LOOK I've been busy alright? It's not like my usual blogging hiatuses which stem from unadulterated sloth and indifference. No, no I've been working on something special for all of you folks, a Christmas present if you will.
As far as I can tell, there are very few Irish-based podcasts. Now, when I say podcasts, I'm not referrring to radio stations putting clips from their shows online for people to download. In the truest sense of the word that ain't a podcast.
For a purist such as myself, a podcast is a show recorded with the main purpose of being published online as opposed to on the radio. Podcasts tend to be a lot looser and less censored than radio shows and, from this enthusiast's point of view, a much more enjoyable listen than most of the fare that takes up the traditional airwaves with the faux-friendliness between presenters, questionable music choices and the increasing presence of advertising.
Whatever about Irish podcasts, I'm almost certain that there aren't any Limerick-based podcasts and with that in mind, myself and an old friend fancy ourselves as a pair of trailblazers.
We're still in our very early days yet (just one episode online and still baffled as to how to get it on to itunes) but we're full of enthusiasm and unfounded opinions so expect many more installments to come.
In the meantime give a listen to the inaugural episode of Hoge 'n' Smith (A podcrastination on all matters nonsensical) at www.hogensmith.com and tell us what you think.
Apologies and yada yada yada for the delay, I've been working on something exciting (by which I mean I've been twiddling my thumbs while thinking of something exciting that I plan on working on in the future) but more on that in time to come.
As I said, in my eternal ignorance I had almost cycled past the White House without giving it so much as a second glance. Thanks to that second glance however, I realised what it was I was looking at and swung my handlebars in its direction.
Not as big as one would expect on TV, and certainly much more central in Washington DC than I would have expected, the White House is still a must-see when visiting this beautiful city. Standing in front of one of the most easily-recognised buildings in the world is a surreal experience, almost like meeting a famous actor that you've seen a thousand times before on the big and small screen.
Unfortunately I couldn't get right up to the front fence of the White House gardens this particular morning as the road directly in front of the fence was shut off by the local police. I asked the cop standing at one side of the shut-off zone what the reason was for the closure. He informed me that he wasn't allowed to say but at the same time beckoned towards the nearby Washington monument from behind which two magnificent military helicopters had just come into view.
As the pair of helicopters turned and made straight for us, I asked the cop if that was the President, realising only afterwards that I sounded embarrassingly excited. Again he smirked and insisted that he couldn't say. At this point both the helicopters were only a few hundred yards away and one of them started to tail off leaving Marine One alone to fly the last short leg of the journey over my head and in behind the White House to land.
At this point I checked my watch and realised that my diversion to the White House and my stalking of Barack Obama had made me late. So with no helmet, I pegged it back through the streets of Washington as the sidewalks were by now far too full with attendees for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
Out of breath and sweating, I collapsed back in the door of my DC hosts who threw a sandwich into me and then hurried me into their car. On the way to the bus stop, they informed me that it had been the President's helicopter I had seen. Apparently the second one was a decoy that always accompanies the helicopter so as to make potential attackers uncertain as to which one carries the President.
At the bus stop I bid my hosts an farewell and told them that I would love to return but had no idea if or when that would ever happen. I boarded a stuffy bus and hit off for Dulles Airport for the second time in a few days. The constant travelling, changing of time zones, more than one heartbreaking goodbye, lack of sleep and lugging around all my possessions from a year and a half in Canada were starting to get to me.
All I wanted now was to offload my bags at the check-in desk and have two peaceful flights home to my family. Guess what I didn't get.
You know the way in showbusiness they say you should never work with animals or children? Well the same dictat should apply for air travel. Did you know that on internal flights in the USA, people are allowed carry dogs in the luggage compartment? Did you know that it's incredibly hard to get some shut-eye if there's a little rat of a mutt barking just over your head the entire way from Washington to Boston? Well now you know.
If I thought the dog was bad, there was worse waiting for me. It might be a little rough to described the baby a few rows ahead of me on the next flight as a terrorist but she/he/it certainly terrorised me all the way across the Atlantic. Not entirely inconsiderate however, the little yodeller managed to stop wailing just as the wheels touched the tarmac at Shannon. At which point I imagine I must have resembled Jack Nicholson in the latter stages of The Shining in both appearance and mindset.
