Memories of an Old Friend

Saturday last, 12th January 2019, I was sitting on the couch in my new house (my first night there) with my girlfriend, drinking Captain Morgan’s and Coke. We’d just watched a scary movie “A Cabin in the Woods” and were shitting ourselves. The new house backs right on to a forest and is on a pretty extensive, barren Castle estate grounds. We decided to unwind with some music so I stuck on a 90’s playlist on YouTube. The first song on was “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer, followed soon after by “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. Both songs always instantly remind me of my old friend Ali. He was an awesome dancer when he was younger and had most of the moves from both videos down to a tee. I remember he used to go to niteclubs in town and even entered some dance competitions with his brother David who was pretty cool at breakdancing too back in the 80’s.

So I ended up talking about Ali to my girlfriend for ages, telling her all about his eccentricities, dance moves, our football adventures, his weird brother nicknames, his family tragedies, his kids, the last time I seen him, his one visit to Leitrim, etc.. I said to her that I must get in touch with him soon then said jokingly that I really hoped he was still alive and that I worried about him sometimes. I didn’t think he’d been looking after himself great over the years. Imagine my shock then when our mutual friend Colm rang me only 2 days later to tell me Ali had died on December 5th. He was found by his daughter and her mother in his flat in Ranelagh where he’d apparently been dead for about 5 days.

When you get older, I mean quite older usually, you start to hear about some old friends passing away, people about the same age as yourself. There’s nothing like it for reminding you of your own mortality. It was some shock when I heard that one of my first proper, long term friends in life, Alan had died. I remember he was a little younger than me so probably 42 or 43. It’s a bit young to be dying or to be hearing about friends the same age dying?

Alan or “Ali” as we called him, lived on an adjacent road to me in Crumlin Dublin and we met somehow in the late 80’s around age 10 or 11. It was probably through football as that’s all we ever done around were we lived. Myself and Ali used to go “training” for Liverpool in local parks as most of my photos of us below show. We used to buy Liverpool kits, goalie gloves and jerseys and take turns to fire shots at each other from all angles, pretending to be better than we were. Football was eventually replaced by more adult activities such as drinking, hanging around in old, abandoned houses (Ali, Colm and I had a little gang that got up to no good around old houses and we called ourselves The Red Skulls!) and our infamous house “sessions”. Ali moved out of his family home on Stanaway Road, Crumlin to a flat above an upholstery shop on Clonard road just a few km away. Myself, Ali and Colm regularly got together in the flat to drink cheap cans, eat take away and listen to music. Ali loved a good music quiz and we used to stick on some songs and try guess the song name and artist for a point each. Ali usually won but only because he used his own tapes!?

One memorable session in the flat was New Year’s Eve 1999. When everyone else was out partying in fancy pubs and niteclubs like it was 1999, we were in Ali’s grubby little flat with our cans. At one stage after midnight Ali’s older brother (also sadly deceased now) who lived there with him came in stark naked, done a little dance and left as quick. We looked at each other wondering if it really just happened? Ali eventually moved to another flat in Ranelagh where he stayed until his death. I visited him there once before I moved to Leitrim and lost touch a little. He used to tell me that he regularly bumped into Liam O’Maonlai of the Hothouse Flowers too for a chat. He lived around there too. I couldn’t help but notice the huge pile of cigarette butts in the ashtray and the pile of empty beer cans on the sideboard when I was there and it worried me. There was a games console and TV too but he didn’t seem to be doing much with himself. He was telling me he was trying to study for his Leaving or Junior Cert but I don’t think it worked out for him.

Ali was always a little rough around the edges. Not very “intellectually intelligent” as he used to say in his own words but he was a real character and had an interesting way with words. He always seemed a bit dirty/shabby, had poor teeth, little or no education and both his parents died youngish leaving him living with his siblings until he moved into his own place in the 90’s. I remember meeting his mother once and staying with him in her place above a hairdressers caller “Hair Affair” in Athy with our other friend Darren. The 3 of us shared a double bed. The less said about that the better. He didn’t have many breaks in life in general and I never knew him to have a proper job or long term girlfriend although he had two children by different partners and I believe he regularly seen his daughter up until his death which I was chuffed to hear. He spoke regularly to me about his daughter and son and I’m sure he loved them. If you achieve nothing else in life, creating living human beings is pretty damn awesome.

