There are obvious difficulties in running. One is looking like a proper twit in the running gear. In my new running top, I look like a day-glo condom. I suppose if I were a man, I’d find it gratifying to know that at least I looked like the extra-large kind. Then there’s finding the time in your day for it. And the weather. When you fall as often as I do, you need to be particular about running on clear, dry surfaces.

But a key difficulty is motivation. It can be hard to get excited about. Puffing your way around interminable bypasses (inching ever closer to the coronary kind). Turning increasingly disturbing shades of purple as you haul yourself up a hill. Being lapped by octogenarian dog walkers. Why would you want to do that?

Here are some things I think would transform my relationship with running.

1. A cable car to get me up that deceptively steep hill near my house. Seriously, it’s just a small bit of infrastructure. Surely some frivolous hospital building project could be mothballed for a bit?
2. Roadside hammocks.
3. Roadside cappucinos.
4. Roadside defibrillators.
5. Roadside Robert Downey Jr shouting “you totally rock those curves, girlfriend.”
6. Robert Downey Jr shouting “wow, that bright yellow is totally doing it for me, you really can work that polyester.”
7. Knowing that Robert Downey Jr is at the finish line handing out bars of chocolate.
8. Knowing that anybody is at the finish line handing out bars of chocolate.
9. A seasoned triathlete puffing and panting as I overtake him and then begging me to slow down.

As much as I’d like to think otherwise, it’s fair to say that No. 9 is the most unlikely scenario in my case. The triathletes have nothing to fear. No ironman is ever going to quake at the sight of me running, or doing much else (except maybe advancing on the chocolate at the finish line). Sigh, I’ll have to settle for Robert.

What do you mean, discovering Dublin?  You’ve lived in Dublin for half your adult life.  Your children were born there.  Your mortgage provider lets you live in a house there in exchange for a monthly fee.  Your Present Husband lives there, coincidentally in the same house.  You work there.  (Or should that be that you “work” there?)  You can rant like a native about the traffic or the clampers.  But, yes, I do mean that I discovered Dublin last night in the form of the Samsung Night Run.  It was my first ever 10k race, after a fairly inauspicious start to running and a long hiatus in which no running of any kind occurred unless in pursuit of a fleeing child.  But it was also an opportunity to look at my adopted home city in a whole new light.  Which is to say, darkness. 

The Samsung Night Run takes place on 10k of closed off streets in Dublin city centre at night.  It was a lovely event with a buoyant and positive atmosphere.  The fact that I spent most of it heaving and panting will not deter me from taking part next year.  Nor will the realisation that I kept perfect pace with a runner who had a limp.  Nor will the sight of crash barriers being put away as I was running past, because the end of the race was minutes behind me.  Like I said, I am undeterred. I am hooked on Dublin at night. 

Dublin has a kind of unkempt charm I’ve always loved and the route showed it off at its best.  There are so many famous and celebrated buildings, like the GPO and the Custom House, which looked sensational.  And of course new additions like the Convention Centre and the Samuel Beckett Bridge, which was a particular highlight. The Grand Canal Theatre looked extraordinary, which I am sure will delight NAMA no end


But there are other charms as well, less renowned but no less deserving of a bit of nocturnal awe.  People make much, quite rightly, of the Custom House, but what about the gems right before it on Eden Quay?  The Seamans Institute is an architectural jewel, built in the 19th century but made new after it was destroyed in 1916. 


Also, the name always gives me a juvenile giggle.  Because, in a previous life, I worked for Siemens. 

Another underappreciated treasure is the Pearse Street Library, a Carnegie Library built in 1909.   


And St. Andrews Resource Centre, built originally as two primary schools in 1895 and still serving the local community today.




However, as enjoyable as this was, it wasn’t just a tour of Dublin by night.  It was also a race, one in which I threatened exactly no-one.  I had a lot of life lessons running my first 10k.  I learned yet again that I am one of life’s tortoises, not one of the hares.  So what if lots of people ran past me like impalas?  I’m not sore today and maybe they are.   Well, it would gratify me enormously if they were. I learned once again that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Those strutting young things at the starting line who look like Usain Bolt’s Irish cousins are frequently left well behind in the field once you get going.  Meanwhile, the ones who look like they might need zimmerframes turn out to be seasoned pros.  And I also learned that it doesn’t matter how slow you are running and how decrepit you look, someone giving you a cheer is always appreciated. 


