Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Help Me, Eddie Hobbs - You're My Only Hope!

So Eddie Hobbs is tilting at the Government windmill, is he? He's dashing his gauntlet against the impassive face of the State machine?

This morning's Irish Independent is in quite a tizzy over Eddie Hobbs, with four seperate articles about the Daniel O'Connell of our times - the Great Calculator, if you like. Of course, it wouldn't be beyond the bounds of possibility that the Indo speaks with forked tongue - the Indo has been using whatever sticks it can find to hammer the current administration, and the looming prospect of a Sinn Féin / Fianna Fáil coalition, which would mean the end of life as we know it as far as Abbey Street is concerned, has caused the paper to redouble its whackage. Eddie is the current cudgel de jour.

And what a cudgel - Eddie is described in this piece in the Indo as "becoming a national hero." Says who? What evidence does the Irish Independent show to back up this alligation? The fact that 778,000 people watched his show on Monday? 988,000 people were watching the Rose of Tralee the week before - does that mean that the beautiful Aoibhíonn Ní Shúilleabháin is the people's choice for Taoiseach, with Ray D'Arcy taking over from Mary Harney in the Department of Health?

The Eddie Hobbs effect is this: he's something for the nation to talk about while waiting for their invariably late bus or while stuck in traffic on the M50. But this Friday the Late Late Show will be back on the telly, and Kerry Katona will inevitably be a guest and she'll tell Pat all about how much weight she's lost and how much she loves her children and what a lovely time she had in her addiction clinic and Eddie Hobbs will be put in the same section of Yesterday's News as Dorothea Dowling.

Who's Dorothea Dowling? Well, that's another story...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Buying Motor Insurance Online

An Spailpín Fánach has been having a little trouble renewing his car insurance online. So much so that I've taken the unusual step of email the company to make my distress clear. I cut and paste the email below for your information, but I'm afraid I was too yellow to put in the name of the company - hence the "~~~~~~~." I shall keep you updated with developments.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have just undergone a very distressing experience with your ~~~~~~~ website and one of your customer service representatives. As I'm sure you're committed to the highest standards of customer service, I thought your distress at my suffering would be tempered by your resolve to never let this happen to another of your customers. As such, I compose.

My motor insurance falls due for renewal in the second half of September. As a man who plans ahead, and a man who was possibly maddened by your relentless television advertising, I visited your ~~~~~~~ website in order to find myself a quotation. I was surprised not to see a "renewal" option on your home page (I am currently insured with your company since last year), but I bore its absence bravely and ploughed on regardless.

I entered my details, found a quote I found reasonable, and pressed on to the purchase page. On the purchase page I noticed that you charge an extra-ordinary 2.5% extra on purchases made by credit card.

I thought this remarkably cheeky, if I may make so bold as to say so - one of the chief reasons for shopping with your company is the convenience of credit card shopping online, but there are few enough things that are so convenient that I will happily pay extra for that convenience. Hardship can be good for the soul, you know. There's more to life than sheer convenience.

Distressed at this 2.5% charge (for which there is no explanation on the site, by the way - there is a link for an explanation but nothing happens when you click it, thus rendering the link rather superfluous), I clicked the option to pay by cash or cheque.

I have forgotten whatever confirmation screen this may have generated, but it did generate an email, which thanked me for buying online with your company. This caused another alarm bell to ring at the back of my mind - for instance, if I were to stroll down to one of Bill Cullen's Renault showrooms and select one of those lovely Meganes, do you think old Bill would consider it bought before my cheque had crossed his desk? No; I don't bloody think so either.

I read your email further, and I saw that you wanted written proof that my no-claims bonus is as I had said it was - that is to say, unblemished. I have no means of proving this, so I took the step of ringing your customer service helpline.

Which turned out to be source of my greatest distress. I outlined my story to your CS Rep, who replied to my tale of confusion in the online thickets with the question: "Why did you decide to buy insurance online in the first place?"

A good question, as I look back. Sadly, it didn't seem such a good question when he raised it. If anything, it seemed downright rude. I replied that I must have been fooled by advertising (you do run a lot of ads, you know). What I should have said of course that I can buy whatever I damned well please online, this not being Red China, but we never think of these bons mots until after the event, do we?

Your Customer Service Representative's next step was to chastise me for my haste. Why I didn't I wait until I had received your letter? he demanded. If your CS Rep is an educated man, he may have considered me an online-purchasing Othello, who bought not wisely but too well; however, I am not sure what standards you expect in this regard. Either way, your CS Rep thought that I should have stayed home and waited until I had heard from you, in the same way that Madam Butterfly waited for Captain Pinkerton. And we all know what happened to her.

