Use my garden

I’ve been neglecting the garden. There’s no getting away from it.

To my endless shame, I’ve been letting it run as wild as the weeds of sin that rampage across my soul. My garden is almost as much of a disgrace as I am and it’s time to call a halt, but until recently I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat out there watching it grow wilder and wondering how to contain this rampant reappropriation by nature. I felt like some latter-day Mister Kurtz watching the Congo jungle retaking that which he has stolen.

It was time for a beer, so I cracked open a cold one and leaned back in my hammock, surveying the wreck of a once-proud garden that I no longer care to maintain.

Rockeries? P’shaw!

Grass? ‘Tis a field of wild garlic.

Wild garlic

Shrubbery? A place fit for feral pigs and illiterate wandering magicians.

I sip at my beer on the patio built by my own fair hands, contemplating the power of entropy.

My elbow clicks as I raise the can to my lips, a souvenir of the joint-breaking work I put in to lay these thousands of paving bricks. My knees groan as I lean over to salvage another beer, thanks to the hundreds of tons of gravel, stone and sand I wheel-barrowed to create this semi-urban idyll. My back stabs me with an agonising spasm to remind me of that time I thought I could carry those giant rocks for the raised beds. The days when I thought I was Superman.

I’m no longer Superman and so I find myself sipping a beer in the crepuscular gloom, wondering what I can do with this overgrown wilderness I used to call a garden.

That was when a thought crossed my mind. There must be many people like me, who once actually cared about gardening but who slipped away from the true faith and who now wonder what on earth they’re going to do with their patch of urban wilderness.

What if?

What if, I asked myself, it might be possible to connect with people who want to grow things?

What if those people would come to my home, use my vacant earth to grow their produce and take it away to sell, cook or do with as they wish?

And what would I ask in return?

Not money.

All I would ask in return is that they use their skills to make my garden beautiful so that I can enjoy it as much as they do.

Doesn’t that seem like a reasonably decent and fair exchange? Everyone wins.

This might turn into a plan. Who knows?  Maybe even a movement.


Farming Politics

IFA pay scandal plants seeds of doubt

There will be no-one cheerfully humming Richie Kavanagh’s favourite hits as the IFA Executive Council meets tonight to decide on the fate of their president and perhaps one or two others.  It’s all about IFA pay. The men look haggard. The men want blood and the men who sent them will settle for nothing less. Nobody will be cowed after this. The herd mentality is finished.

Politicians of every stripe are inwardly high-fiveing as the Irish Farmers’ Association eviscerates itself in this very public act of self-examination. Senior civil servants nod meaningfully to each other in the corridor and perhaps share a discreet chuckle. Mart managers all over the country look around with narrowed eyes, not yet certain if those eyes can be trusted, but still, the miasma seems to be lifting.

Suddenly, almost without warning, it has dawned on everyone that the king is bollocks naked, the bullishness was mere posturing and the organisation they feared and loathed in equal measure is nothing more than a bottle of smoke. A straw man.

True enough, RTE management are still displaying a craven, grovelling attitude towards the Farmers Journal, as they traditionally do when anyone sends them a lawyer’s letter. But even an organ as magnificent as the Journal, famed for its ability to make or break government ministers and departmental secretaries, must surely be aware that those days are now over for good. The game is up. The spell is lifted, the fingers are clicked and suddenly everyone is back in the room shaking their heads wondering why they’re dressed in Miss Piggy outfits and why the audience is laughing at them.

Just as the Catholic Church once believed it was bigger than the law of the land, so the IFA thought it held some sort of quasi-governmental status even though it is no more than a political lobby group and cartel. It even imposed a tax on every farmer in the country, regardless of whether or not they happened to be members.

But just as the bishops discovered that you only have power when people take you seriously, so now do those at the head of IFA. Without that belief, you’re no more than a scarecrow and just as the people turned their backs on the Catholic bishops, the rank and file farmers have lost the faith, quickly, brutally and irrevocably. There’s no going back once the seeds of doubt are planted.

