Monday, May 30, 2016

Retirement Review

I've been retired, this time, for six months now, so I feel it's time to reflect on how it is shaping up.

All my life I have been looking forward to retirement because I have so many other things I want to do. Writing, of course, is the big one—the wet dream of every writer: to have unlimited time to write. Heaven on earth, the ultimate joy, the...well, we'll get back to that.

I also fancied doing a bit of art. I used to draw many years ago, but I stopped because I couldn't fit it into my busy schedule that, in those days, included many hours devoted to drinking. Still, when I did manage to draw, I wasn't so bad. Over the ensuing years, however, I seem to have forgotten how it is done and I'm keen to see if I can figure it out again.

I drew this, so I could, at one time, draw fairly well.
This is how I draw now.
I also wanted to get my genealogy back into shape. I put an astounding amount of time into this some decades ago, back when you had to travel to the records offices of distant cities, and write letters, and make over-seas phone calls. The results were admirable, but the members of my family tree lacked the good sense and consideration to stop dying and having children, so the numerous branches need tending.

Lastly, and most at odds with my nature, I planned to watch more television, specifically movies. Somehow, I got it in my mind that I have missed a great deal of quality cinema over the years and proposed to devote some of my retirement time to catching up.

So, how is this working out in real life? Well, let me tell you about my typical day:

I get up, I go to my computer, I stare at the blank screen. Then I stare some more. When that doesn't work, I get up and wander around the flat, maybe have a cup of coffee, notice the dust on the books shelves and do a bit of tidying. Then I stare at the blank screen some more and realise it is almost lunch time. After lunch, I try to tell myself I can do something else—work on my genealogy, try to draw a picture—but I can't do that because I haven't written yet, so I stare at the blank screen some more.

Consequently, and unexpectedly, the main activity I engage in is NOT writing. That is the single thing I spend most of my time doing, NOT writing. And because of this, I don't do much of anything else.

The results of a typical day of writing.
I hasten to add that, despite all of the time I spend NOT writing, I have, over the past six months, finished one manuscript, started and completed another and am well into a third. It's just that the time I spent writing all of that pales in comparison to the time I spent NOT writing all of that.

(Before you start feeling sorry — or, more likely, annoyed — with me, let me state that this is not an unusual side-effect of the mental health affliction known as “being a writer.” We either write, and then castigate ourselves because what we've written is crap, or we don't write, and then castigate ourselves for being worthless because we are not writing).

Now, to the non-writers among you, this may seem like a doddle. I mean, you probably spend all day NOT writing and still find the time to work on your trapeze act and polish your milk bottle collection, but for someone like me, it's hard work. This is because I have so many things to NOT write. The main one being the eight-book series I am working on for my grandchildren. Let me tell you, there is a lot of NOT writing involved in that.

But I also spend a lot of time NOT writing posts for this blog, as the erratic posting schedule can attest to. On top of that, I also have plans for something I call The Patriarch Diaries—vignettes of my early years I want to collate for my grandkids so they can read of a time when televisions weren't flat and, when you needed to know something, you had to look it up, often at a library, in a book (a kind of paper stack bound together on one side that you could leaf through and look at the words printed therein).

Anyway, as you can see, I have so much stuff to NOT write that I really can’t fit much else in. But at least I'm not bored.

Someday, perhaps, I'll get my act together and start being productive (or as productive as I think I ought to be) in the writing arena. Then maybe I can spend some time NOT drawing.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fit For Purpose

There is a saying being bandied about these days that I quite like. “Fit For Purpose,” or, more to the point of this post, “Not Fit For Purpose.”

What it means it that the item or entity in question is not capable of performing the basic function it was designed for. The best example I can think of are the hub caps I recently purchased from Halfords.

Hub caps have a simple job: they cap your hubs. I suppose one could argue that these hub caps do that, because they do cap the hubs. The problem arises when you want to move your car. Then they fall off. In order to keep them on, you have to purchase Zip-Ties made specifically for fastening your hub caps to your car. I qualify that as a FAIL, for the hub caps, not for the zip-ties, they work a treat. (But in a perfect world, they would not exist as there would be no need for them.)

My feeling is, if I have to modify something in order to enable it to preform its most basic function, then that item is, by definition, Not Fit For Purpose.

Now, when I go into a restaurant and order a hamburger, I have in my mind the image of a food item I can pick up in my hand and eat like a sandwich. If I am of a more fastidious nature, I could cut it up with a knife and fork, but in either case, the item would be a bun with a burger inside it, perhaps accompanied by some onion, a slice of pickle and some ketchup.

Lately, however, when I order a hamburger, my meal comes to me on a roofing slate. The roofing slate, in and of itself, is not a FAIL, as it serves the same basic function of a plate, i. e. keeping my food off of the table top. No, the roofing slate is simply annoying. What is on the slate, however, is a tower of failure:

There is no way anyone, using any method, would be able to eat that. I can’t image what the cooks are thinking, but satisfying the basic function of food is not one of them.

Likewise, muffins are lately expanding at an unnerving rate:

I can’t say the above is Not Fit For Purpose, but it does require a bit of modification if you are going to be able to eat it. And just his morning, at our local muffin shop, I saw—on display—Maple and Bacon muffins. Again, not necessarily Not Fit For Purpose, but…bacon muffins?

When we buy a container of something, there are often instructions written on the side. Sometimes, these instructions are important. But more and more, as I try to read them, I find the print all but impossible to see:

That is the point of a pin, and what it is pointing at are instructions printed on a box of Kettle De-Scaling Packets. I am, without the aid of a microscope, unable to read them. So they are, in my view, Not Fit For Purpose.

I will admit that, while in my twenties, I might have been able to read text that tiny unaided. However, by the time I hit forty, it would have been impossible. But—and this is the crux of the matter—when I was in my twenties and thirties, I never found the need to de-scale my kettle, so during the time that these instruction were Fit For Purpose, they had no purpose, which, in my view makes them…well, you get the idea.

Lastly, (I have more, but I’ll cut you a break) is the career-centric social-networking site, Linked In.

Its stated purpose is to facilitate networking and help you find a suitable job, but that has never been taken seriously. Its real purpose is to look up past acquaintances to see if that bully from high school has ended up stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, or to find out if your ex has been fired yet.

But even lowering the bar to that level leaves Linked In wanting:

How am I suppose to stalk people if they are notified every time I check out their profile? This does nothing but encourage me to avoid Linked In, something I have to believe was not their intention. So, big FAIL.

In closing, I suppose it is only fair to point the finger of fitness at myself. This blog was originally started—some 15 years ago—for the purpose of keeping in touch with my family and friends back home. My detractors might say that it has now morphed into the ramblings of a grumpy old man and is therefore not fulfilling its original purpose. But it still does keep me in contact with at least a few people in the States, and I prefer to think of myself, not as a grumpy old man, but as someone with a keen insight into life’s absurdities.

Given that, I continue to consider myself Fit For Purpose.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Living the Dream

Today, I have a guest post, which is something I don’t believe I have ever done before (because, as we know, it’s all about me). But today, I am pleased to host Catherine Ryan Howard.

I encountered Miss Howard years ago on the ex-pats-with-books-about-being-ex-pats circuit. I bought her books — Moustrapped (about her time at Disney World) and Backpacked (about an ill-advised hiking trip in Central America) — and have been following her career ever since.

You see, Catherine had a dream, a big dream, to publish a novel, and I was keen to see her achieve it. On 5 May, that dream came true, and I couldn’t be more pleased for her.

There will be more on the realisation of that dream at the end of the post, so please read on while Catherine reveals her Impressions of Americans:

As anyone will tell you, there are some big differences between the lands that sit on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, even though both – for the most part – speak the same language. In September 2006 I moved from Cork in the south of Ireland to Orlando in Central Florida, itself on the south-easterly tip of the United States.

The first thing you notice when you start to get to know people is that no one seems to think they’re from the United States. For me, my nationality is quite straightforward: I was born in Ireland, therefore I’m Irish. My heritage is utterly entwined with this, because at no point was any member of my family anywhere else. (Not recently enough for it to matter, anyway.) So I was confused when I’d meet new people who’d been born in the United States but claimed to be Irish – and could even tell me what percentage Irish they were. I’d blink in confusion, thinking Unless it’s 100%...

I realised eventually that, because of the kind of country the United States is (i.e. relatively new, mostly populated by immigrants and their descendants), heritage and nationality are two different things, and equally important to the people who live there. They were just valuing this. Plus, it was nice being from the country everyone else seemed to want to be from, too!

The second thing I noticed was how differently both countries viewed travel.

When you live on a tiny island and you can drive from the top to the bottom of it in a single day without getting up at the crack of dawn or driving all night, you make it your business to get off it as much as possible. Passenger ferries and discount airlines make this possible, transporting you all over Europe and beyond.

The Americans I met just didn’t travel very far outside their country as much as the people I knew back home. When they went on vacation it was to other U.S. destinations, or to Mexico or the Carribbean on cruise ships. But then, who could blame them? There is so much to see and do and explore and appreciate inside the borders of the United States, if I was a citizen I’d probably never leave.

After I got home, I read a book called The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett and Holly C Corbett, which is about three friends who work in magazines in New York, who decide to leave their lives for a year to go travelling. This is a perfectly normal thing in Ireland that most twenty-somethings have done in some fashion. But a huge part of the book was taken up with the girls having to justify their decision to friends and families, who reacted as if they’d announced they were moving to Mars.

Catherine, living the dream, at Disney World.
And speaking of Mars….

My favourite thing about Americans and America, though, is the third thing I noticed: they’re big dreamers and they believe anything is possible. This is the total opposite to the national default position here in Ireland.

Bono (he of U2, our greatest musical export) tells an anecdote that pretty much sums up the Irish attitude towards dreaming, achievement and success. This is a paraphrase, but he says in the States, a guy looks up at the huge mansion on the hill and says, ‘One day, if I work hard enough, that’ll be me.’ The Irish guy looks up at the huge mansion on the hill and says, ‘One day, I’m going to get that b-----d.’

I’m more American in this area of my disposition, and regular trips to Kennedy Space Centre (hugely inspiring) and the Magic Kingdom (to watch Wishes, the night time fireworks display, which reminds you that a dream is a wish your heart makes – and they do come true) only made me worse. (Or better?)

At one point while I was living there, I saw that the ESA were looking for volunteers to simulate an eighteen-month mission to Mars by living in two shipping containers and limiting their contact with the outside world to radio messages played on a 45 minute delay (as would be the case if they really lived on Mars), and I thought applying for it would be a great idea. Then… Nothing. I waited. Something was missing.

After a while, I realised what it was: no one had rolled their eyes and laughed at me, which is exactly what that idea would’ve been met with back home in Cork. Instead, people said, ‘That sounds cool. You should go for it. Why not?’

I loved my time in the States and go back as often as I can, if only for a reminder that big dreams are possible…

And here is the dream realised:

a Standalone crime/thriller, published by Corvus/Atlantic.

Subliminal message: go buy it. Now!

Here’s the blurb:

Did she leave, or was she taken?

The day Adam Dunne's girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads 'I'm sorry - S' sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate - and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground...

Here’s the preview:
       ...of the first three chapters:

Here’re the Reviews:

“Pacey, suspenseful and intriguing … [A] top class, page turning read. Catherine Ryan Howard is an astonishing new voice in thriller writing.” — Liz Nugent, author of 2014 IBA Crime Novel of the Year Unravelling Oliver

“An exhilarating debut thriller from a hugely talented author. Distress Signals is fast-paced, twisty and an absolute joy to read.” — Mark Edwards, #1 bestselling author of The Magpies and Follow You Home

Here’re the links:


To Amazon com

To Distress Signals the Book

To Catherine's Website

To Twitter: @cathryanhoward

To Instagram: @cathryanhoward

To Facebook:


Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a camp site courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.