The Dole Office

-”No, no, no. You need to fill out form 207B and bring it to reception.”

-”But, this is form 207B? It says it here at the top?”

-”No, what you’ve got here is form 207b. See it’s got a lower-case b. You need to get 207B, capital B, and bring it up to reception.”

-”Hang on, up to reception? Isn’t this reception? It says ‘reception’ on that sign there behind you.”

-”No, no, no. This is the reception exclusively for those in their late 30s who were employed in the tourism sector in the early-to-mid 90s. You need the reception for recent film graduates from forgettable midlands counties. That’s up on the 28th floor, between the Icelandic tourist department on the 26th and the samba soccer graduates on the 28th.”

* * *

-“So, you’re unemployed and you want to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance?”

-“That’s correct, I’ve got all the forms here, I think, and the lady downstairs told me to bring them…”

-“You don’t have a job, is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

-”Eh, yeah, that’s right…”

-”And why not? You fucking piece of human waste.”

-”Excuse me?!”

-”I said, ‘Sir, why do you think you’ve been unable to attain employment?’”

-”Eh, um, well I just finished college there a few weeks ago and I’ve been applying for jobs but…”

-”Hang on there a minute now, finished college?! Why have you gone and done that?”

-”What?”

-”Why have you finished?”

-”It’s… it’s a three-year course and I’ve just finished my final year…”

-”So you decided to just finish your degree, knowing that you’d be a jobless parasite afterwards?”

-”I, well, I don’t really get to decide how long the course is you know?”

-”Less of the attitude now, you little bollocks.”

-”What did you just..!?”

-”I said, regardless of your poorly considered decision to finish college after just three years, this is the wrong form.”

-”How do you mean?”

-”Well, you see, what you need to supply us with is form 207B.”

-”Yes, I’ve been told… This is form 207B.”

-”No, no, no. This form you’ve handed me here is form 207β. You see? That’s not a capital B, that’s the ancient Greek symbol for the letter beta. This form is for Jobseeker’s Allowance, but only for those who graduated from Plato’s Academy from 367 – 347 BC. They deal with those claims in the Socratic reception up on the 71st floor.”

-“…the… the Socratic reception?”

-“Yes. If you want to hand in 207β, bring it up there and be ready for a few questions from the man behind the desk.”

* * *

-“Hello, good afternoon, yes. I’d like to check if my social welfare payment has come in yet. I was told to check this post office on Friday the…”

-”Yes, yes, yes. Give us your card, please.”

-”Eh, here you go. Thanks.”

-”Yeah, says it’s all here for you now, a month’s backpay and everything. Hang on just two seconds…”

-“Ah, that’s great, thanks very…”

-“There you are, a hundred euro.”

-”…much… A hundred?

-“Yes.”

-”One hundred euro. With backpay?”

-”Yes.”

-”…Feckin’ Greeks.”

sanzio_01_plato_aristotle

Plato and Aristotle throwing shapes in the dole queue.

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Star Wars – The Force Awakens

SPOILERS

Now that the hype has settled down somewhat, it might just be possible to step back and take an objective look at the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens.

After Disney’s takeover of Lucasfilm, the reigns of the colossal franchise were handed to JJ Abrams. Having created TV shows such as Lost and Alias, as well as overseeing the Star Trek reboot, Abrams was tasked with steadying the ship after the much maligned prequel trilogy. Considering the magnitude of the franchise, and the fervent nature of the Star Wars fandom, this was no mean feat.

From the off, The Force Awakens is inextricably linked to the saga’s beginnings, with the opening shot of a huge star destroyer harking back to the series’ very first shot in A New Hope. This act of balancing the old and the new is handled tactfully by Abrams, as he manages to move the series forward whilst allowing the fans those moments of nostalgia that they crave. A downed AT-AT lays in the sand, a malformed Vader mask serves to inspire new villain Kylo Ren and ball-shaped droid BB-8, like R2-D2, communicates in beeps and bloops.

Giving Star Wars fans new heroes to root for is a difficult undertaking, so ingrained in popular culture are the archetypes of the original trilogy. Luke, Leia and Han are huge characters in cinema and, similarly, they are almost mythical figures to the new protagonists in The Force Awakens. Scavenging dreamer Rey, turncoat storm trooper Finn and accomplished rebel pilot Poe Dameron take the lead and look set to drive the narrative of the new trilogy. Much like Abrams taking inspiration from the original trilogy, our new heroes take heart in the stories of Han, Leia and the absent Luke felling the Empire.

Visually, the film makes satisfying use of practical effects, remaining true to the aesthetic of the original trilogy and moving away from the overuse of CGI which plagued the prequels. The new characters and locations are fresh, without looking out of place in the Star Wars universe. The huge, holographic General Snoke is, perhaps, the only misstep, although it may be wise to reserve judgement on that front until we learn more about his identity.

Though the film remains visually consistent and engaging throughout, it lacks singular images as striking as some of those in the original trilogy. Perhaps time will render certain shots iconic, such as Kylo Ren confronting his father in the waning light of a disappearing sun, but on initial viewing, nothing carries the impact of Luke, accompanied by John William’s stunning score, gazing upon Tatooine’s twin suns. As well as the lack of memorable images, Abrams’ fondness for tight-framing often diminishes the sense of scale we might associate with Star Wars.

There is something of a pacing issue as well, a lack of breathing room. Despite the film’s considerable running time, over two hours, there is no pause for reflection. Maybe it’s a symptom of the modern blockbuster, but the original trilogy allowed for space between set-pieces. Room for relationships to grow and characters to develop, giving the eventual action even higher stakes. The Force Awakens remains immensely entertaining, and the running time flies past, but the breakneck pace lessens the viewer’s investment in the fates of Rey and Finn.

Rey, Finn and Poe are fresh characters, superbly acted, with potential to become as memorable as our original heroes, and Adam Driver’s turn as Kylo Ren portrays the angst of youth better than Hayden Christensen ever did, but the plot of The Force Awakens feels all to familiar at times. The parallels to A New Hope are numerous and obvious, and certainly deliberate, but Starkiller Base is effectively a third Death Star and The First Order are the Empire 2.0. However, the familiar narrative can be forgiven to some extent, as Abrams took chances with the new characters, whilst utilizing the stable foothold of familiar plot points to develop them.

The Force Awakens isn’t breaking any new ground in cinema, but Abrams has achieved what he set out to do, modernizing Star Wars for a new generation, without alienating the fan-base who made the series a cultural juggernaut. This first instalment in the new trilogy plays it safe, understandably after the disastrous prequels, doing exactly what it needs to re-establish Star Wars in the hearts of the public. If the sequels build on the foundations laid by Abrams, then we may have a trilogy to rival the originals.

And if you don’t feel something when Han and Chewie set foot on the Millennium Falcon after all these years, there’s just no saving you from the dark side.

A Lucky Bag of Booze

There’s a whole host of ways to get lashed out of it and they’re all a bit different. Here’s a small selection of my personal favourites.

Red Wine

A sophisticated choice for the evening. Not that sophisticated though, it cost four quid in Aldi. Time to relax and pour a nice big glass of.. Hang on, you don’t have a glass because you’re drinking in a field. Oh well, I’ll just drink straight from the.. Wait, you don’t have a corkscrew either. You manage to bash the cork into the bottle with your shoe, cutting yourself in the process. No harm, you can rinse out the wound with the wine. Fuck, that stings. The first delicate sip follows.. Subtle aromas of ethanol, with bits of shoe and a hint of broken glass. Time to go to the nightcl.. Oh, you’re asleep in a ditch. A lingering air of sophistication.. and piss.

Whiskey

A potent combination of unwarranted aggression and poor decisions.

