Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The website formerly known as

Four out of five adults suffer from back pain at some stage in their lives. As we get older, the simple 'wear and tear' of time on the body can make it more frequent and severe. SUSAN DALY has some ideas on the best ways to manage a bad back - or to prevent getting one altogether.

HOW ironic that calling someone spineless, or telling them they lack backbone, is considered an insult. A sufferer of chronic back pain might consider that absence – however physiologically impossible - a blessed relief. Standing, sitting, lying down: when your back is playing up, there is no respite.
No wonder then that back pain is the second most-frequently reported reason for visiting the GP surgery, after the common cold. It is one of the most difficult ailments to treat, affected as it is by so many factors, from posture and lifestyle to osteoporosis and old injuries. As the American actor George Burns once put it: “Love is a lot like backache. It doesn’t show up on X-rays, but you know it’s there.”
Obviously some back pain has its source in a severe, diagnosable condition. Any persistent pain should be reported to the doctor who might be able to confirm if an issue such as degenerative disc disease – common as we age – osteoporosis, stenosis or another syndrome is at the root of the problem.
Our sedentary lifestyle is frequently blamed for the occurrence of back problems. Frances Moran is physiotherapist to the senior Leinster rugby team and runs spine fitness and Pilates classes from her Dublin premises. She says that only around 20 per cent of backpain cases that present to her are the direct result of an injury.
“You will have the odd person saying they were lifting something heavy and put their back out,” says Moran. “But the majority of people coming in have developed a vague onset of pain from bad habits, from sitting, driving, chronic posture, playing golf, repetitive movements. The use of computers is now a huge factor because people are sitting at desks for longer, perhaps carrying a bit more weight and experiencing chronic tightness in their back and neck.”
Getting exercise is the most obvious and least expensive solution in this scenario, according to Moran. Here, though, is the catch-22: When that niggling ache sets into the lower back region, it is tempting to put off being active for another evening. Unfortunately, unexercised muscles are weaker muscles and the spinal column loses support.
“There is a huge fear associated with exercising, that it might aggravate backache,” says Moran, “But the opposite is true. With lack of use, certain muscles will spasm and tighten and others weaken, putting uneven pressure on discs.”
So following the school of ‘use it or lose it’, it’s worth looking into the Alexander technique of posture or signing up to a course of Pilates and yoga. These forms of exercise are ideal for stretching and realigning the spine. They develop the ‘core’muscles around the stomach and lower back, providing an invisible band of support for the area.
Swimming, walking and – would you believe it – cycling have also been shown to increase back strength. Specific exercises to target the area are important, if you can make room for a few every morning or evening. Most can be carried out without any equipment but incorporating a blow-up Swiss ball can help you get the best out of some of the movements (see ‘Useful websites’ below this article for specific instructions on these exercises). Fitness and sports stores sell Swiss balls – and Argos has some for under a tenner.
Prevention is always better than cure. However, there are alternative treatment options for back pain sufferers. Some people swear by acupuncture, the ancient Chinese method of realigning the ‘chi’ or energy flow in the body. In addition to physiotherapists, chiropractors also claim to be able to help relieve back pain by the manipulation of the spine. Unlike many western countries, there is no chiropractic legislation in Ireland but the website for the Chiropractic Association of Ireland, which self-regulates its members is perhaps a good starting point.
For the lucky ones who have yet to experience the twinge of backache, remember – sit up straight, stretch and stay active!
USEFUL WEBSITE: - Simple exercises that strengthen the back. – Physiotherapist Frances Moran runs specially-targeted Pilates and ‘strong spine’ classes from a studio in Dublin’s Baggot Street – Respected Irish company specialising in spinal-aid products for the past 25 years. - A free, ready to download, booklet on all aspects of back care from the Health Promotion Unit. – The Chiropractic Association of Ireland’s official website.

Sir-sha, Seer-shan, Saar-sheen... sorry, Saoirse

From today's Irish Independent - now here's a 15-year-old to make you wonder how you spent your wasted youth....

By Susan Daly

Wednesday January 27 2010

It should have been difficult for Saoirse Ronan to play the victim in her new film. The 15-year-old has known little but success in her short life. She starred in a major Hollywood movie, Atonement, at 11; was nominated for an Oscar at 13.

A few days ago, she was shortlisted for a BAFTA for Best Actress -- her competition is Meryl Streep. Days before that, she waltzed off with the award for Best Young Actor at the prestigious Critics' Circle bash in Hollywood.

Susie Salmon, the Lovely Bones character that has won Ronan the most recent accolades, is raped and murdered by her pervert neighbour. Although audiences are spared the graphic details, it's an intense role for anyone to play, never mind a teenager from rural Carlow.

And yet Saoirse ended up comforting Stanley Tucci, the Devil Wears Prada actor who has the thankless job of playing Susie's murderer. "It turned out she's the one who really in some ways made us all feel comfortable because she's so mature," he said of his co-star.

That's our Saoirse -- all grown up. As The Lovely Bones premieres in Dublin, it hardly seems four years since she landed her first major Hollywood role. Back then she put the tiny village of Ardattin, outside Tullow, on the showbiz map by bagging the part of Keira Knightley's complex little sister Briony in Atonement. She had previously only had two small parts on Irish television, in The Clinic and Proof.

And can it be only two years since Hollywood scrambled to find out how to pronounce 'Saoirse' after her shock nomination for Best Actress for her role Briony Tallis in Atonement? (Hollywood still fails miserably to get its mouth around her first name.)

The dizzy ascension from Carlow to California could make a child grow up fast. Atonement was followed by roles opposite Catherine Zeta Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer. She will next be seen in The Way Back with Colin Farrell and after that, playing an Eastern European assassin called Hanna. From murder victim to would-be murderer.

Thankfully, it appears that Ronan is as Tucci claims: mature rather than preternaturally aged by her experiences. Although she has been glamming up for The Lovely Bones premieres from New Zealand to New York, her gorgeous gunas have been age-appropriate. In promotional interviews for the film, she opts for the teenage uniform of jeans and her favourite Nike high-tops.

When Vanity Fair photographed her last year, she wore a red satin dress but teamed it with a pair of white Converse trainers. It was the perfect portrait of someone successfully negotiating the line between young girl and young adulthood.

