Dec 062010

My wife tells me I’m in danger of becoming binocular obsessed since getting my fantastic Swarovski SLC 10X42HD binoculars. I have to admit she may have a point, but I cant help posting this up here….

Over on their Facebook page Swarovski Optik is raffling three pairs of it’s outstanding binoculars among its fans when their page reaches 3,000 “likes”. At the moment they’re on 2049 and climbing.

The three models they’re raffling off are the fantastic EL 8×32, the EL 10×32 Traveler, and the Pocket 8×20.

Win Swarovski Binoculars on Facebook

Could one of these amazing binoculars be heading your way for Christmas?

For your chance to win, head on over to the Swarovski Optik Facebook Page, Like the page, and submit your details via the “Raffle” tab. It’s that simple.

Good luck!

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Jan 182010
Gordon Ramsay

Image via Wikipedia

Another late one – this from the 30/12/2009.

Sometimes it seems as if celebrity chefs have managed to hijack more of our television airwaves than any other genre in TV history, and Christmas week it’s worse than ever. Cooking programmes are great… but wall-to-wall recipes and a surfeit of inflated egos is enough to turn anybody’s stomach. With some, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I appreciate the food and the ethos and philosophy behind it, but could probably do without the lame one-liners.

Others like Jamie Oliver come up with great recipes that really are easy to cook at home, if you can endure the cheeky-chappy facade. Actually, as I type this I have a Jamie Oliver Christmas jerk ham joint in the oven. Yum!

Even with Gordon Ramsey, who is perhaps the most egotistical of the bunch, you have to appreciate his consummate skill in the kitchen, and his unequivocal passion for great food, despite his caustic language and bullying, autocratic style.

TV chefs span the gamut, from the sublime to the truly ridiculous. The week before Christmas, for example, I was unfortunate enough to land on "The Hairy Bikers" while channel flicking… they were cooking up the twelve-days-of-Christmas, which sounds like a pretty solid concept for a festive cooking show, until you realise that this is "The Hairy Bikers", and that they’re insisting on spicing things up by punctuating the actual cooking with assorted seasonal pranks. This included cavorting across the stage in leotards with the cast of Lord of the Dance. It was enough to make anyone lose their appetite.

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Jan 182010
Collage of various Christmas images, made from...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been away in Scotland, and with that trip coming hot on the heels of the Holidays I have neglected to post for a while. Back now, and normal service will resume shortly.

Meanwhile, here’s the belated posting of my pre Christmas column for 23/12/2009….

It beats me how something that’s been actively promoted since early October has still managed to suddenly sneak up on me, but yet again Christmas has managed it. All of a sudden the shopping days have dwindled to single figures, and the urge to panic buy sets in, despite the fact that this year we did most of our shopping online both for convenience and to save money.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the "shop local for Christmas" philosophy, money is tighter for everyone this year. It’s hard to justify buying local when you can get stocking fillers like books, CDs and the like delivered to your door, sometimes for less than half the price of buying them in your local shop and without any of the hassle. Where local shops can compete in terms of value, or even come close, then I’ll certainly choose to support them, but when there are massive savings to be made online, I’m sorry, but charity very definitely begins at home.

One thing we’ll certainly be shopping for locally this Christmas is food. You simply can’t beat seasonal, locally produced, locally sold produce. While it may be a bit more expensive, in terms of freshness, quality and value it’s generally much better bet than mass-produced supermarket fare, and at the end of the day it tastes much better. While CDs and books, gadgets and gizmos are the same wherever you buy them from, food is always better when bought as close as possible to the source. Buying local simply makes sense.

But I’m digressing… back to that bad habit Christmas has of creeping up on you.

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Dec 092009

Uncle Frank "enjoying" Cork on Ice It’s official… I still have all of my extremities. I know this because I’ve counted them. Two arms, two legs, eight fingers, two thumbs, and ten toes.