So thanks to the organisers, the marshals and the members of An Garda Siochana for a lovely night out.  Thanks to the local residents and passersby who came out to cheer.  A particular shout out to the people in the apartment on Sheriff Street for blasting out “Eye of the Tiger,” which did make me feel momentarily full of energy.  But, mostly of all, thanks to Dublin for making me appreciate its unkempt, charming darkness. 

I am no good at crafts.  My knitting is terrible.  And there was a lot of knitting in my childhood, so there was a lot of scope for being terrible.  I went to one of those small parish schools with several classes in one room.  Because children of one class needed to be occupied while the others were taught, and because it was profoundly sexist environment presided over by nuns, we did a lot of knitting.  My speciality was a curious item that could best be described as a triangular scarf.  It never caught on.  Not only were they useless and ugly, my ill-fated garments were also ages in the making.  This was because I am not one of Mother Nature’s multi-taskers.  Knitting was a very social and chatty kind of activity for us.  But I was not able to simultaneously knit and talk.  I really liked just talking.

Quite how and why the crochet bug hit me is a mystery.  But it did.  And so I hauled myself off to a one-night class.  I regretted it straightaway.  There was no proper streaming.  There were women who were phenomenal at crafts, who could have knit their own straitjacket and stitched themselves into it.  Their transition from two needles to one was, in every sense of the word, seamless.  I did not belong among their kind.  I needed the remedial class.  I could not wrap the wool around my hand properly.  I could not remember how to form a stitch.  I kept losing track of how many stitches I had done.  And then it all came flooding back to me.  There had been two problems with knitting.  The first was accidentally knitting garments of a bizarre and unsettling nature.  The other was the terrible tension.  Not real life, dog-eat-dog stuff.  No, the tension of the wool.  And here it was again with crocheting.  Each stitch was wound so tightly that working back into it in the next line required a kind of stabbing action.  It was like committing a long, slow series of GBHs.  The very nice and patient teacher assured me that it would all come good with practice.  Yes, it would, but in a different way.  Experience has taught me that I would not improve my tension with practice.  I would simple learn to stab faster.

I like to take an interest in how people learn.  And so I glanced about the room to see how the others were getting on.  People learning any new skill tend to make the same kinds of mistake and so it was of crochet.  Not counting their stitches.  Not crocheting into the right stitch.  Not picking up the last stitch at the end of the line.   But, oh no, not me.  I made mistakes that were mine and mine alone.  In one instance, the very kind and patient instructor stared in utter bafflement at my piece, turning it over in her hands to try and figure out what I had done and in the end ripping back three lines to fix it.  I think if I had invested any significance in my skills with a needle I might have been upset at having a level of mediocrity all of my own.  But I chose to see myself as a maverick, an individualist.  Not for me the mistakes of the common rabble.  No, I was going to forge new mistakes that would be looked upon in stupefaction for generations to come.

After what seemed like hours of stabbing and wrestling, I made this

And after that I made these.

Not bad for two hours of effort from a clueless amateur.  If I had been going for a triangular effect, I’d have been delighted. If you know nothing about crochet, or do but are of a conciliatory nature, they are quite respectable.   But I am no loss to the textile industry.   I noticed in writing this that the word needles is only one letter away from the word needless, and that’s so true of my relationship with crafts.  We can safely say that nobody will ever sashay down the catwalk of Milan in any of my creations.  Sonia Rykiel’s place in the firmament of knitwear designers is secure.  And I can give up on crafts and go back to just talking.

The Olympics lift the spirits of a nation, but they can also crush the spirit of an individual.  There comes a point in everyone’s life, I suspect, when they must accept that they will never mount the podium and have a piece of metal handed to them by some Francophone bureaucrat from the IOC.  That is dismaying in itself.  But you have the additional indignity of watching an array of prodigious cherubs winning gold all around them to really compound your sense of loss.  There is nothing quite like seeing a Chinese teenager winning gold in the 4 x 100 Artistic Clean-and Jerk Greco-Roman Bantamweight Road Race Medley to make you feel like your best years are behind you.  Because compared to that Chinese child, they certainly are.

