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.
I have noticed many signs over the last couple of months that indicate I am slowly but surely morphing into my father.
On three occasions this week alone I have fallen asleep on my couch about five minutes after sitting down to watch some TV. It only took 25 years for me to start working a job somewhere near as hard as himself - who has never once stayed awake for the closing credits on the Late Late show - and the effects on my evening time energy appear to be the same.
Like my father, my head tends to tilt back at almost 90 degrees when I'm couch sleeping, giving all and sundry a delightful view right up both nostrils. It was sleeping at this angle that gave my lady reason to notice that I'm cultivating a veritable forest of nose hairs that, if allowed a few more weeks of unimpeded growth, will soon be a Hitler-style moustache. Guess who else in my family has a pair of bristly nostrils.
Strike three is a tendency I have developed really only in the last couple of months but one which Dad has had for as long as I've known him. The other day, my aforementioned lady was making us dinner but was short one ingredient so I offered to go to the shop on what should have been a ten minute excursion but one which took over half an hour.
I can't really explain why it took me so long other than there just happened to be a wide variety of worthwhile distractions along the way. You know the sort of thing; interesting newspaper headlines, a new brand of cereal that had to be investigated, a couple arguing that I felt the need to eavesdrop on for just a while. All the usual things.
The reprimand I received upon finally returning home prompted a real sense of nostalgia as memories came flooding back of my father returning from short errands that turned into epic journeys. His distractions tended to be more in the line of car dealerships, which he could rarely pass without going in for a look, and car magazines both of which could render him MIA for lengths of time that would drive my waiting mother cuckoo.
In a way, it's oddly comforting to develop habits that my father probably embedded in my psyche at a very early age, even if some of them drive those around us a little barmy now and again. I don't reckon I'll ever be quite the man he is, but if I do end up adopting most of the quirks and foibles of someone, there's nobody else I'd choose.
PARTNER, in my opinion, is a term that should be reserved for the head honchos at legal firms and the acquaintances of cowboys. It should not be used to describe your significant other.
At what point did it stop being alright to call someone your boyfriend or girlfriend? It seems that once certain people hit a certain age, somewhere around the mid-30s by my reckoning, they think it's childish to use those terms and instead revert to the far more clinical 'partner'.
It's not that I don't understand the reasoning behind the reluctance to use 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' once you are a certain number of years or failed marriages into life. I'm sure there is a section of society that thinks 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend' is the reserve of teenagers and 'partner' is for middle-aged divorcees.
What I don't understand is why the latter demographic are so afraid to use youthful terms to describe their 'partner'. Chances are this is the one aspect of their life in which it's still appropriate to use teenager terminology because as one grows older, and every element of their life becomes dominated by reason, a romantic relationship is the one constant that continues to defy logic.
It's my experience that a girlfriend can excite, inspire, frustrate, infuriate and delight in ways that nothing else can once you're out of childhood. I can't speak for having a boyfriend but my lady reliably informs me that I can at the very least frustrate and infuriate to beat the band.
A relationship, by it's very nature, is illogical in that it requires us to go against our most primal urges by being monogamous. But therein lies the beauty of the whole logic-free situation, it doesn't really make sense to shack up with one other individual, especially these days when the chances are greater than ever that it will end in acrimony.
Yet all over the globe people of all ages continue to pursue these wondrously illogical relationships, displaying the kind of abandon normally reserved for teenagers. Surely then when labeling the other participant in this foolhardy arrangement they should stick with the lighter, more youthful names, rather than a term as sanitized and safe as 'partner'.
ON ONE or two occasions in the past, I have been known to lament about the woes of having to sweat a little at work.
Being more inclined towards the leisurely elements of life has meant that the prospect of sustained exertion has always prompted in me some degree of horror. Occasionally though I come across someone like Antonio who rightfully fills me with shame for feeling anything other than grateful for my many privileges, among them the opportunity to work.