Despite my various animal and baby issues on the way home and the fact that it was 7am in Ireland and I hadn't slept properly in days, I was overjoyed to be reunited with my parents and one sister remaining in Ireland. Not wanting to displease Mammy so soon after arriving home, I even went to Mass a few hours later before going to sleep for the day. Completely unsurprisingly, there were no seats available when we got there.
The rest of the day is a blur that was mostly taken up with unsuccessful attempts to fight jetlag by staying awake until the evening time. That night brought beautiful, dreamless, deep, deep sleep.
Now I did mention a "foul-mouthed but well-meaning delivery man" a few weeks ago in my introduction to this by-now mammoth description of my journey home and I'm sure none of you at all are wondering how he is going to tie into all of this? Strangely enough, without knowing it this guy actually made me feel like I was at home just as much as my family, my home, my bed and going to mass.
You see, for me one of the defining characteristics of North American culture is the faux-friendliness shown by people in the service industry. Hearing 'Have a nice day' is something visitors to The US and Canada, from these shores at least, are not used to.
Strange as it sounds, this particular phenomenon bothered me just ever so slightly as I never once believed that any of the thousands of salespeople who offered me one of the standard issue pleasantries meant a word of it. A strange complaint I know, but every time I heard someone say it, I knew they were just wishing me a nice day or asking how I was because it was how you were meant to act when you had that kind of job. Sometimes I felt like just shaking one of them and insisting they tell me how they really felt about all of the horrid customers they had to deal with day after day.
That may have seemed like a strange tangent to go on but it was necessary to explain the role played by the aformentioned delivery man. God I really should have made this a four-parter but I've gone too far now.
The next day was Monday, meaning my parents were working and my sister was in college when I woke up to the sound of said delivery man ringing our doorbell. I stumbled down the stairs, still very groggy from over 12 hours sleep and opened the door to greet him with a nod.
"Hogans?" he enquired of me to which I again nodded.
"Nice one," he continued. "Rains a fucking bollocks isn't it?"
If taking in so many destinations over the course of a few days had left my hazy mind in any doubt about where I was that morning, this fella had let me know what was what. I was back home in Limerick.
I WAS awoken from my slumber in the basement early on the Saturday morning in Washington DC by the most unusual sound of children whose accents were an amalgamation of American and Irish.
It was a little after 7am and I had gone to sleep only four hours later, due to still being on Vancouver time. Nonetheless I was happy to have been woken so early as it would afford me a few hours to take in the American capital before going to the airport. The children in question were the daughter and son of my gracious hosts. Two more charming kids you won't find, already on their way to being trilingual due to their Spanish language school and Gaelgoir mother.
They were kind enough to lend me a bike and a map of all the attractions worth visiting in Washington for someone with an extremely limited amount of time. Their home was only a few minutes cycle from all of the Washington landmarks which are for the most part within close proximity to each other.
First stop was the imposing but beautiful US Capitol which forms the centrepiece of a group of similarly grandiose buildings that included the US Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Congressional Office buildings. Sadly, I could only cycle past lines of visitors waiting to go on a tour of the magnificent building.
From there, I proceeded down along the National Mall towards the Washington monument. Along the way I ran into crowds of tens of thousands, all on their way to the 'Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear' organised by political satirists and faux ideological opponents, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Part comedy event but also a gathering of those in favour of reasoned discussion, as opposed to the extreme and highly vocal stereotypes so often associated with American politics, this was something for which I wish I could have hung around.
As I cycled past on my bike, Cheryl Crow was singing to the huge crowd - later estimated to be over 200,00 people - and while she wouldn't be my cup of tea, the idea of the event and the fun that was being had was certainly up my alley. Many carried signs indicating whether they were members of 'Team Sanity' or 'Team Fear', some were dressed up in ridiculous outfits. True to the event's ethos, everywhere you turned, calm and reasoned conversations seemed to be taking place regarding how the US was being run and where it was headed. And in keeping with the rushed nature of my morning, I had to move on all too soon.
In contrast to the celebratory feel of the rally, the memorials to America's many wartime efforts were very sombre but beautiful in their own way. Most chilling among the memorials was the one dedicated to those who fought in the Vietnam war which consisted of a long black wall bearing the names of soldiers lost in the conflict.
