The Unthinkable

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IT’S a beautiful sunny day, the kind of weather that makes you regret your choice of clothing this morning. You stood at the front door earlier on looking at the fog in the sky, not quite knowing if it was going to turn to heat or rain. Let’s face it, the weather man has basically been guestimating all summer.

You’re in City Square and for the first time in your life, you brought a shopping list. There are six very specific things on it. “Do not dilly-dally” you tell yourself. “You have three precious hours away from the little ones and you’re determined to get everything done.”

First thing on the list is dishwasher tablets so you make your way towards Dunnes. It’s midday on a Friday afternoon and the sun is shining through every aperture of City Square. The place is packed. Waterford is looking and feeling especially good.

You haven’t been in Dunnes in a while as ALDI is usually your spot so it takes you a while to find the tablets. You find yourself walking through the aisles in a bit of a daze because suddenly you’re thinking about whether or not you plugged out the iron this morning. You almost bump into an old lady – you’re not paying attention – but as you instinctively say sorry, you get a snap shot in your head of the plug hanging over the side of the ironing board. You plugged it out…all is good again…and you found the dishwasher tablets.

Next up is Porters. Wait, it’s not called Porters anymore is it…Cards n Things. You need to get two cards for two birthdays that are coming up. Just next door…you’re well ahead of schedule. As you peruse the cards, amazed at how Hallmark can get away with charging so much, your mind starts to wander again. What is it with you lately, you can’t seem to keep your concentration on anything except baby bottles, baby clothes and baby not sleeping. You start reading the verse of one of the cards let out a cynical sigh. And then you jump.

It happened involuntarily. Your body jerked before your ears even heard the sound. It was a loud popping sound followed by a piercing scream. You look over at a woman who was standing behind you, she’s looking at you nervously, just as confused as to what just happened. Looking over the shop you see the staff looking very confused, but not scared. This is good. If they’re not scared then something has happened that they’re used to. You don’t get into town anymore so this is probably normal for Waterford these days. And then you see the image that, if you make it that far, you will remember for the rest of your life. There’s a man, dressed from head to toe in black and he has just walked passed the shop, in the direction of Dunnes. He has a gun and he’s shooting at everyone and anyone that he sees. The woman who was behind you has jumped to the ground and she’s now hysterically crying…something that you should be doing. You cry at everything…why are you not crying now?

You crouch down and begin to make your way passed the newspapers, to the front of the shop. You see the man is outside of Dunnes now and is about to make his way in. “Oh God…those poor people,” you think. This is Waterford. This is City Square. Nothing exciting happens here…why is this happening?

There’s a pram sitting on its own outside ‘Jump’ the smoothie bar. You can’t see if there’s a baby in it but you immediately think of your own child, thankfully at home with his grandparents. You creep a bit closer to the edge of the shop, leaning behind a display with a lot of books on top. There are about 5-6 bodies laying motionless on the ground…blood starting to pool around them. After a few moments you hear a manager shouting at you. He’s agitated…as if he has been shouting for longer than you could hear him. He’s telling you to follow them out to the back store…you take one final look at the pram and then do as your told. Within minutes, you are standing in a storeroom, now locked from the inside. From outside you can hear more popping sounds and less screams than before. The unthinkable has happened.

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I wanted to write this piece, not for gratuitous reasons, but to put you into a situation that you’ll surely never have to experience. The odds of it happening to us are millions to one. However, all of the victims of these mass shootings thought that it would never happen to them either. The people of Nice, Tunisia, so many states in America. They were in the towns and cities that they knew and loved so much and suddenly they became the scene of nightmares. Mass murder, military coups, racism on a scale that we never thought possible. Does it feel like the world’s clock is ticking faster than it ever has before? Does it make you want to embrace the life that you have in Waterford right now and appreciate every little thing that happens to you from the moment you wake until the moment you have that last cup of tea at night?