For all anyone can say, Pat Smith earned every penny of the half million he was paid per year. For all anyone knows, his two subordinates are worth their €200k each. For all I can say, the President Eddie Downey is worth his €190k plus expenses. Who’s to say these people were not worth the combined million euros they received every year?

But none of that matters now.

The only thing that matters is that the farmers don’t think so.

There’s a ripple effect with these things, as we saw with the Central Remedial Clinic and Rehab uproar which caused a collapse in the receipts of all charities, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see demands for disclosure in other comparable organisations even if it turns out that there is nothing to be concerned about. After all, the entire payroll of the ICMSA — eleven staff including the secretary general — would barely cover what Pat Smith got.

What are the likely consequences of this debacle?

From the public point of view, they’re all good.

It turns out there was more than a grain of truth in the rumours and therefore this is the end of IFA lobbyists milking every story for sympathy. The well has run dry. They’ve ploughed that lonely furrow for too long. They sowed the wind and now they reap the whirlwind.

From now on, the IFA will have transparency thrust upon it whether it likes it or not. There will be no more deals done in corners of hotel bars, no more less-than-subtle pressure on government ministers and no more anxiety among senior civil servants that their careers might somehow suffer if they happen to anger the IFA.

In other words, we get more democracy with the decline of yet another organisation falsely believing that it is an arm of state and not simply a glorified trade association.

So what if we’ve all lost faith in the cosy clubs that made up the new Ireland of the 20th century?






And now, farmers.

Where will it all end?

Who knew daylight could be so destructive?


Unanswered questions



Business Travel

Aran Islands air service cancelled after 40 years

There are some strange shenanigans happening on the Aran Islands these days and the locals are far from happy about it.

At a cost of forty jobs, and without consulting the islanders, the Department of the Gaeltacht withdrew the air-transport contract from a company that has successfully provided the service for more than four decades, leaving those who live on the islands baffled.  They can’t understand how anyone — even the civil service — could have been stupid enough to try and solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

The current fixed-wing aircraft are  perfect for the job. The Britten-Norman Islander can carry eight passengers and all their luggage on the seven-minute flight from the little airport at Indreabhán in Conamara to Iar Áirne on Inis Mór.  It hops between the islands safely and quickly. It demands only the normal level of maintenance required for a fixed-wing aircraft, it can operate in difficult weather and people feel safe flying in it.

aer arann

What’s more, because the Conamara airport is only ten minutes from the ferry port of Ros a’Mhíl, if the weather turns so foul that the planes can’t fly, local people can have the option of taking the boat.

It works.

It has worked for more than forty years, so why would Roinn na Gaeltacha suddenly drop the whole thing and instead award the contract to a helicopter company based in Galway city?  After all, helicopters are fiendishly expensive to run, and people are afraid of them, with good reason.

The islanders aren’t the only ones baffled. Galway Council owns the airport that Executive Helicopters plan to use as a base, but the council was never consulted about the proposal and has no contract with the company. Therefore, it would appear that a vital element of the successful tender was not grounded in reality and that the Department exceeded its powers by awarding the contract.

Leaving that aside, nobody from the islands wants to fly from Galway city in a helicopter.  They’re so angry about the whole thing that a delegation of several hundred are tomorrow travelling to meet the junior minister in charge of the project, Joe McHugh, who took the trouble to learn some Irish after being appointed junior minister for the Gaeltacht. I suspect his tutors won’t have taught him too many of the words that will be thrown at him during the meeting.

The Aran Islanders are a hardy bunch. You have to be when you live on a rock at the edge of the Atlantic and they won’t be swallowing any of the blandishments offered by a parliamentary secretary like Joe McHugh, but just like the rest of us, the residents of the Rock vary in temperament from mildly sceptical to downright suspicious.

Some people put the decision down to standard Departmental incompetence of the kind that provided Ros a’Mhíl with floating pontoons for the ferries but failed to do the same at the far side, leaving passengers arriving on Aran at the mercy of the tides.