So much of this level-headedness must be down to her parents, Paul and Monica. "They come everywhere with me, and they're a huge part of keeping me grounded,'' Saoirse told The LA Times. "And living in the country in Ireland, which is so far away from the Hollywood scene, keeps me from getting caught up. Nobody where I live is interested in that side of things, really."

Her parents emigrated to New York in the 1980s, returning to Ireland in 1997 when Saoirse was three. Paul, an experienced character actor, encouraged his creative only child to try acting when she was around eight or nine, for a "lark".

She wasn't a stage school brat, yearning for stardom. They sent a tape of Saoirse auditioning at home to the casting director for Atonement and that was it. Her career went stellar -- but her feet stayed on the ground.

"She still has the friends she would have made in school here," says Paddy McInerney, Principal of Ardattin National School, which Saoirse attended. "She meets up with them whenever she's home.

"And the children now follow her with interest -- they're excited when she appears in magazines or on television. But she's been back to attend a couple of things since she left -- she was here when we were opening an extension to the school a while back, for Confirmations, for Christmas events."

Saoirse had a normal, consistent childhood, he believes. "It was really only in fifth class when she started to film Atonement and a few other films that things began to take off for her," Mr McInerney told the Irish Independent.

"So her last two years with us were intermittent, but she had a tutor on set. She had her textbooks we were using and the tutor was in touch with us. She was a very good student, very bright, so she kept up very well."

She now has a home tutor as she combines her last few years of schooling with the growing demands of an A-list career but she's making a good fist of keeping it real. Far from trying to take advantage of her fame -- she claimed last week to be grateful she's not as famous as the "Twilight people or the Harry Potter kids" -- she is a teenager to a tee.

She's not falling out of LA nightclubs -- TV and computer games and playing with her old border collie dog Sassie are her past-times.

She has professed concern about whether boys are interested in her, or in "Saoirse Ronan the actress". But she also converses freely with pals on the social networking site Twitter.

In one tweet, she raves breathlessly about the new Lady Gaga album; in the next, she urges friends to "Go see The Lovely Bones guys!! Hope you like it!!" An uninformed reader would think she was recommending a film she saw down the omniplex with her mates last night. There is a hint that there might be something more to this 15-year-old. Her friend Katie has posted a picture of the pair hugging fiercely on a night out. Teen girls are nuts about their friends.

But look a little closer. Katie's dad is standing in the background. He looks familiar: it's Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lovely Bones. And he's talking to Steven Spielberg. Normality is relative.
Starlight, starbright: Five ways we can tell Saoirse is on the rise


Saoirse's first brush with fame came early when her dad Paul was acting in The Devil's Own (1997). He brought her on set to meet the leading man, Brad Pitt, who picked Saoirse up in his arms.

Saoirse doesn't remember that fateful moment -- she was just a toddler -- but clearly some of Brad's star quality must have rubbed off on her.


Saoirse was in the original line-up for Ridley Scott's upcoming blockbuster Robin Hood alongside Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett but, as happens to those in demand, ended up having to choose between Scott and Peter Weir, who wanted her for his new film The Way Back.

She plumped for the latter, which also stars Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Jim Sturgess. Tough choice, eh?


You know an Irish performer's international stock is high when the Brits start claiming them for their own. And so it is with Saoirse, who has been nominated by the London Film Critics' Circle 2010 Awards as Young British Performer of the Year for her role in The Lovely Bones.

The Critics' Circle's website has tried to clarify the matter, posting the following on their website: "Irish citizens are eligible for these awards but many Irish actors and directors work on what are technically British films and their work deserves recognition."

The Lovely Bones is a film based on a novel by an American author, directed by a New Zealander and produced by Steven Spielberg's company (but co-produced by FilmFour, which must make it 'technically British').


By being nominated for the Oscar for best supporting actress in 2008 -- for her role as Briony in Atonement -- Saoirse joined an elite group. At 13, she became the seventh youngest actress to be nominated in that key category.


If Meryl is Queen of Hollywood, she gave the royal stamp of approval to Saoirse at the Critics' Choice Awards in LA. She swept the 15-year-old into her arms for a huge bear hug after Saoirse won the Best Young Actor gong.

Hopefully Meryl felt as friendly when Saoirse became her competition six days later, with both of them nominated for Best Actress in the upcoming BAFTAs ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Captain Buycott

Why we'll all be peacocking and buycotting this year
Forget SuBo and Twitter, Susan Daly reveals the 'hot' buzzwords that will be on everybody's lips in 2010

This time last year, the world had never heard of SuBo. But by the end of 2009, everyone -- including Oprah -- could recount the tale of Susan Boyle, never-been-kissed Scottish spinster, surprise star of Britain's Got Talent.

What a difference a year can make to the hot words on everyone's lips. By August, the Collins English Dictionary announced that it was adding the word "Twittering" to its hallowed pages to recognise the phenomenal rise of the social networking site. If someone had asked 12 months earlier if you "tweeted", you might have thought they had confused you for a bird.

Some of 2009's more used and abused words we could have done without knowing. We tried "jeggings" for the first time, the hideous skintight cross between denim and leggings.

For those who had given into the cult of the iPhone, conversation revolved around the "apps" -- that's applications to the iPhone-less -- they had downloaded on to their new toy.

The less fortunate found that their jobs were not "recession-proof". They had to consider "re-skilling" in the hope of landing a new post.

Those affected by the "credit crunch" (that phrase was so 2008) could only afford a "staycation", ie to spend their two-week holiday at home on the couch watching box sets.

But it's a new year -- and that means a whole mouthful of new jargon. The year 2010 was but a pup when the new buzzwords started to filter through. Anyone for a spot of "exergaming"? (You may not know it, but if your family have a Wii Fit or some such exercise video game, you're already in the virtual fitness club).

Confused? You won't be if you hold on to our glossary to the jargon that will be on everybody's lips this year. Warning: some words might prove to be highly irritating.

LIFESTYLE Peacocking -- January, recession, bad weather: this isn't the most cheerful time of year is it? Boo to all that, say fashion-forward types. This year's hottest threads will be in neon colours, make-up will be given an injection of acid brights and accessories will be in vibrant, stand-out hues -- all designed to fly in the face of how miserable we are supposed to be feeling.