You’re in a taxi on the way home after a pleasant evening out. You have more than enough money to pay. Better call the driver a cunt and pull a runner, leaving your unsuspecting pregnant wife to pay the fare.

You’re at a football match in mid-December and you’re topless. Your team is winning comfortably. Better throw a handful of coppers at the referee.

You’re at the home of a friend who has kindly offered up their house for a quiet social gathering. Better kick them square in the bollocks.

CANS

Cans of what? Doesn’t matter.

How many? A few.

How many is a few? Who knows?

Trusty old cans, the bastard cousin of pints. Not really a particular kind of alcohol, I know, but bear with me. The most basic tool of getting wrecked. Multi-purpose. Suitable for all occasions. Easily carried in a plastic Tesco bag and later recycled into ashtrays. Standard level of drunkenness guaranteed. After a certain number of cans you’ll be appropriately hammered, but then you’ll just kind of level out and enter a zen-like state of intoxication. If there was a food pyramid for alcohol, cans would form the base.

Tequila

Buckfast

My personal favourite. A special kind of intoxication. After a bottle of Buckfast your brain behaves a bit like it’s gone to the darts for the evening. Someone scores 180, the darts tune goes off (da da da da daa, dadadada daa, dadadada daa, OI OI OI), you jump out of your seat, elbow your begrudging wife in the face and spill your pint of Tennent’s everywhere, all whilst dancing the only dance you can think of (bounce on the spot, alternate left arm in the air and right arm in the air, repeat). Lasers are going off, there are men dressed as wombles and you’re surrounded by illegible handwritten signs. It doesn’t matter, you’re far beyond the point of being able to read anyway. At the darts, the music stops after a minute or two and everything calms down, for a while at least. After a bottle of Buckfast, this scene will rage inside your head all night long and inevitably influence your behaviour.

The Mall

(Why the fuck is it called the Mall, anyway?)

I’ve been to Alton Towers. I even have one of those roller-coaster pictures to prove it. You know the one. Just after the big drop, so you look fucking ridiculous. It was on a school tour and it was great fun, but you can keep your glitzy roller-coasters and your glamorous haunted-houses, because they don’t hold a candle to The Mall Complex, Longford.

Not one, but two playgrounds. The first is located in the centre of the park, the more traditional of the pair. Couple of swings, a slide, some shit to spin around on, the usual play-related suspects. Soft, padded ground to protect you from “boo-boos” and “owies”. Some cracking graffiti to boot, “if u read dis ur gay”, a Banksy original, I believe. Head in the direction of the town and you’ll soon come to the other designated play-area. A more alternative, edgy effort. A sprawling spider-web, wood-chip on the ground, some sort of rocking caterpillar, weird bouncy things. It’s fucking madness. Whoever designed this must look at the work of Salvador Dali and see nothing out of the ordinary. Chaos.

I haven’t actually been inside the building that anchors the place that many times in the past few years but it looks surprisingly decent from the outside. Bit of a suspect choice to place huge windows at the children’s end of the swimming pool but I suppose we shouldn’t let paranoia dictate our architectural designs. Some nice astro turf football pitches situated near the more mainstream of the two playgrounds to cater for all your interstellar sporting needs. Exercise machines line the path around the Mall too, for those who believe “the world is my gym”. (As long as the world is full of conveniently located equipment serving the sole purpose of making the world a bit more like an actual gym.)

It’s the people that really make the place though. One time a group of young gentlemen informed me that a select area of the Mall was their “turf”. Sorry chaps, didn’t realise I’d stumbled into Compton wearing the wrong colours. I promptly vacated the area, lest one of Longford’s regular drive-by shootings prematurely halt my blooming career in gangsta rap. Nice of the lads to let me know I’d stumbled onto their private property, oddly located in the centre of a public park, so we could avoid any legal action in future. I made my way home, carefully avoiding the empty bottles of Buckfast and local turf wars, marvelling at my good fortune in residing so close to this local landmark.

“And here’s Robbie Keane.. YES!”