I remember whenever we went anywhere “outdoors” with him such as a restaurant in town etc.. he would get very nervous and self-conscious. He could never order off a menu, either because he couldn’t read great or because of his awkwardness and we usually had to help him. He’d normally just end up blurting out “Chips”! My mother never approved of us being friends but I ignored her. I liked his company and we got on very well. Kids know best and have none of the judgement or snobbishness adults do.

Football brought me and Ali together but a mutual love for music kept us together. He knew a lot about music. All genres and ages. I think he got his taste in music from his older brothers and sisters. Ali got me into some awesome music, none other than The Doors, the band love of my life and I’m chuffed he came to a few of the gigs my Doors cover band played. I remember trying to teach him guitar once after I learned myself but life was too short to try teach Ali anything! I went to see the Doors movie in Tallaght with him and it was The Doors all the way after that. He also got me into Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy and I believe his favourite Lizzy song “Sarah” was played at his funeral. I recorded a version of it below in his honour. Myself, Ali and Phil Lynott all lived within a few minutes of each other in Crumlin! It’s one of my favourite too. Fittingly, his funeral service was in Mount Jerome cemetery where we used to knacker drink! It was a pity to miss the funeral.

Another memorable “outdoor” occasion was when Ali, myself and few guys from the band got together in my house in Crumlin for a BBQ and music session. We had a PA system that we’d just bought for the band setup in the back garden and we done a few of our repertoire. Ali knew all the words to most of the songs. In fact he was famous for being able to quote song lyrics from a ton of songs. One lyric that sticks in my head that he “recited” often were from “Billericay Dickie” by Ian Dury:

Had a love affair with Nina
In the back of my Cortina
A seasoned up hyena could not have been more obscener
She took me to the cleaners
And other misdemeanours
But I got right up between her
Rum and her Ribena

Ian Dury

The whole estate probably got an earful of that gig. We all got stoned immaculate and decided to get the 83 bus into town to go see the LA Doors at Midnight at the Olympia. We were doing fine until the bus stopped at a stop in Rathmines where there were a few Asians waiting. Ali started singing “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors and we all lost the plot. Ali was refused entry and another of our group got thrown out for smoking a joint! Imagine!? At a Doors gig?

Rest in peace Ali. We had some good times together and I’m shocked and sad you’re gone. I’m angry and dissapointed with myself for not getting back in touch with you like I said I would in summer 2017 and for not being in contact much for most of the last 15 years. If your sad death teaches me or anyone else anything it’s that we should stay in touch with people who were or are in our lives. I think the last time we spoke was about 6 years ago and the last time we met in real life was probably the session in Colm’s in Balbriggan when you puked your ring up! I’m glad you visited me that one time in Leitrim when we buried the dead rat in my back garden, made a little cross and said a few prayers for him..

I hope the music is good wherever you are now buddy..

https://rip.ie/death-notice/alan-keegan-crumlin-dublin/372864

How to Build a Terrarium

Why!?

I’m not sure where the hell this idea came from but the seed was planted, so to speak, when I got a leaking aquarium and some goldfish from my kids for my 43rd 25th birthday recently. I tried fixing the tank but getting the old silicone off was near as hell to impossible so I quickly gave up and splashed out on a cheap new tank which was missing a filter and lighting system, things I realised painfully that you can’t be without when trying to keep pissy, smelly goldfish. So fancy tank number three is now in operation and me and the fish are happy. But what to do with the two old tanks!? I googled “uses for old fish tanks” and a pile of images of Terrariums or indoor gardens in a box came up. Terrariums it was so.

Terrarium Science

After a little research I realised that they were all built the same way pretty much, gravel or stones first in on the bottom for good drainage and root dispersal, then soil or compost for the plants to grow in, then some sand and/or gravel on top mostly for appearance sake. Finish off with some ornaments and there you have it. Simple. The only real complication I found after a little research is that Terrariums can be open (dry) or closed (wet) and the one you choose governs which types of plants you put in. I had two old tanks so why not build one of each?