Some think there’s skullduggery involved, though they don’t quite know what that skullduggery might entail.

The majority of people believe that this is the result of an ideological position, either in government or in the Department, with the Machiavellian narrative as follows:

We’ll force Aer Arann Islands out of business by denying them a licence. They’ll have to sack all their workers and sell their aircraft. That will destroy them forever. We’ll appoint a helicopter company that hasn’t a hope in hell of succeeding, since none of the islanders will use them and they won’t be able to provide a proper service.  After a while, they’ll go bust as well, and that will be the end of government subsidising those pesky islands.

How is this achieved?  Simple. By following the age-old public service tradition of first deciding what you want and then writing the specification. That’s how you rig a tender. You make it impossible to win for the people you wish to exclude.

UPDATE 13th October 2015

The Aer Arann  service has been extended for 12 months but suspicions remain that this is simply a ploy to prepare the ground for a second, less hamfisted, attempt to close it down.



Clerys — a horrible alchemy

The symbol for Sodium in the periodic table of the elements is Na, as anyone who went to school knows.

Natrium also happens to be the name of the company that took over Clerys and threw all of its workers out on the side of the street without a moment’s explanation or apology.


Deirdre Foley, a 43-year-old accountant from Sligo, is 20% owner of Natrium Limited.  She began her career with KPMG before going on to work with Derek Quinlan.  The other director of Natrium is John Skelly.

The remaining 80% of Natrium is owned by a London hedge fund whose directors are Deirdre Foley, John Skelly and Ronan Daly.

Deirdre is also a director of Stannum Limited, set up on the same day as Natrium Limited: 27th May 2015.

Stannum is another Latin word, the chemical name for tin, shortened to St in the periodic table of the elements.

At this rate, Deirdre will use up the entire Periodic Table’s list of metallic names and why wouldn’t she, considering what a rich source of meaning they contain?  Before long, no doubt, Deirdre will have a company called Ferrum Limited to demonstrate the iron in her soul, and Hydragyrum Limited to show how slippery her quicksilver wits are.  While she’s at it, why not Plumbum Limited, a company producing lead weights to see what depths her business ethics can plumb?

Alchemy, as we all know these days, was the futile pursuit of an impossible ideal: the transmutation of base metals such as lead to gold and silver.  It was a nice transitional phase between magic and science, with adherents including the great Isaac Newton, but of course, if Newton had available to him the knowledge we possess today, he would have dismissed alchemy as so much hocus pocus.

Unfortunately, hocus pocus hasn’t died out completely as we saw in recent days.  In the heartless, unemotional world of financial alchemy, it should be possible to convert metals like Natrium and Stannum to Argentum (Ag) and Aureum (Au).

The formula is almost mediaeval in its ignorance and brutality.

Take the hopes and dreams of small people.

Shit on them.

Shit on them again until they turn to copper (Cu).

Set your own compassion aside and crush it.

Take the copper and shit on it once more until it becomes silver (Ag).

Squeeze the silver in a mash of small people until it transmutes into gold (Au).

Crush the small people and discard them.

Take the gold (Au) to bed with you and fondle it.  See if it does you any good as you try to get a peaceful night’s sleep.




Facebook Buys WhatsApp for €19 Billion

I’m still a bit rattled by the money paid for WhatsApp.

$19 billion.  What is that?  Nineteen thousand million dollars.  It’s the sort of figure I genuinely can’t get my head around and yet, last night, as I shared a half gallon of delicious black nectar with an old friend, he put it in context for me.

It’s not all that much, he said.

Not all that much? I replied.  Not all that much?  Nineteen billion dollars is, what, about €14 billion?

Exactly, he nodded, condescendingly.  Less than three quarters of Ireland’s health budget for a year.  The health budget of a very small country, even taking into account how many people are grossly overpaid.

And you know, he has a point.  It’s true.

But still. $19 billion?