Amongst the group of Mexican workers on our site Antonio is the boss and, being the only one fluent in English, he is also the one with whom I converse the most. Only yesterday though did we get round to the story of how we both came to live and work in Vancouver.
In a nutshell (because that's all it's worth) I told Tony the story of how wanderlust had brought me to Canada and regular lust had resulted in my staying after the rest of my initial crew left.
Tony's trip to Canada started much earlier in his life than mine. At 16, with very little English, he left his home in Mexico for the US and settled a few hours south of Vancouver in Seattle. Despite the obvious language problems he managed to get enrolled in a high school where he would go on to master English while also keeping up with the other students in their regular classes.
Not having the support of a family in Seattle meant that once school ended at three, Tony would go straight to a nearby restaurant where he worked as a dishwasher until after midnight.
After proving himself to be a hard worker, and improving his English, he went on to become a busboy at one of the city's most exclusive restaurants. There he would sometimes make up to $250 a night thanks to the tips of the super wealthy clientele, amongst which Bill Gates was occasionally counted.
After he left school, he found daytime work with a framer and although it was lower paid than the busboy gig, Tony had found work for which he had a passion and an aptitude.
The most amazing element of this story, however, is not how Tony went from such humble beginnings to owning a successful framing company. Even more unlikely was the confluence of events that led to him meeting his wife, with whom he now has two children.
In the same month that he turned up in Seattle with almost empty pockets, Tony's wife enrolled in the same high school after her family had moved to the States from their home in Poland. Within a year the two were dating and within three years they were married and on their way to Canada and new opportunities.
"It's amazing the way things can work out to make two people from completely different parts of the world meet like that," he told me after we had finished work on Friday. Listening to him talk, it was obvious that the wonder and fortuitousness of their paths crossing has not been lost on him over the years.
Although he had a happy youth, Tony swears that he does not remember ever owning a single toy and having built a relatively comfortable life for himself in Vancouver, he now takes great pleasure in spoiling his two daughters.
And while he seems more likely to credit his life in Canada to God or good luck, I reckon it's down to his likeable nature and fierce work ethic, both of which I am most jealous.
Either way, I'm glad to have heard his story. Nothing like a dose of perspective to show up seemingly fret-worthy woes for the minor issues they truly are.
FORGET whatever nonsense I may have spouted in the past - and spouted I have - about doing hard manly work in Canada. It has been made abundantly clear to me in the last week that during my sojourn as a landscaper I was labouring under the misapprehension that I was doing hard labour.
Two weeks into losing my building site virginity and only now have I been able to sum up the energy to do anything other than collapse in a heap and whimper after a day spent on site. The orchestrator of my agony is a framer who inexplicably decided to take a chance on me upon hearing I was unemployed.
For those not in the know - a group that included my good self up until a few weeks ago - there is another kind of framer apart from the one who creates a nice border for your photos.
Unlike all the concrete-built houses at home, builders in British Columbia use wood to make houses in the vast majority of cases. It's an obvious choice for a province with 149 million acres of forestry, most of which has remained unchanged since before Europeans came here.
Unfortunately for this European the lot of the apprentice framer seems to consist almost exclusively of hauling 16-foot two by tens (see how I've learned the lingo already?) from the side of the road on to the first floor of an under-construction house. Before my Canadian reader(s) accuses me of being a pansy, the first floor in Euroland is what you would call the second floor.
My co-workers are an interesting bunch, none moreso than the boss himself, a white amateur rapper who specialises in Christian rhymes. The religious element of his sounds is due to a turnaround in his life two years ago when he decided to shun alcohol and all sorts of other fun and replace it with religion.
There are a handful of characteristically friendly Canadians and also some very amiable Mexicans who could not quite agree between them on the pronunciation of my name.
"Hi, my name is John."
"Hello Jan, I am Antonio."
"Nice to meet you. It's not Jan actually, it's John."
"O, like Juan?"