Requirements

You’ll need the following. Most of it is pretty inexpensive, apart maybe from the plants themselves. Particularly the Cacti:

  • A large Glass Box or Bowl (or old fish tank or two)
  • Some way of closing or sealing the Terrarium if you’re building a wet one (I used old plywood cut to size)
  • Gravel or ornamental pebbles (old aquarium gravel maybe?)
  • Soil or Compost (get some in your garden for free)
  • Sand
  • Small Stones, Sea Shells or other Ornaments
  • Plants

How?

  1. Clean out your container first then add a layer of gravel to the bottom. Deep enough to let water gather or contain meandering roots
  2. Add a layer of soil carefully, deep enough to contain the plant roots (maintaining the visible layers rather than mixing them gives a nice visual “geological” effect at the end)
  3. Make holes deep enough to fit your plant roots after removing each from their pots and shaking off excess compost
  4. Add the plants and press down gently, covering in any gaps with surrounding soil (use a few layers of kitchen roll if handling Cacti)
  5. Add a layer of sand or decorative gravel with a spoon, placing some under plant leaves if possible to keep things tidy looking
  6. Add ornaments as required
  7. Use a soft, small paint brush to “clean up” any errant sand or gravel from plants, glass etc..

Maintenance

Open/Dry

In the case of an open, dry Terrarium, you shouldn’t need to water regularly if at all. Unless you notice extreme drying or plant decay. You water the like of Cacti the same amount you would if they weren’t in a Terrarium but it might depend on latent heat and where you place your Terrarium, ie – in the sun or shade, moist or dry environment. I have mine as a centrepiece of the sitting room coffee table.

Closed/Wet

In the case of a wet or closed Terrarium, it may actually need less maintenance than a dry, open one. The idea, if you do it right, is that you create a mini ecosystem. The plants photosynthesise in the closed, humid environment, expel oxygen etc and the whole process creates moisture that gets trapped inside the container which the plants then absorb again. However if you notice it drying out, just add very small amounts of water. Again, Terrarium positioning is important.

Photo Galleries

Open/Dry

Closed/Wet

Intermittent Fasting

Food, Intermittent Fasting and Me

Food Rocks!

We need to eat to survive of course but I also like to eat for fun. I always have. From the eating competitions I used to have with friends and on blind dates even (don’t ask) to indulging in take away regularly, I just love eating. I love the variety of food available these days. Indian, Italian and Lebanese are some of my favourite cuisines. I love the ritual of cooking (I recently took a couple of cooking courses) or going out to a nice restaurant. I adore Buffets. All my Christmases come together when I’m at a buffet and I eat until sick almost. Is that bad? Gluttony is a sin of course but I’m a militant atheist luckily. Right now you’re probably imagining me as a bed ridden slob, dangerously overweight and a ticking, heart-diseased, diabetes ridden time bomb but I’m actually only a couple of stone overweight and probably not noticeably fat. Unless you look real close. Those who’ve seen me naked know best. I have height, a good metabolism and pure luck to thank for that possibly. However..

Why Diet?

I’ve recently become middle aged and have an assortment of mild middle aged related conditions such as back pain, joint stiffness, high blood pressure, etc.. Middle age is a time when shit starts to deteriorate and go wrong so you really have to keep an eye on things to keep yourself functional. It’s a time to get more regular general medical checkups, get that free eye test and dental checkup, get active, stop smoking, drinking etc.. Lowering weight is one thing that I think I and a lot of people would benefit from. It makes sense to think that joint and back pain could be reduced if there’s less weight acting upon your frame and there’s known benefits to high blood pressure from weight loss. Thus I entered the depressing world of dieting. But..

Enjoy Food, Just Eat Less Often

I wasn’t about to give up my life long love of food. Rather, I’d continue to eat well and eat pretty much whatever I like within reason. I do try to avoid eating food with little or no value of course but the odd take away or desert is fine. Instead what I’d do was just eat less often and be patient until the next feeding time. I’d heard of “Intermittent Fasting” before but never really looked at it properly. The word “fasting” put me off. And in truth, I only got a renewed interest in it kinda by accident recently when I forced myself to not eat for a day, just to see if I could. I like to test my resolve in these ways occasionally. I tried and failed a few times first until I got angry with myself then finally carried it through properly one day. It was a long day..