To be honest, it never occurred to me that you would write to me. I am in a minority in this 21st Century after Christ in that I still enjoy reading verse and poetry; I am in a higher demographic percentile in associating September with All-Ireland Finals rather than the receipt of letters pertaining to car insurance, but I am pretty damned sure I stand shoulder to shoulder with the vast majority of the nation in saying that I do not generally expect to be the recipient of an epistle from my car insurance company for the simple reason that I have no idea any more than the man on the moon how the car insurance companies in this state go about their business. It is a mystery to me, a mystery the Byzantine depths and twists of which make Sir Winston's Churchill's remarks about riddles inside enigmas child's play by comparison.

However, as I am liable to criminal prosecution for not having my motor car insured, I shall try and unwrap my current riddle pertaining to my motor insurance. Right now, even though no money has changed hands, I am insured for next year on my car (and guess what? The price I found online on your own website is cheaper than the one you were going to quote me! Well fancy that). I have printed your proposal form, and once I receive your quote, this quote will include the written proof of my No Claims Bonus. I will return you this No Claims Bonus written proof, with the form and my cheque. But come this time next year, our bonds will be broken. From here on in, I shall be buying my motor insurance from a human being. It is possible that I will have to pay a little extra, but no harm. Hardship, as I remarked earlier, is good for the soul and there is the chance that next year, when I buy my motor insurance from a human being instead of a website, that human being may be glad of my custom, something I did not sense at any time today from my dealings with ~~~~~~~.

Have a beautiful day.

With very best regards,

An Spailpín Fánach.

Monday, August 29, 2005

One Man Star Wars

A Canadian actor called Charles Ross has put together a one-man show based on the first three Star Wars movies. He plays all the parts, obviously, but he also does the sound effects, which is the tricky bit that seperates the sheep from the goats. He's got his own website, but the video clip download from it is glacial - better by far to visit this Newsweek profile, and catch the clip there.

Agus maidir le Cogadh na Réalta, tá aistriúchán an scannáin á scríobh agamsa faoi láthair. Níl morán scríofa fós, toisc nach dtaitníodh le fostóir An Spailpín Fánach scannáin a aistriú nuair ba cheart don Spailpín bheith ag obair, ach coimeádaígí bhur súile anseo. Go raibh an chumacht libh...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Land of the Soft and Flabby

There's an astonishing story going on at the moment in New Hampshire, where a local doctor has been reported to the New Hampshire Board of Medicine.

Dr Terry Bennett, of Rochester, NH, told one of his patients that she was obese and, if she didn't start losing weight pronto, she was going to get very sick indeed. Not only did the patient not listen to the doc, she's reported him for hurting her feelings and the matter is now under investigation. Incredible.

Some Rochestarians have come out in support of Dr Bennett, including on Mindy Haney. According to the report in the New Hampshire Union-Leader, Dr Bennett told Ms Haney "Mindy, you're overweight and you smoke. You are going to get diabetes or cancer or have a stroke or heart attack." The doc's words proved all too prescient, as the misfortunate Ms Haney is now a diabetic, has had cancer and failed a stress test very badly.

So far, so sad. But check back to the Associated Press report, where Ms Haney also features. Ms Haney praises Doctor Bennett for helping her to lose 150 pounds weight.

150 pounds. According to this chart from the Weight Watchers support group, 150 pounds is the weight of a woman of medium frame ranging in height from 5'8" or so to six feet tall.

That's a big gal, and now she's completely disappeared. Gone. All six-foot, 150 pounds of her. Not here no more. Which begs the rather horrifying question: if Mindy Haney has lost enough body mass to make a six-foot woman, just what weight exactly was Ms Haney to begin with?

America, the country that built itself, that hewed a living from the wilderness (and slaughtered the indiginous population too, let's not forget that), has gone soft. Men hugging instead of shaking hands? People letting themselves go to such an extent that they can carry around enough fat to make a six-foot woman? Suing doctors for "hurting their feelings"?

If America doesn't want her Stars and Stripes superceded by a single Red Star or the Cresent Moon, she'd want to start toughening up quick.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


An Spailpín Fánach does not hold with swearing. It cheapens the language. Sometimes a man may have no alternative - the bus doesn't stop, Mayo pick an intermediate goalkeeper to play i lár na pairce in an All-Ireland final, that kind of thing - but generally someone who's reasonably educated and articulate should be able to make their point without effing and blinding all over the shop.

However, if there's one thing that gets An Spailpín's gabhar, it's writers who substitute kiddy swear words for the real McCoy. The most particularly annoying form of this is American football writers who think that any reference to "Hell" is unseemly, and as such they say "heck" instead. Pete Prisco for CBS Sportsline does it all time. Peter King at Sports Illustrated does it all the time. And what An Spailpín Fánach would like to know is: Well golly gosh Chester, who the feck do these runts think they're kidding? It's assinine writing, and it must be stopped. Now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

An Lucht Tacaíochta Mairfeachta

Is ait na mic iad cearta an duine. Léann An Spailpín Fánach ins an Irish Times ar maidin go bhfuil lucht tacaíochta mairfeachta cuirtha amach maidir le staidis dlí an mhairfeacht san lá atá inniu ann.