Even though America has entered and is still partaking in another futile war in much more recent times, for many the memory of Vietnam is still very fresh. Evidence of this could be found in visitors tracing names from the wall on to pieces of paper while others placed newspaper clippings carrying news of their former loved ones underneath their name.
For me, the Lincoln Memorial was the most impressive feature of my bike tour around DC. The walk up to the majestic building along the long, iconic reflecting pool brought back TV memories of Obama's inauguration celebrations, Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech, and of course Forest Gump jumping in the water after recognising Jenny at the peace rally.
I am sure I have seen the Lincoln Memorial many times on the big and small screen but as I stood in front of the statue itself the only previous occasion on which I could recall seeing it was while watching The Simpsons. Unlike Lisa I didn't go up and ask Lincoln for advice on anything (there were too many tourists around) but I was transfixed by the workmanship of the statue and the temple in which it sits. Alongside Lincoln are two of his best known speeches, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, which are chiseled into the inner walls.
Now for the part where I truly expose myself for the idiot that I am. As I was cycling back past the Washington Monument towards a few of the city's museums, I noticed a bunch of lads around my age playing a game of soccer. I took stock of their ability while rolling slowly past, and conceded to myself that even though they were American they were still probably all better than myself at the game.
Then I pulled on the breaks. While watching the kick-around, I had caught sight of something big and white in the background, a house, a white house, The White House if you want to get into specifics. Shockingly for someone who still loosely describes themselves as a journalist, I had almost cycled past one of the most famous political landmarks in the world.
Well, wouldn't you know it, I've been struck down by laziness again. This two-parter is becoming a three parter folks. Hear my tale of an encounter with Barack in a few days time. So long.
I'VE let too long pass since I last posted and now I don't know where to start when detailing the last month of my life which entailed six North American cities, a painful goodbye, a joyful hello, civil war ammunition, Barack Obama, the most beautiful baby the world has ever seen, the most annoying baby ever to board a plane, full body scans and a foul-mouthed but well-meaning delivery man. I suppose the best place to begin would be the beginning.
As you all know from my last post, a month to the day ago, I had decided to go home. What I didn't realise at that time however was that a letter was winging its way to me with the news that I had been called for an job interview in Dublin with an employer who should probably remain nameless for now. At the last time of writing, my intention had been to come home at some point in the new year or maybe even Christmas at the very earliest but seen as job interviews seem to be as common as a natural tan in Ireland at the moment, I thought it best to expedite my return.
Although I didn't have that many loose ends to tie up in Canada, my girlfriend unfortunately does and we therefore had to make the hard decision to spend a few months apart. It's the last thing we wanted to do but both of us know that it's necessary and will hopefully mean that the first thing she sees of Limerick won't be me in a dole queue. I'm counting the days 'til she arrives here which should hopefully be some time early in the new year. Until then Skype will have to do us.
Seen as I didn't expect the trip home to come this soon, funds for the flight weren't too plentiful so cost-saving layovers along the way home were unavoidable. One layover would be longer and far more welcome than the other two however, as I would break up my journey home with a trip to Virginia to meet my sister and new nephew who just turned five months old and had yet to meet his uncle.
Before I reached Virginia though, we had to drive to Seattle from Vancouver. This entailed a bit of a nerve-wracking visit to American customs who as it turned out didn't give a toss that I had technically overstayed my welcome in Canada by a few months. With heavy hearts, myself and the lady parted ways for a few months at Seattle Tacoma Airport.
From Seattle I flew to San Francisco where I had a four hour layover during which I didn't even venture outside the terminal as I didn't want to face the long security queues again. Dulles Airport near Washington DC was the next destination and along the way we were treated to a stunning view of the snow-capped Rockies as well as the dusty, flat plains of the American interior.
Upon arriving in Dulles I still had an hour and a half long drive to my sisters home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The town was the site of four major battles in the American Civil War as evidenced by every second store selling what they claim are Civil War bullets or rounds. What really tickled me was that the ammunition was categorised into Confederate and Union and for the most part, the Confederates demanded a higher price.
In stark contrast to the torturous farewell that morning, meeting my nephew for the first time was a delight. At only five months, he's quite strong and long and I don't want to get ahead of myself but I think it's a dead cert that he'll be a ladykiller and an international rugby legend if his uncle has anything to say about it. Not having seen my sister in18 months, I found it strange to see her act so maternal but I was delighted to see what a good mother she had become. Three days with them wasn't close to enough and before I knew it I was boarding a Greyhound to Washington DC and saying my second reluctant goodbye of the week.