My Intermittent Fasting Experience

So the first day I fasted went like this. I skipped breakfast. I’ve done that before or had very late breakfasts, so no big deal there. I don’t normally bother with lunch either (I guess I’d probably been fasting intermittently already considering my no lunch and late breakfast habits) but by lunch time I was becoming a bit twitchy. I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner time the previous day at about 6pm. By mid afternoon I was becoming ravenous and very, very nearly gave in. Then something strange happened around 4/5pm, just before normal dinner time. I can only describe it as like “hitting a wall” then finding a second wind. Hunger seemed to disappear a bit and become more manageable. I felt as if some weird internal, metabolic, survival process had kicked in. I joked that my body and stomach had started to consume itself for vital sustenance. Having researched intermittent fasting a bit since, I realise that wasn’t a million miles from the truth. The body looks within itself and processes existing stores of fat, carbohydrates etc when starved of food. For the rest of the evening and even next day I didn’t feel terribly hungry. I ended up having breakfast around 11:30am. No bigger a breakfast than usual.

The Results

I carried on my intermittent fasting for the rest of that week. Having two no food days in total and that’s what I’m trying to stick to now. I think two is plenty. Especially when you consider that by two days I mean no eating from say dinner at 6pm one day until brekkie at about 11am 2 days later. That’s a total fasting time of 41 continuous hours and do that twice a week! So what benefits did I notice and how long before these benefits showed exactly? Well I was quite surprised to find that I lost the best part of 3kg after the first fast, ie- within days. At first I thought my scales were broken. But seemingly not. I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and havn’t lost anywhere near the initial amount since. I think this is normal for any kind of serious diet, you lose a lot at first then it balances out. I’m still losing weight, just a lot slower. Here’s my weight spreadsheet below. You can see the start of the fasting process and big weight drop the first week in October:

It Gets Better

Once you get past that initial hunger wall, it gets a lot easier and you get used to the regular process of fasting then. Apart from the obvious benefit of losing weight, one other thing I’ve noticed is that, when I do finally eat, I don’t over eat or seem to eat as much as I normally would. It’s as if the stomach shrinks in some way. Also, I don’t seem to be in quite as much pain as usual. This could just be in my mind though. Speaking of the mind, there’s obvious psychological benefits too. I’m happier that I’m in control of my eating habits and losing weight. My blood pressure seems to be down too. See below (last reading today on the right):

Blood Pressure Readings

If anyone is interested in trying Intermittent Fasting, I found this website useful:

Healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide

Next up…Facebook addiction!

Leon

The Self Employed Penny Drop Moment

Since I left college in 1995 I’ve worked in either full time, part time or contract work for other people or companies for a combined total period of less than 2 years. That’s about 5 or 6 different positions and companies. In the same time period I’ve been officially self employed in about 3 different positions, a Musician, a PC Technician and now a Web Designer since about 2003. Now, I’ve always seen those stats as a source of pride, I’m doing my own thing in life, figuring things out as I go, my own boss, time is my own, etc… and I would have also thought that others might be impressed by the initiative I’ve shown, the quick learning, the multidisciplinary skills one needs as a self employed web designer; design skills, people skills, project management skills, sales, etc, etc.. Aren’t the words “Good Initiative” on every damn job description there’s ever been!?

So recently I’ve considered trying to find a job, part time and remote ideally so my business isn’t affected too much and so I have a regular income for when self employment doesn’t cut it, like right now with the great weather we’re having! I’ve been sending CVs off, doing everything right (I think), customising the CV for the position, cutting out anything not relevant, adding enthusiastic cover letters, etc.. I’ve had career/CV guidance, I’ve got Degrees and other qualifications the last year or 2 and I feel my CV is fairly strong. But….nothing. I feel lucky to even get a reply.

Last night I attended #TechLifeBalance in Sligo, a kind of meet new Employer’s in the region type of event. The 4 CVs I brought were still in my back pocket when I left..