It’s absolutely mental really. I’m emotionally invested in a group of millionaires kicking a pumped up lump of leather around an immaculately maintained field. Every rational part of me can see how absurd it is, but I still love it.

I’ve been reliably informed (by Facebook and reddit) that Robbie Keane scored THAT goal against the Germans twelve years ago yesterday.

(Apologies for the quality and length of that clip, I’m not a very a patriotic person but I felt the need to include the RTE commentary and the goal is at the very start of it anyway.)

I remember that goal as vividly as any moment from my childhood. I was ten years old and I’d taken the day off school to watch the match. I didn’t even pretend to be sick or anything, it was just accepted that this was much more important than anything we might learn that day. I was later informed that the few who made it to school ended up watching it in the ‘halla’ anyway. In retrospect, watching it among my friends might have been more appropriate for the occasion, but I’ve always preferred doing things on my own. If anything, the lack of company led to a more unrestrained moment of ecstasy when Oliver Kahn was finally beaten.

I lost my shit when it went in. Leapt off the couch, roared the house down and nearly killed myself copying Robbie’s cartwheel and tumble. The feeling of pure bliss was unparalleled. Few things before or since have made me feel quite the same way. That might sound a bit pathetic to those of you who don’t worship the holy trinity of Giles, Dunphy and Brady, alongside our Lord and Saviour, Bill O’ Herlihy. Then again, you probably don’t loathe Thierry Henry or rank Put ’em Under Pressure among the finest compositions of the 20th Century so your opinion is null and void.

Working For The Man Every Night and Day

Well, just during the day really. And not every day either because I’m only part-time.

I’ve recently joined the ‘rat-race’ and to my great disappointment it resembles neither a game of Mario Kart nor that mediocre film with Rowan Atkinson. It’s more like a race that children (and adults, who am I kidding) have between their toys. Either you spin around on the spot and collapse at the starting point, or you chug and splutter your way towards the finishing line slower than the conclusion of How I Met Your Mother. Either way, it’s pretty fucking dull.

Anyhow, I’ve been working in Penneys and trying to mentally repress the likely sweatshop origins of the clothes I’m folding and stacking. People ask me how the job is going and I reply with something non-committal like “It’s grand”, because I’m your textbook cocktail of Irish masculinity, brewed from Catholic guilt and a lack of Vitamin D. If I was to elaborate further, I’d compare the act of repeatedly folding and stacking clothes to a really shit puzzle game. A bit like playing Tetris, only there’s no straight line piece to bail you out when everything starts falling apart and instead of that mental Russian tune (which I’ve just learned is based on poem from 1861) I have the distant strains of Shania Twain as my soundtrack. Shit, at least I get paid for it.

Tetris Piece

The Itch

      You have been waiting all day long for it. Just itching to get home, get some time to yourself. All alone, just you, in your bedroom. Could have done it at work, I suppose, popped into the bathroom for a bit. Not really the same though. It’s best in the comfort of your own home. Familiar surroundings, no distractions. You want to enjoy this one. You will.

Personally, I like to do it slow. I want to feel it, you know? Really focus. Get into the rhythm. Let the sensation gradually wash over me, inching towards the finish, until the climactic release. The jolt. The little death. Maybe you would prefer something a bit more sudden? A sharp moment of intensity. A flash of feeling. An instant that really shakes you. We’ve all got our ideal approach.

So, slink away from the raucous world that exists outside your front door. Skulk up the stairs and into your safe, silent corner of the house. Set aside all the time you need. Shut the door softly behind you. Leave your troubles, fears and concerns outside those four walls. Unbuckle your belt. Let your trousers slide down to your ankles. Oh yeah, baby. It’s finally time. Time to peel that fucking plaster off your leg.

A Night on the Town

You are stuck at home. Maybe for the summer, perhaps on a more permanent basis, could be just a fleeting visit? One thing’s for sure, it’s Saturday night, you come from the dullest county in Ireland and you want to get absolutely rat-arsed drunk.