Voluntourism -- Last year's staycation is over. This year, we're travelling again -- but with a purpose. Volunteering on worthy projects a la Niall Mellon's township housing challenge in South Africa will reach peak popularity as people either stretch their redundancy payoff by spending the year volunteering abroad, or find it counts as sustainable travel.

Maybe they'll even celebrate their "canniversary" -- the anniversary of the day they lost their old job -- while away on a voluntour.

Generation G -- Not Generation Greed, but Generation Generosity. Social networking sites have been promoting concepts like "pay it forward" and "one random act of kindness a day" for a while now.

The idea is that economics and capitalism have failed us -- so we should be investing in "happynomics" instead and finding out what really makes the world go round.

Ghost tweeters -- Twitter became a staple of last year's lexicon. This year, as more people join in the business of posting updates about their daily activities, competition to be noticed and collect "followers" on the site has become fierce. Some Twitter account holders are even turning to wittier pals to rewrite their Tweets for them. No fair, folks.

Fitness-training tools -- So you think you can just fling on a pair of runners and go for a run? Think again. While many continue to shy away from expensive gym memberships, technology will continue to shoulder its way into our exercise regimes.

Tracking devices like the Fitbit and GoWear fit, and online training software will offer training schedules and progress checks, as will downloadable "apps" (they haven't gone away you know) on iPhones and other personal gadgets.

CONSUMER/BUSINESS Buycotting -- This is the antithesis of a boycott of a company because, for example, they use child labour to make their products. Buycotts are the way forward; consumers actively support a company that they feel runs its business in a sustainable, ethically-conscious way.

W -- We know what you're thinking -- this one's about two years out of date. It's not. This letter "W" is nothing to do with George "Dubya" Bush. The Economist magazine is, in fact, predicting that the most overused piece of business jargon this year will be the letter "W".

It refers to a W-shaped economy, which looks like a graph of how the burgeoning recovery will peter out in the second half of 2010 "as stimulus-spending fades" but then resumes in 2011 to shoot for the stars. Good news for next year then.

Rental culture -- Renting rather than buying property has been very "in" since the property crash. The new "rent, don't own" attitude is beginning to extend to other areas.

This year it will be perfectly acceptable to rent everything, from musical instruments to clothes, to the artwork on the walls of your (rented) home. Lifeswapping -- bartering your house, clothes, homegrown veg and so on, will also gain popularity.

Next-besting -- Only eat a certain brand of bread? Never dream of straying from Barry's Gold Blend tea bags? Shopping around for the best value in groceries means that more of us are actually ditching our old favourite brands and trying new ones to see if we can continue to reduce our shopping bills.

And when we find a new shampoo/yogurt we can live with, why, that's the Next Best Thing.

Underbanked -- The reputation of high finance has been so shredded that -- to use a phrase that is so 2009 -- banks are like, OMG, total fail.

Lack of public confidence in banks and disgust at NAMA could lead to us adopting the term currently gripping America: "Underbanked" is a person who has chosen to have minimal contact with a bank, using other methods for paying bills, transferring money etc.

TECHNOLOGY Cloud-computing -- At the moment, data and applications that we use in computing are stored on our desktops and laptops.

The move is to store that data from now on in global servers or "the cloud" so that you can access it from anywhere in the world, and it will never be lost. Google's Chrome OS and the launch of Microsoft's Office Web Apps in the first-half of this year will be a major step.

Emotionology -- We're all feeling a little vulnerable these days. Scientists and product designers are banking on our need to be treated gently: they are developing products that are sensitive to their owner's mood.

We will be soon looking at music players that can sense which playlist you need to hear and jewellery that changes colour with your mood (a new take on those cheap "mood rings" of childhood).

Mass mingling -- We've been told that online social networking sites will be the death of human contact. Pope Benedict worried himself at the start of last year that "obsessive use" of Facebook and MySpace can foster false friendships and lead to isolation. (Ironically, this was around the same time as the Vatican got its own channel on YouTube.)

But according to, people are making more and more use of the internet to make arrangements to meet up in real life with strangers who they have come in online contact with and who have similar interests, politics and hobbies.

Energy dieting -- While governments have been fighting over having to cut down on their carbon emissions and wasteful use of energy, we mere mortals have been much better at implementing energy-efficient practices in our homes for a very simple reason: saving energy means saving money.

This year, as the phasing out of incandescent lightbulbs continues in earnest and the Big Freeze has cost us a fortune in heating bills, households will find themselves on a permanent energy diet.

Another piece of eco-jargon -- greenpliances -- also feeds into this trend.

These are items like soapless dishwashers that are not only kind to the environment but, because of their efficiency, kind to the pocket.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chocolate for celery
When the carrot becomes the stick . . .
The problem of getting kids to eat what's good for them. By Susan Daly

Thursday January 14 2010

The news that 99pc of packed lunches are nutritionally unbalanced came as a stark statistic this week. Researchers at Leeds University in the UK found that crisps, sweets and sugary drinks take precedence over fruit, vegetables and dairy products in school children's lunchboxes.

That's bad enough in a country where half of all children can at least avail of nutritionally-sound school dinners. In Ireland, where school canteens don't exist, a healthy packed lunch is even more important.

"I wish some parents realised that," said one Montessori teacher at a Dublin inner city community crèche. "Based on what some of my kids come in with in the morning, I don't hold out much hope for them settling for an apple and a ham sandwich when they go to big school.

"Some of the parents give the kids sausage rolls from Centra on the way in. They promise them sweets to get them out of the house. It makes our job really difficult because they're cranky when the sugar buzz wears off."

Most primary schools in Ireland now offer healthy eating guidelines to parents and some impose strict regulations on children bringing junk food to school. The Department of Agriculture has been funding a healthy-eating programme in primary schools since 2007 called the Food Dudes. Michael Maloney from An Bord Bia, which runs the scheme, says it has been rolled out to 1,340 of the State's 3,500 primary schools so far. They supply fruit and veg for an initial 16 days, encouraging the children through a series of non-edible rewards to taste raw foods.