What would you do if somebody paid you $19 billion for a company you’d set up out of nothing?

Would you …

a)  Go completely crazy, put all your friends on a 170-foot yacht, fill it with Latvian hookers, take it to international waters, buy fourteen pounds of marching powder,  and hire the Rolling Stones for a week?

b)  Go completely crazy, put all your friends on a 170-foot yacht, fill it with Latvian hookers, take it to international waters, buy fourteen pounds of marching powder,  and hire the Rolling Stones for a week?

c)  Go completely crazy, buy a 170-foot yacht, fill it with Latvian hookers, take it to international waters, buy fourteen pounds of marching powder,  and hire the Rolling Stones for a week?


d)  put all your energy into growing the company?

It’s a tough choice, I’ll admit, but them’s the breaks.

Now, Jan Koum seems to be a very level-headed fellow.  He left Ukraine with his mother at the age of 16, to escape the anti-Semitism around Kiev, and to find a less corrupt society in the United States.  Good luck with that.  He was a clever fellow, teaching himself from books he bought in second-hand shops, and he found that nobody really cared if he had a college degree or not.  He did well, finding a like-minded ill-fitting geek in the shape of Brian Acton, both of them pretty-much unemployable outside the insane world of Silicon Valley and eventually they set up WhatsApp with the support of an equally-insane venture capitalist called Jim Goetz.

It took off.  It even made some money, but mostly it took over the world of texting and picture-sharing.  FaceBook spotted it, recognised that it had a bigger market share than they did and promptly bought it for $19 billion.  I like the fact that they posed for the publicity photo outside the same social security office where Koum and Acton both collected food stamps.

WhatsApp Founders and financial backer

All well and good, but that’s where we came in.  Let’s say the venture capitalist got a great deal and he owns a third of the company.  That leaves $13 billion for the two founders.  They have fifty employees.  Let’s say they decided to give them half the money, which they probably didn’t.  But let’s just say they were that generous.

That leaves $6.5 billion.  $3.25 billion each.

Let’s say half of that is funny money in the form of Facebook shares, so shit, let’s call it a billion each.  A flat billion in folding green currency of the sort you could use to purchase many hot-dogs.

If you had a billion dollars, what would be your first priority?

I can tell you this: my first priority would not be going back to work.  And it would not be promoting world peace.  I might even hire a top-class assassin, but only to join me in brandy and cigars while reminiscing about operations in the old days.

What would I mostly do with a billion dollars?

Simple.  I’d go fucking mad.

Who wouldn’t?


Annoying Shop Behaviour

My old mouse was knackered so I bought one in Maplins, but when I tried it out, the laser didn’t work.  It wouldn’t move the little pointer thing on the screen.

Luckily — and this is unusual for me — I still had the receipt in my pocket, so I took it back to them.

This mouse doesn’t work.  This mouse is deceased.  This is an ex-mouse.

In fairness to the girl who served me, there was no problem.  Just go down to the shelf and see if there’s something else that might suit you.

There wasn’t.  I’m not going to spend €45 on a goddamn mouse.

Apart from a brief period of officious bossiness where she went to check that I wasn’t a complete idiot, blind and senile, the girl was efficient, and went through the process as per training.  For some reason, they can’t just give you your money back.  If you paid for it by card, they have to put it back on your card, but I let that little moment pass by.  Why argue?

It wasn’t until she said, We’ll need your address that I baulked.

Why do you need my address?  Why do you need any personal details?

It’s for the refund.

I don’t care.  I’m not giving you any personal details.  Please return my money.

You have to give your address.

I do not.  Give me my money now, please.

You have to.

I don’t.  This is a data protection issue.  I never give shops my private details.  You’re not entitled to have this information.

After a moment or two eyeballing each other, she typed something (probably, This lunatic lives on Planet Pancake)  and I got my refund.  To be fair, I don’t blame the poor girl on the shop floor.  This shit is laid down by the goons in Head Office who treat privacy as something to be laughed at.