The Mexican workers remind me very much of what the Irish were probably like when previous generations came to North America in search of work and a new life. Fond of the occasional drink, they often come into work with more of a stagger than a spring in their step but they are ferocious workers and power through whatever task is assigned to them without a hint of hesitance.
They are in no doubt helped by the fact that they are seemingly unaffected by the scorching sun which from 9am onwards makes me look like I have been swimming in a sweat pool with all my clothes on.
It's back-breaking stuff at times, but the experience and company is good, plus there are rumblings of a potential journalism job, or alternatively a deportation, a few months down the line so I may not be here for too long.
But for now the building site is my new stomping ground, and thankfully it's providing me with plenty of material to potentially write about. Next week; The Honey Bucket.
WELL I have further displayed my ignorance of all matters construction by failing to realise that on occasion builders can be unreliable. While this may have been common knowledge to some, it came as something of a shock to this still unemployed goon.
Two weeks after I was meant to start work, my Batman-reminiscent utility built is still hanging unutilised in the closet, I'm still as ignorant as ever about how houses are made, and my hands have become almost as soft and tender as they were during my tenure as a journalist.
The last fortnight has been a series of last-minute postponements by my future employer who says that he can't take me on until he is finished roofing his last house. I can't blame him in fairness, I wouldn't like to starting training some gormless immigrant from atop a roof either.
It's been a glowing, bulbous, throbbing pain in the arse not knowing from one day to the next if I'm going to be working any time soon but thankfully he has promised me that I will start this week. Fittingly, this week sees the start of the two-months-late Canadian summer so once I get on site I'll be addressing my dual problems of being broke as a beggar and pale as a pint of milk.
I'm closing in on two months without regular employment now and it's not at all been the joyride I expected. Apart from having the financial clout of a patch of moss, not having a job has also had the opposite effect on my creative juices than I expected.
For quite a while now, I've been mulling over the idea of trying to write a story, be it in the form of a novel or a script. While I have quite a few ideas committed to a notepad, nothing has developed in the way I'd hoped and I reckon it's to do with my lack of human interaction during the day.
Don't get me wrong, landscaping was about as mentally stimulating as a sleeping pill but at least I was interacting with people a lot more and I think therein lies the problem. Not being that interesting myself, I need to draw on the experiences of others as my source material.
Hopefully, that's all about to change though and by the next post, I'll be generating new ideas, funds and a nice even tan.
I'VE always felt like a potential path in life was blocked off to me when, at the age of 12, I failed to get into both the wood work and metal work classes in secondary school.
Instead I got into Technical Drawing and Music, and although my music and architecture careers are going just terrific, I've never been able to shake the feeling that a portion of my manhood was snatched away from me at that young age.
And while my hands have gone from girly keyboard dancers to lawnmower-pushing shovel-paws in the last year, they are still incapable of creating anything that you can hold in...well...in your hands. Hopefully that's all about to change though.
My period of unemployment is about to end this week with my first foray into the world of construction. My new boss has said he will teach me everything there is to know about building houses.
He was left in no doubt that there would much to teach after my saying that I would need to Google all of the tools he told me to buy as I was not familiar with any of them.
After consulting trusty old Google, I got myself a set of tools and a pouch with which to hold them all. The tool belt in particular has gotten me very excited as I can't avoid the feeling of wearing Batman's utility belt when its on. The Batman feel is replaced by a decidedly less cool Bob the Builder image once I don the yellow hard hat though.
My friends who have already worked in construction assure me that the next few weeks of my life will be spent with a shovel and nothing else in my hand but their pessimism can't dull my enthusiasm.
I'm about to become a real man that makes houses out of bricks and wood and whatever other products it is they use to build stuff.
I know the idea of a regular feature on this - the blog that can go six months without a posting - may seem a little odd but I'm going to try and keep up a sporadic selection of 'The Hoge Recommends' items, be they movies, books, products or whatever. This week I'm going to start with the documentary Big River Man.