"In primary schools, you don't find vending machines but I know, anecdotally, they are available in some secondary schools, and if not, teenagers can go up the street and buy what they want in a shop," says Michael Maloney. "I know that certainly the earlier you can change children's behaviour and attitudes, the better.

"The programme was developed by Fergus Lowe, a psychologist, so it's all about changing behaviours. Children don't like to be different but because it's introduced from infants right up to sixth class, the whole culture changes."

Teenagers are a totally different kettle of battered fish. When I worked and lived in an affluent south Dublin suburb -- the type of place that knew its wholemeal pitta and hummus from its Tayto sandwiches -- the queue for the wedges counter in the local shop at school lunchtime was out the door.

This isn't just about teens having more disposable income. One adult acquaintance admitted to a teenage love of mayonnaise sandwiches while another said his schoolbag was a living organism by the end of each term from all the uneaten sandwiches.

Dr Muireann Cullen, manager of the Nutrition and Health Foundation, says that getting teens involved in what they bring to school is helpful. "There is no such thing as a bad food," she says, "If kids say they want X, Y and Z one day, it's alright to say, 'Fine, but tomorrow, we'll balance it out with these other foods', and explain why.

"Remember those mothers in the Jamie Oliver programme, pushing 'banned' foods through the school railings to their kids? That was about personal choice. Once everyone was included in the decision-making, that problem was taken away."

With this toaster, I thee divorce

Debenhams have launched a new service called the Divorce Gift List. How nice of them.

By Susan Daly

Tuesday January 19 2010

It's clearly a tough time in the retail sector when Debenhams decide it's fine to burrow out a crass new niche: the Divorce Gift List.

Their logic is that when couples break up, they also draw a dividing line down their communal belongings.

Or worse, one partner ends up out on their ear entirely without so much as a can-opener to their name.

The Debenhams gift list is posing a question that only they felt needed to be asked: Just what do you buy the man or woman who has nothing? A store spokesperson said that as well as the basic bed and kitchen basics, they expect microwaves, plasma screen TVs, computer games and non-iron shirts to be popular choices among divorcees.

How sensitive. Congratulations on the breakdown of your marriage. We now expect you to sit slobbering microwaveable ready meals down your idiot-friendly shirt while you numb the loneliness of your life by playing video games on your giant TV. Why not just add, "You sad immature sack," and be done with it?

Is it just me or does it also sounds like a particularly masculine wish list? I don't think divorcee support groups will be delighted by the stereotype that men straight out of a marriage revert to their 20-something selves. It might sound like fun -- but probably not to the man who has lost love, a home and perhaps daily access to his children. A flatscreen TV is scant consolation.

Marital breakdown is a horrible fact of life -- the most recent figures show that one in four married Irish couples are now estranged. That is incredibly sad and there is nothing wrong with the idea of helping a needy friend to start over.

There is also something to be said for anything that helps destigmatise divorce, which is still a relatively new phenomenon here. But a divorce gift list sounds sneakily like a companion to a wedding gift list. Except the gift card reads: "I'm sorry to hear... You didn't dump that loser sooner" or "Ding dong, the witch is gone".

Like those divorce parties that have become popular among such dignified, restrained divorcees like Jordan and Heather Mills, it smacks of a celebration. Don't get me started on how inappropriate that is if children, in particular, are involved. It's a surprise the list doesn't include a special silver-plated kiddies' tissue holder.

Who, by the way, would register for such a gift list? If you're getting divorced, it's safe to assume you got married, too. And if I'm a good enough friend to be sent an invite to your divorce party, I probably shelled out for a wedding present at that happier time too. Isn't that a little -- dare I say it -- greedy?

Debenhams would argue that the list is not an exploitation of the old maxim that where there's muck, there's brass. They might say they are supplying a real demand.

Perhaps -- but there are plenty of other situations where someone might need to assemble the basics of a home. A student starting college away from their parents, for example. So why don't they launch a Home Starter Kit that would cover all eventualities? I think we know the answer to that.

It wouldn't generate the same publicity.

How's this for cynicism: the launch came on the day known as Blue Monday.

It is officially the most depressing day of the year, the point at which many people are hit by post-Christmas financial, emotional and physical stress. Who in Debenhams thought it would be a kind gesture to add a reminder of relationship breakdown to that mix?

It seems they have in fact actually answered their own question. What do you give the person who has nothing? A kick when they're down.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The mad hatter's ball

The whole country was caught on the hop by the floods-snow-floods cycle of hellish weather. But is that any excuse for some of the gear that RTE news reporters have fetched up in for their outside broadcasts?

We know it wasn't quite suit-and-tie weather but some of these lads and lassies looked like they had fallen into a prop box for Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer on their way out the door to work.

Paul Cunningham's Pakistani pakol hat -- which, frankly, looked like a knitted condom -- was so outstandingly bizarre that it got its own Facebook fan page. He was even seen wearing it at a press briefing with Brian Cowen. Indoors.

Mary Calpin joined in the mad hatters' party with a Bond villain furry number and Paschal Sheehy upped the ante with a frayed camouflage baseball cap stealing the attention from the thaw.

You can't knock the reporters for entertainment value. They were right up there with the poor unfortunate who had his slip on an icy pavement recorded for posterity by RTE news.

It would seem that these standout sartorial moments were down to the reporters themselves. That is to say, no-one in RTE's wardrobe department seems eager to rush forward and claim credit.

But there seems to be more of a concerted effort going on in the brand-flashing department. From the number of fleeces and anoraks bearing the North Face logo, you might think RTE News was sponsored by the brand.

The Berghaus clothing logo got an outing on one of the bulletins briefly this week. In the main, however, it appears that North Face is the label any self-respecting TV journo wants to be wearing in the field. Now unless the outdoor clothing brand has donated a job lot of sample-size fleeces to the RTE newsroom, has it any business getting all this promotion on the national broadcaster?

RTE has extensive guidelines on product placement and sponsorship deals, which it lists clearly on its website. Sponsors who make a "direct or indirect contribution" to a programme, be it through funding or provision of goods or services, are supposed to get a sponsor credit at the beginning or end of the programme to make clear the relationship. I didn't notice any such "Survival clothes by North Face" at the end of the news, did you?