I think we need to spread smiles, laughter and positivity everywhere we go in the hope that it spreads faster than smallpox. Go out this weekend and savor every minute of the Spraoi Festival, which at its heart, celebrates everything that is weird and wonderful about the human condition.

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Some holiday do’s and don’ts

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THIS is not travel writing. This is not advice that is going to save your life or save you money. However, I’m just back from holidays and I don’t have anything better to write about just yet. If you have hols coming up, this might be a practical and hopefully funny guide, which will make you look forward to that trip even more. If you have no holidays planned this year, or like me, they’re done and dusted, then I’m genuinely sorry for your troubles.

DO – Research your trip

Trip Advisor is the cause of many a sleepless night for restauranteurs, but for the rest of us it’s an essential tool. Once I knew the hotel I was going to be staying at, I had it researched like something out of the Bourne Identity. Other travellers advised to email ahead and try to get a pool view from your room. I did just that and thankfully we had a beautiful view of the pools and eh…all that goes with that. I also had the foresight to pay a €3 deposit and get a spare key for my room from reception. The reason being is that the key in many hotels now also acts as the trip for the electricity. When you’re on holidays, especially with kids, you need to make sure that the various phones and gadgets are charged to within an inch of their lives. If you have only one key, you won’t be able to charge things when you’re not in the room. Clever eh? Just a little bit.

Don’t – Go all inclusive

This sounds like a great idea – free food and drinks all day at your hotel. You get a little pink bracelet if you’re all-inclusive, which tells the staff that you’re a member of the exclusive free-team. For whatever reason, Irish people seem to be the only nationalities that turn their noses at all-inclusiveness, so much so that you can tell that someone is from the home country by their lack of wrist pinkness. My issue with all-inclusiveness is simple, when you have free food and drink in one place, you won’t want to go anywhere else. “Sure we have free drinks here, why would we want to go anywhere else?” I heard that on more than one occasion. Resorts are full of fantastic restaurants so it makes zero sense to my why you’d want to eat buffet food in a prison setting every night of your holiday. It also means that you have to endure the horrendous “entertainment” laid on every night in the hotels…mini-discos…cabarets…”magic” acts… The flip side of course is that I didn’t want to spend a single night in the hotel because why the hell should I pay for a drink when all the Brits are getting theirs for free.

Do – Book local

Once again we booked our holiday through Harvey Travel, which was almost identical in price to what it would have cost online. If anything goes wrong, you get on the blower to Ian Manto and he sorts it out for you (or whoever the equivalent is at another local tourist office – others are available!). When Ian heard that our shuttle bus stopped at every holiday in Mallorca before it got to ours, he made sure we had a direct transfer for the journey home. It’s little touches like that, which ensure that I’ll always shop local!

Don’t – get too attached to the same bar

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t spend your holiday in an Irish bar – sure don’t we have enough of them here? I’ve only seen the value of them when there’s a Waterford Hurling match on as I don’t like the idea of spending too long in a place that reminds me of home. We were snookered on our holiday for two reasons, both relating to my five-year old daughter. One – we found a pub that had nightly appearances by Peppa Pig and a heap of kid’s games. It’s great to keep the children entertained by Lord only knows how the staff of these pubs stay sane – the exact same songs and the exact same games every night. Whatever about the staff, I wanted to strangle the pink piece of pork after day two. The next problem is Ellie wanting to stay with her new friends in the hotel every other night. Because the entertainment is so bad there, and everyone else is getting their drinks for free, I recommend not allowing your child make any friends while on holiday!

Do – get a new smell

You’re going to laugh at the cheesiness of this one but I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager, and I love it! When you go on holidays, you should get a new shower gel, one that you don’t ever use in Waterford but is readily available. Use it on your hols – you know those showers you have at the end of a hard day’s lounging by the pool, right before you head out to yet another restaurant and pub. Then, when you come home from your holidays, pick up that shower gel from the shop and start using it. Research from more intelligent people than me states that memories are very strongly associated with smells so when you use the gel again you’ll be transported back to the happy and carefree days of that hotel shower and all the happy thoughts you had in it. As I said…cheesy but effective!