Despite my quadrennial loss of self-esteem, I decided to embrace the Olympic spirit.  And so I remedied another cultural oversight on my part, which is to watch a film I’d never seen, namely Chariots of Fire.  Or, in the spirit of the IOC, Les Chariots de Feu. As a seasoned runner myself, my not having seen it is a shocking oversight.  Even my Present Husband was aghast, and you’d think there’d be precious left for him to be aghast about after all these years.  Just shows you that being married to a cultural neophyte brings endless novelty to a relationship.

Chariots of Fire really is a trip back to a simpler era characterised largely by tweed and religious fervour. You could use words like exhort and splendid and no-one would snort derisively.  And the sporting standards of the day bear no resemblance to our modern industry.  Motivational aids? Gilbert and Sullivan coupled with brisk anti-Semitism.  Your backroom team?  And old Italian guy.  High tech equipment?  A bit of chalk to draw a starting line. A trowel to dig the holes at the starting line where you feet go (a silver trowel, of course). A pocket watch.  The team transport?  A train followed by a rickety ferry.  A crisis of conscience about running on the Sabbath?  A team-mate, content with his silver, gives up his place in his heat on a Thursday just to see you run.  Performance enhancing drugs? Tobacco.

Happy days.

Nonetheless, the spirit of Chariots of Fire has changed very little.  Athletes today face many similar challenges – maintaining a gruelling training schedule, combining that training with work and so on.  (Well, Eric Liddell seemed to be holding down a job.  Certainly persuading his disapproving sister to take on the mission in China in his stead was a full-time occupation in itself.)  And something else that is true of sport to this day would be the clash of commitments and values that it can  set off.  Of course, few athletes today are bothered by the prospect of running on the Sabbath.  A runner today is more likely to struggle with his endorsement of Nike forbidding him from racing in an event sponsored by Adidas.

Chariots of Fire is an inspiring film.  Makes me want to get out running myself.  Except I too am experiencing a clash of commitments and values.  Between wanting to go out and run and wanting to stay here and drink a lovely bottle of sauvignon blanc.  The remarkable Lord Lindsey, athlete and bon viveur of Chariots of Fire, could reconcile the two.  Sadly for international athletics, I cannot.  And that, as much as anything else, is why the Chinese teenagers get the medals and I do not.

Watching the film Titanic is not a new experience for me, so I’m cheating on this one.  But I’d like to be ‘on trend’ for once.  Because of the centenary of the sinking, everyone else is talking about the ship so I thought I’d re-visit the film to see if my views have changed since I first saw it in 1997.  Also, it’s another stall while I work up the courage to watch a Stephen King film like I said I would.

Spoiler Alert: The ship sinks in the end. Plus, my views haven’t changed.

What is the allure of the sinking of the Titanic above, say, the Lusitania or any other vessel?  Lots of things. It was probably one of the first tragedies of the media age.  There were a lot of photos and there was plenty for the burgeoning mass media industry to write about.  And of course there was the rigid social stratification of the boat. But be honest, who doesn’t hanker for the simpler era when the lower orders knew their place?  Which is to say, below decks, behind locked gates, de-loused and after you in the queue for the lifeboats.   But mostly I think the allure stems from the sheer folly of the enterprise.    It’s difficult to avoid the sense that you could go back and prevent the terrible tragedy.   Watertight compartments not being quite watertight enough (or some such).  Heading out into the deep blue yonder without enough life boats.   Increasing speed despite iceberg warnings.  Not filling the lifeboats to capacity when evacuating.   Not turning the lifeboats around fast enough when the ship was gone.

But of course, deep in the recesses of your mind, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if you had been there yourself.  Who would you have been?  The cheery, welcoming, social transgressive, Molly Brown?  The honourable but tortured ship designer, Thomas Andrews?  Or the brave, resolute Benjamin Guggenheim?  He dressed in his evening wear and sat stoically with his valet waiting for death , saying “No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”   (Although personally I would have let the valet take his chances)  Or maybe Ida Straus, who refused a place in the lifeboat to die with her husband, Isidor.  And this they did, holding hands at the waves swept them out to sea.  I suppose we all like to think we would have behaved honourably – eschewing a place on the last lifeboat in order to save countless shivering orphans, somehow surviving the sinking by sheer dint of personality (and also the foresight of having put on warm attire).