The thing is, if RTE aren't being given free clothes or cash by a brand that they are giving prominence to, they are missing a trick. It's ironic because TV3, a commercial station that knows all about squeezing the last cent out of everything, got a bit of a lash for all the product placement on The Apprentice.

The new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is currently considering whether RTE, as a public service broadcaster, should be allowed to be as free and easy with certain types of sponsorship as other independent stations are. I don't know if this means they might have to tell their reporters to turn their fleecy little numbers inside out so a non-sponsor brand doesn't show.

Maybe it will herald a return to those school uniform-type RTE anoraks you used to see the regional correspondents sporting at the ploughing championships. But let's hope Paul Cunningham gets to keep his hats.

Five grumpy chefs hanging on the wall

Editor: "Can you review opening night at Conrad Gallagher's restaurant?"
Me: "Do I live and breathe?"

Conrad Gallagher, erstwhile enfant terrible of Irish haute cuisine, has been M.I.A. from this island for many a year since Peacock Alley collapsed. (Well, I say M.I.A. - I mean, off opening other restaurants abroad, none of which seem to have worked out for him).
His new place, Salon des Saveurs on Aungier Street, has an interesting concept behind it: read the following review I had in Saturday's Irish Independent to find out more. I had less than an hour between coffee and deadline to file, and only a few hundred words, so I'm sure others will add different angles to the experience over the coming weeks.
Two things that I wish I had had the time and room to add to the piece was the fact that 12.5% 'suggested' service charge is automatically added to the bill, even for a table of two. (How is it 'suggested' if it is mandatory?)
That's fine if it's a table of six or more, but I don't like that in smaller groups, especially since Gallagher appears to be aiming for affordability with the price rang of the menu. Coffee and chocolates are a e6.50 add-on too - I only had time for a quick espresso but was charged e6.50 regardless, and no-one offered me chocolate in any way, shape or form to take home. Hmmm....

Here is how the review appeared last Saturday:
REVIEW: SALON DES SAVEURS – Conrad Gallagher’s new restaurant at 16 Aungier Street, Dublin 2
MINIMALISM has never been Conrad Gallagher’s style. The man who was arguably this country’s first celebrity chef – and one of a holy trinity of Irish chefs to win two Michelin stars – has never known how to go quietly into the night.
The group of photographers waiting outside his new Dublin restaurant, Salon des Saveurs, last night were hoping nothing had changed since he left the city several years ago trailing controversy and creditors in his wake. They were rewarded with a snap of Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen wandering in amiably for opening night, and later, a sedate Gallagher coming out to shake hands.
He seems to have tried to keep his reappearance on the Irish dining scene a low-key affair. An advertisement for a head chef for his new venture, Salon des Saveurs, turned up in the inauspicious hiring pages of networking website,
This understatement - appropriate for staging a comeback in a recession – is reflected in the new dining room. It is situated in the small venue that once housed Darwin’s on shabby-but-not-quite-chic Aungier Street. Inside, the décor is a simple red and white affair, with unfussy tables slotted in around a bar of dark-wood panels and smoky glass.
There is only one painting on the wall – a giant oil of five of the chefs who have most inspired him. Between our table and the next, we identified three – Bocuse, Robuchon and Ducaisse – and the waiting staff, none at all. It makes you wonder why it’s not just hanging over Gallagher’s station in the kitchen if he’s the only one who can appreciate it.
The service is friendly without ever getting intrusive - there were some understandable opening-night jitters involving unruly water jugs and uneven timings between certain courses.
It is the food – as one would expect from the man who introduced Ireland to ‘tall’ food in the 1990s – that is the only immodest feature of the place. It is brazenly good – and excellent value.
Gallagher hasn’t lost his taste for a risk: his concept is to offer four tasting menus to his customers, five courses in each with coffee and chocolates an extra add-on. The menus cost e24, e34, e44, and e54 per person.
I and my guest went for the e34 menu and it didn’t put a foot wrong. Silky pumpkin soup, a perfect risotto with darling little chanterelle mushrooms, asparagus and shredded duck, a ravioli of spiced crab and the pinkest, softest lamb that must surely have died for a higher purpose. The lemon taster dessert plate was not perhaps tart enough in its entirety to be truly refreshing but it was never less than delicious.
Wine is an added extra but glasses and bottles, all reasonable, starting with e6.50 glasses and bottles for e24, are matched with the different courses and menus to cut out the guesswork for wine ignoramuses like myself.
A quibble would be the fact that only one type of menu can be ordered per table, so this is not a place to come if one member of your party has an aversion to seafood and another can’t stand the sight of duck. There will be fisticuffs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't call 'em cougars

Early morning chat about Iris Robinson and the dreaded term 'cougars' on TV3's Ireland AM last Wednesday...

TV3 - Video - Ireland AM,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jesus loves her more than she will know. Whoa oh oh.

Iris Robinson - the gift that keeps on giving

After the dust settles on this sad and tawdry story of the toyboy, forbidden sex and funny money, how will the ruined Robinsons bear to face each other across the breakfast table, asks Susan Daly

Saturday January 09 2010

IT is horribly appropriate that while the misadventures of Iris Robinson were playing out so publicly on BBC's 'Spotlight' programme on Thursday night, a quick flick of the channels would have alighted on the actress Stephanie Beacham queening it up on 'Celebrity Big Brother'.

Beacham, as any 1980s TV drama fan will tell you, is most famed for her role as Sable Colby in 'The Colbys', glamorous matriarch of a power-hungry family dynasty. For all the fundamentalist rigour of the Robinson religious creed, it appears that Iris had been modelling her lifestyle on the flamboyant big-haired Sable.

So outlandish are certain elements of the Robinson affair that it is hard to believe they exist outside the mind of a soap opera screenwriter. A cross-generational affair between a 19-year-old and a woman three times his age. Murky insinuations of sugar-mummy donations. Hellfire evangelism undermined by breathtaking hypocrisy.

Like Peter Robinson's televised statement about his wife's doings, the unfolding story is excruciating to watch but impossible not to. Impossible, too, not to wonder open-mouthed at the motivation behind the then 58-year-old Iris -- handsomely well-preserved woman though she is -- taking a 19-year-old into her bed.

