming biopic of Kurt Cobain.
Who should play her: Courtney Love. There is no-one else wild enough to play her and she has already proven she can bring a real person to life with her electric performance as Althea, wife to porn boss Larry Flynt. Johansson in turn could play Marilyn Monroe – she has the curves that Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams don’t in their upcoming biopics of her.
Who has played her: Madonna in the musical movie Evita (1996)
Who should have played her: Cher. No, really. In movies like Moonstruck and Mask, she was equally able to portray vulnerability and strength, a cocktail of which is what made Peron so charismatic. And it’s easy to picture her belting out Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina from a balcony, albeit in a spangly leotard.
Who has been touted to play her: Nicole Kidman, Amy Winehouse.
Who should play her: Winehouse would be a good choice apart from concerns over her ability to turn up on set every day. Chloe Sevigny does troubled yet kinky very well – and she does look well in a beehive.
Who has played him: Kurt Russell, playing Elvis in a 1979 movie, wouldn’t even have come fifth in an Elvis lookalike contest in Vegas.
Who should play him: He already has – our own Jonathan Rhys Meyers earned plaudits for playing a young Elvis in a TV series recently. Let’s see that curled lip and snake hips on the big screen.