The Busker

1989.

TWAS the night before Christmas, and not a creature in Larchville was stirring.

Actually, there are two lies there. It was two days before Christmas, and it was particularly noisy in Larchville because the Park Inn had just closed and fathers from all over the parish were falling out of the place singing about “scumbags, maggots and cheap lousy faggots”. 11 year old Robbie Flavin was listening to them as he did most weekends because his house faced right on to the bar. As usual, he was concentrating really hard, focusing all the energy of his senses towards his hearing so he might be able to hear his own dad. Experience told him that if his dad was singing, he’d be in a good mood and would more than likely sing himself to sleep that night. If he was quiet, he’d make a lot of noise once in the house, which would wake mammy up and that would be followed by so much worse noise.

Robbie had a Walkman that he got for Christmas the previous year. It was falling apart and ate most of the tapes that he put in it but there was one mixed tape, which belonged to his older sister Katrina that for some reason, played perfectly. The ear phones had a skinny metal bar which sat atop his head and each side had a fluffy orange sponge for each ear. They weren’t comfortable to wear in bed but on the nights that daddy wasn’t falling across the road singing, he’d turn it up full blast. The tape was mostly songs of Katrina’s taste – Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, The Bangles and her favourite of all, Madonna. Robbie had grown to love all the songs but thankfully, it was a 90 minute tape and there was a bit of U2 on there too.

Ears straining as much as they could, Robbie couldn’t hear his dad amongst the fairy tales of New York, so he stuck on “Where the streets have no name” as loud as he could and closed his eyes.

Waterford Shopping Centre

Tomorrow was a big day. Robbie had made a deal with his Mam that while she did her Saturday shop – in the Shopping Centre in the morning, and in town in the afternoon – he could play the recorder for people to try and earn some money for Christmas presents.

“They’ll more than likely stick that feckin’ recorder up your hole,” Robbie’s Mam said. “But if it keeps you from dragging out of me for the day, go for it.”

Katrina taught Robbie how to play it. It was a well-known fact that she was the best recorder player that the Presentation had ever seen. Her younger sisters Liz and Amy were, in the words of Sister Anne “a disappointment to the great family tradition”. Apparently Mam was fairly skilled too but hadn’t been heard playing since Hurricane Charley, when the whole of Larchville and Lisduggan fell into darkness and people could do very little else but play the recorder and burn toast beside Supersers.

“I want to play outside Neville’s first” Robbie had told his Mam.

Neville owned a men’s clothes shop and quite liked Robbie and his family.

“You can’t play indoors, and besides, you’ll frighten all his customers away,” Mam replied.

Robbie knew that Neville would more than likely send him on his way, but not before giving him a crisp pound note for his troubles.

With his recorder in hand, he made a quick stop at KG Discs first.

“Is it still put away?” he asked the man behind the counter.

“It is…but there’s only one left in the shop and I’ll have to put it back out tomorrow if you don’t get it today.”

“Grand job,” Robbie thought as he skipped out of the shop.

Zipping up his jacket and tying up his scarf, he took a look into Crazy Prices. He could never understand why everything was so yellow in there.

Robbie knew 10 songs, which wasn’t bad for an 11 year old. He threw his hat on the ground and started into ‘Danny Boy’. Looking disappointingly into an empty hat, he then played some ‘Frere Jacques’. These were the classics that Katrina had taught him but they were getting him nowhere.

“Can you not play any Christmas songs? For the time that’s in it…” an old woman said as she passed by without dropping so much as a 20p into the hat.

“Shit,” Robbie thought. “How did I forget about Christmas music?”

This was a test, but one that he was up to. He ran around the back of the Shopping Centre and began practising Jingle Bells. Ten minutes later he had something that resembled it. Next he tried Silent Night but it ended up sounding more like “We will Rock You” by Queen.

Thirty minutes, and what looked like about five pounds later, a foxy girl from Kavanagh’s Sweet Shop shouted at him to learn another song or she’d “give him a kick in the Jingle Bells”. As it happened, it was time to depart the shopping centre anyway. Mam had the bags from Crazy Prizes, The Freezer Shop and Homemakers and it was time to bring them back home before hopping on the bus into town.