The night begins in your humble abode. Make sure you look a little more upmarket than you do during the day. No need to get too fancy, the reek of fags coupled with the alcohol-induced haze will do more than enough to mask any imperfections. If you’re anything like me, getting all dressed up for a night out stretches about as far as putting a shirt on over whatever the fuck I was already wearing. Don’t tell Gok Wan though.

But hang on, before you waste your time dolling yourself up, we have the bulk of the early evening preparation. Sending out the text, making a few calls, using Facebook as a means of conversation and not just a tool for creeping. You can’t go out on your own, it’s a fucking war-zone out there. You need accompaniment, for a variety of reasons. How many of your trusted stooges are you going to embarrass yourself in front of tonight?

Depending on the occasion and the collective desire to drink, you will need somewhere between one close friend and every acquaintance in your phone-book to join you out on the lash. You certainly can’t do it alone. Pre-drinking on your own will stir up concerns about a developing dependency on alcohol, standing in the corner of a nightclub by yourself will lead to a worrying observation of society at its most primal.

Now that you’ve rounded up a few of the usual suspects, you’re going to need a stage for tonight’s performance to unfold upon. Back in the glory days you would’ve taken a dirty bottle of cider down to some field, park or dodgy alleyway, roaming free, at one with nature. This just isn’t an option these days. You haven’t really matured, nor have your friends, but most of you are the wrong side of twenty and it’s time to pretend you’re a proper adult. Don’t worry though, you’ll still be doing the same stupid shit, you’ll just be indoors and most of it will be somewhat legal. You find a house to drink in, as always. The parents are away for the weekend, thus relieving you of any uncomfortable small talk and enabling your band of merry men to be as loud and obnoxious as they please.

So it’s time to rock and/or roll and begin the journey to the session. There’ll be a detour along the way though, you’re not turning up empty-handed, to scab drink, you stingy bastard. So it’s into Tesco first. Cheap enough, decent selection, en route. Stroll over to the drink section. Eyeing up a nice bottle of Jameson. You’re feeling pretty cultured. Serve it up on the rocks, sit back and channel your inner Don Draper. Slick. You’re not fucking kidding anyone though, so it’s a few cans of Bavaria and out the door.

Saunter on up to the gaff, crack open the first can and the night has truly begun. You regret opting for the Bav almost immediately. The can even fizzes up and spills on your jeans. It’s like you’ve pissed yourself, without the relief of actually taking a piss. German efficiency, my bollocks. You promise yourself a higher standard of alcoholic beverage next time. Later in the night you will retract this promise, having convinced yourself that Bavaria is, in fact, the nectar of the Gods. Despite your beverage mishap, drinking at the house is the high-point of the night. You are surrounded by people you can at least tolerate, the noise levels are low enough to allow you the luxury of actual conversation and you are at an optimal level of intoxication. As a result, time disappears and suddenly you are seated beside a taxi-driver, on your way into town.

“Yes, I would love to hear more about your views on the economy. Please tell me how you could make this country prosper once again.” You will certainly not be uttering these words to the aforementioned taxi-man, but you will humour him for the duration of the journey, while your friends, now looking worse for wear, roll around the back of the taxi, chain-smoking and casting safety regulations to the wayside. After an eternity of taxi-driver wisdom, you arrive at the nightclub, do a piss-poor job of paying the man and mutter an awkward apology for the behaviour of your cohorts.

A shaky climb up the steps, some passive-aggressive dialogue with the bouncers and a resentful payment of ten euro later, you’re in. Drowned out by the nondescript chart music and pulled apart by the oblivious revellers, your platoon disperses. Time for a piss. The floor in the bathroom is so waterlogged that Christ himself wouldn’t chance crossing it. However, you perform a miracle of your own and make it in and out unscathed, albeit with the elegance of Bambi, after a feed of pints, on ice.