My arrival in Washington DC coincided with that of thousands of attendees at the John Stewart/Stephen Colbert- organised "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" which seemed to have caught the imagination of the entire city going by the media coverage and the numbers in attendance. I stayed with friends of our family whose home was near the rally site and all of the famous political landmarks on Capitol Hill.
The couple, who moved to the States from Ireland 15 years ago both make documentaries for National Geographic so I stayed up late with them, drinking wine and discussing my recent realisation of the genius of Werner Herzog. Only a few hours after going to sleep I forced myself out of bed in order to take in what I could of DC before making my second trip to Dulles Airport that afternoon.
You'll have to wait a few days (that's all, I promise) to hear about and even see a few pictures from my whirlwind tour of the American capital though. I've decided this is going to be a two-parter. Until then folks....
I COULD try to stake a claim for being someone that likes to go against the grain, a pioneer who refuses to conform with the masses and instead blaze his own trail. It would be just as easy though to make the argument that I am an imbecile who decides upon his path by merely going against conventional wisdom.
One year and four months ago I left my decent, safe job as a journalist in order to travel to Canada with a bunch of my buddies. Several people tried to convince me not to do it, one lady actually went so far as to promise me that I would never again have such a good job and I would regret the decision for the rest of my life.
My mother, although not quite so doomsdayish in her predictions, did also warn me of the dangers of leaving a good job with the country in its current state but she knew as well as I did that I couldn't be swayed. I realised the risk involved in being one of the only people in the country to leave a decent-paying job just for the hell of it but I could never have forgiven myself if I hadn't done it.
Had I stayed in Limerick I would have developed a lot more as a writer in the last 16 months and would no doubt have widened my network of contacts which is now mostly defunct. At the same time though, if I had remained at home for safety's sake, my mind would have been eaten away with thoughts of what I could have been doing in Canada with my friends every time I got pissed off with work or the everyday routine. I could not have lived with the "What if?"s.
Also, it's not as if I have nothing to show from my time in Vancouver thus far with the most rewarding prize being my very own Canadian. If I had known that a lady like her was within my grasp over here, I wouldn't have spared a thought on the merits of remaining in my job in Ireland but would have jumped on a plane with my first pay cheque.
Romantic endeavours aside however, I have also learned how to do manly things such as landscape, service machinery and frame a house this year. In varying degrees, I have enjoyed the work I have done and I am certainly glad of the new skills, experiences and friends made. What I am most grateful for from my various careers in Canada though, is the strengthening of my conviction that I want to write for a living.
In all honesty, I was able to keep up with the hardest grafters over here and I impressed all those who took a chance on employing me, but I also learned that labouring is not the life for me and therein lies the benefit of leaving the comfy job at home. Because I stepped right into working as a reporter after University I did not appreciate it, as is the case with all things for which you don't have to fight.
But having experienced some of the alternatives, I now know that I loved the work of meeting and talking with people, of searching for stories and creating something that occasionally might have made others think, chuckle or just pass the time. It took over a year for me to realise it but this is an epiphany I may never have had were it not for the decision to pack my bags and leave in May of 2009.
Unfortunately the kind of work I now realise that I love is hard to come by over here, especially if you are technically an illegal immigrant. Out of all my friends that came over here in 2009 I am the only one remaining and although I'd get a slagging for admitting it, I miss them and all the other friends I've left at home.
Canadians are as nice a people as you could ever find, I've no problem saying that as a nation they are more welcoming and obliging than the Irish. The one thing lacking though at times, is the "craic". It's not at all that they're boring or not fun in any regard, it's just that the mentality and the humour is different.
That Irish element of underlying lunacy and the appreciation of unpolished roguery just doesn't feature here for the most part. Even though both elements can be as much a curse as a blessing, I feel as though I need them around me. It has occurred to me that my homesickness may only have been brought on by viewing home through rose-tinted glasses but just as I had to know if my hopes for Canada would be realised, I now need to know if my recollections of home are accurate.