Her own three young adult children are of the same generation as her former lover, Kirk McCambley. As if that were not toe-curling enough -- "icky" is the technical term, I believe -- McCambley's father was a friend of the Robinsons. Close to death, he apparently asked Iris to take care of his son. In what we can only hope was a confusion of maternal affection for attraction, the relationship between Iris and Kirk took off a few months after the funeral.

"She looked out for me to make sure I was okay," McCambley told 'Spotlight'.

What are we to make of McCambley?

The death of a parent can be deeply traumatic. It could drive a vulnerable young man to seek comfort in the most unlikely of quarters. Yet he is clearly no fool. He had won a young entrepreneur of the year award by his late teens. Robinson's help with arranging a £50,000 (€55,000) business deal gave him an enviable leg-up in starting his own restaurant.

As for Robinson's "inappropriate" behaviour, as it was coyly dubbed by husband Peter, it is not clear if it was the result of, or resulted in, the mental difficulties that drove her to a suicide attempt last March.

There has been much schadenfreude expressed over Bible-thumper Iris being hoisted by her own moralistic petard. It's almost too delicious -- the woman who believes homosexuality to be such an "abomination" that it makes her feel "nauseous" rides roughshod over several of the Commandments she so cherishes.

And yet: how to banish the niggling feeling that any person in such distress that they try to kill themselves deserves our compassion? Not aggression veiled as compassion, mind, as per Mrs Robinson's offer to recommend a good psychiatrist who could "fix" gay people. We are better than that, even if she isn't.

In the end, it doesn't really matter if the public accepts Mrs Robinson's display of self-flagellation or buys into her husband's statement of "love the sinner, not the sin". Three months down the line, Mr Robinson's political fate will have been decided one way or another.

If he's lucky, he will still be First Minister, having been found guilty of nothing more than standing by his woman.

Or he may be found negligent of his public duty, of not alerting the relevant watchdogs to his wife's lack of disclosure to the donations she sought for her lover.

That decided, the spotlight which the Robinsons themselves shone on their home with their pre-emptive revelations of infidelity will have moved on. They will be alone at their breakfast table, 40 years of marriage behind them and the dark chasm of an uncertain future together yawning in front of them.

Mr Robinson has said he still loves his wife. He referred to the years she stood by him in the political wilderness, the children she bore him.

Having made his moral beliefs very much part of his political policies, he has given himself no choice but to stand by her now that she has 'fessed up and begged forgiveness. That's the Christian thing to do, isn't it?

Yet when Mr Robinson made his statement about her affair, you had to wonder what his obviously genuine tears were for -- surely not for the betrayal about which he has now known for 10 months?

The carefully placed card from his children 'To Dad' on the bookshelf behind him said it all: Don't ever forget who the victim is here. And it's not her.

It was interesting how quickly his "we" turned to "I" when it came to defending his wife on anything other than sexual matters.

The affair he can theologise away -- the brass tacks of any funny money, he can't.

And what of Iris? A woman whose tastes in sports cars and lavish interior design contributed to the "Swish Family Robinson" tag the pair acquired in a report on their MPs' expenses last year is unlikely to want to prostrate herself in contrition forever.

A show of public unity is all well and good -- but if unhappiness and resentment reign in private, it will make for a bitterly divided home.

Refusing Residence

From Thursday's Evening Herald

Please save Residence -- or these braying Champagne Charlies might end up in my friendly local boozer

By Susan Daly

Thursday January 07 2010

What a frightful palaver over at Residence. For those without a butler to keep an ear trained for the word on the street, allow me. It seems the private members' club on St Stephen's Green is experiencing some cashflow difficulties.

I know, I know -- what's the world coming to when an establishment which initially charged members a €1,600 annual fee for the privilege of crossing the threshold is forced to 'restructure' its finances? And that didn't include the €250 joining fee.

Clearly any lapsed members have their priorities entirely wrong. Who chooses to keep up with their own mortgage repayments over unlimited access to a haven of exclusivity, sophistication and gilt-edged mirrors? Bleedin' riff-raff.

Of course no one should gloat when any Irish business totters on the precipice of life and death. An examiner has been appointed to Residence but the doors haven't shut yet. For the sake of the 58 staff employed there, it would be churlish not to hope that they find some way of staying open.

The club rules -- keeping the hoi polloi firmly outside with their noses pressed to the window -- are going to have to change if that is to happen. Residence claimed to fill a niche that existed in Dublin for an upmarket members' club that was as luxurious but not as stiff as the old-guard establishments in the area.

The nearby Kildare Street club, for example, once turned down Mary Harney as a member because she was a woman. (She joined when they reversed their ban on the skirts, which was nice of her).

Yet Residence was/is as ruthlessly selective, making cash the must-have credential. How elitist on one hand, and on the other -- how very crass.

The other difficulty of trying to fill a niche is that it can only ever cater to a small number of people.

I'm sure there's a niche market too for smoking jackets for labradoodles, but I wouldn't throw the family silver at the idea.

Focusing on a small number of big spenders means that you risk everything on their loyalty (and solvency).

If it is the case that Residence reduced their annual fees drastically in the past year in an attempt to attract members, then they must have alienated a few of the Champagne Charlies who fancied themselves part of an elite.

You can't be all things to all men. Especially when your USP was to be one thing to a select few of them.

And just who wants to belong to a club that would have members like that? Not as many as Residence presumed, I suppose.

I interviewed someone there last year, not at my insistence I might add. The swag-and-tails decor was very nice if you like that kind of thing, although I'm not sure I'd have blown a few mill on it. As it turned out, the club was the perfect venue to record an interview. Nothing rings out as clearly on a dictaphone as the sound of one's own voice booming around the corners of a near-empty room.

It was actually a bit sad -- the lunch was delicious, but there's not much point in producing the perfect tarte tatin if there's no one there to taste it.

Most bars have trouble getting bums on barstools midweek these days but you'd think that wouldn't be a problem for a club whose members effectively pay their cover charge in advance. If it were me, I'd be living in the lounge 24/7 to get full value for my moolah.

But perhaps I have more sense than cent. For one thing, I refuse to take up Residence in any bar that lets Eamon Dunphy and Eamon Keane commandeer the piano room. Possibly even at the same time. Good heavens -- has the VIP club fallen asleep and woken up in Lillie's circa 2004?