Is uafásach an rud é dul thar larr chun do leanbh a mharú, dar leo - ba chóir doibh fanacht sa bhaile agus a leanaí a mharú ansin. Níl aon thintéan mar do thintéan féin, mar a deirféa.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mayo Suffer Belt of Eugene's Crozier

The Mayo football psyche, never robust at the best of times, is reeling this morning after reading Eugene McGee writing about Saturday's Mayo v Cavan game in this morning's Irish Independent. The article is headlined "Only a Miracle can Save Mayo from Kerry Annihilation" and, after giving us the good news, Eugene lets Mayo have it with both barrels.

It's a comprehensive mugging in any man's language: "the pick of the two teams would not give Kerry a game ... an insult to your average under-14 club team ... Kieran McDonald is in danger of being classified as a mere trick-of-the-loop ball player if he cannot adopt a more direct style of football ... it was laughable on Saturday to see the lengths the Mayo forwards went to in order to avoid going for a score." Nothing much to cling to there.

An Spailpín Fánach has to admit to mixed feelings about reading Eugene's piece. It's not cheery stuff and he certainly raises very pertinent questions about Mayo and where they're going, but An Spailpín has been waiting for Eugene to discuss Mayo for years and, as such, I do feel a certain relief that Mayo, and what goes on in Mayo football, are sufficiently important to swim into Eugene's ken.

Eugene McGee is the Saoi, or Wise One, of Gaelic Football analysts. Obviously the competition isn't that hot - Bernard Flynn? Paul Curran? - but Eugene is head and shoulders about the chasing pack, not least because he's so country, so rural, so old-school, in his approach. And as such it was a little hurtful to read Eugene laud Roscommon as "pin-up boys" a few years ago, hail Galway as the team of the 'nineties when Johnno retired last year, but never mention a word about my sweet county Mayo.

All during last year's Championship run by Mayo, after the spectacular come-from-behind win over Galway, the Croker triumph against Tyrone, the deep and lasting trauma of Bradygate, An Spailpín opened his Independent on Monday, only to be disappointed by Mayo, once more, being left out in the cold, being denied the divine light of Eugene's consideration. It got your correspondent feeling like the protragonist in that old Nat King Cole song, "The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot." Ouch. Even Eugene's post-All-Ireland analysis last year only mentioned Mayo in passing.

But now we've been noticed. Admittedly, we've been noticed the same way that the gourmet notices the fly in his bouillbaisse, but anything is better than being ignored.

An Spailpín Fánach is nothing if not a keen student of the human condition, and has come up with his own theory about why Eugene McGee mentions Mayo football as little as he does. The very thought of Mayo football makes Eugene sick to his belly, and, because the symptoms are so severe, he needs to limit his exposure, only exposing himself on those extreme, no-other-way mornings, such as this morning, that mean he has no way of avoiding that pack of pie-faced green and red bastards.

You think it's bad being from Mayo? Try being from Longford, where Eugene is from. Mayo mightn't be able to win the Big One, but Longford can't even win the Little One, the Mite, the Pipsqueak. Or look at Offaly, whom Eugene managed to the Faithful's last All-Ireland success, in never-to-be-forgotten circumstances in 1982. Offaly have exactly the same amount of All-Ireland senior football titles as Mayo - three - but they've won those three from ten or so Provincial titles, while Mayo have won their three from forty or so Provincial titles. Offaly make the most of their chances; Mayo waste and squander. If you can imagine what it's like for some poor kid who might get a packet of jelly tots once in a year, at Christmas maybe, watching a rich kid take one lick of an ice-cream and then chuck it, flake and chocolate and syrup and all, into the nearest bin, you get some idea of how Eugene McGee feels watching County Mayo.

Eugene's heart is in the right place. He has his biases, like us all, and this morning it all became too much for him. The only problem An Spailpín has with Eugene's piece this morning isn't the flaking and thrashing he inflicts on Mayo football; it's the punches that Eugene doesn't pull, the shots he doesn't fire, that are distressing in the greatest analyst in the game. Does Eugene think that every man born in County Mayo suffers from some sort of physical defect that stops him being able to shoot in games of football? Or could it be something different?

Here's An Spailpín's two cents - like everything else, it's all in the head. These poor hoors are so afraid of missing that when it's time to aim over the shoulder and swing the hoof, what should be relaxed is tense and what should be tense, relaxed. It's Planet FUBAR on the top deck I'm afraid, and that transmits all they way down to the bottom.

And you can read that last sentence any way you like. In the meantime, Mayo are still in the Championship, and that's never, ever, a bad thing. Roll on Sunday, roll on An Ríocht - we'll do our best to keep it kicked out to them.