Don’t ever give a shop your private information when you buy something.  It’s none of their business.

PS, I went next door to Argos and got a better mouse for half the price.



Ryanair Sacks Trolley Dolly for Claiming In-flight Coffee is Shite

Ryanair has sacked one of its longest-serving stewardesses for exposing the scandal of sub-standard in-flight coffee served on its planes.

In a statement, the airline stated that it was suing Ms Frieda Gottblinder, who has been with the airline since 1987, for gross defamation.  This is an outrageous slur on our in-flight service, said Michael O’Leary, the diminutive head of propaganda in Ryanair.  We’ve immediately withdrawn all free toilet roll privileges from our staff until they admit that our coffee is the best in the world.  Anywhere.  Ever.

Our coffee is delivered by over 500,000 dedicated coffee professionals, many of whom gave their lives to ensure that our customers have the right to access our top-quality coffee, our scratch-cards and our unequalled customer service and courtesy.  Get that bastard back in line!

michael o leary ryanair

Announcing that proceedings had been issued against Ms Gottblinder and Channel 4, the station that criticised its coffee-brewing policies, Ryanair made the following statement.

Our coffee making is in line with the best international paper-cup-filling standards.  It’s an appalling slur on our integrity to suggest that we would serve shite coffee to our customers, and since we have a shit-load of money, we’re going to crush this penniless trolley dolly right here and now, so I am.  We.  I mean we.

Do that again, all right?  I meant we.  Not me. And fuckin bend down when you talk to Us.  I mean Me.  

Do you realise I’m a fucking billionaire? We.  We’re fucking billionaires.  Ryanair, I meant.  Not me.

Where are you going with that toilet paper?


Good, Cheap and Fast

In future, I’m just going to show people this.


good cheap fast

Business Food & Drink

Powers Irish Whiskey – How Not to do a Social Media Promotion

This is what I keep saying.  Why don’t these companies hire someone who understands social media?  Instead, they get their CEO’s nephew’s girlfriend who has a blog, to do the job, or else, Ken from Marketing.

This is the sad result.

Dear Jesus.  Have a look at this awful Facebook attempt to win business.







People, listen.  You need to hire someone.

Honestly.  You really do.

The boss’s nephew isn’t going to boost sales.

Business Ethics

The Make It Happen Foundation

Supposing you wanted to send a terminally ill child on the trip of a lifetime to meet Santa, what would you do?  If you had the spare cash, you might pay for the trip out of your own pocket, and if not, you might turn to what many Irish people are good at.  You might raise funds, but how would you go about that?

Well, you might see if you could get a company in your area to help, or you might take a sponsorship card and get your friends to help, organise bag packing in your local supermarket, organise a coffee morning, or arrange with a local pub for a quiz night.

What would you tell people?

I’m trying to send a very sick child to see Santa in Lapland.

Marvellous.  Everyone would probably throw in a fiver, even if they were stone broke, as we all are these days.  But suppose they asked you where the money was going, what would you tell them?

It’s all paying for the kid’s flights, accommodation and care.

Isn’t that right?  Unfortunately, the answer is no, if you do it as proposed by the Make It Happen Foundation.  Doing it their way, you’d have to explain to your generous supporters that most of the money will be used to send you on a holiday.  It will be spent on profits for the travel agents, profits for the tour operators, your flights and your accommodation.  Anything left over goes towards the cost of sending a child to meet Santa, after costs and overheads.

So there you are with your sponsorship card, shaking a bucket at the check-outs, and a big logo on your t-shirt.  Going on holiday to Thailand.  Please give generously.

I was baffled by this business model, so I turned for guidance to the official website and found this:

Here is how it works
You travel on one of our departures, selecting your chosen event, Walking, Running, Cycling or Golf and the money made by you travelling enables us to send one TERMINALLY ILL CHILD

On examination, however, no money is raised by any of the walking, cycling, running or golfing.  These are simply things you can do after you’ve raised the money to pay  for your holiday.