So there you go, my holidays are done now for another year at least and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of reliving them and hopefully enriching yours, whenever you get to go on one!

 

 

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Another protest, another waste of time

There’s another Water Protest on today and as well intention as the protestors will be, I’m afraid it’s going to be a waste of time and simply an excuse for the main anti-water politicians to canvas for your vote.

In 2012 Waterford staged it’s biggest ever public protest in an attempt to save its Hospital. Over three years later, the hospital is in the worst condition that its ever been in. The Government does not pay attention to public protests and that that should have been a painful lesson for all.

Today is an election canvas for the anti-water politicians and nothing more. The government does not listen to its people, so alternative methods are needed.

I haven’t registered with Irish Water and I obviously haven’t given them a cent. The recent Seanad vote to take the bills from wages and social welfare is going to be a disaster for this government and whatever government comes next. As soon as the money is taken from people, crime will inevitably rise, as will homelessness and inevitably suicide. This is nazi type stuff.

As much as I agree with the intentions of the posters, – and the election candidates that will join them – today, I don’t agree with the method. It hasn’t worked before and it’s not going to work today either.

I posted this 2 years ago, and it’s worth reading again:

Irish Water: a synopsis so far.
Ireland goes bankrupt and the Troika calls for more taxes.
Water meters are decided upon and a plan to build Irish Water are hatched.
Siemens, a company with massive resources and know-how in this area – and also with a massive installed base in the UK – offer to install the meters for free.
Phil Hogan declines Siemens’ offer – no answer as to why he decided this was ever forthcoming – “just, no – we have an Irish solution to this”
Both Siemens and industry analysts are baffled as to why a state would go for a far more expensive solution.
Denis O Brien, the man accused by a High Court Judge to have “beyond all doubt” bribed a FG government to gain control of a a state asset (Esat)- and to have subsequently made hundreds of millions by selling same – “purchases” a company called Siteserv which specialises in the installation of water meters.
This is about a year before the water meter tender.
Now, numerous European companies also wanted to buy Siteserv and offered way more money for the company (which then owed €100 million to Anglo Irish Bank and was completely insolvent).
The Irish Government (weirdly again FG) – (or actually you, Mr(s). Irish Taxpayer) gave the company to Denis O Brien with the €100 million owed to Anglo (now state owned – i.e. by you) written off. It’s not written off for you, the taxpayer – you still pay it – it’s just that Denis doesn’t, got it?
Some gamble for Denis to buy a company with €100 million written off and with no guarantee of a lucrative water meter contract.
A business in an area where he has no previous experience or competence.
Siteserv subsequently bids in the EU tendering process and, lo and behold, wins. The contract is for hundreds of millions of Euros.
Now, enter Irish Water.
The CEO of which used to be the financial officer of an organisation which spent €100 million of Irish taxpayer’s money on the, according to the EU, illegal process to build an incinerator in Dublin.
No incinerator was ever built or will ever be built but €100 million, again of your money, is gone – and John is now the CEO of Irish Water.
No minutes of meetings – which spent €100 million of your money were ever recorded – the money is just gone.
John then installs his homeboys and homegirls from the Poolbeg project to Irish Water – citing the abysmal salaries at Irish Water as the reason why nobody else would apply for these jobs.
People who were direct beneficiaries of the illegal Poolbegl scam are now newly fledged semi-state employees.
Paid for by you, the taxpayer – again.
Okay?
The biggest langer in this solar system is the Irish taxpayer.
This is just the latest episode of the calamity that is Ireland Inc.
We haven’t a fcuking chance – no matter who we vote for.
But, we’re great craic.
Heh heh heh
I wish we could all agree, en masse to not give them a penny.