Whatever about the actual Titanic, surviving James Cameron’s 1997 epic film of the same name is an ordeal of its own.  Let me be positive and say it is a sumptuous achievement visually and technically.  And it brings the brutality and inhumanity to our understanding of the events.  The sinking of this boat is not a genteel affair.  People die cruelly, barbarically and arbitrarily.  Nonetheless, it is a fairly dreadful film in so many ways.  Chief among them is the dialogue.  My favourite was “Rose: You see people/ Jack: I see you.”  That just needed a “peekaboo” to complete the absurdity.  Equally absurd are the cyphers walking around masquerading as fully-drawn characters.  Although, maybe I’m being unfair.  Maybe all rich people are emotionally fossilised.  Maybe all Irish people are cheery, musical drunks who are embracing of cultural diversity.   Just because I myself am not musical, who’s to say?

I have no idea what I would have done aboard the Titanic, but I do know what I would have done had I been on James Cameron’s ship.  I would have kicked the boy Leo into the briney deep and rushed headlong into the warm, sultry embrace of one Billy Zane Esq.  Because this is the most absurd part of the film for me.  Thomas Andrews  (and, by the way, Worst. Northern Ireland Accent.  Ever.) seemed to think Rose was bright and observant, but clearly the girl couldn’t see what was staring her in the face like a looming iceberg.  In what reality does a girl wade through the freezing, rapidly-rising Atlantic waters to save Leonardo di Caprio when there is a warm, dry and preposterously gorgeous Billy Zane up on deck happily bribing his way onto a lifeboat on your behalf?  You may call it amoral venality, I call it a healthy solutions-orientation.  What’s not to like about that?  You’ve only got to stay with him as far as the lifeboats, you ninny!

Let’s pause for a moment to contemplate the loveliness of the man again.


I can ponder it all I like but the fact remains that had I been on the real Titanic I wouldn’t have got within forty fathoms of the first class deck.  It would have been steerage for me and my kind, cheerily dancing the night away with the huddled masses yearning to be free.  And then huddling in the rapidly rising stern and then finally huddling on a piece of flotsam, facing into the ugly reality of my own imminent demise.  But that’s still a more attractive prospect than watching the film Titanic again.

I’m always open to new experiences.  So when people suggest the best way to enjoy Tequila is in the form of a margarita, I’m instantly on the case.  New horizons, here I come.  A bit of learning, a bit of personal growth and some booze?  What’s not to embrace?

I think there may be a reason why the whole cocktail experience has passed me by.  It is just too complicated for me.  I’m an open-pour-drink kind of gal.  I realised very early on in the margarita evening that I am under-equipped for the proper cocktail experience.  There are currently two wine glasses in my house.  And they don’t even match each other.  There is a set of champagne flutes in the shed that I break out at Christmas, but they were in the shed goddamit and it was a cold night.  Then there’s this messy business with the salt around the rim of the (not cocktail, just wine) glass.  That was inelegant to execute and in the end I decided it added very little to the whole experience.

But finally after a lot of messing around, there was the margarita itself.  It reminded me of drinking cans of Club Lemon in my youth.  (And I’m afraid either you get that reference or you don’t.) And I liked Club Lemon a lot, so it was all good.

So I kept going with the experiment.  It was a drink that needed a savoury snack accompaniment, I felt.  And picking the right snack was a chore in itself.  But in the end I decided to enjoy margaritas the way the Mexicans intended – in my kitchen, eating Dorritos and watching re-runs of The Daily Show while my Present Husband played Angry Birds on his phone and drank Coke.    Excelente!

A thoroughly lovely evening spent broadening my cultural horizons.  And today, I feel no unpleasant side effects and thus can barrel onward with the task of scoffing the last of the kids’ Easter Eggs.  That’s the kind of new experience I can get on board with.

I suppose there is a thin line between “open to new experiences” and “easily led.”  And an even thinner line between “easily led” and “pushing an open door.”  But I’ll leave you to decide which one applies here.

PS: Eagle-eyed regular readers – which is to say, all of you – will have spotted that I have not yet gone near Stephen King, despite my earlier promise.  I’m still a bit too chicken and am working up to that one.

Sometimes a cultural phenomenon is out there waiting for you all your life, like Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King (watch this space).  But sometimes in this internet age, a cultural phenomenon jumps up at you out of nowhere  – or, more specifically, out of two days ago – and demands your attention.  Such is the global internet sensation that is Samantha Brick.

For those of you who may have been sequestered on a jury or in a coma for the last few days – and I’m green with envy if that’s the case – Samantha Brick is a British woman who wrote a lengthy article in a UK national paper about how women didn’t like her because she is beautiful.  Yes, that really is the top and bottom of what she said.  And when, with Greek inevitability, this provoked an internet storm, she said this vindicated her view.  Women didn’t like her because she was beautiful and they were jealous.

I’m not going to give any space to whether or not Samantha Brick is correct in her assessment of her looks.  It doesn’t matter to me and what I think of her looks shouldn’t matter to her.  But it is worth considering that when people speculate as to why others don’t like them, they tend to pay themselves a compliment and insult others in the process.  People say things like “He doesn’t like me  because I’m so passionate in my views” and not, say, “He doesn’t like me because I’m a colossal pain the ass.”  Or they might say “She hates me because my work ethic makes her look bad” and not, for example, “she hates me because I’m vindictive, narrow-minded and have the personal hygiene of a troglodyte.”   You can see how “women hate me because I’m beautiful” might be tapping a similar seam.  If you needed to make others feel bad about themselves in order to feel good about yourself, it wasn’t worth the effort.

It is similarly perilous to make vast, generalised statements about women unless you are a trained psychologist or Oprah Winfrey.  I’ve been a woman all my life thus far, granted with mixed results, and I hardly ever speculate as to the nature of Women.  But tis the season, so I’ll give it a go.

1. Women really do like people who are beautiful on the inside.  And by ‘beautiful’ we of course mean sincere, warm, good-natured, funny, intelligent and self-deprecating.  In no other way would a Jack Black rise to the status of sex symbol.  Fair enough, the words ‘sex symbol’ preceding his name are themselves invariably preceded by the words “Hollywood’s most unlikely,” but you can’t take that label away from him.  It might not be nice that we seem to prefer beautiful women to be self-deprecating but, in our defence, we like it in men too.

2. After a certain point in your life, a healthy adult woman shouldn’t need  lots of people to think she is beautiful.  You just need one warm, kind, intelligent, responsible man or woman to think you are similarly warm, kind, intelligent, responsible and also sex on a stick.  Just one person who thinks you are manna from the gods.  Just one person for whom you being dressed is an endless source of dismay.  You don’t have to question it too deeply.  It can be the function of an advanced mental delusion.  It doesn’t matter.  Not loads of people.  Just one.  After that, it becomes a bit unseemly in an adult.

3. Samantha Brick believes the hostility she has provoked shows there is nothing more reviled that a pretty woman.  That shows a remarkable lack of understanding of women.  What women despise, with an incandescent fervour, more than anything else in the known universe is a bad mother.  And if you don’t believe me, ponder these two words.  Karen Matthews.  Even the appearance of being a bad mother, regardless of a tragedy that might otherwise provoke nothing but sympathy, will cause odium to be heaped on you with relentless vigour.  And if you still don’t believe me, ponder these words.  Kate McCann.  I would say the hostility Samantha Brick has provoked has very little to do with her looks and owes its provenance to her seeming lack of understanding of how women live and what’s important to them.  Despite Samantha’s assertion to the contrary, a lot of women can get past the fact that Angelina Jolie is an international sex symbol and a man-magnet.  She does not provoke universal outrage.  (At least, not for being beautiful, but possibly for being a bit nuts.)  She provokes occasional feelings of warmth because she does seem to be a devoted mother.  Not just that, though.  She also has that unfortunate medical condition that causes her right leg to act independently of her.  That has to be very debilitating, to say nothing of being socially awkward.  She’s really to be pitied.

4. I do hope the whole thing is a spoof or a publicity stunt for a forthcoming book.  You’d hate to think that a whole lot of bras were burned for this and for all that followed.

This sorry mess doesn’t deserve the attention it’s been given (including from me).  It’s just one woman’s take on her life and we can all agree or disagree.  Who has been harmed who couldn’t have known better?  And do we have so little to focus on?  People were starving in Africa before it was written and they are still starving now.  People were dying of terrible diseases before it was written and they are still dying now.  And celebrities were suffering from terrible physical disabilities before and still are now.  Where is the outcry for that?

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