I do have one concern should time be called on Residence's tenure and its brass knobs (on the door, people, on the door) are polished for the final time.

Does that mean the contents of No41 St Stephen's Green will be evacuated into the nearest 'public' houses?

The last thing I want to hear in my friendly local is some hee-haw Henry braying loudly about how it's impossible to get a bellini made with fresh peach pulp in this town.

Did a volcano just erupt there?

Did some research for an article that got bumped to make room for Iris Robinson's naughtiness but if you're interested in past weather patterns, you might find this interesting....

WITH arctic weather conditions sweeping the globe from India to Italy, there has an apocalyptic feel to recent weeks. China has been paralysed by 10 inches of snow and Poland devastated by temperatures of minus 25C.

At home, what seemed like an inconvenience when most of the country was on holiday has become a daily battle against ungritted roads, ill-equipped public transport and frozen water supplies.

But the shock is probably heightened by the fact that we have spent the past decade with our ears burning to the buzzwords of global warming. The severity of the snow and ice is not in fact unprecedented in Irish history. While a temperature low of -13C was recorded in Mullingar on Christmas Day, it has been neither the most bitter nor the most protracted freeze here. The lowest ground temperature in Ireland was -19.1C recorded in January 1881 in Sligo.

The poor citizens of 1740 Ireland didn’t need (or have) meterological measurements to alert them to a fatally bitter winter. The great frost that covered the country froze winter vegetables in the ground and seized up water mills.

It was a similar story in much of the rest of western Europe although London managed to hit a note of gaiety by staging a carnival on the ice of the frozen-over River Thames. Here, the atrocious conditions – followed by a drought in 1741 - led to what has been called ‘the forgotten famine’. The deaths and wave of emigration it sparked were almost as catastrophic as the potato crisis that would hit a century later.

The 19th century was no more kind – global temperatures dropped dramatically after a volcanic eruption in Indonesia in 1815 rocketed ash and sulphuric acid into the atmosphere and threw a veil over the globe. The following year, spent in darkness and depressed weather conditions, became known as the year without summer.

Ireland again suffered terribly, with rain falling 142 out of 153 days of summer and 60,000 people dying of starvation or typhoid. (Interesting footnote, book fans: this was the summer in which Mary Shelley, bored and trapped indoors by the terrible weather, wrote Frankenstein.)

As if that were not freak enough, a great blizzard swept across Ireland, Wales and parts of England in March 1891. My now 90-year-old grandfather, hearing that edges of Lough Gur in Co Limerick were beginning to freeze this week, remarked: “That’s nothing – I cycled my bicycle across the middle of the lake when it was frozen solid in 1939.”

That bitter winter was in itself a mere icicle by contrast to 1947, dubbed nationally the Big Snow. Again it was a late freeze, a fierce easterly wind blowing non-stop daytime snows across the country from late February on into March.
Fifteen-foot high snow drifts were commonplace and whole herds of sheep were suffocated and lost until a thaw set in in April.

While we naturally focus heavily on the state of the roads in our highly-mobile modern society, we can only imagine the conditions that had one newspaper van driver tell the Anglo-Celt newspaper that he had to be dug out of snow drifts four times on his slow progress from Dublin to Cavan.

In the worst-hit parts of the country that year, shops ran out of provisions, the postal and telephone services were cut off and farmers ran out of fodder. The Kilnaleck News reported that the coffin carrying the remains of one Mrs Mary Galligan had to be borne three miles from church to cemetery on the shoulders of local young men, with more going ahead of them to cut a way through the snowdrifts for the procession.

Snowdrifts are a living memory for even this generation – in 1982 a short but intense blizzard over 10 days in January caused havoc. The Canadian government donated six snow ploughs to help clear the runways at Dublin airport. The then-Tanaiste Michael O’Leary was briefly dubbed Minister for Snow as he co-ordinated efforts like the rescuing of motorists from their cars on a blizzard-hit Naas dual carriageway.

But it was the winter of 1962/63 that took true grit to survive. It was the coldest since 1740 across western Europe. The River Shannon froze solid around Limerick. Fuel and food ran dangerously low as even ports froze over. The natural world seemed turned on its head – starving birds boldly hopped into kitchens looking for scraps while there were reports of foxes hunting domestic cats to eat. And daredevils were not just able to cycle across frozen lakes: in Blessington, Co Wicklow, the locals drove their cars on them.

Even those least sceptical of climate change claims must have stared into the powdery heavens recently and wondered: They call this global warming?
Funnily enough, in the 1970s it was global cooling that was obsessing climatologists.

In 1972, a group of European and American scientists warned US President Nixon that the earth would plunge into a glacial zone within a century. They claimed that the new global freeze would be caused by natural factors similar to those behind the most recent Ice Age, which ended 10,000 years previously.

The rising levels of carbon dioxide heating the atmosphere has since switched the focus. So isn’t so-called global warming a good thing then, allowing us to remain artificially in this interglacial period of warmth?

Not exactly. Some scientists warn that a rise in ocean temperatures would disturb certain major currents. While other areas of the world would heat up, this would cool the region currently warmed by the North Atlantic current, including the Nordic countries, Britain, Iceland and Ireland.

It is also worth looking at the overall picture of current meteorological conditions across the whole world. The big freeze, caused by static high pressure systems blocking the usually warming winds, is plummeting temperatures below average from Scandinavia westwards. But in Canada, north Africa, south-west Asia and other areas, the temperatures were above average - in some places from between 5C and 10C higher than usual. Baby, it’s cold outside – but not everywhere.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Your marriage or your job

From today's Irish Independent - I knew I should have stuck to the Tipperary tradition and married a farmer with decent frontage and headage...

Having a dancer as your significant other might seem like a match made in heaven, says Susan Daly, but it's more likely to be a step in the wrong direction

WHILE SOME folks might dream of marrying a dancer, it turns out it could simply be an invitation to divorce.

Personal relationships can take a hit when one partner is married to the job. New research, however, shows it is not just how much work you do, but what work you do that is important to your marriage's chance of survival.

According to a paper from the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, entertainers, those in high-stress jobs, and people working in the caring professions have the highest rates of divorce and separation.