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A diary of a scumbag

This week’s column is based on real events that happened right here in Waterford over the Christmas time. It’s a composite of a number of separate incidents, used to create one hugely frustrating insight into the life of a parasite.

“John” walked the neighbourhood for second time that week. He brought the dog this time to dispel any possible suspicion. As he turned in a cul de sac he took a quick glance at the hedge that he would watch the neighbourhood from the next night. He was no criminal genius, after all, he had already spent 10 years of his life as a drug addict. The six months or so that he had been clean had been spent organising crimes as opposed to just targeting random people on the street. He didn’t mind doing that too though, whenever the opportunity presented itself. His previous criminal record currently stood at 18 – mostly theft offences with a couple of public order charges in there for good measure. Today was December 20, a busy few days ahead for everyone, but especially him.

John usually worked with an accomplice but tonight, as he sat in the hedge dressed all in black, he was glad that he was working alone. He didn’t have any particular houses in mind, the plan was to wait until a family left and then he would make his move. At 7pm a young family with one child left the house and locked the front door. They packed their little one into the back seat and then drove off. John took a quick look around to see that there was nobody else on the street and made his way toward the house.

There was a dog barking from the side of the house – always an inconvenience, mainly because of the barking. John knew though, dogs that were kept outside in the back garden were always appreciative of being left out. He opened the gate and let the dog run free around the neighbourhood, meaning he could investigate the house, free from all that annoying yelping. Thank God they didn’t have a padlock on the back gate, he thought to himself.

Using a chisel and a hammer, John attempted to remove the lock off the side door. If that didn’t work he knew he had a patio door, which he could just smash. Luckily for him, the lock came off relatively easy and he was able to open the door with a couple of hard shoves. No beeps upon entry, no alarm system, his second piece of luck.

John made his way to the sitting room where he saw 10-12 presents wrapped under the tree – jackpot number one! He took a black sack from under the kitchen sink and opened all the presents one by one. An expensive looking jacket, a toiletries set, a kid’s toy…they were all worth taking because he could either sell them on or keep them for himself.

He had another quick look around before moving upstairs. First, into the master bedroom, where he pulled out all of the drawers in the hope of finding some jewellery. From the man’s side of the wardrobe he just grabbed a handful of suits and threw them into the sack. On the dresser he cupped his arm and just shoved it all into the bag. Not for a second did he think about what he was doing. “I’m invading someone’s privacy in the worst possible way…but it’s okay, because I’m stuck for money right now and these people have loads.”

Then, John made his way into the bedroom of a four year old. Knowing that he was walking into a child’s bedroom and knowing that he had already stolen some of her presents from downstairs, this was no bother to him. At first it didn’t look like she had anything worth taking, until he spotted a money box on her windowsill. Without a second thought, he opened it and emptied the contents into the bag. “A lot for a child,” he thought to himself. Before leaving the house he pulled out a few more drawers and ran his grubby fingers through more of this family’s possessions. As he left the estate, he mimed a kick in the direction of the dog that he had just let out. The family would return home later that night to a scene of devastation. Christmas ruined, all because one person thought he had the right to invade someone’s home and take the possessions that they worked hard for. John doesn’t have a job and that’s the way he likes it. These, hardworking people are paying John’s wages and if he ever gets caught, they’ll be paying for his legal representative as well.

If John is caught – and that’s a mighty big IF – he’ll go to District Court and because he’s not working, he’ll be granted free legal aid. His solicitor will then tell the judge that his client has a very tough upbringing and there was a history of alcoholism and abuse in the family. “He’s battling addiction at the moment judge but he has been clean of heroin for six months now. He carried out these crimes whilst under the influence of drink and some pain medication for a prolonged leg injury. He has told me that he deeply regrets what he has done and knows that he must be punished.”