Can you see anything wrong with this plan?  I’m no genius, but I think I can come up with a better idea.

How about if you just stood at the check-out and you told people that every penny you raise will be spent  sending sick children to visit Santa?  There will be no free holiday for you, no profits for anyone, no administrative overheads and no middle-men.  Wouldn’t that be a lot better?  Of course it would, so what exactly is going on with the Make It Happen Foundation?

It’s not a charity, and yet it seeks donations.

It no longer claims to be working with any hospitals or other organisations, although it did at one time, and its site still suggests that it might be doing so.  At one time, this map referred to something it called Bernardos.  The reference was removed after inquiries by this interested observer, as were Laura Lynn House and Enable Ireland.

Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to ask for a precise breakdown of where all this money is supposed to go, especially since the company shares personnel with a previous venture called The Children to Lapland Appeal, which promoted a similarly flawed concept and which was finally wound up last year?  I wrote about it here some time ago.

Perhaps if you live in one of the areas mentioned on the map, you might choose to contact your local hospital and try to establish what precisely its relationship is with the Make It Happen Foundation.

As the website says

You will have a wonderful time on your chosen destination knowing by joining us you will send a little one on a trip of a lifetime in their all too short lives.

Please find a place in your heart to MAKE IT HAPPEN

Surely it would make a lot more difference if you could find it in your heart not to go on holidays, but instead to hand over all the money so that several little ones could have the trip of a lifetime.

As I said, this company is not a registered charity.


By comparison, why not have a look at an established registered charity called the Make A Wish Foundation?


The following exchange is a screenshot of the Make It Happen Facebook page.

The Make It Happen Foundation’s Facebook page states that they have no connection with Children to Lapland and yet, both directors of Make It Happen are associated in some way with the now-defunct charity.

Mags Davis (46) is a former employee of United Travel, which was closely associated with the Lapland  charity.  As she says in her Linkedin profile:

I travelled extensively all over the world to contract hotels and secure rooms for future Irish clients. Countries travelled mostly to UAE (DXB and RAK)/Thailand (Pattaya) /Egypt (Luxor/Hurghada)/Japan(Tokyo)/Hong Kong/Italy/Switzerland and also Lapland (Finland) to take the terminally ill children to meet Santa in Lapland.

Jenny Russell is a former committee member of the Children to Lapland Appeal.

Con Murphy, owner of United Travel and director of the Children to Lapland Appeal now appears in many of the photos on the Make It Happen Facebook album.

Given such a close association between the two companies, why would Make It Happen deny any connection?



These are some of the holidays your fundraising will send you on.


Thailand Charity Experience — €699 per person.  Full details HERE.

Day 1  Fly to Bangkok.

Day 2 Travel to Pattaya.

Day 3 Hang around Pattaya.

Day 4 Embark on your first charity experience in the surrounding area of Pattaya.  Hang around in the afternoon.

Day 5 Embark on your second charity experience in the surrounding area of Pattaya.  Hang around in the afternoon.

Day 6 Embark on your third charity experience in the surrounding area of Pattaya, or visit the elephant village.  Hang around in the afternoon.

Day 7 Embark on your fourth charity experience in the surrounding area of Pattaya.  Hang around in the afternoon.

Day 8 Hang around Pattaya.  Have dinner.

Day 9  Go to Bangkok.  Hang around.

Day 10  Hang around Bangkok in the morning.  Go to the airport.  Go home.


Philippines Charity Experience  €899 per person.  Full details HERE.

Day 1  Fly to Manila.  During the flight, you can eat and drink.

Day 2  Go to your hotel in Manila.

Day 3 Fly to Boracay.

Day 4  Go for a walk.

Day 5 Go for another walk

Day 6 Go for another walk.  After breakfast, go on a tour or just hang around.

Day 7 Go for another walk.  Then go on a boat or else just hang around.

Day 8. Go on your last walk.  Then go shopping and go to bed.

Day 9  Fly to Manila

Day 10 See Manila.

Day 11 Go home