Now to the bar. Your liver braces for impact. It wasn’t this crowded before your bathroom escapade. Now it’s fucking rammed. Curse your inadequately sized bladder. You endure the crowd, the elbows and the pushing before you make it to the front. Resting your arms upon the sticky counter, you bellow your order into the ear of the poor, harassed barman. Triple Jameson. Not quite the bottle you had hoped for earlier in the evening, but it’ll certainly do the job. The job being the dulling of senses and facilitating the utter shite-talk that will be offered in place of real conversation.

Between gulping down your first drink and being kicked out the door at half past two in the morning, the possibilities are endless. Well, relative to your location, there won’t be any scientific discovery or deep philosophical discussion, despite what you might think in the moment. Time melts away, decency is pissed up the wall and motor skills are in dire need of a service come the end of the night. No two nights of drinking are exactly the same, but they’re all siblings in the end. Dip your hand into the lucky bag that is a nightclub in Ireland and you will encounter a very loose definition of “luck” indeed, for the night will involve, but is not limited to, some combination of the following:

Starting a fight with someone so much bigger than you that it will make David against Goliath look like a fair contest. Spilling your drink all over some poor sod and blindly denying any wrongdoing. Buying shots for everyone in the vicinity. Falling over, repeatedly. Getting the shift. Not getting the shift. Declaring yourself best friends with someone you’ve just met and struggling to recognise them later in the night. Buying a drink, only to step away from the bar and immediately have it knocked from your hands. Getting kicked out shortly after paying in. Dancing like nobody’s watching, though really everybody is watching and they have cameras too. Breaking things. Throwing up. Spending more money than you brought out. Belting out the chorus to the kind of songs that Katy Perry would deem too poppy. Making life even harder for the bar staff by ordering cocktails that didn’t exist prior to you opening your mouth. Giving away all your cigarettes and then spending half the night asking other people for one. Losing your lighter and ending up with three new ones and half a box of matches. Berating the cloakroom staff for not giving back your jacket quickly enough. Realising that you didn’t even bring a jacket. Being asked to leave half a dozen times at the end of the night and still trying to order one last drink.

When you have finally been forced out the door, moonwalked your way into the middle of town and spent half an hour trying, and failing, to suss out a house party, your troop from the beginning of the night will reappear at the fast food establishment of choice, speaking in not-so-hushed tones about the horrors they’ve seen. A quick wallet inspection confirms your worst fears and it’s time to draw the curtain on the final act. Trudge home, struggle to fit your key in the door, wake up the entire house, pass out.

Muzak

Everyone has it.

There’s that one song, maybe a few songs,  that you hear and it just hits you. You can drown out the world around you, all your problems, all those dark thoughts. For those few minutes you don’t care about anything, except the music.

Maybe it’s a beautiful piano melody, a gentle acoustic guitar or a thumping bass line that seems to reverberate around your entire body, shaking your soul into life. It could be the lyrics, pulling on your heartstrings, lighting up a dull day or even just making you laugh. It’s probably both. The words and the music wound together to create a piece of art that deeply affects you.

Then there’s the element of nostalgia. That sweet moment where you get to relive some precious memory from days gone by, even if it’s just for a split second. Does the song awaken some moment of bliss you thought you could never get back? Does it take you back to a simple childhood memory, a hazy teenage night or a life-changing moment from your adulthood?

Music speaks to us in its own unique way. It takes our emotions and twists them one way and another.  When a song really means something to us, it gives us a feeling like no other. A whirlwind of sensations can overcome us, we see people and places long gone, we feel things we thought we’d never feel again and we see the world in a way we’d never imagined before.

You’ve got that song, or those songs, in your head now. The cacophony of feeling created by the music, stirring somewhere in the deepest recesses of your mind.

There’s only one song on my mind. It incorporates all the elements I’ve spoken about. The musicianship is flawless, the lyrics perfect and timeless. It awakens memories that take me back, all the way back, to a time in my life I think about very rarely these days. It is, to me, the very essence of music, and in turn, art.