Town.

Robbie had a very specific plan for town. He would play a few songs outside Burger Land, then move down to the Savoy, maybe the middle of Red Square before hitting the Giving Tree in George’s Court. If everything went according to plan, he’d have the other fiver that was needed to buy the record in KG Discs and then he could spend any extra money he got in Fitzmaurices. He was a fan of those little Styrofoam Airplanes that he never seemed to be able to get anywhere else.

“Do you know any other songs?” a woman from the KK Discount Store shouted after Robbie’s fourth rendition of “We Will Rock You on a Silent Night”. That was his cue to move on.

Despite getting distracted in the Pound Shop, Robbie had made enough outside the Savoy to complete his plan, get the plane from Fitzmaurices, and join his mother and Aunty May in the Wimpy for a Junior Burger Meal. He was, for all intents and purposes, elected, and like all children who had gotten what he wanted, he now wanted to leave town (and hot foot it back to KG Discs).

“You may wait now ‘til we’re ready to leave,” Mam said, horsing a burger into her mouth.

Robbie needed to get up before 5:30pm and he knew the mother still had to make her usual stop at Cassidy’s, Kelly’s and Wyley’s for a scratch card before the bus home. It was going to be a close one.

St Pauls.

Before Robbie’s class had broken up for Christmas – on the last day – they were all allowed to bring in a game from home. This was a challenge for Robbie because every board game in the house was missing at least five essential pieces. He would have loved to bring his Walkman and just sit in the corner singing away to himself but he knew that it would never be allowed. His mother told him to bring Screwball Scramble except it was a bit pointless without the screwballs. He settled on a game called ‘Downfall’, which involved turning a succession of wheels and trying to drop discs into a tray at the bottom. Robbie knew that even though most of the discs were missing, it didn’t matter because every house in Waterford had the game and everyone also hated it. Nevertheless, he opened the box and saw something that made him smile. Written on the inside of the box were the names Katrina, Elizabeth, Amy, Mam and Dad. Beside each name was a series of ticks. Dad had the most ticks, followed by Katrina, Elizabeth, Mam and finally Amy, who only had one tick. Robbie was sad that there was a time, when he was too young to remember, when Dad played with the rest of the family. It was only a few names on a bit of cardboard, but it represented a happiness that Robbie was too young to share with them. It gave him a new found respect for ‘Downfall’ and he forced his friend Richard to play it with him.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is only a state of mind. Even though it looks like any other day of the year, it doesn’t feel like that. From the moment you open your eyes and sneak down the stairs, it’s Christmas. You have half a selection box for your breakfast and you bring your toys to Mass. It may be a Monday, but it’s like no Monday you’ve ever seen. Your mind has confiscated the common calendar and for the rest of the week, there are no more Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays…just the 12 days of Christmas.

Monday, December 25 1989, Robbie got out of bed, jumped into the warmest clothes he could find, pulled the record – in the paper KG Discs bag – from under the bed, and ran downstairs. Instead of opening up the sitting room door, to see what presents were glistening from him in the dark, he quietly opened the front door instead. It was dark, as the clock hadn’t yet found 6am, but Robbie knew he’d be back home and all before 6:30am, half an hour before his sisters would even contemplate emerging.

About a half a mile away, Robbie stood in front of his sister’s grave and took out his recorder.

“You don’t know this one, but I think you’ll love it,” he said before playing the first few bars of “Like a Prayer”, recorder style. When he was finished he put the record beside the gravestone, next to the Madonna T-shirt that he put there last year. He wished her a Happy Christmas, told her that he loved her and kissed the gravestone.

He then walked back to a house that hadn’t been a home since the worst day of their lives, two years earlier. Christmas stops for no man.

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A State of Emergency

What passes for healthcare in this country at the moment.

This column appeared in the Waterford News & Star on Tuesday, November 28. Read the View from the Blue, and many other columns, including The Phoenix, every week.

NOBODY is afraid of the monster, until it appears under their bed. I’ve been saying this for longer than I care to remember. I’ll never forget the day I marched down the Quay, in what was the third mass protest to raise awareness about the chronic services in our region’s hospital. Cars drove past giving dirty looks, rolling up their windows and refusing to beep their horns in support. To them, we were that category of protester that Waterford has, unfortunately, become known for. Those people who object to just about everything, just because they have nothing else to do.

No, we were protesting because our hospital is being deprived of services that we desperately need. We are campaigning for a second cath lab but we know that they don’t want to give it to us. What should delivered a long time ago longer hours for the one we already have. The Cath Lab is not run on batteries that need to charge themselves over night. There is no logical reason in the world why it should be switched off, and the doors closed when there are staff available to work in them. Cardiologists do clock into work at UHW after hours but for some reason they cease to be called cardiologists once they do. They become ‘medical doctors’. If they are in the hospital at 8pm on a Friday night and a heart attack patient comes in, the cath lab should be opened immediately.

The nurses treated Tom Power knew that he only had about 12-15 mins to live, yet he was still sent off to Cork. Two weeks ago, as reported in the News & Star last week, an elderly man was about to be sent to Dublin for treatment when the paramedics were stood down. It was felt that he wouldn’t make the trip to Dublin so the cardiology team was called in and the cath lab was about to be opened. Sadly, the man didn’t even make it to the cath lab, but it was the right decision to give him the best possible chance of survival.

This isn’t what this column is about though. I want to talk about the emergency that has – ironically – struck University Hospital Waterford’s Emergency Department. I’m writing this on Wednesday, November 22. On November 21, there were 44 people on trolleys in the Emergency Department – the highest number in the country. This is what the hospital does when this happens:

They cancel all elective surgeries on every other ward in the hospital and then send those patients home – patients that probably waited a while to secure those appointments. Consultants walk around the ED, and the Wards and discharge patients that they believe are not sick enough to be taking up beds. These are often elderly patients that don’t have family members to fight on their behalf. The beds are freed up, the patients on trolleys in the ED are given those beds and temporarily at least, the Emergency Department can come up for air. The problem is, all those people that were sent home are still actually sick and end up finding their way back into the Emergency Room in the following days, exacerbating an already critical situation.

In 2016, the HSE announced a big Winter Surge Plan for UHW and other large hospitals throughout the country. Our hospital was to be given 15 new beds, which would have undoubtedly relieved the pressure on the ED and other wards throughout the hospital. However, in October of last year, I received a phone call from a trusted contact within the hospital. He told me that they had closed 10 beds…the hospital was actually losing 10 beds. I contacted the HSE immediately and a few hours later they issued a region wide press release saying that “            University Hospital Waterford will be closing ten inpatient beds on a temporary basis with effect from Monday, October 31 owing to difficulties experienced in filling current nurse staffing vacancies.” These beds didn’t reopen again until March 2017. So, as winter took its grip on the region, we essentially lost 25 beds.

So, skip forward to this year and the situation has become much worse. We were the busiest hospital in the country this week so surely the HSE have got their winter surge plans in gear right? Wrong.

I have made a point of repeatedly asking the HSE what they are going to do this year. On September 27 they sent me this:

“On the week commencing 18th September, there were 1,107 presentations to the ED department at University Hospital Waterford. University Hospital Waterford has prepared a Winter Plan, and as always UHW and its staff are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients.”

There is absolutely no substance in this whatsoever.

Throughout October they actually point blank refused to answer the question, and then on November 6, a “spokesperson” for UHW said that “University Hospital Waterford has prepared a Winter Plan, and as always the hospital and staff are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients. These plans include proposals on reconfiguration of ward space to provide additional capacity and staffing for ward(s) and the Emergency Department.”

Reconfiguration of ward space. They are going to move a computer over to another side of the room so they can throw a few chairs down for a patient to lay on. No extra beds, no proper investment and we are on the verge of a catastrophe.

The obvious impact of this is the patients. Sick people will be sent home. Sicker people will wait for days on trolleys and most people in the south east won’t care about it until they or one of their family members end up in the ED.

The less obvious, but just as critical impact is on the staff. They will have to deal with more patients than they can handle, work extra hours and ultimately deal with more pressure than any human being should be expected to deal with. And they’re not making toy parts on a conveyor belt to prepare for the Christmas rush…they are saving lives.

Something needs to be done and it needs to be done immediately

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A medium belief

DO you believe in an afterlife? I’m not asking a question for the sake of it here…I genuinely want to hear your answers. I have written about religion many times before and I think people know which side of the fence I’m standing on there. However, spirituality and matters of angels and the afterlife, I really can’t be so sure on.

A close relative of mine has visited mediums on more than one occasion and each time has had to listen to my usual levels of cynicism. “They’re looking you up on Facebook,” I tell them. “They’re doing a ton of research and filling the gaps with educated guesswork.” This has always been my staunch belief because I like to think of myself as being relatively intelligent and intelligent people surely don’t believe in the afterlife and people with super powers.

Thankfully, people take what I say with a pinch of salt and go to mediums and the like anyway. On a recent visit to a medium – who wasn’t from Waterford – a deceased relative came forward and wanted to ask about the person who was ‘doing all the writing in the paper.’ This was the start of, what can only be described as a startling amount of accuracies. I’m not saying that I suddenly believe in mediums, but I’m more than happy to state, publicly, that there is way too much things about this world – and beyond – that I…and nobody can know.

This medium spoke of someone being there to meet a loved one that had passed away. Can you imagine how comforting this would be to someone who had lost someone they cherished? The fragile people of this world need something to hold on to…something to give them hope and ultimately make them less fearful of what is waiting, or not waiting for them on the other side.

This relative of mine was told that someone had been trying to contact them. She was told that this person had been banging doors trying reach out to them. “That’s funny…” my relative said. “Because last week I heard a bang downstairs and I ran down to see what it was and there was nothing there.” I’m curious as to whether other people have stories like this.

I can say that I don’t believe in God and the reason I can say that so easily is because if there is a God, I can’t fathom why He would allow so much horrific things to happen to his “children”. That’s my staunch belief and it has more to do with how religion has portrayed ‘God’ than anything else. We won’t get into that though…that’s not the purpose of this column.

When I was younger, I remember reading a book about angels. It was broken down into about 20 stories about different people’s experiences with, what they described as guardian angels. I’ll never forget how I felt after reading it. I was 100% convinced that angels were real. All of these people were so convincing and so sure that they had been touched by an angel. I was overcome with a feeling of…I dunno…can I say ‘pleasantness’? Stories of tragedies and bright lights and miraculous saviours. It was truly inspirational. Of course, within a few months of reading the book my cynicism took over and I was probably scoffing at angelic notions once again. The fact is, I still struggle to with how fax machines and telephones work so really, the amount of things that I don’t know outweigh the things that do.

There are a lot of mediums about…are they all con artists? Maybe some of them believe that they truly can contact the dead, even when they can’t. And maybe…just maybe, there are those who do have a direct line to the deceased. I became fascinated with the image of dead people, or the souls of dead people, lining up to talk to their loved ones. When we think of our lost relatives we are inclined to think of them as how they were when they died. The reality, if there is such a thing, is that we can’t even begin to speculate as to what form they take – if any – when they die. Think about it…all we have to go on is what Hollywood tells us about heaven and angels and what not. Just like the cavemen couldn’t have contemplated the microwave oven, there are so much that we have yet to learn about our existence.

This is a weird column isn’t it? I do really want to know your opinions though…and not only that…I want to hear of any experiences you may have had…not only with a medium, but maybe with an angel or something that made you stop in your tracks. Other people talk about dreams that they have had, which have comforted them after loved ones have passed. Can the deceased contact us through our subconscious? That’s the thing…I haven’t the foggiest!

My mother went to a medium many years ago and they told her that her youngest son was going to go places. That’s all well and good…but they then said that they see ‘WLR’ in my future, as well as a girl called Sarah. I’m still not sure what to make of that.

My mother and I have since agreed on a code word, which I won’t reveal here…but let’s say, for the sake of illustration, that it’s ‘Pancakes’. We’ve agreed that whoever goes first, the other will go to a medium and see what they have to say. Can you imagine it? “Someone is stepping forward,” the medium says. “It’s your son…and I don’t know why…but he’s talking about pancakes?”

Wouldn’t that be absolutely amazing? My mother would have an amazing spring in her step for the rest of their life because they would know that I went to a better place and I was waiting for her.

This is what we all want, and I want to hear your stories, whether you are a believer or not.

 

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Doing that thing you do

WE’RE all unique aren’t we? This is what I keep reading on Facebook anyway. “You’re unique…just like everyone else.” Of course, I’ve been saying for years that not only are we not unique, we’re so alike that it’s actually scary.

Have you ever met with someone for an ‘auld natter’ and at some point in the chat one of you will say “ah here…me and you are like two peas in a pod.” You’ll talk about something you do and then the other person will say that they’re always doing that too.

The thing is, we’re all a lot busier than we used to be. More of us are working now, with kids and partners to look after and we don’t have the time to sit and have those long chats that we might have done in our youth. It’s only when you get the chance to have these tête-à-tête’s that you will remember just how unique you actually aren’t.

I picked up a cool retro T-shirt in Penneys the other week except it wasn’t cool at all because every Tom, Dick and Harry will be wearing it around John Roberts Square within the next fortnight.

Let me tell you about some of the things that I do and have done – just notions from the top of my head – and you can shout “SNAP” in your head (or out loud if you want – that would be pretty unique in fairness).

When I was a child, I somehow managed to think that rape and stab meant the same thing. Seriously. I was going around telling people that I’d rape them if they didn’t give back my sticker album. I can’t remember exactly when I learned about the mystery of child birth but I know for a fact that through most of primary school I went from thinking that babies came out of a belly button or a bum. Primary School boys don’t really haven’t a clue about vaginas or how many holes women actually have down there. To be honest, this probably remained a mystery right through secondary school as well.

Also, as a child, I believed that if you swallowed anything that wasn’t food, you’d more than likely die. I remember swallowing a bit of plastic and instantly coming out in a sweat convinced I had inadvertently killed myself. I sat in my room, in nervous silence, waiting for death to collect me, but he never arrived (although I still keep one eye open for him as I walk the streets as a 35-year old. Most of you probably shared my belief that swallowing chewing gum or swimming after a hape of ham sandwiches would also more than likely result in your death.

As a result of TV advertisements, the most dangerous place on Earth, as far as 12 year old me was concerned, was one of those Electricity gardens (I don’t know what they’re actually called). Remember the ad where the little idiot runs in to get his ball…I used to be taunted as a kid cause he shared the same name as me…do you remember it? Darren…DARREN! Darren’s dead.

The belief in the tooth fairy was real and I remember trying to con her one year after I found half a chewed peanut that looked remarkably like a tooth. Surprisingly, it didn’t work. When the Ice Cream man came down our street we’d all run out in our socks to get one of those screwballs (Ice cream with a bubble gum at the bottom)…running around in your socks was extremely common in the 80s and 90s.

Jump forward to today and we’ll see how ‘unique’ we actually are. I have become infinitely more irritable than I ever thought possible since I’ve been a member of Facebook. Consequently, I have probably unfollowed about 85% of my friends list on the book. Now, before I go on, let me say that if you’re a Facebook friend of mine, I definitely don’t do this with you (promise). Also, I’m very much aware of how much of a narky fecker I’m about to look here but I bet you that you’re going to be just as guilty!

When I see someone checking in to the airport I usually unfollow them – for the duration of their holiday anyway – simply because I’m not sure I can cope with the pictures of the beach knees, cocktails and beautiful sunsets. If I see ya sharing something like “Facebook will be charging from next week…it says so on Channel 13 news”, then there’s a good chance that I will never see any of your future Facebook updates again. I recently saw a list of all the people that I have recently unfollowed and I felt quite bad, so I started to follow them again, only to quickly be reminded of why I unfollowed them in the first place.

When I get a phone call in a public place, that I have no intention of answering, I’ll sometimes look around me to make sure that the person is not watching me from across John Robert Square and then gets to witness me seeing their name and choosing not to answer. As narky and as unsociable as I am making myself look, I’ll actually go out of my way to help someone and not have them think that I’m rude or stuck up.

Do you ever see someone you know on the street but they don’t see you, and you decide not to stop and say hello because you’re really just not in the mood for a chat? No, me neither, I’d never be that rude. Do you throw a napkin over the dinner that you’re embarrassed about not finishing? Do you laugh at the naivety of “private numbers” thinking that you’re ever going to answer the phone to them? Do you ever feel tempted to leave that thing at the bottom of the trolley that you know the check-out person didn’t see?

Are you currently thinking that I’m, frankly, a horrible person? It’s okay, because you are too.

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Changes needed to beat the scum

A FEW months ago, I watched ‘Little Boy Blue’ and it was excruciatingly tough viewing. To watch a child die so needlessly is tough for anyone but when you have children yourself, it’s 100 times worse.

The pain inflicted on the family is all too easy to imagine but impossible to fathom. The tears shed for Rhys Jones and his family are shared by the tears that imagine something like that happening to your own family. As I said, it was tough viewing.

It was also difficult to watch the carryon of the killer and his accomplices. There are people like this in every village, town and city in the world. When I was a child, they were popularly known as “hard men” but nowadays we just refer to them as scum bags. They don’t care about anyone or anything, and this is why they are so frightening. In polite, law abiding society, we behave like decent people because that’s how we were brought up. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself has always been the golden rule.

For decent people, the idea of a guard knocking on your door is a horrific one. Your heart would palpitate and a million different scenarios would play out in your mind. A Garda station, if you ever had the misfortune of being in one, would be a scary and intimidating place. For these people, without an obvious care in the world, the sight of a guard at the door, or a room in a Garda Station doesn’t faze them one bit. This is what makes them frightening.

We see these people in our courtrooms week in and week out. Fifty previous convictions, sixty…seventy…one hundred. Each time, their solicitor, who is almost always paid for by us, will tell the judge about how they had a tough upbringing and how they’re ‘going to get help for their multitude of issues’. More often than not, they’re bailed and walk out of court under conditions that they have no intention of ever upholding.

For example, in Waterford City today, there is a heroin addict who – if you visit the city centre on a semi-regular basis – has probably asked you for a euro at one time or another. He’s in his early 20s and is currently awaiting trial for robbery and threatening someone with a needle. Part of his bail conditions specify that he should stay away from the city centre, and yet, he’s here every day. Another part of his bail conditions is that he has to sign on in the Garda Station every day. Do you see the problem here? If a guard stops him and asks him why he’s in the city centre, he’ll just respond that he’s on his way to sign on in the station, which is of course located in the city. There’s something amiss here.

A serious reform of our judicial system is needed. Solicitors representing these scumbags are making hundreds of thousands a year. I’ve said it before, and yes, I’ll say it again, there needs to be a strikes system brought into place with crime. Three category A crimes (serious crimes should as assault, armed robbery etc) and you’re out…no more legal aid for you. Everyone has the right to a defence (so I’m told) but I believe that you forgo that right when you repeatedly commit crimes. As I said before, they have no fear, and this is why they break the law so often. They know that they will be arrested and interrogated, and this doesn’t hold the same level of fear that it would do for you and I. They know they’ll have a day in court, they’ll know they’ll have a solicitor speaking on their behalf, and they know they’ll be back on the streets in no time.

The most dangerous person in the world is the one that does not fear the repercussions of their actions. Ireland and the UK have similar judicial systems and subsequently have the same level of crime and anti-social behavioural problems – are they ever going to wake up and smell the coffee?

Another problem with our judicial system is that it’s too bloody slow. Many solicitors are paid by the hour so they don’t care if a case is adjourned four and five times, and that’s usually what happens. I don’t know enough about the system to come up with a way of speeding it up, but I’m sure the judges and solicitors would agree with me that the snail’s pace that it currently moves at is not good enough.

Another issue that’s not spoken about enough is how the judicial systems sucks our gardaí off the streets. I was in the District Court last week and there were 22 guards out there for most of the day. While I was out there, many of them weren’t actually needed and I’m sure they would have preferred to be somewhere else. It’s a well-known fact that the Gardaí are understaffed and here they are, hanging around in a courtroom when they could be patrolling our streets or responding to emergency calls.

This is the kind of stuff that is not talked about until it’s too late. We won’t talk about the chap with 66 convictions until his 67th one repulses the nation. We won’t talk about the 22 guards held up in the District Court until there’s a serious incident that the guards don’t respond to on time.

I know it’s easy for me to hammer away at a keyboard, moaning away about everything that’s wrong with our judicial system, but it is something I feel strongly about. The type of scumbags that shot Rhys Jones are cocky and fearless because they are being pursued by a toothless defender. I can’t get away from the idea that the family of Rhys Jones, as well as having to sit in court and watch the disrespectful behaviour of their son’s killers, also – through their taxes – paid for the barristers that defended the scum.

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This is why we can’t have nice things

This column was first printed in the Waterford News & Star on March 28 – a week after news of the North Quays development broke.

Photo by Colin Shanahan – DigiCol Photography & Media Productions (c) 2017 – http://www.digicolphotography.com

IT’S been an interesting and very enlightening week. I’ve always believed that Waterford has a dangerously large inferiority complex but it wasn’t until these past few days that I received absolute confirmation of it.

You’ll know by now that a Saudi Arabian group are planning to invest in Waterford – on the North Quays and on the Michael Street development. This is something that has been in negotiations for the past six months and is going to catapult our city into the economic stratosphere. Before I talk a little bit about the small mindedness that seems to be pandemic in Waterford, I want to briefly discuss what I believe this development will do for us.

Waterford has a brilliant location on the south east coast of Ireland. It should be one of the richest counties in the country due to its proximity to ports, beaches etc but somehow it’s not. Somehow, when the squeeze was applied, we felt the most pain.

I believe that a county grows from its city out and you don’t need me to tell you that Waterford City has been a wounded animal in recent years. Someone from a national tabloid rang me this week and proceeded to tell me how Waterford was dead and how this investment could revive it. I stopped them in their tracks and said that yes, we were knocked down, but we weren’t out. This seemed to be the buzz angle with other nationals, such as the Irish Times and Newstalk – paint a picture of Lazarus and go from there. They even went as far as showing some buildings that were shut down. Except they couldn’t even do that properly and decided to post a picture of Ginos instead, on which was probably taken at about nine in the morning (Ginos is very much open and thriving). Even when good things are happening, they still have to beat us down.

A rising tide lifts all boats and that’s exactly how I see Waterford’s future. Someone said to me this week, ‘this is the biggest thing to happen to Waterford in 800 years’, and I agree wholeheartedly.

I’m not going to say if…I’m going to say ‘when’. WHEN the Michael Street Development and the North Quays site are completed you are going to have some of the biggest names in retail operating from Waterford. We will instantly become a destination city for over almost two million people within 50 or 60 miles of us. You know that old expression that your nanny used to say – ‘money follows money’? That’s bang on and it’s exactly what will happen here. Waterford will be buzzing and it will attract other investors who want to get in on the action. Offices will pop up, a housing surge will commence and suddenly Waterford’s population will swell.

With the increase in populace, commerce and industry, there will be no option but to invest in our Airport with a major runway extension. Waterford will be like that English soccer club (Man City and Chelsea) that were languishing at the bottom of the table until Middle Eastern money came in to save the day. WIT will become University College Waterford and suddenly a conveyor belt of professionals will feed the city with knowledge, expertise and invaluable knowhow.

The nurses and doctors won’t be in such a rush to travel abroad because UHW will get urgent investment, including of course, the essential second cath lab.

This may all seem like pie in the sky stuff but I’m just saying what everyone else, including our highest ranking officials, are thinking but are afraid to actually utter the words.

We will, probably in 2020, have a complete city. John Street and Apple Market will have some fantastic bars and restaurants with outside seating on a beautiful, enclosed public realm. The Michael Street Shopping Centre will be a vibrant hub – full of people from the Dunmore Road who currently wouldn’t be seen dead in the city centre. Walking along Michael Street – with more great shops, we’ll then come to the likes of the newly relocated Tony Roches and of course City Square, which will be hugely improved from its current state with international retailers such as (possibly) H&M.

Wetherspoons will be open on Broad Street, as will Walsh’s and T&H Doolans. John Roberts Square will be buzzing. Keep walking down Barronstrand Street, cross the road and step on to the new pedestrian bridge which will bring you to the North Quays and a whole new world. None of this, I assure you, is farfetched.

Why then, when the Waterford News & Star broke the news of this development, did so few people believe it, and then so many more attack it?

Too many people have this opinion that everywhere else is better than Waterford. “I was up in Kilkenny last week and it was buzzing…twenty times busier than Waterford.” Rubbish. You don’t go out in Waterford, you barely leave your house, and you had cause to go to a Hen Night in Kilkenny and you suddenly assumed that they were great and we were not. Yes, we were bruised and beaten when the recession hit but we were resilient and we dared to believe in better.

“Sure why on Earth would they come to Waterford?” Because the powers that be, working hard behind the scenes, made us look attractive and stuck us on a shelf. We have a brilliant urban realm taking shape and a stunning Greenway that opened last Saturday. Add to that, the fact that you had a prime retail location with planning already approved and a 17 acre site that the Government had labelled a priority for a strategic development. It wouldn’t be too dissimilar from moving into a fully furnished home.

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people will try and find negative in it. Sometimes I feel that certain people will never be happy unless everyone else is as miserable as they are. This is massive, and above all, it’s massively positive. Instead of trying to pick holes in it and sounding like a complete idiot in the process, why not just think about how sickened Kilkenny will be about the whole thing!

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Remembering the Regina

The foyer of the Regina Cinema (Photo by Tommy Deegan)

Column originally published in the Waterford News & Star June 2014

OF all the buildings in Waterford that are no longer in use, I think the one that I miss the most is the old cinema on Patrick Street. I saw a picture of the old Regina on Facebook last week and it dragged up a heap of memories that I thought had been buried forever. I then took it upon myself to do some digging of my own and crossed my fingers that an old proprietor of the cinema might want to share some memories and possibly images of the place with us. Unfortunately, he didn’t, so that was the end of that.  Nevertheless, I’m going to share some of my own personal memories of the place, and if you feel so compelled, you can do the same in the comments below.

Being from the Cork Road, my Regina experience would begin with a dash around Dunphy’s, filling my little plastic bag with as much junk as I could find. People coming from other directions might have chosen to buy their goodies from O’Brien’s shop on Stephen Street. Back in those days it wasn’t frowned upon to walk into a cinema with a plastic bag full of super-cans, 100 penny jellies, a He-Man bar and a packet of wheelies.

On entering the Regina, you would first be met by a massive foyer that would probably be considered a waste of space in today’s ruthless times. Back then however it was an Art Gallery, exhibiting all of the magnificent movie posters of the time. From there you would move on to the positively tiny shop where you could buy your popcorn and wine gums. Unlike today’s cinema shops, the Regina didn’t require the deeds of your house before purchasing their delicious treats. You would then pick up your old fashioned ticket stub and be told which cinema your film would be showing in. Now, this is where my memory gets a little hazy. If you walked to the left, I think you would find Cinema 3. There was a big corridor running alongside it that was filled with couches for some reason. Am I wrong about this? This was the strangest part of the whole cinema and could definitely be considered a waste of space – you could have easily put a bowling alley down there. Regardless, it was a part of the Regina, so it was fine by me. According to the ad that you can see on this page, which was printed in a 1988 copy of The News & Star, there were only 3 screens. The other two were upstairs, the 2nd screen on the 2nd floor and screen 1 on the top floor.

I can remember seeing films like Superman VI and Neverending Story on the top floor, and my main memory of it was that it was absolutely humongous. As you walked in the door of screen 1 there was a long walkway to your left, which led to the men’s toilets I believe. It was quite a clever design though, because it allowed you to look down on all the seats in order to find a vacant one, instead of having to stand in front of 200 people with a gormless head on ya, like you have to do in today’s cinemas.

One of the screens had a huge landfill in front of it. This is a memory that is indeed sketchy but I’m convinced of it, despite never hearing anybody else talking about it. There was a ledge, and a big drop, which was obviously filled with old popcorn cartons etc. Absolutely legendary. Before each film started we were treated to a load of blobs floating across the screen. Anyone else remember this? It was probably some by-product of the traditional projectors but it was extremely trippy, and very much part of the Regina experience.

What say you Deise reader?

 

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