With that and my predilection for going against conventional wisdom (the wisdom being that Ireland is the last place you should be going right now) in mind, I have decided to come home. It won't be for a while yet but it will be sooner rather than later. And just like I did over a year ago, my girlfriend will be leaving her home to see if Ireland lives up to the most likely unrealistic expectations I have created for her.
QUESTION Time folks. See this lady here? Attractive, right? Dressed like she's about to hit the town, wouldn't you say? None of those are the actual important question here, they were more hypothetical ones just to establish some important points.
The main question for you today is, how do you think a dressing room full of men from any sport of your choosing would react were this lady to walk in looking like this directly after a game?
Would they greet her as though she were just another member of the coaching staff? Or perhaps would they engage in some whooping and maybe even some hollering?
If you're answer is the former then I can only presume that the dressing room full of men you were thinking of is the octogenarian bowls team from the Planet Castratus.
You see this little lady's name is Ines Sainz. She is a sports reporter for a Mexican TV station in the States and she's caused quite a stir on this side of the Atlantic in recent weeks. While awaiting an interview on the sidelines prior to kick-off in a New York Jets football game, Ines grabbed the attention of warming up players who consistently "overthrew" the ball in her direction so they had to run by her in order to retrieve it.
Horrific isn't it? Imagine men in their 20s and 30s - professional athletes no less - acting goofy in order to run past a hot lady in a pair of arse-suffocating pants and a top that provides worse coverage than an umbrella made from nets.
Poor old Ines' nightmare didn't end there however. As is standard practice over here she, along with some other reporters, went into the Jets dressing room after the game and was subjected, nay tortured, to the aforementioned whooping and hollering.
Predictably, a variety of different groups who have self-appointed themselves to the position of spokespersons for all of womankind were up in arms over this. The most vocal amongst these mostly hysterical and radical groups were the Association of Women in Sports Media whose moaning prompted the NFL to conduct sensitivity training with all of its 32 teams. The bill for this training will be footed by the Jets.
Not being accustomed to sports coverage North-American style, the first question that crossed my mind upon hearing this story was, what the hell was she doing in the dressing room afterwards as players got undressed and had showers?
You could argue that TV rights payments have made these players all millionaires but does that mean that they have to lose the right to wash themselves without having the ogling eyes of the press also present? Should they also be allowed follow them home?
I've been informed though that it's standard practice for the media to be allowed a few minutes of coverage inside the dressing room after games. Although I don't understand why they can't just wait until the post-match press conference, as in European sports, if sports fans and players can tolerate it here then so can I.
What I really can't comprehend though, and I'm about to get soap boxy and perhaps a little controversial here, is why they would allow female reporters to carry out this coverage.
Of course it's all in the name of equality and - unlike some people have claimed in arguments regarding this issue - the same standard applies to male reporters going into female locker rooms after major sports events in North America. I can't understand why that is allowed either but in this age of political correctness, common sense is all too often sacrificed in the name of equality.
Again though, if that's how it has been done over here for decades, even though I don't agree with it I can let it slide without getting too rowdy.
What does get my dander up though is how an apparently professional journalist, yes the one in the skintight jeans and boob-friendly shirt, can walk into a room of young adult men dressed as she was and complain when they react like a room of young adult men. If she is a sports reporter then she should know that the dressing room is a place where a lot of farting, belching, cursing and yes, un-PC chatter about girls takes place. If she can't take it then for the sake of all concerned she should stay away because those kind of activities are as essential an element to many sports as the bloody ball.
Many of the aforementioned womens groups have also claimed that Ms Sainz is suffering for her good looks. Once again they are about as on target as a blind drunk wino taking pot shots at cans on a fence 200 yards away. The "suffering" she endured was as a result of the unprofessional way in which she dressed.
I've worked as a journalist and never once did I come to the office wearing a tight pair of crotch-hugging trousers, no matter how badly I wanted to, because it would have been deemed unprofessional. If you wear clothes that show off your arse and considerable cleavage then don't be shocked when people react to them. It's akin to a stripper getting indignant for a customer staring at her rack.
You know the way in the Dail you can't libel yourself regardless of what you say? Well a dressing room - regardless of whether or not it's for professional sports - is a similar kind of haven. For some men, it's the only place where they can actually speak freely without fear of offending the ears of the easily-offended.
If those sensitive souls can't take boys being boys in their last remaining refuge then they shouldn't let the door hit the behind of their skintight jeans on the way out.