Dr Michael Aamodt, an American industrial psychologist at Radford University in Virginia, made his findings after he set out initially to establish if police officers suffered a particularly high rate of marital breakdown.

It emerged that police officers were not the most likely to separate. Some 16pc of their marriages fell apart, about the same rate as that experienced by writers and travel agents; although slightly above that of teachers.

Dancers, however, had a 43pc chance of marital breakdown. We already know that when they gravitate towards a superstar spouse (entertainers have an almost 29pc chance of a split), it's disastrous. Think of Jennifer Lopez and her eight-month marriage to backing dancer Cris Judd, or Britney Spears and her two years with dancer Kevin Federline. Marilyn Manson's marriage to burlesque dancer Dita von Teese ended two years after they married in a castle in Co Tipperary. Country-pop star LeAnn Rimes has announced that her marriage to dancer Dean Sheremet is over.

But bartenders and massage therapists are not far behind, second in the split stakes at 38pc.

Next are many of the caring professions -- nursing, psychiatric and home health aides -- with almost 29pc of their marriages dissolving.

As the fundamental nature of these jobs doesn't change from country to country, one can imagine that they bear some relevance here. At last count of the Irish population two years ago, one in four married couples had separated so all of those professions listed above are above the average.

We can assume we know why entertainers, performers and sports stars have such a high rate of divorce (at 28.49pc) when we think of the lifestyle that takes them frequently from home. We may think of Tiger Woods and the raft of extramarital allegations levelled against him, many of which reportedly occurring when he was away on the golf circuit.

Last year, pop star Pink blamed the lack of quality time together for her split with her husband Carey Hart.

"It's such a cliché when you talk about a Hollywood divorce, but the scheduling did get very hard," she said. "I got tired of being the Schedule Woman."

But it might seem surprising that those in the caring professions should experience a rate of separation similar to a pop star.

It's no shock to Lisa O'Hara, a counsellor with 15 years' experience at the Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service. "People in those professions tend to have caring natures and it is natural for them to be the nurturers in their own relationships," she says. "They give and give -- but they may not get much in return."

When a marriage loses its initial passion, and even many years down the road, that unconscious resentment that has been building up within the nurturer can explode.

"In women in their 40s also, oestrogen levels drop, the hormone that makes them so nurturing," says O'Hara. "They might sit back and think, the kids are getting older and moving on -- what am I doing here now? I'm tired of giving so much and not getting back."

Tim Dunne, an organisational (work) psychologist, also says this finding is borne out by his personal clinical observation.

"I have found that many people who enter the caring professions can have a lot of unresolved personal issues -- they are often co-dependent people who are working out their own solutions. They can burn out very quickly in their personal relationships."

At the other end of the scale, chief executives have a relatively low level of marital discord - at 10pc. Again, not so surprising, says Dunne. The perception is that the higher up you go in the industry food chain, the more stress you expect to find.

"But research has found that in fact those at the lower end; telephonists, people on production lines, suffer higher levels of stress than CEOs," he says. This is borne out by Dr Aamodt's research which finds baggage porters and telemarketers lolling at the 28pc level of break-up. Waiting and cleaning staff are only a percentage point or two below that.

"The key aspect is that they have very little control over their work flow whereas CEOs would have a huge amount of control about how, when and where they work."

O'Hara points out the possibility that the foundations of a marriage to a CEO might be exactly the same as those that anchor marriage to a farmer (they suffer a break-up rate of just under 10pc).

"The expectations are clearly set out at the beginning," she says.

"Chief executives are very likely to be the go-get-em type even when they meet their partners in their 20s and the couple perhaps clearly define their roles at that point. I provide, and you nurture.

"The same with farmers -- they often marry people who have an understanding of the lifestyle and know what to expect so there is less tension later."

That's not to say that there can't be problems later in even these apparently stable unions.

Change, says Dunne, is often the catalyst for separation -- for example a chief executive's wife may find herself in her middle-age, children reared, wanting to do something more with her life and that might clash with her husband's expectations of her role.

O'Hara has also counselled some agricultural workers "who married townies, so to speak".

The relationship is fine until they marry or move in together and many of the more trying aspects of a farmer's life -- long hours, few holidays, mucking in together -- come as a surprise to a partner who is not aware of the culture.

"What people get caught up in," says Dunne, "is the Hollywood myth that a marriage is just two people against the world, when in fact you are buying into another family, an extended kinship, a culture. If you come from very different backgrounds, that (can) be a source of conflict rather than stabilisation."

There is some good news though. If you are a judge, a vet or a funeral director, you only have an 11-12pc chance of getting divorced at some stage. Pharmacists and dentists join farmers with some of the lowest levels of marital breakdown of all.

And, most importantly in this age of unsociable working hours, Dr Aamodt found that shift work, overtime and weekend work had no real effect on a marriage's chance of survival.

O'Hara says she has found that couples who do not work strictly 9-to-5 can actually be skilled at really finding quality time with each other.

"There is time apart but a couple for whom this variable schedule is a given seem to adapt to negotiate and prioritise time for each other.

"You'll often see it with guards and nurses: they will actually schedule time in for each other on a certain day so that it's not just collapsing in front of the TV and not talking as you might if you know you will see your partner at home every night.

"And if they know there will be two weeks where they won't see each other much, they tend to be great texters! It's all about not feeling disconnected."

The Marriage and Relationship Counselling Service are at or lo-call 1890 380 380 l Tim Dunne's publications and contact details are at

Jobs which carry the highest chance of a divorce:
1. Dancers and choreographers 43.05pc

2. Bartenders 38.43pc

3. Massage therapists 38.22pc

4. Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides 28.95pc

5. Entertainers, sports and related workers 28.49pc

6. Baggage porters and concierges 28.43pc

7. Telemarketers 28.10pc

8. Waiters/waitresses 27.12pc

9. Roofers 26.85pc, and maids and housekeeping cleaners 26.38pc

10. Chefs/head cooks 20.10pc

Monday, January 4, 2010

And another one...

Because today is - Monday!

Friday, January 1, 2010

So-called silver surfers are pretty adept at doing their business on the web these days so kudos to Margaret Ward for catering to the over-55s with her website which publishes fresh articles from experienced journalists every Monday. Please refer to a silver surfer near you!

Here are two of my recent posts on the site: