Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lies, damned lies and CVs

From today's Irish Independent:

Honesty is the best policy for job-seekers when it comes to selling yourself, says Susan Daly

It’s an employers’ market out there: too few jobs and too many applicants. In these competitive times, when everyone is looking to get that edge over the next man or woman, is the humble CV worth the paper it is written on?

Some embellishments are not so immediately transparent — who will really notice if a candidate rounds up a 2:2 degree result to a 2:1, or glosses over a brief spell of unemployment with tales of backpacking around Europe?

Former Green Party senator Deirdre de Burca discovered last week, however, that subtlety is everything. It emerged that when she applied to join European Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn’s new cabinet last December, some of the work experience she listed was incredibly impressive.

Her application read: “Networked extensively with delegations and dignitaries from EU institutions and national parliaments of member states (David Milliband, Nicolas Sarkozy, Javier Solana, etc)” Despite this, she didn’t secure the job.

When asked about the namedropping of major European figures into her job application, she said: “I wasn’t trying to suggest that I have them on speed dial. Of course not. They wouldn’t know me if I knocked on their door.”

She said she was simply showing that she was comfortable with the type of high-level networking that a job in the Cabinet would entail.

And who could blame her for making sure she showed off her experience in the best possible light? After all, so many people go an awful lot further when it comes to their CVs.

Paul Mullan, of career and HR services company Measurability, says that most recruiters would expect CVs to be “highimpact” documents.

“A CV is a self-promoting document, let’s not forget,” he says. “I would never advise people to lie on a CV because they are invariably found out when it gets to interview stage and stumble over elaborating on some exaggeration on it. Some have lost jobs when it is found out they had lied, even if they are actually managing to do well in the post.”

A National Health Service worker in England was jailed for six months at the end of last month when it was discovered that she had falsified references and her A-level qualifications to secure her £23,000 admin job. Rhiannon Mackay (29) was prosecuted for fraud by making false representation.

Overstating your experience won’t necessarily get you thrown in prison but it can be deeply humiliating to be quizzed and found lacking. Hillary Clinton faced a barrage of criticism on the US presidential campaign trail two years ago when she “misspoke” (her word) about a trip to Bosnia in 1996.

She described dashing from her plane with daughter Chelsea as they were fired on by snipers. News footage from the time showed that when they arrived, they were greeted by a young girl in a small, unhurried ceremony on the runway.

Most job applicants will not, like Hillary Clinton or Deirdre de Burca, have the press scrutinising their CVs but in America and the UK there are companies whose business it is to check that the basic qualifications and work experience tally.

“We don’t have these ‘CV detectives’ in Ireland,” says Fergal Brosnan, director of the Berkley Recruitment Group. “In America, they go to town, carrying out standard criminal and financial record checks, checking beyond the written references and so on.”

However, Brosnan feels that Irish applicants are quite truthful, partly because there is such a small degree of separation in Ireland’s workforce. “A lot of our clients would ask internally if someone is familiar with the applicant. Ireland is really small, so it’s pretty easy to find someone who worked in, say, Microsoft, at the time they say they did.”

Drew Douglas, lead CV specialist at careers advice company, feels that Irish people are overly conscious of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

As such, they are wary of intimidating a potential employer and often undersell themselves.

“It is only when you sit down with some people that you realise they have all these accomplishments and achievements in terms of the actual work they have carried out, which they don’t include on their document,” he says.

Paul Mullan has also found that some Irish jobseekers are wary of “juicing up” their CV.

“When I put their achievements together and present them properly, I often get the comment: ‘I don’t recognise myself ’,” he says.

“I will turn to the individual and ask them if there is one thing that they can’t stand behind on the CV. Everything I have included is factual — it’s just how you present it and word it.”

At the same time, there are frequent CV truth-stretchers that many of us try to get away with and frequently do.

These would include sexing up a job title, rounding up the time spent at a company, expanding the duties a particular role entailed.

Something like exaggerating the remuneration at your last job is a foolish chance to take, however — the lie will out as soon as the new employer gets your P60.

“I think the gaps on CVs are actually the bits that are tinkered with most frequently,” says Fergal Brosnan. “It’s more the element of what is not being said.” These sins of omission might involve not giving the reason why one’s last job terminated.

If it’s the case that you were made redundant, be honest about that. People think it makes them sound like they were the weakest of the pack, but all employers know that in this climate, that is just not the case.”

There is always the occasional chancer, though, who will abandon honesty for a total work of fiction.

“The guy who says he’s been travelling around Australia for 12 months when in fact he’s been in Wheatfield,” says Brosnan.

Or the technically truthful statement that just sounds silly. “You might have someone telling you that they were vicepresident of a company. A company with three people in it. That never sounds right.”

LIAR, LIAR – Embellishing a CV detail or two can be risky enough for your average worker bee. Consider the chutzpah of these people who embroidered their paths into high-flying jobs – and were then caught out:
• The Apprentice contestant Lee McQueen was called out early on in the 2008 show on his claim that he had spent two years at Thames Valley University. He had in fact quit college four months into his course. Alan Sugar, self-confessed fan of the "school of life", crowned him the winning Apprentice anyway.
• Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at Massachussetts Institute of Technology, faked qualifications on her own CV when she first joined the Institute in 1979. "I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 28 years ago," she stated in 2007, "and did not have the courage to correct my resume when I applied for my current job or at any time since."
• The director of communications at Manchester United is a huge job, and Alison Ryan called it a "dream come true" when she landed the position in 2000. She left Old Trafford after just 13 days when it emerged that she had lied about her education and career history.
• The American film director and actor Orson Welles made his stage debut in Dublin’s Gate Theatre while visiting Ireland as a young man in 1931. He claimed to Hilton Edwards, then director of the Gate, that he was a big Broadway star. Edwards didn’t believe him but gave him the job, impressed by his passionate audition and his ‘creativity’.
• David Edmondson resigned as CEO of major US electronics retailer The Radio Shack in 2006 after "misstatments" that he had degrees in Theology and Psychology were uncovered.

Some embroidered CVs give themselves away in the most blatant way possible, or else are marred by the simplest of errors.

Drew Douglas of lists the following catastrophic real-life CV gaffes on his company's website. “The kind of mistakes people can make on what is a very important first presentation of themselves is astounding,” he says.

● A great lover of languages, I speak intermediate German, highlevel Russian, and fluent Spinach.

● Third Level Establishment: Trinity College. Location: Dublin. Attendance Period: September 1880 to June 1984.

● My duties included greeting laundrette customers, removing their clothes, and washing them.

● Seeking a high-paying job that offers significant perks and bonuses (i.e. company car, extended holidays etc).

● The company made a scapegoat of me-just like all of my other employers. I’m hoping you can do better.

● Managing Director of a small distribution company, by which I mean it consisted of only one employee: myself.

● I was both surprised and humbled to receive not one, but two separate plagues in recognition of my work.

● Have covered whole body in Inca tattoos, but these are not visible when wearing a suit

Breaking the sex code

I adore researching these essays on classic Hollywood. From Saturday's Review section in the Irish Independent.

Red hot in black & white
As Liam Neeson's new film is slammed as 'a porno farce', Susan Daly looks back at Hollywood's more innocent age -- or was it?

Saturday April 10 2010

The opening of a movie starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore should be cause for celebration. So why the tightly pursed lips among film critics?

Chloe, a tale of sexual obsession in which a housewife hires a high-class prostitute to seduce her husband in order to test his fidelity, was the movie Neeson was shooting when his wife Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident last year. Despite the goodwill out there towards Neeson for this reason, Chloe was not well received when it opened in the US this past week.

The New Yorker called it a "porno farce"; the New York Post "a Skinemax movie cloaked in art house fancy dress".

When Chloe did the rounds here a few weeks earlier -- perhaps testing this side of the Atlantic first because we're, you know, European and supposedly more blasé about the kinky stuff -- it didn't do much better.

Chloe does, however, serve the purpose of showing how far we've moved from the censorious age of cinema.

Seventy years ago, at the height of the notorious Hays Code for films, married couples weren't even allowed to sleep in the same bed on screen, never mind indulge in a ménage à trois.

This has not been so much a gradual descent into a sexual free-for-all on screen, as the movies coming full circle.

The Victorian era, stereotyped as an age in which folk went around trussing their piano legs in frilly ankle-warmers, was quite libertarian about moving pictures. George Melies, a famous pioneer of cinema, was quick to churn out an "adult" film, After The Ball, in 1897, featuring a racy nude scene.

The new century then found itself enthralled to film's first sexpot, Theda Bara. It was the era of the silent movie but words were made redundant by Bara's transparent outfits, nipple tassels and sexually-voracious expressions.

But the excesses of Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties culminated in a series of scandals, the most notorious of which saw actor Fatty Arbuckle accused of raping and killing the starlet Virginia Rappe. The calls to clean up 'Sin City', as Los Angeles was being labelled, were getting louder.

Will Hays at the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) came up with a list of 'Don'ts and Be Carefuls' for movie-makers in 1927. No excessive (over 3 seconds) and lustful kissing -- and if it happened anywhere in the vicinity of a bed, at least one of the parties had to have a foot on the ground.

Hollywood studios, heading into the Depression of the 1930s and desperate to attract audiences, pretty much ignored the cautions. The response of the censors was to introduce an expanded Hays Code in 1930. Sex was for married people only, and where affairs had to be mentioned, they should not be "presented attractively".

Sex was not "the proper subject for comedy" (no Carry On . . . movies, then). Dance moves that encouraged "movement of the breasts" were regarded as pure filth. The new, iron-cast code was formulated by a Jesuit, Fr Daniel Lord.

The Hollywood Reporter asked in 1931: "Does any producer pay attention to the 'Hays Code'?", knowing no one did. At this time, Jean Harlow was still getting away with asking, "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?" in Hell's Angel (1930), while Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane went skinny-dipping with Tarzan in the 1932 and 1934 loincloth-and-vine films.

Resistance to the censorious overlords was futile, however. By 1933, the powerful Catholic League of Decency had launched a 'down with this sort of thing' crusade on the movies. In 1939, Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick was fined $5,000 for leaving the final word intact in what is now cinema's most quotable lines: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Not everyone could afford to do a Selznick but, this being an industry of wheeler-dealers, creative ways were found to circumvent the code. Mae West films were jam-packed with double entendres, the brazen blonde firing off lines like "I feel like a million tonight -- but one at a time".

And where would Bogie and Bacall be without word play? "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together -- and blow." (To Have and Have Not, 1944).

West was particularly crafty. She used to write outrageous "decoy" scenes into risqué movies like I'm No Angel (1933) so that the moral guardians would focus on cutting those and let other, more subtly raunchy, material slip through.

A great deal of nod-nod, wink-wink was employed to keep the audience in on the joke. No one was under any illusion that Bette Davis's "nightclub hostess" in Marked Woman (1937) was a euphemism for prostitute. Similarly, Claire Trevor's woman of the night in Dead End (1937) is said to be suffering from consumption when it is clear from her implied occupation it was more likely to be syphilis.

Where the explicit was no longer allowed, the implicit became a loaded currency. Metaphors were everywhere, from Bela Lugosi's blood-sucking kisses in Dracula (1931) to the shared cigarettes that acted as a substitute for sex in Now, Voyager (1942).

By the 1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was the master at breaking the code. From James Stewart's phallic, voyeuristic telephoto lens in Rear Window (1954) to the provocative question, "Do you want a leg or a breast?" during a picnic in To Catch A Thief (1955), his films were seething with what the League of Decency would probably call ulterior motives.

He had been practising for some time -- the famous kiss between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in his 1946 film Notorious appears to ignore the three-second rule as they move through the apartment in a marathon snog. In fact, Hitchcock had Bergman and Grant kiss briefly but repeatedly while Grant took a phone call. The illusion is that the kiss goes on and on, but no actual rules were broken.

Others used more brazen tactics to titillate. The code enforcers were gentler on a film if it purported to purvey a moral message. This resulted in a sudden demand for films in the "sexual hygiene" genre, many of which were of dubious educational value.

Ultimately, as foreign films (not bound by the code) made inroads into US theatres and some distributors began to break links with the MPPDA, the code lost its grip and was scrapped in 1968. The new "golden age" of American cinema of the 1970s could not have flourished otherwise.

Even so, some of Hollywood's greatest movies were made within the confines of the code. Even the cartoonists were in on it. In Tweety Bird's first screen appearance in 1942, one cat trying to catch him says to another, "Give me the bird! Give me the bird!" The second cat replies: "If the Hays office would only let me, I'd give him the bird, alright!"

One imagines the reference to sticking up one's middle finger sailed over the heads of watching kiddies -- but hit Hays where it hurt.

ULTERIOR MOTIVES: Films with hidden meanings
King Kong (1933): The finished film was heavily edited but still managed to raise hackles for its perceived inter-racial love story (banned by the Code) as represented by the beauty and the beast. Kong was punished by falling off the most phallic-looking erection in New York, the Empire State Building.
It Happened One Night (1934): Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert chastely share a bedroom by hanging a blanket (“the wall of Jericho”) between their single beds. In the final scene, when Colbert signals her love for Gable, there is no literal consummation – but the blanket is seen to fall to the floor as a trumpet sounds out.
The 39 Steps (1935): As mentioned, unmarried couples were not permitted to sleep in the same room. So Alfred Hitchcock – who else? – inserted a plot device that had Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll handcuffed together and forced to share a bedroom. It was out of their control, see?
Citizen Kane (1941): Kane’s lost sleigh, inscribed ‘Rosebud’, was at face value a metaphor for loss of innocence. Director Orson Welles happened to know it was also a pet name that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst – lampooned by the film - had for his mistress’s nether regions.
Red Dust (1942): Jean Harlow is in a love triangle with Clark Gable and Mary Astor. In the final scene, while reading a children’s story, Harlow mutters: “A chipmunk and a rabbit. Hey, I wonder how this comes out?”
The Big Sleep (1946): Humphrey Bogart shares a drink with a bookshop assistant during a rainstorm, and she removes her spectacles. Next thing we see, Bogie is leaving the bookshop. As the rain has completely stopped, we can assume he had lots of time to… buy some books. A similarly suggestive fadeout is used when Ilsa visits Rick’s flat, alone, in Casablanca (1942).
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946): The 1980s version of the movie didn’t skimp on kitchen-table knee-tremblers, but the original had to make do with lingering shots of a “Man Wanted” sign in the diner window, sizzling meat on the grill and wild cats playfighting to signal sexual tension.
Rebel Without A Cause (1955): James Dean wasn’t the true rebel here – it was Sal Mineo’s Plato with his crush on Dean and a picture of movie star Alan Ladd in his school locker. Of course, true to the Code, the ‘sexual deviant’ (as homosexuality was then classed) was punished by death.
North By Northwest (1959): Alfred Hitchcock excelled his own history of sexual innuendo by getting Eva Marie Saint to tell Cary Grant: “You’re a big boy now” before sending the couple off into a blatantly phallic closing shot of a train carrying the newlyweds off into a tunnel.
Kiss Me, Stupid (1964): Dean Martin shows streetwalker Kim Novak around the house where she is to pose as his wife with the comment: “It’s small, but it’s clean.” Cue a knowing giggle from the worldy Ms Novak.
Goldfinger (1964): The Hays Code was on the way out but the 007 movies were establishing the penchant for double entendres that allowed them to moonlight as family movies, despite the sexual undertow. This one was hardly subtle though, with its Bond girls Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead.


"We're not celebrities"

Cover story of last Saturday's Weekend mag:
By Susan Daly

Saturday April 10 2010

Celebrity culture doesn't sit entirely easy with the Irish. We traditionally take pride in not being too impressed by the rich or famous.

In recent years, however, a number of homegrown photo-driven celeb mags have fared well here. This conflict of curiosity and disdain for the high profile goes some way to explaining the phenomenal interest in Gerald Kean and Lisa Murphy. Some people might know the names but are not sure why; those who do invariably have an opinion on them.

On (non-glossy) paper, this is a solicitor and beauty-salon owner who met in a bar, dated for a few years and then got engaged. He went down on one knee in the smoking section of their favourite watering hole last December, surrounded by her family. Granted, it was the exclusive members-only club Residence and he had originally planned to propose on holiday in Miami, but still.

Few newly engaged couples are asked on a Saturday night TV chat show to spill the beans on their wedding plans. Nor are they introduced to the audience as "Ireland's Posh and Becks" and look unabashed at the hyperbole.

Gerald Kean disagrees. "I'm not a celebrity, I never have been a celebrity and I don't know where this comes from," he says. "I have very influential friends in footballing and in the music world, I do mix with different people, but this is only a very small part of my life. The rest of the time we could just as easily be with Lisa's mum and dad having a Chinese."

Lisa, sitting next to her fiancé on a sofa in Dublin's Dylan Hotel, is listening carefully and wants to add her thoughts. The couple don't go looking for publicity, she says. "People seem to be interested in what we're doing, and we're just ourselves with everybody."

She does, however, have an insight into the attention she has attracted. "I just happened to fall into it because of Michael."

That would be Michael Flatley, the Riverdance hotstepper to whom she was engaged until their split in early 2006. Six months later he proposed to fellow dancer Niamh O'Brien. In jig time, they were married and had a son. His comments in his autobiography that same year, which inferred Lisa hadn't been a woman he could see as the mother of his children, were less than gentlemanly.

The duration and conclusion of her relationship with Flatley fascinated people. It was a long way from a normal suburban home in Ballinteer to being papped on the beach at Barbados with a fabulously rich Irish-American. She rarely said a word when the pair appeared in public or posed for pictures on the front lawn of his Castlehyde estate in Cork. When they broke up, she continued to keep her own counsel.

As it turns out, the air of mystery had a deadly normality to it. She was terribly shy. In her previous relationship with boxer Joe Egan, she had a breast enhancement for what she has said were all the wrong reasons. She has also spoken of staying away from her own debs ball and having to take a Valium before her first date with Michael

Flatley in order to calm her nerves.

"In my relationship with Michael, we were very quiet, I wouldn't have been out as much," she says. Clearly, things have changed for Lisa. She is warm and open, still softly spoken but not timid.

"Gerald is so much more gregarious," she says. "I'm going to a lot more things and meeting more people, and getting my own business has helped [she runs New Lisa Life, a beauty salon in Sandycove]. Gerald would have given me confidence, wouldn't you darling?" She turns to her other half.

"You are totally different now," he agrees. "At the start, it was a bit of a struggle for her with me. In one day she'd be meeting a crowd of friends I'd been friendly with for 15 years in a pub in Manchester, they would be dancing on tables and singing, and that same night she'd be at a black-tie function. But she's far better with people in so many ways than I am and she has been incredible."

Despite all protests to the contrary, Kean has brought a considerable profile of his own to the table. Solicitors don't generally make for good showbiz, but Kean must now be one of the most high-profile legal professionals in Ireland.

There is no shortage of well-off legal eagles here. He is, I'd wager, the only one to have appeared on reality shows such as Celebrity Bainisteoir and The Restaurant.

Part of the publicity is a consequence of the work that helped him move on from a £7,000 starter salary in a solicitor's office in Capel Street. Kean's moniker as 'celebrity to the stars' comes from the early days in which he promoted the tax exemption relief available in Ireland to artists and musicians. He says it is his famous clients who have mentioned his name and not the other way around, although he does then relate an anecdote about trying to stay out of a photograph of Simon and Yasmin Le Bon when he brought the couple to Dublin.

His marriage to first wife, fellow solicitor Clodagh Hopkins, also brought a kind of mutual celebrity. Social diarists liked to gasp over how she flew him and 70 of his closest friends -- Gerald Kean is nothing if not a networker -- to Paris for his 40th birthday in 1997. A few years later, he flew Clodagh and 150 guests by private jet to a ball in a castle near Salzburg.

The profile of the couple after their split in 2006 is interesting. While Clodagh is still pictured at charity gigs from time to time, it is Gerald who is more prominent in the press. Self-publicity or selflessness? He's insistent that he just likes to help out. To be fair, he and Lisa are squeezing in an interview request from me on Easter Monday morning so I can make a deadline.

"I spend every day of my life helping others; whether that is portrayed in the media or not doesn't interest me," he claims. "I travel the country all week, from Portlaoise to Donegal, and any appearances I do for charities I insist the fees go to the charity. I get footballers and musicians involved in fundraising."

He says he didn't mind when his drink-driving conviction in April of last year was reported in the newspapers. "If you're caught for drink-driving, it's right that it's all over the papers."

Nor does he care that his 50th birthday party, where he and his guests dressed up as pre-revolutionary French aristos, was lampooned by "some silly editor". He laughs it off: "We throw a good party -- it was the best night of my life and we loved it!"

Bad publicity doesn't matter as long as it's not inaccurate, he says. I think -- mostly because he mentions, several times, certain newspaper editors who he believes are "unhappy in themselves" -- that he cares a little more than he would like to admit.

Whatever about the outsider's perception of them, the couple seem very happy. Lisa still lives with her folks in Ballinteer and won't be moving to the substantial Kean country pile in Wicklow until the pair marry at the end of this year, or the start of 2011.

"I would be very traditional like that," says Gerald. "It's a big jump because we don't live together but it's exciting to plan where your clothes are going, where mine are going. You're sharing your life."

A significant point for both of them is that Lisa gets on so well with his 13-year-old daughter, Kirsten. "We're very close," she says. "We were on a cruise there a couple of weeks ago and she would say, 'Don't come and get us [Kirsten and friend], dad, I want Lisa to come and get us'. Gerald will get very emotional and I'll say, 'But darling, I didn't want to hang around with my dad at 13. It's nothing personal'."

It's hard to be cynical about them as a couple when it is clear that they look after each other so well. His health issues have also brought them closer together. Diagnosed as a diabetic shortly before they met in late 2006, Kean has to check his blood-sugar levels four times a day and administer insulin. Lisa keeps an eagle eye on him, not wishing to see a repeat of the incident two years ago when he collapsed at a fashion show in the RDS. "It was terrifying," she says.

He's fresh from the gym when we meet, half the man he used to be, and tucking into an egg-white omelette (after the insulin check, of course). "She guides me and I listen," he says. "She certainly had a hugely positive influence on my life especially at a time when I needed it."

The nuptials will be in Kean's native Cork. He had thought they would marry overseas, because his divorce precludes a church wedding here anyway, but they decided against having people fly out and "spending their money abroad".

Instead of gifts, guests will be asked to make a donation to Scoil Triest in Glanmire, Co Cork, a special school for students with learning disabilities. It's especially personal to Lisa, whose older brother Paul had special needs and died in a road accident in 1995.

"If we have a big wedding, more power to it because we'll get more donations to Scoil Triest," says Gerald. But doesn't ostentation of any kind attract ire, I ask?

"Lisa and I made whatever money we have ourselves. Am I going to stop drinking a nice bottle of red wine? No. Am I going to stop buying a nice shirt and tie? No. I do not come from the stable that, from now on, I must eat stale brown bread. If I make €1,000 tomorrow, I am very happy to spend €500 on a bottle of wine and €500 on a charity."

He mentions that if the couple have babies, as they hope to do, he wishes they will look like their mother. "I want that on the record! And I hope they would have my positivity and enjoyment of life.

"Nothing gets me down."


Friday, April 9, 2010

Home Alone

My Nightwatch column from today's Day&Night magazine:

I ain't no Marlene Dietrich but sometimes I vant to be alone. However, the deal with living in a city is you've got to really believe that hell isn't other people. You've got to love the buzz and the bustle.

It is okay, though, to occasionaly admit that the packed top deck of the 46a can be purgatory. It's alright to never really mean it when you smile apologetically at chuggers as they try to mug you for a charity direct debit on the street.

Why do we bang on about the Phoenix Park being the jewel of the city when most of it resembles a giant dog run? Let's be honest, from time to time, we all want to stand in a big field and say nothing to no-one.

Alternatively, to get some quality 'me' time, you could touch something gross, pick up a nasty virus and have your doctor put you in quarantine.

That's what I did. I'm not sure what it was (or who it was -- there's a thought) that I got into grubby contact with. All I know is that I woke up one morning feeling like I was hosting the remake of The Clash of the Titans in my stomach.

Fearing the distance between my doctor's office and my bathroom was a marathon too far, I rang in with my symptoms. It was serious, I was told, but not so serious that I would die. Which was reassuring.

Stay away from other people for a few days and drink lots of fluid. The Fella's innate sense of timing meant he was heading to Norway -- don't ask -- for a few days, so he kindly dropped off a crate of bottled water, soup, yoghurt and ... er, toilet rolls on his way to the airport. "Kisses!" he waved from a distance, as he performed a swift drive-by groceries manoeuvre.

In the past, when I've been working too hard, I've fantasised about being made to go sit in solitary confinement and do nothing, like in one of those Outbreak-style films. Just as a precautionary measure, naturally. I wouldn't actually want to be diagnosed with the Ebola virus and have blood come out of my eye sockets.

In reality, being forced to stay home alone is more like, well, the Home Alone films. The tablets start to kick in. Suddenly you're feeling well enough to do all the things you wouldn't do if someone was there to see you. Watching Jeremy Kyle until you feel like you have to shower. Air-guitaring invisible power chords to naff 80s compilations. Buying whistling keyfinder gadgets from Spying on the neighbours.

It turns out that the only neighbours of mine who are at home during the day are elderly and rather feeble. At 10 minutes past midday every single afternoon, a minibus from a day centre stops outside their flats and the driver beeps incessantly until the poor old folk emerge like slightly blind badgers, raincoats in a flap.

I decided we didn't like that driver. (You know you've been on your own too long when you start referring to yourself in the third person).

After two days, depression takes hold. Like Kevin in Home Alone, you want your mummy. So you ring her and she lets you moan on until such time as the second half of Coronation Street comes on the telly. "Okay darling, mind yourself, love you!"

But this too shall pass. By the time I got the green light from the doc to head outside into the real world again, I had reverted to acting like an adult. In my last day of quarantine, I tidied up the gaff, put my books in alphabetical order (by author), did three laundry washes and downloaded all the photos trapped in my digital camera for the first time in months.

The following morning, I hummed all the way to the shops and smiled broadly at everyone until someone asked me what my problem was. Ah Dublin, I missed you.


Bye bye Bebo

So long, Bebo. I won't miss you -- maybe now I can get to know my friends again in person. (From yesterday's Evening Herald)

By Susan Daly

Thursday April 08 2010

IT might sound a bit harsh to call a five-year-old a has-been. In the whizzy world of the internet though, half a decade is a long time. Bebo, born in 2005, has reached its sell-by date.

Technology giant AOL paid megabucks -- 850 million of them -- to acquire the social networking website two years ago. Now it has announced that it will be trying to sell its out-of-favour purchase. If all else fails, it will simply shut it down.

Wow. That's pretty brutal.

If Bebo were a boyband that had been jilted by its record label, we'd be bracing ourselves for the pictures of the cute one getting fat and the one with the talent starting to write hits for other, younger, starlets. In technology, as in the pop industry, when you're hot, you're white-hot. When you're not, you're stone-cold. There is no sentimentality and things get old real quickly.

It's so long Hannah Montana and hello Justin Bieber. (If you don't know who that is yet, ask a passing eight-year-old).

It might be worth bringing up the cautionary tale of Bebo the next time someone tells you that you absolutely must get on board the next big thing in technology. Beware anything that relies on mob rule to stay viable. The mob shifts its loyalty elsewhere and you're left alone, the only kid in your virtual playground.

Bebo needed to keep attracting new members. Every year saw a new launch -- Bebo Music, Bebo Books, Bebo Groups -- all promising to add to the experience of being part of the website's following.

Bless them, they tried so hard, and it's not entirely Bebo's fault. It's ours, we the public at As soon as something better or newer comes along, we're off.

I'm not pointing fingers at anyone but myself here. I opened a Bebo profile in 2005 when a friend sent an 'invitation' to everyone in her email address book. As long as the site remains open, it's probably still up there, listing my mid-Noughties likes (Britney Spears circa Toxic) and dislikes (White Chicks, the film).

Then the heat moved to MySpace, and so did I. I didn't even manage to get as far as specifying my gender on a profile there before Facebook caught my eye. Now I find myself drifting away from that too. I think the fatal bullet was when my aunt asked if I would be her friend on 'Myface'.

Now it's all about the quick buzz of updating my status 20 times a day on Twitter and instant messaging 'Twitpals'.

I'm enjoying it right now -- I work from home, so to me it's like access to an instant office canteen -- but I notice some of my old 'colleagues' have been checking in less frequently as of late. The novelty has worn off.

We didn't always need this constant change of scenery.

Why is it that for years we were happy enough with the eight-track tape and a clunky Walkman as the cutting-edge way to make music mobile?

Now, if your MP3 player is bigger than your fingernail, you're a Luddite.

It also seems that the easier that communication has become, the more difficult it has been to remain satisfied by it for even the briefest period of time.

Scientists have started to identify a strain of this perennial state of dissatisfaction. They're calling it adult ADHD.

The roots of this syndrome are behavioural. The more we are surrounded by distractions, the more we crave them.

I heard a word this week that made me step away from my netbook. 'Lapglancing': the act of watching TV while simultaneously tapping away at a laptop on your knee.

Remember what the word 'Bebo' actually stands for? 'Blog Early, Blog Often'. Now, isn't that an imperious call to the keyboard? It says something about the imperative, demanding nature of these 'social' sites. It implies that if you're not in, you can't win. And if you're not winning, then by definition, you're a loser.

It should be a comfort to know that these bits of gadgetry are ephemeral.

Bebo was the cool kid yesterday, but an outcast today.

It might remind us that we are lucky enough to still have real, live friends who are pretty much always where we last left them -- at the other end of the phone. (Okay, make the call on your iPhone if you must).

I think I'll invite some pals over for an evening of old-fashioned 'video-sharing', ie: watch a movie together, sitting on the same sofa in the same room.

Some things will never go out of fashion.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rollers on, elbows out

I recently went to see Ireland's first women's roller derby team during one of their hair-raising training sessions and reported on it for the Irish Independent. They might look sexy but, they say, roller derby is not about titillation for a male audience; it's feminism on wheels and, more importantly, a valid sport.
See what you think (Pic by Martin Maher).

The rollerskate revival is uniting the sisterhood. Susan Daly on the sport that's sexy and tough.

A group of kids has just finished a sports session at a Dublin inner city community centre but they are reluctant to go home. They jostle for space on the staircase that overlooks the central gymnasium, peering through the glass for a glimpse of what is about to be unleashed below.

At exactly 7.30pm, the source of their excitement reveals itself. The door to the gym flies back and a line of women stream in on retro four-wheel rollerskates. They whizz around the polished wooden floor in tiny tartan skirts, hot pants and fishnet tights, their bulky knee and wrist pads giving them the air of a tribe of battle-ready warriors.

These are the Dublin Roller Girls, Ireland's first -- and so far, only -- rollerskate derby team. Banish all thoughts of roller discos. Roller derby originated in the US in the 1930s as a sort of skate marathon, and gained huge followings in the 1940s and '50s, but had fallen out of fashion by the 1970s. In its current state -- since it was revived in Austin, Texas in 2001 -- roller derby is a tough amateur sport.

There are now more than 400 leagues around the world. Although the Dublin Roller Girls (DRG) have only been training together since October of last year, they might soon be part of an all-Ireland league. A group is currently setting up in Belfast, with women in Galway, Cork, Tipperary and Limerick expressing interest in following in their tracks.

It's hard to describe the game, other than to say it will look like hell on wheels to those of a sensitive nature. Irish audiences will have a better grasp of it when the new Drew Barrymore-directed film Whip It! hits cinemas today.

The movie stars Juno's Ellen Page as a young Texan called Bliss, whose mom wants her to be a beauty pageant queen. But Bliss wants to break out of her small-town existence -- she finds her escape in the "skirts, skates and scrapes" sorority of roller derby in nearby Austin.

Self-expression is a huge part of the attraction to roller derby. All roller girls pick a personalised name. These nicknames, along with the punk-rock-cute outfits, help them climb into their on-track alter-egos.

So when she laces up her skates, Eilise, a wine importer employee, suddenly becomes Alice En'Rage. Teacher Christine is transformed into Scarlet Macabre. Grad students Dee and Sarah become Lil' Edee and Lady Axe-A-Lot; a Belladonna Blitzin' (psychology student Vivienne) and a Sue Killfester (aka facilities manager Eimear) shout to each other across the hall.

"There is a huge mixture of girls playing this," says Liz Clonan -- sorry -- Agent Provocative. "In the leagues internationally, you have some really crazy girls and you have some really girly girls and that all fits into their alter-egos.

"The names are just a bit of playfulness but they're also a bit provocative. I like to freak people out a bit on the track." Liz, by day, is a legal secretary.

The skirts might be short and the fishnet tights give track burn, but there is a sense the owner wears the outfit rather than the other way round. The tights are often accessorised by punked-up legwarmers; one helmet bears a 'Bite Me' sticker; another has a pair of handprints painted on the backside of her shorts. The effect is sexy-tough.

"They are hot girls and there is a derby style," says retail manager Ruth Hirsch (aka Feline Rowdy), one of the founders of the DRG, "but it's not about that. It's a sport.

"But it can get us attention and that's good because if you're saying, 'Oh, grassroots sport, all girls', some people will think that sounds a bit lame.

"The thing I love about derby is you literally have the tattooed punk girl with the piercings who has never been on a team, the girl who ducked out of PE in school. Then you have the girl who loved sport, playing side by side."

If this sounds like a reinvention of sisterhood, it might well be. On the night I visit, the DRG is hosting two Texan Roller Girl stars, Heather Villalobos (formerly Crasher) and Bloody Mary, aka Julianna Gonzales, executive director of the governing Women's Flat Track Derby Association. These are huge stars but, as goes with the spirit of the sport, when they met the Dublin girls at a boot camp in London they offered to drop in to their home town.

Tonight, Mary is gliding around the "starstruck" Dublin girls, offering tips and advice; Heather is showcasing some of her signature blocking moves.

Heather rejects the stereotype of foxy catfighting that might attract, say, a hopeful male spectator. "I have had experience of women who don't get along with other women and then find themselves in the middle of 16 other women running a business and they have to learn how to get along," she says, "That just has to be a good thing for women."

It is a no-man zone on track but there is room for men to help out in the backroom. Kitty Cadaver -- children's book buyer Christine O'Connor -- has gotten her fiancé Christopher Goggins (Coach Puppetmaster, to you) on board as coach alongside Alan Flaherty.

But essentially, sisters are doing it for themselves. "I do think there is more of a bond in derby because you eat, sleep, drink it," says Ruth. "It's not just a kickaround on a Saturday afternoon. I love the mix of girls and that the age group is so wide (the girls range from 21 to 30 but girls over 18 are welcome on 'freshmeat Sundays')."

The derby is self-funding -- through typically inventive ways like a metal music and cake sale evening -- and democratic.

Some of this camaraderie is reflected in Whip It!, which, naturally, the DRG has already seen a preview of. "But every one of our girls and other roller girls we've spoken to have had real goosebumps at the bit in the film where Bliss goes, 'You don't get it -- I am in LOVE with this'. It sounds corny -- but you just fall for it."

They might love roller derby, but even the Dublin Roller Girls will admit that love can hurt -- a lot.

The basic set-up of roller derby is that two teams of five skate in formation around an oval track. Each team has one jammer whose job it is to outskate the four 'blockers' on the opposite team, and vice versa.

How they do this is subject to a number of rules but it's fair to say that heavy elbow action, jostling and body blocking are par for the course.

"My mother doesn't want to know about it," says Liz Clonan, "She just asks, 'Are you going rollerblading?' and I say, 'Yeah, I am'. You learn to fall properly, but you know, this is all at speed, so yes, you'll get a couple of bruises, but it's like your war wounds and you wear them proudly."


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Saviours released on DVD tomorrow

Saviours trailer here:

Extraordinary stories, extraordinary characters and beautifully told. As far as I'm concerned, if you haven't seen this documentary, you've missed one of the most outstanding Irish films made in the last decade. People might now focus on it because one of the boxers featured is the much-missed Darren Sutherland and there is some terrible poignancy in that fact.
I saw it in the cinema months before Darren died and, even then, it changed the way I saw Dublin and the way I thought about the people I pass on the street every day. Powerful stuff.

Here's info from the distributors, Eclipse Pictures:
The multi-award winning documentary SAVIOURS will be released on DVD nationwide by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Ireland TOMORROW, Friday April 2, 2010.

Described as the “Best Irish Film of the Year” by the Sunday Tribune and “this year’s Once” by Hot Press Magazine, SAVIOURS is a stunning observational film set in inner city Dublin. This award-winning film follows the roller-coaster fortunes of three boxers over an 18-month period as they battle to make the most of their lives, both inside and outside of the ring. All three test their mettle at St. Saviours Olympic Boxing Academy. It’s an oasis of goodwill in one of Dublin’s most socially deprived areas where the boxers are coaxed and cajoled by the club's colourful, wise-cracking coaches.

SAVIOURS weaves a compelling drama from the lives of these young men as they aim for glory despite the struggles they face outside the ring.

Bonus features include Tribute to Darren Sutherland and Directors / Editor’s Commentary

Directed and produced by Ross Whitaker and Liam Nolan

Cast includes Darren Sutherland, Abdul Hussein, Dean Murphy, John McCormack

Cert PG

Running Time 81 mins

Images available from Eclipse Pictures

Release Date 2 April 2010

For interview requests or further information, please contact Siobhán Farrell at

Siobhan Farrell

General Manager, Eclipse Pictures

25 Hatch Place, Dublin 2;

Tel: +353 1 634 0112 (direct); +353 1 634 0121 (main office)