The judge, taking note of the 18 previous convictions, sentences him to two years but suspends them pending a report from the probation service. He’s released on a very small cash bond. John leaves the court with his girlfriend, herself a girl of ten previous convictions, some for robbery, some for assault, both laughing at the fact that he has ruined another Christmas and gone total unpunished.

Welcome to Ireland in 2016.

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A very Deise Christmas

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This piece originally appeared in the Waterford News & Star Christmas Supplement 2015

T’WAS the night before Christmas and not a creature was stirring, except for the drunk dressed in a Santa suit walking up and down Clarke Road….ringing a bell. The seven year old me, hugged the curtains, convinced that this was the man himself – sure who else would be crazy enough to be up at this hour on Christmas Eve?

Back then, nobody under the age of 14 slept much on Christmas Eve. Nowadays I hear parents telling stories of having to wake their kids at 8am on Christmas morning. What’s wrong with them? When I was ten, there was wrapping paper all over the floor, I was in my new pyjamas playing nintendo, the fry was on in the kitchen and I was eating a curly wurly from a selection box. This is the most magical morning of the entire year, do these kids not know that yet?

I remember lying in bed staring at a clock that moved with little urgency. I’d toss and turn and do my best to close my eyes. When I thought I’d fallen asleep for a bit, I’d open them again and see the clock, only ten minutes older than the last time I looked. The longest night of the year, but sure it has to be, so Santa can complete the most important of missions.

Christmas in Waterford has changed a lot down the years and with Winterval’s help, it has never looked better. When I was growing up, George’s Court actually played a massive part in the run up to Christmas. First off, the Tree was located there and many of the schools in Waterford used to contribute to its decorations. Teleport Computers was also in there and I can remember buying my games for the Commodore 64 in ‘Teleport’. If I remember correctly, they cost around £4.49 and 9/10 times, they were s**t.

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The jewel in the Nile though…the feather in the George’s Court cap was of course Fitzmaurice’s. I don’t think there’s a shop like it anywhere on the planet anymore. It was located where Boots is now, although it surely must have been bigger. They had everything – sweets, crisps, books, magazines, toys, board games, models, bikes, musical instruments… Do you know the way you have a memory of something, but it’s just a snapshot? I have a memory of picking up the board game Cluedo from Fitzmaurice’s and I remember buying a Styrofoam aero plane for 30p. I also remember buying a secret bar…I don’t think you can get those anymore. Long live Fitzmaurice’s, it will always survive in the hearts and minds of the Deise.

Staying in that part of town, Shaws was also high on the festive hit-list. No disrespect to Shaws as it is now – I know it has its fans and the window displays are always top notch – but like everything else, it seemed so much better in the 80s and 90s. For starters, has any man reading this been upstairs in Shaw recently? I know I haven’t scaled that famous escalator in at least a decade. I remember it used to have a cafe where we’d all go for a big gravy covered dinner whilst taking a break from the Christmas shopping (you know what that looks like – awkward shaped bags with rolls of wrapping paper sticking out the top). There was also a music shop up there where I distinctly remember buying a Madness LP around about 1988. Upstairs at Shaws had loads going for it, and of course, during the month of December it was the only place to get your photo taken with Santa Claus. Such was the legend of the Shaws Santa that just about every household in Waterford has a photograph of kids on Santy’s knee, a big sign behind him with the year, and a big washing basket full of pound shop presents. Sure they were simple times…

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You know that little shop in John Robert’s Square – just next door to the Book Centre – that’s been home to a different business every year since about 1998? When I was of the Santa age and I didn’t have any money to speak of but still wanted to buy people presents – this was the shop that I visited. Pound shops in those days were tiny, nothing like your Dealz and co that we have now, but you could pick up the best kind of crap. Once I stuck some wrapping paper around said crap, they became thoughtful Christmas presents. Speaking of crap Christmas presents, every year, without fail, my father asked for shaving foam and disposable razors. That suited us all down to the ground until the Mach Three came on the scene and razors increased 800% in price.

Remember all those shops like RTV and Thorn EMI where all the broke people of the Waterford Crystal strikes (and everywhere else of course) could get their Christmas presents and then pay them off weekly. There was a similar system upstairs in the KK (Knick Knack) Discount Store. Popular presents from these shops were Hi-Fi Systems…especially the ones in the big glass cabinet. It had a record player on top, an FM tuner, a double cassette deck (so you could record from another tape, a record, or off the radio (this was technology gone mad). If you bought it in the 90s there was a good chance that there was a CD player in there as well. God bless the lads in RTV and Thorn EMI, I’m sure they saved many a Christmas.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the City Centre is not as vibrant as those days when John Robert’s was just an architect and Red Square was the most famous triangle in Waterford. Cars could drive down Michael Street, they were still digging up Vikings from beneath City Square and Johnny Lyons was selling windmills outside Dunnes. There were more people in the town and everyone wasn’t as obsessed with Penneys, because Darrers was just as good. I’m not saying it was infinitely better 25 years ago but it definitely had more character. The multinationals are taking over now, and I don’t think that can be good for Waterford.

Still…that feeling of the night closing in, the bright Christmas lights emerging and the smell from Burgerland lingering in the air…I can still feel it. Christmas Eve and we’re weighed down with bags from Cassidy’s, Shaws, Darrers, Dunnes and Route 66. All that’s left is to go home, wrap them, and stick ‘em under the tree.

Christmas Eves on the Cork Road were magical and that was down to one thing and one thing only – Mammy Skelton. It’s half the battle if you have a mammy that loves and respects tradition. Every year on Christmas Eve we’d have a new mat in the sitting room (don’t ask me why, Santa was obviously going to destroy the thing when he came down the chimney), we all had new PJs and slippers, there was a glorious smell of ham in the air and a dessert with a trifle bit too much alcohol inside. Santa was talking to children from Lismore Park on WLR and the father would come home with some snack boxes from “The Kentucky” (K-Recipe Chicken). The grandmother would ring and we’d tell her one last time what we were getting for Christmas, and then she’d tell us to make sure we got to bed nice and early. And that’s what we did. Santa was about to come…or a drunken eejit on his way home from Shefflins ringing a bell.

When we think about the businesses that meant so much to us growing up we tend to forget about the people behind them. I hope, when we give them a little mention from time to time, that they smile and know that all their efforts actually meant something to someone. Finns, The KK Discount Store, Sherwoods, Kavanaghs, Wyleys, The Wimpy, Darrers, Sinnotts, Roches Stores, Wrights, Woolworths, Beefy King…and many many more. Thanks for the memories…and Happy Christmas!

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Time to get real

TWO of our Fine Gael TDs are in public disagreement about where our future economic priorities should lie. John Deasy believes that we should be putting all our efforts into securing the Michael Street Shopping Centre while Paudie Coffey believes that a redevelopment of the North Quays should be top of the list.

The North Quays situation scares me to be honest. The first attempt at demolishing the buildings became quite farcical after it was subject to more false starts than a Grand National. There was a delay, and then there was another delay and then there was a finalised date. That date came and went. Then there was another delay and when they finally said that they were ready to go there was a big photo shoot and front page headlines praised the coming of Demolition Day. And then it was cancelled indefinitely and the powers that be sheepishly started the whole process again.

This is not what worries me though, what worries me is what we’ll be faced with once it’s demolished. I’m going on record now and saying that when those buildings eventually crumble to the ground everyone will say that they miss them. The rubble, which is going to be left on site in neat bundles, will be a far more horrible sight than the silos and old buildings ever where. Imagine having to stare at them across the river every day?

Let’s be straight about this now, we don’t have the money to develop the North Quays and we also don’t have the money for the Michael Street Shopping Centre. Everything that is even remotely ambitious in Waterford right now is “pending the successful acquisition of funding”. There is no guarantee that we will ever have the money but what is guaranteed is that in the meantime, the rubble on the North Quays will stare back at us in frustration, just like those empty buildings around Michael Street. Looking into my Crystal Ball now I can see people tearing strips off the Council for demolishing the Quays without having a proper plan in place to replace them.

This is not speculation by the way. When the Quays do come down, there is no concrete (excuse the pun) plan for what happens next. We WILL be forced to stare at the rubble for possibly many years to come and there will be uproar – and rightfully so.

Personally, I don’t think we should be demolishing anything until the funding has been secured for the next generation of the North Warf. Let’s give an artist a couple of grand to paint the silos into funny characters and rockets and things like that – give us something fun and colourful to look at. Make the buildings more attractive to the eye and then, when the cash is in the bank, knock seven shades of s**t out of them.

If, and it’s a big IF, the buildings come down in 2016, then we need to look at the idea of some kind of pop-up village. I don’t care what we put over there, but do something! And we clearly can’t afford a footbridge across the suir so what about a ferry leaving every half hour? I don’t think these are radical ideas….do you?

This is a very critical time for Waterford. In the last few years we have been bullied by the current government. This is not an exaggeration by the way – I genuinely believe that certain things that have happened to our county since Fine Gael and Labour came into power have been downright malicious. This has made it harder for our representatives – who have had to endure unparalleled levels of abuse – to fight for their home county. They could probably have done better for us but I, possibly foolishly, have always believed that their hearts were in the right place.

Now, more than ever, we need to look after ourselves. This will divide opinion, but does anyone else think that we are a bit precious about certain parts of our history? The Viking Triangle is lovely, as are all of our city walls and museums, but is there any justification for preserving every bit of wall and door that’s older than the hills? The lads in T&H’s have been given an awful time whilst trying to ready the pub for a new era. It’s been close to a year since they bought it and they are no closer to opening it because of all the delays that have been forced on them due to pedantic preciousness.

A local businessman, with backing from money men in America, had a big plan for the old John Hearn Hardware store on the Quay. They wanted to turn it into a bar/steakhouse, which I believed would have done a roaring trade on the quay and stretched the retail and hospitality offering of the city out a bit. They were put off by the amount of preservation protection on the building and the added money and work that it would cause and they subsequently took their bags of money elsewhere. I love our history as much as the next man but surely the future of our city is just as important – if not more important – than our past.

I have become a little bit obsessed with certain buildings in Waterford that are currently lying empty, and I want you to become obsessed with them too. The longer they remain empty, the more they become invisible to us and we just take it for granted that they will never live again. The Rugby Club on Parnell Street, the Ard Rí, all of the empty premises around the proposed Michael Street development that are waiting – depressed – to be put out of their misery. If, as I believe, the Michael Street Shopping Centre doesn’t happen for many, many years (if at all) does that mean we’re stuck with the empty and decomposing De La Salle Social Centre, the old WIT Arts building, and all the other buildings that will make way for our proposed economic saviour.

I’m not having a pop at our council for trying to do this by the way, in fact I think they should be applauded. However, I also think that they need a plan B, just in case their dreams do not become reality.

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A visit from a Jehovah Witness

LAST Friday, after a long week of work, I got an unusual knock upon my door. I say unusual because our house, although part of a housing estate, is a little bit off the beaten track. When someone is knocking on the door they’re usually looking to inspect my TV licence, collect some sponsorship money or help to reacquaint me with Jesus. On this particular day, it was the latter.

The man was friendly and softly spoken and I could accuse him of nothing more than being a gentleman. He was also a Jehovah Witness who had some literature that he wanted me to read. “Do you believe in God yourself?” he asked. “I don’t,” I replied. “I just don’t see the logic in him.”

The man, from south Dublin, nodded and said he understood, but I could sense that he wanted me to elaborate, which I did without hesitation. “If there is a God,” I said. “How can he allow young children to die of cancer? How can he let the most heinous creatures on the planet enjoy a long life but steal it from a young innocent child?” The man nodded in warm understanding but I wasn’t finished yet.

“If there is a God…and he allows these things to happen…then he is a nasty, horrible being that I would not like to be friends with,” I said. “I would prefer to just believe that he doesn’t exist.”

The man reached in his bag and took out a magazine called “Good news from God!” There was a chapter, which he drew my attention to, called “Why does God allow Evil and Suffering?” I let him read it. “For a limited time, Jehovah has allowed rebellion against his sovereignty. Why? To show that no effort to rule without him benefits people. After 6000 years of human history, the evidence is clear. Human rulers have failed to eliminate war, crime, injustice or disease. (Read Jeremiah 10:23; Romans 9:17.)”

For me, it felt like a moment I had been waiting for all my life, but that’s possibly overstating it a touch. I went and got one of my own books and did some reciting of my own. “Genesis 1:28: God encourages reproduction. Leviticus 12:1-8: “God requires purification rites following childbirth” which, in effect, makes childbirth a sin. Genesis 11:7-9: God sows discord. Proverbs 6:16-19: God hates anyone who sows discord.” And one more I said, (he was getting a little bit frustrated at this point) “Deuteronomy 23:1: A castrate may not enter the assembly of the Lord. Isaiah 56:4-5: Some castrates will receive special rewards.”

“Listen,” I said. “You seem like a really nice man, and I think that everyone is entitled to believe what they want, unless of course it leads to the harming or exasperating of others.” I told him that the bible was as reliable as The Sunday World and how can a religion be based upon so many inconsistencies.

He went on to tell me –in fairness to him- how he believed every word of the bible. “Even Noah’s Ark?” I asked in surprise. “Of course” he replied. Ah here. “So you believe that Noah led two of every creature onto an ark to escape a flood?” “I do” he said with absolute conviction. “Have you ever tried to get a cat, nevermind two cats, to do what they’re told,” I said. “They had the help of God he replied. It was a miracle.” And then he reminded me of something else I wanted to ask him.

“Why have the miracles suddenly dried up?” I asked. “What do you mean?” he replied. “Well,” I said. The bible is full of stories of Jesus and God doing miraculous things – there are burning bushes, parting seas, healed lepers and messiahs walking on water – why has it all just stopped?” “What do you mean?” he asked with a warm smile (he really was a lovely man). “Well,” I said again. “What’s the last miracle that you’ve witnessed?” “You and I standing here is a miracle, would you not agree?” “Well I wouldn’t to be honest, it’s not really going to make Sky News is it? What I’m asking you is why all the miracles just suddenly stopped, and of course why we only have evidence of them from a bible that seems to have been written by about 500 people, all with different ideas about who God was.” With all of his well-meaning and genuine niceness, he didn’t have an answer for me on that one.

When the lights go out at night and we are left in a room with only our thoughts to keep us company, I can understand how people need to feel that there is someone up there who is watching out for us and is concerned for our wellbeing. Human are vulnerable and fragile beings, and for many people, if they didn’t have a belief, they wouldn’t have anything. And I understand that. I also understand how the majority of people only turn to that belief when they are in trouble and strife. Is it possible that for many of us, our belief in a God is down to a fear of being alone and a very real fear of death?

I asked the Jehovah Witness if he thought that people took the time to really think about the existence of God. He told me that of course they do, to which I disagreed immediately. “They just accept that there’s a God because that’s what they have been brought up to do. It’s convenient and it’s beneficial. What’s not convenient is actually thinking about the logistics of God and Heaven and the Bible…and the Devil. When you really think about all that stuff…and then you think about the sick children, then I believe you will be face with a very real and inconvenient truth.

I left the Jehovah Witness with one final word. “According to the bible, Jesus said: Love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34 – I know the bible more than most believers!) – if we can all do that, then isn’t that all that matters?”

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