All IT companies or with IT roles on offer including: LiveTiles, Overstock, E3, SL Controls & Pramerica. A few days before the event I’d sent a CV off to LiveTiles for an IT Admin role through a  friend who recently started working for them and got a pretty quick, copy & paste no thanks. I was impressed with the speed actually! Last night a representative from the same company said something that made the penny drop for me….finally! Although, in the back of my head, I’d suspected as much for a while. She said that she’d been going through a lot of CVs lately for roles they had in their new office and the one issue she seen across a lot of them was that while they all showed great skills and qualifications, very few had the actual “industry experience” they needed. By industry experience I’m presuming she meant, considerable experience working for a large, corporate, multinational company and all that that entails. I don’t really have that with my 1.5 years work experience for other companies in the last 23 years! The night left me fairly deflated if I’m honest. The location was a trendy digital hub in Sligo, the attendees were all beautiful, young, talented people, the food was hip and free, buzz words and phrases abounded. It was all over my head a little. I think I’ve missed the boat..

So my conclusion..I guess I’ve thrown my oars out of the self employment boat. I’m in it for the long haul, so I better make it work!?

Discussion appreciated below.

Leon

10 Awesome Albums

1. “Blonde on Blonde” – Bob Dylan

Blonde on Blonde

For some reason I had this on repeat during the dark days of 2001 when I was totally lost in life. I stayed in bed for about 6 months and the only thing I really done was listen to music. Loudly and with the lights off and curtains drawn. The only way to listen to good music! Amazingly, the album didn’t depress me further but helped me out of the hole.

If I had to pick standout tracks they’d be:

2. “A Rush of Blood to the Head” – Coldplay

A Rush of Blood to the Head

This was the first album I streamed when I got my first ever PC in 2002. I also attempted to illegally download it by holding a mic up to the pc speakers! I’ve come a long way since.. I listened to it a lot just as I became a “man”.

Best tracks:

  • Politik” – (What an intro to an album!?)
  • Clocks” – (That bit at the end with just the piano…Ynom)

3. “Brothers in Arms” – Dire Straits

This is a bit of a cliche to have in your favourites list but I don’t care. It’s awesome.

Standouts:

Brothers in Arms” – (That solo!!)
The Man’s Too Strong” – (Awesome folkiness!)

4. “Talkie Walkie” – Air

Talkie Walkie

I’ve been listening to Air for at least 12 years now. It’s absolutely beautiful chill out electronica from France of all places. I want to make music like this some day.

Best tunes:

  • Biological” – (Sciency love song extrordinaire!)
  • Alone in Kyoto” – (Such a delicate, subtle but awesome track)

5. “The Soft Parade” – The Doors

The Soft Parade

The Doors have to be here somewhere and I wasn’t going to pick an obvious album. Having deconstructed and even recorded every single Doors album song in my time as well as having been in a Doors tribute band at one stage, I know these songs inside out and can appreaciate them, even the weird ones, more than most.

I feel like the Doors had fun with this one and let loose their respective influences in what on the surface sounds like a mismatch of styles but when you dig deeper or even just treat each song on it’s own merits, there’s some real gems here. Everything from Rock to Ballads, to Jazz to Country!

Favourite tracks:

6. “Definitely Maybe” – Oasis

When I first got into music seriously and was learning guitar, Oasis was fairly popular. The first band I joined in the late 90s were mad for Oasis and Britpop in general and before I turned them into a Doors tribute band (ahem!) we had good fun with some of Oasis’s songs. I remember really enjoying playing these songs on stage:

7. “The Bends” – Radiohead

Similarly re Oasis, we played a lot of Radiohead songs in the bands I was in. The Bends was out then and is still probably my favourite Radiohead album. Loved these ones:

  • Street Spirit” – (Lovely finger style riff throughout)
  • High & Dry” – (Hard to sing but nice acoustic feel)
  • Just” – (Intense!)

8. “Mellow Gold” – Beck

Mellow Gold

 

Beck has a way with words…and music! There were some great old style influences in the tunes on this album. These songs are permanently in my head:

9. “The Black Album” – Metallica

The Black Album

I learned to play lead guitar or maybe guitar in general with Metallica’s riffs. This album used to get me to sleep at night…in a good way! Standout tracks include:

10. “Pet Sounds” – The Beach Boys

Pet Sounds

Are you a Pet Sounds or Sgt Pepper person!? Sgt Pepper was obviously groundbreaking but there’s a bit too much messing with electronics and recording tricks for me. Pet Sounds is just beautiful music from start to finish from the genius mind of Brian Wilson and has way more depth than Pepper. I love these most: