Friday, November 14, 2008

Finishing first at last, for a split second

I am the nicest, nicest, nicest nice guy in the world, ever.

I know this because I’ve managed to finish second in practically every competition or contest I’ve ever entered. Yea, mine is a tear-stained chronicle of the might have been.

Check this out.

The U-10 Community Games 100m race in 1985, county final - beaten by a hair’s breadth on the line. I was that close to making it as far as Mosney holiday camp for the All-Irelands but my fleet feet weren't fleet enough.

The Boy Scouts Camp Fire competition 1986 – second again. What a heartbreaker. Every child dreams of being a champion fire lighter. Or is that firefighter? Who cares. I came second.

Primary Schools’ Water Pollution Awareness Project Competition, also 1986 – my annus horribilis if you will – and once more, I was better than everyone bar the winner, despite a rather fetching model of Lough Sheelin complete with imitation pigshit floating in the water. Another deep gouge on my psyche.

Community Games 1500m final 1987 – and guess what? Second best once again. Behind the guy who beat me in the 100m two years before. I hated that little leg-pumping speedy Gonzales bastard. Even when I see him now in the pub I make a point of getting to the bar first, or elbow ahead of him in the queue for the cinema, but nothing eases the pain.

Cavan Interpub Pool Competition 1999. A slow starter here, I eventually gathered pace and stole into the final as a rank outsider. I was playing a guy who always beats everyone, so the whole pub was rooting for me. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!!!! But alas, it wasn’t me. I finished, and you may spot an emerging pattern here, in second place.

I think now, looking back, that I was born with a silver medal in my mouth. I’d come second in a game of solitaire so I would.

Anyway, against this backdrop of serial fall-shortingness came my latest shot at redemption. A test of nerve, character, recollection under pressure and general knowledge. No, not the leaving cert exams. The round table quiz is what I'm talking about, the arena where men are made, as we all know.

My eyes narrowed determinedly at the thoughts of it. The previous one I’d entered, well, big sigh, we finished (bigger sigh) second after a tie-breaker. To separate us, whichever team named the 12 apostles the quickest won the prize. We came a cropper because although we rattled off a dozen disciple-sounding gents in jig time, apparently Zebedee wasn’t among the official fishers of men. He was, in fact, on the Magic Roundabout instead. Who’d have thunk it?

Right, I said to myself, throwing back the shoulders. Now it’s all going to change. I'm putting me first, literally.

It was a sneaky little five-rounder format, 30 questions in all. The most compressed and unforgiving of them all; incorrect answers are amplified because you’ve little or no wriggle room to claw your way back if you drop the ball a few times.

First round, two questions wrong, horrendous start. Ah bollocks, we’re fucked now I thought. Fancy not knowing that the ‘no offside’ rule in hockey actually came into force in 1998. Or something. The mortification!

Second round. Olympic Rower Steve Redgrave flummoxed us. It turns out his first Games were in 1984, not 1992, and how we cursed ourselves for forgetting that he's obviously been lifting articulated lorries out of mucky ditches since he was ten. No matter, 4/5 was fair shooting and while not quite back in the race, we weren’t further out of it either.

It wasn't going to be easy though. The song that spent most of 1984 in the charts despite being banned by the BBC? Jasus. Like, back in the day, nothing moved in this town without the BBC behind it. What could it be? We wondered aloud if our goose was cooked. Then, the boy Dave struck from across the table. Shy and lacking confidence, but coming to life after a burger and chips and a few pints, he timorously and casually ventured something about a video featuring bondage and naked ladies.

“How did he get hold of my First Holy Communion tape down in Limerick, the hoor?” was the first thing that sprung to mind.

But then, the penny dropped. Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Relax.

And Relax we did. None of the other clowns were going to get that.

The results came out. Five out of five. High fives more like. Now, it was really on. Two rounds to go, one behind, no room for manoeuvre, pressure mounting. We needn't have worried. We were on a roll and aced the next round as well, so we were tied for the lead entering the last lap. The picture round, the one that sorts out the mobile phone cheats from the true corinthians like us. Stuck on a few, especially a youthful soccer player in an unfamiliar jersey. Dave strikes again.

“Wait! It’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy,” says he.

“It fucking is too,” says I, wide eyed.

“It’s wha?,” says the girls.

Nine down, all correct so far, at least by our reckoning. Who is this famous director, question six, has us scratching our heads. An old photo. He looks like a young Neil Jordan, says I. Nobody could offer anything better. But we weren’t sure. We wavered one way then the other.

Let’s name off a few famous directors, I suggested hopefully.

“Ok, Jordan, Scorcese, Polanski, Spielberg, Denis O’Brien…”

There was a flicker of recognition at Spielberg. I'd know his nose, someone reckoned. I nodded knowledgeably, although in truth, I am unschooled in the ways of Spielberg’s hooter. Time passed. We grew surer it was Stephen himself, as we gave him the Irish spelling on the answer sheet. Faith and begorrah, for luck like.

The results? Oh yes. A perfect ten.

The winners? Us? Nope, not quite. We were level on points with one other team. We faced a tie breaker. Familiar Terence territory. Our nominated person would have to listen to a piece of music and the first to shout out the name of the song or the artist, would win outright.

The prize was a big box of smoked salmon and a bottle of wine each. Yes dear readers. It was that serious, we're talking vacuum packed fish and a bottle of plonk here. We shuffled about nervously in the wings as our anointed one lined up in the middle of the floor against her adversary from the other team.

“I’d stamp on her toe when the music comes on to shock her out of answering, that’s what I’d do,” I thought to myself. “Or punch her really hard in the diddy.”

Oh, they’re playing the song.

And guess what happened?

We only went and won it.

And the song that clinched it?

Don’t stop Believing, by Journey. I've been laughing at that ever since.
Monday, November 10, 2008


A lunchtime conversation just there has reminded me of what is the single biggest upside to no longer being in a long term relationship.

I totally, utterly, completely - and blissfully - do not have a fucking clue what's happening in X Factor.

Oh joy is me. I no longer have to sacrifice my highly refined cultural taste and TV remote in the spirit of co-operation and not having a row.

I assume, however, that Louis Walsh is still creaming himself over every contestant and telling them they're the next Norah Jones/George Michael/Justin Timberlake etc? This is because to Louis, everybody can only be quantified in terms of how much like someone else they are, as opposed to being judged on their own merits. Pah!

And I'm guessing there's still there's loads of musically heartrending cut-scenes of tone-deaf screechy people crying with snots all over their faces as they blubber about their dream and their dead auntie who perchance sent the forms off before she died in a hoovering accident - because I never thought I was good enough blah de blah but I'm doing it for my auntie yakkity yak yak? Are they still inquiring intellectually into matters diverse like song choice and suiting your voice and a recording contract is there for you if you want it but you really need to up your performance from last week and I think that's really unfair Simon and it's two yesses so you're through and ah Jesus this is supposed to be a rejoicing blog and I'm getting all wound up now so I'll pull over and park up before combusting.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Can I have an autograph?

Wait till you hear this.

Apparently, there's a young lad in England who's prompting a few raised eyebrows after changing his name by deed poll to something rather odd. In a stark warning about the dangers posed to idiots by the internet, George Garratt (19) went online and paid a tenner to legally change his name to, ahem, wait for it, no seriously, this is something else, drumroll, here we go now:

Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk And The Flash Combined.

Yep, that's his new name. I'll pause here so you can go back and read it again and be staggered anew.

I'm serious. He's only gone and changed his name to Captain Fantastic Faster Than blah blah listen, I just can't bothering me hole typing it again. What a total looper. What's worse is that the little fucker hadn't even the decency to punctuate it, which offends me on both a grammatical and respiratory basis.

Upon further investigation, it seems the chap in question did it 'for a laugh' and wanted to be 'unique'. Why not call yourself Handlebars O'Frogspawn III or something then, instead of that long-winded tongue-twister? Even his grandmother has the huff now and isn't speaking to him, which is hardly surprising because stern admonishment of someone with a name like that shouldn't be attempted by anyone over 80 without an oxygen mask handy.

The mind boggles, honestly. He'll think better of it, I'm certain, when he has to fill in his social welfare application, because I'm assuming he'll never get a job with a name like that. McDonald's wouldn't have him because of the price of his name tag alone like. Or what about when he's leaning gauchely on the bar in some nightclub, running his fingers through his oily air and trying to engage girls with the immortal chat-up line: "Hi, I'm Captain Fantastic yadda yadda yadda." Not a chance. Like who wants to boast to a girl about being faster than all those guys anyway? Think about it dude, you're bollixed good and proper now alright.

Anyway, intrepid to the last, I unearthed some other gems, beyond the old chestnuts like Marathon becoming Snickers and Brekkies becoming Munchies back in the 80s. How about the epic Rhoshandiatellyneshiaunneveshenk Koyaanisquatsiuth Williams, an unfortunate mouthful of a girl from Texas who has possibly broken every spellchecker she has ever entered. She wins out in the longevity stakes alright but for sheer daftness, I like 'Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii', a Kiwi girl who was made a ward of court so she could change her name, hopefully to something decent and solid like Muriel.
And staying in New Zealand, a couple were banned from calling their child '4Real', so, suitably chastened, they played safe and called it 'Superman' instead.

So that’s alright then.

PS: I've spoken about this sort of thing before you know.