WHEN you think of individuals who have broken world records as a result of pushing their bodies to physical extremes that nobody else has previously managed, who comes to mind?
As the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt would probably be one of the first on many people's lists. Michael Phelps also comes to mind as Bolt's equivalent in the water.
But how about a 53-year-old Slovenian who weighs over 200 pounds, drinks two bottles of wine along with liberal helpings of whiskey and beer every day, and is clearly out of his mind? Well as unlikely a member of that record-breaking group as Martin Strel may be, he has arguably done much more to earn his membership than Messrs Bolt and Phelps.
Strel is the central character of Big River Man, the most engrossing and entertaining film (not just documentary) that I have seen so far this year. The slobbish-looking former professional gambler is a celebrity in his native country for breaking his own records many times over by swimming the length of such gargantuan rivers as the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtze.
Big River Man joins Strel as he begins preparations for his biggest undertaking yet; to swim the mighty Amazon. At almost 4,000 miles, the river is over 1,000 miles longer than Strel's previous record-breaking conquest of the Yangtze in China.
Narrated entirely by Martin's son, Borut, the documentary first provides a brief summary of Strel's previous feats as well as offering a glimpse of the privileges his popularity has afforded him in his native country, such as driving drunk and parking his car wherever he chooses without fear of punishment. But while popular and famous he is, Strel is not portrayed as wealthy. On a visit to a function at the home of the American ambassador - one of Strel's greatest admirers - he instructs his son to bring home a basket of bread rolls in order to save money on groceries.
Once the father and son team, along with their crew, actually hit the Amazon is where this film really comes into its own however.
Conflict arises between the Martin and Borut when the former refuses to take doctor's advice and cut out his drinking while making his record-breaking attempt. Despite warnings about his heart growing weaker he continues to drink, not only in the evenings when out of the water, but also during the day. At one point he requests a bottle of Jameson whiskey from his accompanying raft from which he takes a liberal swig and then carries on swimming.
The merciless sun also becomes a major hurdle as within days of beginning the swim Strel's scalp and face are almost irreparably burnt. To combat this he wears a cloth over his face for the remainder of his time in the water, with holes in it for his mouth and eyes, adding to the bizarre nature of this procession down the Amazon.
Throughout the movie Strel remains aloof and one can never be certain if it is haughtiness, eccentricity or possibly simplicity that lends to this distance. What could be mistaken for the antics of an eccentric early on, however, clearly become those of a man fast losing his grip on reality as the trip progresses.
He begins to hallucinate and hear voices and on more than one occasion abandons his support team, prompting panicked and dangerous overnight searches on the Amazon. In an effort to drive out the demons in his head - subsequently discovered to be larvae from the river that had made their way into his brain - Martin connects connects jump leads from a battery to his head.
His decline is infectious also, with the lone American crew member Matthew Mohlke - a supermarket employee and amateur navigator - developing an adoration of the swimmer that verges on the hilarious at times. At one point Mohlke stays awake for three days straight, ranting about how the crew is accompanying "the last superhero in the world" and writing poetry comparing Strel to Christ.
At times, the documentary can suffer from overlong shots of characters looking pensive to the accompaniment of guitar distortion. Some elements, while fitting in with story overall, also seem staged such as the dreamy sequences designed to highlight Martin's insanity.
Those minor criticisms are subjective and dependent on personal taste though and they are certainly not reason enough to opt against seeing this amazing documentary. Fans of Werner Herzog should be particularly attracted to Big River Man which is unavoidably reminiscent of the German director's 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God'.
Beautifully shot, with no shortage of amazing scenery and unique characters, it is impossible not to feel tense while watching Big River Man, wondering throughout if Martin will overcome the conditions and his own physical and mental limits to achieve the unachievable.
And while that tension abates after the documentary reaches its conclusion, the memory of this amazing story will stay a lot longer. The Hoge Recommends; Big River Man.
OKAY, where was I? Oh that's right, I was going to explain my rapid descent from being an up and coming, shit-hot reporter (in my eyes at least) to potential illegal immigrant.
Like many people my age in Ireland at the moment, I decided to sample the weather, wares and ultimately one of the women of a foreign land this time last year. Canada seemed like as good a place as any to try so I got myself a one year working visa.
Although that did involve dealing with the dishonest, incompetent and evil folks at USIT, it was a relatively easy task to get the visa. Getting a second one however, is an entirely different kettle of fish.
You see, Canada is fine with letting you in to enjoy the hockey, the skiing and the poutine for one year. But after that you really have to show your worth or Canada will dump you like the drag-arse boyfriend you truly are.
In short, you have to prove to the Canadian government that you are not robbing another Canadian of a job if you want the country to grant you an extension of your visa. This requires being qualified and quite capable in your field of employment, or at the very least having an employer who is both keen on you and well-versed in the ways of bovine excrement.
Landscaping, as it turns out, is one of the hardest professions in which to get yourself sponsored by an employer for a visa extension. Not surprising really, it would be hard to convince even the most gullible of immigration officers that my lawn-mowing prowess is without equal throughout Canada.
And seen as I had no luck in getting work elsewhere, I thought I was destined to be forced to leave the country, leaving a nice lifestyle and a devastated girlfriend behind. That was until I heard from a fellow Irish immigrant in a pub late on night that apparently the goalposts had moved somewhat in the year that I had spent here.
"You shheee, de goidelines have schanged Howgy," my inebriated Dublin-born informant told me.
He went on to point out that while most recipients of my visa can never again be granted that kind of visa again, there are exceptions. Up until this year, those exceptions were applicants from the UK and Australia, but close examination of the Foreign Worker Guidelines showed that indeed Ireland had been added to the list. The jackeen was right.
So three days before my first one year visa lapsed, I submitted an application for a second one. I was told by a worker in an immigration office that while my application is being processed I have "implied status" meaning I can stay in Canada but can't work. She didn't seem certain though so I won't be going on any more shopping trips to the States until I'm certain that I would be allowed back in when the time came to return to Vancouver.
At this stage, I don't have a clue what to expect. It does state clearly on my visa that I cannot be granted a second one but that was before the change in regulations. Then again, I'm wondering if the new law only applies to applicants who were granted their first visa after this change was made.
Life is a little purgatorial at the moment since I am jobless, on limited funds and have an uncertain status but at almost half way through the 60-day processing time on my application I'm staying positive.
If, however, another big gap in correspondence occurs in about a month's time it may not necessarily be because of another bout of apathy on my part. I may have just gone underground following my rejection by Canada. The descent continues.
FIVE months, nearly six really. I can't believe it's been that long since I've posted anything.
It would be characteristically dishonest to claim that anything other than laziness was the predominant cause behind such inactivity on The Hoge Spot thus far in 2010, but there are a handful of other less-influential reasons that I may as well list here. It seems somewhat pointless as the few tortured souls that used regularly check here have surely deserted me at this point but what the hell. On top of my finely-honed, deeply-ingrained and staunch sense of sloth, my hiatus from posting also has to do with my no longer working in an office environment, particularly the office of a newspaper where posting to your blog could be loosely defined as work. After coming home from a tiring day of doing real man's work, the proposition of putting together a post, peppered with whimsical quips isn't the most enticing in the world.
Adding to my lack of enthusiasm was a new position I took up as the unpaid editor of a website www.2010hockeybetting.com, which offered betting advice for hockey at the Winter Olympics. It was a venture between a small group of my friends which proved interesting and educational but also time-consuming and unprofitable.
As I previously pointed out, I have also found myself a lady friend. It turns out that having a silly accent gets you the attention and even the affection of a much better person than you deserve on this side of the world and she has yet to escape my clutches. This means that a large portion of my time has been spent doing what I would previously have described as 'gay' things, such as watching movies, having dinners and going on trips away with my girlfriend.
Also contributing to my lack of blogging enthusiasm, truth be told, has been a sense of disillusionment with writing. For many months, I sent out resumes to all kinds of publications over here to no avail. I even considered selling my soul by dipping my toes into the world of PR but no career opportunities of consequence presented themselves there either. As a result, I began to question if my reporting and writing was worthy of consideration outside of the small corner of the world in which I'd learned my trade.
Without explicitly saying it or even admitting it to myself, I decided to take a break from writing. To hell with the creative process for a while, I was just going to enjoy the work of others for a bit so I opted to read plenty of books and devour movies at a rate of 6-10 a week. I enjoyed the life of a voiceless voyeur for a few months but in the last week or so, I started to get the itch again.
The return to writing also probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am now officially unemployed and have a world of time on my hands.
My initial work visa for Canada expired last week and now in the words of Sting; 'I'm an alien. I'm a legal alien.' At least I think I am anyway, it's somewhat uncertain.
One thing is for certain though and that is I can't legally work in Canada for the time being and always being more inclined to a life of slobbery than crime I've embraced unemployment.
Speaking of the lazy life, this has taken a lot out of me so I'm not going to bother fully explaining my visa situation right now but once I'm feeling up to the task I'll tell you about that particular fiasco right here. Expect the next posting any time between tomorrow and six months time.
WHAT a laugh. What a great roaring, bruising, manic few moments of fun that was.
So fast did those four days go past that I still haven't pieced them fully together now that I have returned to my lair in Vancouver. But here's what I do remember.
It was a slice of pure heaven to get a taste of some of the home comforts which had become a distant memory since flying the coop in May. My personal arse groove had almost gone out of the couch in the living room but while taking in the seasonal movies, I left an imprint on it that should be good for another few months.
While the food-gorging and arse-grooving were wonderful though, the best part of being home was seeing the familiar faces. Thankfully I haven't become too Canadian looking in the last few months so my family had no problem recognising me when I walked in the door. I squeeze-hugged them to the point of causing injury and smothered them with kisses.
On Christmas morning, we exchanged presents. My home in Limerick is now fully stocked with Winter Olympics 2010 slippers and Vancouver Canucks socks. And then we ate and o lord how I ate. Mammy had it all laid out just like I'd imagined in my drooling dreams over the last few weeks.
What I didn't eat I brought back across the Atlantic with me. It was a good thing that wannabe terrorist didn't try to blow up the Detroit-bound plane over Christmas using turkey or ham. Otherwise I'd still be getting interrogated by air marshals now. That evening was spent in our cousins house eating the leftovers from their Christmas dinner and playing scrabble. Heaven.
Of course I was also delighted to see a few non-familial faces, the first of which were McGoo and Coynie who brought me out to the races in Patrickswell on Stephen's Day. I had four winners, an unclear number of hot whiskeys and a hell of a time getting reacquainted with my old partners in crime.
That night I renewed acquaintances with many more of my old crime partners, including Scenery - who I berated for having entered into blogging retirement, Larry the Lynx - who had been prowling the plains of South America when I left, Jay Mckay - who is still getting taller despite being well into his 20s, Calamity Kennedy - who was kind enough to throw the party at which I met all the old heads, and many more. Too many to properly catch up with properly in one night but all of whom I was absolutely overjoyed to see.
The 27th was beautiful if only for its laziness. I returned home in the afternoon, having spent the night at the site of the party, and spent the day lounging. A few of my oldest friends called round in the evening to do a final spot of reminiscing and once they left, the time had come to pack my bags once again.
We had time for two stops on the way to the airport the next morning. The first to say a quick hello and goodbye to a beloved grandaunt and the second to buy a Munster Jersey for my new Canuck lady friend. Never any harm to add another member to the Red Army.
Then it was off to Shannon, on to Heathrow and back to Vancouver where the aforementioned friend greeted my weary frame with a warm, welcoming hug. It was wonderful to have been home but also great to be back on the Canadian adventure.