Three weeks ago it had seemed like such a good idea. My wife was browsing the Cork on Ice website and asked if I’d be up for going ice skating with the gang. Sitting at home in a warm living room saying yes had been easy. Now the day had arrived though I was feeling a bit less assertive.

Me, blades and a large expanse of cold, wet slippery stuff… not a good combination.

I’ve been ice skating maybe three times in my life. The first was as a child, when we were taken to a huge Ice rink in North Wales on a school trip. As with most unpleasant experiences, my mind has obscured most of the details. All I remember is clinging, white-knuckled, to the edge of the rink, making my way inch by painful inch around the perimeter. In my mind’s eye all I could see was images of bloody skate-blades and severed fingers. From the moment I stepped onto the ice I remember praying for the experience to end.

The next time was a friend’s birthday party. When I found out we were going ice-skating it was all that my parents could do to convince me to go. This time I was a little braver, and actually let go of the side. Big mistake… I spent more time spread-eagled on the ice than I did actually skating. Cold, wet and miserable I vowed never to set foot on an ice rink again.

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Dec 032009

The Late Late Toy Show is an Irish institution.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing… just that it’s an inescapable one. As inevitable as death, taxes, corruption, tribunals and election posters, the Late Late Toy Show is one in a long list of things that parents all over the country have to suffer, but would generally prefer to avoid.

Having skilfully managed to sidestep the live airing on Friday night (the girls had friends staying over, and were so engrossed in play that they forgot about it), I thought that we might get away with it this year, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology there was no chance of that. The next day we had a family viewing of the show over the Internet. With the computer hooked up to the flat-screen telly and RTE Player streaming full-screen it was almost as "good" as viewing the live show. Lucky me!

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Dec 312008
Father Christmas // Santa Claus // Père Noël
Image by Stéfan via Flickr

Pat Phelan has decided that Christmas isn’t over yet, and is making like Santa, giving away a brand new phone and LCD TV on his blog.

Just head on over and leave a comment on Pat’s post before tomorrow evening to be in with a chance to win. And don’t forget, if you have an old phone knocking around, do some good and donate it to The Jack & Jill Foundation.

Good luck!

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Dec 242008
Thomas Nast's most famous drawing,

Image via Wikipedia

(Written last week for the Christmas Eve WOW! supplement in the Evening Echo)

By the time you read this it will be Christmas Eve.

Now there’s a scary thought… especially since I haven’t bought any of my Christmas presents yet. Like most men I leave my shopping until last minute, and that means lots of stressful running around a few days before the main event, dashing from shop to shop with a vague hope that inspiration will strike at any moment. If past experience is anything to go by, it won’t, and I’ll end up with something “nice”.

Nice is a really naff word; never more so than when applied to a Christmas present. Nice is neither one thing nor the other… it’s a pale pretender in comparison to more powerful descriptive words like “inspired”, “awesome”, “outstanding”, “brilliant”. Nice is never going to be “just what I always wanted”. Nice, inevitably, is an “also ran”… just good enough to be acceptable, but not good enough to be noteworthy.

This year I want to do better than “nice”. That shouldn’t be too difficult, because the only presents I have to worry about are my wife’s, from me and from the girls. She sorts everything else out.

In fairness, the presents from the girls are no problem either… I’ll just take them into town one day, point out a few suitable bits and bobs (organic soaps, loofahs and the like), wrap them up, put them under the tree… job done. It’s the present from me that’s wrecking my head, as usual.

I’ve had months to pick up the the subtle signs, and weeks to decipher the more blatant hinting. Yet here I am just a week before Christmas with nothing bought and only a couple of vague notions swimming around in the vacuum that was once my brain.

I suspect I’m not alone. Men in general are appalling at Buying presents. Ask us to choose something for ourselves and we’ll be calm, decisive and direct, but ask us to pick out a present for a loved one and suddenly we’re mindless, quivering wrecks. It’s like flicking a switch that induces instant lobotomy.

And so I’m floundering again this Christmas. It’s too late to order anything online (an option that came to my rescue in the nick of time last year). Last night I bit the bullet and asked for some direct input. Forget the subtlety, this was an emergency and I needed some hard data to work with.

So she got out the laptop and up popped the “Tiffany and Co.” website. I felt the blood drain from my face. In terms of high-risk Christmas shopping Jewellery is second only to clothes. I spent one summer in a former life working at Ratner’s the Jewellers – not quite in the “Tiffany and Co.” league, but still a jewellers. If working there taught me anything (apart from the fact that retail is a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog, commission fuelled maelstrom) it was that men should NEVER be allowed to pick out jewellery for their wives or girlfriends. Boys buying ear-rings for Mum is one thing… as for the rest, forget it.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though… she’s into silver rather than gold, and we’re not talking glittery gemstones here either, so the little blue box might not be too much of a stretch after all. I’ll also be in Dublin for a few hours on Saturday morning… so you never know.

By the time you read this my Christmas shopping woes will be behind me, but the mystery will remain for one more day. What is in that box under the tree? Is it something “nice”, or for once could it be more than that?

A very merry Christmas to you all!

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Dec 222008
one string attached

Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

Published in the Evening Echo on 18/12/2008.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year for children. You can sense the latent anticipation as the the decorations go up and the excitement mounts. It’s wonderful for parents too: the children’s excitement fuels our own in a sort of self perpetuating feedback loop. For parents though the wonder is tempered by the burgeoning to-do-list in the run-up to the holiday’s.

Preparing for Christmas is frantic at best, complete chaos at its worst (and somehow I always seem to veer towards the latter). There’s so much to do: shopping, decorating, making lists, checking them twice, trees, school concerts, all those jobs that need “to be done by Christmas”.

It amazes me how something that’s promoted from mid-October still manages to somehow creep up on you. My theory is this: because the shops and TV adverts start getting all Christmassy before we even get Halloween out of the way, we become desensitised to the whole thing. We switch off our festive radar, and pay little heed to the tinsel, singing Santas and fairy lights. Then, all of a sudden, there are only two weeks to go and we have nothing done. So we panic!

Yes, Christmas is a busy time for us parents. But the Children have been busy too: busy learning all the lines for their school plays. The twins are playing kids who skip school, bump into visiting aliens and convince them to kidnap their teachers… it’s quite a tale. In a separate epic the little one, in her first “big-school” play, is tackling the creatively demanding role of Fairy 2, with all of two lines to deliver. She’s taking the assignment very seriously.

We’ve been subjected to seemingly endless script readings over the last few weeks, and have become intimately familiar with the thrilling ins and outs of both stories. On Thursday evening we’ll all convene in the local community hall for an 8:00pm start. That’s right, 8:00 pm! We will be treated to three plays in not-so-rapid succession: the little one’s class, followed by the twins’ class, followed by the older children of the school, who’s play tends to be equally enthralling, only longer and more drawn out. The thespian endeavours will be punctuated by an eclectic selection of dance, music and song that will endure until about 11pm.

It’s all part of the hectic and exciting run-up to Christmas.

They have been busy with other things too, of course. Making Christmas cards for family, friends and anyone else they can think of. Cutting out and gluing seems to feature heavily in this year’s artistic extravaganza; that means little off-cuts of waste paper all over the kitchen and glue on fingers, clothes and, inevitably, in hair. But it’s all good fun, and that’s the main thing.

Then there’s the very important job of list making. For the twins the list situation was finalised some time back, and apart from the occasional suggestion for stocking fillers has remained reasonably static. The little one, however, changes her mind with complete disregard for any inconvenience to Santa, and has started to trawl through the catalogues again, felt-tip market in hand, initialing whatever takes her fancy. It’s going to be something of a lottery for Santa to get it right come Christmas morning.

So Christmas is a very busy time for children…. and for parents, largely because of their children. But it’s all good fun in the end, and I guess we wouldn’t have it any other way. Before long it will all be over, and another year will stretch ahead of us burgeoning with potential and opportunity. The goal for 2009? Pretty much the same as for 2008: surviving parenthood, one day at a time.