Thursday, September 29, 2011

Real Men

I've been meaning to post this ages ago. It was a random conversation with a few of the girls that reminded me of this topic. We were talking about what, in our own opinion, makes a man a Real Man. Despite the ladies taking part in this particular conversation being educated, modern, liberal and free-thinking, all of us shared the same, rather old-fashioned image on a Real Man.

1) He can, when needed, put up a shelf. And the said shelf will withstand substantial weight put upon it, and it will, most importantly be level. What it is about this thing with shelves and putting them up that appeals to me and my friends, but it seems to be a deal-breaker. So basically, if you can't put up a sturdy, level shelf, there's no point in coming over knocking on our doors.

2) He can wire a plug. And change a light bulb. Or a fuse. Or anything relatively simple to do with household electrical stuff. I suppose it is comforting to know that you share your house with someone who will save the day when your hair dryer has decided to blow a fuse, or when turning on the washing machine has somehow caused a blackout throughout the house. Just don't go fixing the toaster with a fork and you're okay in our books.

3) He can change a flat tyre and change the oil in a car. The former, I can do without breaking a sweat. Mainly because my father wanted to make sure I knew how to change a tyre in case I ever got stick in the middle of nowhere with a flat. I know how to do it, but still, when given the choice, I would expect Mr S to do it for me. The feminist part of my brain screams in protest when the princess side of my brain makes my mouth utter the words "But I'll get dirty...". I pride myself in being independent and self-sufficient, but there's something about cars that make me automatically turn to a man. I am also ridiculously easily impressed by Real Men, who know exactly what is wrong with a car just by listening to the noise it makes. To me, that's nothing short of magic.

I cannot help but thinking, am I really that conditioned by traditional values and my up-bringing that I automatically conform to these old-fashioned stereotypes? I grew up in a house where both of my parents worked, but where my mother worked from home up until I was in my early teens. My father travelled a lot because of his work and was sometimes gone for weeks at a time. So there were times when my mother ran the house for both of them.

But if anything needed fixing, building or tinkering with, we never called a handyman. My dad would fix anything that was needed. The only time we had tradesmen in our house was when we were extending the house. Building regulations stipulate that you need a registered tilers, plumbers, electricians etc. to do the work in order for the building inspector to approve it. Outside of that, my father has built a barbecue hut, a back porch and few other bits, not to mention the house itself. Him and his brothers and brothers-in-law are all handy with a hammer.

Maybe it's just that generation. Are those skills disappearing? My paternal grandparents' place needs a bit of fixing up every year. It's my dad, his brothers and brothers-in-law who do the fixing. No need to get the builders is, everyone mucks in and the job gets done. And it gets done right. Real Men doing Real Work. Last summer, at the time of my cousin's wedding the whole family was there. The timber cladding at the front of the house needed to be replaced. What better way to spend quality time with your extended family than partake in a small project like that? Myself and my brother's fiancée were painting said timber boards that were later to go up to clad the house, in +35 degrees centigrade, being eaten alive by horse flies. But it got done.

So maybe it is just our family. Everybody mucks in, but men are expected to do the hard work. Real Men.

I appreciate sensitivity in a man, I love a man who knows his art and his culture. I like being able to go to the theatre with a man without dragging him there. But at the end of the day, despite being quite handy with the cordless drill, I want a man who will put up a shelf for me, and hang pictures on the walls without having to call someone else in to help. A Real Man. Lucky for me, Mr S is just that. A Real Man.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hazy Days

What has happened to this month? All the days and weeks have seemingly blurred into one big blob labelled "September 2011". We're nearly at the end now, I thought I'd pop in here to say hello. I've been updating my Finnish blog a bit more frequently, but I hereby promise to mend my finnophile ways and blog in English more often, too.

I missed about a week of this month to a nasty flu. I'm still all sniffly with a tickly cough but it's a great improvement from the state I was in few weeks back. In bed, sore all over, delirious from fever and generally a very miserable human being. Mr S was thankfully at hand to dispense medicinal cuddles and hot whiskey. I think the hot whiskey was meant to knock me out and give him a break from my whingeing. It worked a treat.

Our workplace was a stopping spot for the Cannonball 2011 this year. 150 super-cars driving across Ireland to raise money for charity. It was great fun, especially when we didn't realise most of the drivers were going to be in fancy dress until two German police officers walked in followed by Jesus, a nun and two men in naked lady-suits. I wish I'd had time to take photos, but feeding 350 people kinda took up most of my time. I did manage to ogle at the cars, though. Some gorgeous Lamborghinis and Ferraris there. Have a look at their website, all the cars are there.

My main news this month however; I've booked flights to go home!! I haven't been since October last year, and that was to go to my grandfather's funeral so it'll be nice to go under happier circumstances. I have two whole weeks to catch up with family and friends, eat my bodyweight in Finnish foods, enjoy the sauna as often as I like, and take in my favourite time of the year. It would be an understatement to say that I am really looking forward to it.

Anyway, that was my little update. I shall return soon with something more relevant to say.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Keep It Local

I'm all for supporting local businesses and I try to use our local shops, petrol stations, hairdresser and other services as much as I can. By "local" I mean within a 30km radius, seeing as we live in what classes as rural Ireland. There's a fairly well stocked local shop on my way home from work and I get bread, milk and other bits and pieces there but for fruit, veg and meat the shop is quite expensive especially when you get the likes of Supervalu, Lidl and Aldi only 20 minute's drive away in town.

I tried supporting the Supervalu in town, I really really tried. Even when the Lidl and Aldi moved in with their remarkably lower prices. After doing my shopping in both Supervalu and Lidl on Tuesday I think I'm going to take my business out of that town completely. And it's not because of a smaller product range or the fact that half of the things advertised are "not available" to us here in the West. It's because over the last six to nine months, the level of customer service has gone downhill faster than an olympic alpine skier.

I work in customer service. I know it's not always possible to be your best, happiest, smiliest self. But you still make the effort because that's what you're paid to do. I went into shop A. I had a basket with six items in it. The express counter cashier ignored me because she was talking to a colleague. I joined the queue at the normal till. The woman behind the till was standing up, wiping clean the conveyor belt. Not once did she even look at me in the eyes, she mumbled a hello and then added "I was just going on my break". Now, I know how it is sometimes; it's busy, you don't get your break on time and your bellybutton is saying hello to your spine. Having been in that position myself I asked her if she was closing her till and wanted me to go to another checkout. She sighed and without saying a word started putting my six items of shopping through.

I felt as if I was an inconvenience to this woman, keeping her from her break. There were no other customers queueing behind me, so I was the last customer she served before going on her break. Me and my six items. I'm sure it felt like an epic task. She scanned my shopping and then just stared into space. I was packing my things into my shopping bag. I turned to her, waiting for her to tell me how much I owed her. She was still staring into space. I asked "Sorry, how much was that?" thinking maybe I hadn't heard her, that she had told me what I owed. Another great sigh, it looked like it took every muscle in her body to move her head those two inches to bring the till display into her view and she told me the subtotal. I gave her my Laser card, and while she was swiping my card I checked my purse and asked her for cashback. She rolled her eyes at me and said "Too late, it's gone through. I'd have to cancel it and put it all through again". I'd had enough, took my card and went away fuming.

I then went into shop B. Me and my trolley went around, picked up the bits that I needed, including a pack of six 1,5 litre bottles of sparkling water and two heavy bags of cat litter. Now, in this shop some of the cashiers know the codes to the aforementioned items so they can enter them into the till manually, and there's no need to lift them onto the conveyor belt. Some of the cashiers either haven't been told the codes or they haven't bothered to learn them, and they either ask me to lift them onto the belt or they do it themselves. I don't mind lifting them up, it's far easier for me to do as I'm already standing up than it is to the cashier who is sitting down.

There was a queue at the only till open, and soon the bell rang to get another cashier out. The man came out of the back room, "I'm opening number four" and ran back into the back room again. A woman in front of me started loading her shopping onto the belt on number four, I followed suit. Soon the man reappeared with the cash drawer and sat down. It was painfully obvious he would've rather been anywhere else but there. The woman in front of me was elderly and it took her slightly longer to put her shopping back into her trolley where she had placed a bag to put the things into rather than packing the bag at her car. In the cashier's opinion, she was taking too long, so he proceeded to push all of her shopping into her trolley with force and said "You can pack over there." And started to put my shopping through. I said I wasn't in a rush but the cashier clearly was.

He yanked the pack of water out of my trolley informing me "All items need to be on the belt" before throwing the water on top of the cat litter, tearing the bag open, sending cat litter flying all over the floor. I lifted the bag out of my trolley and said I was going to go and get another one. "You pay first." he barked at me. Seriously?? I walked off to get another bag of cat litter and when I came back I found my shopping had been shoved into my trolley, the fresh bread I had picked up being squashed on the bottom. I pointed this out to the cashier who shrugged his shoulders and said I could go and get another one after I had paid. He already had a sign up saying his till was closed. Where ever it was that he was in a rush to get to, I decided it could wait as I went over to pick up another loaf of bread before paying him.

"There'syourcardgoodbyethankyou" and he bolted from the till, pushing my trolley out of his way as he did so. Needless to say, that shopping trip has left me appalled at the "service" I got. I have emailed both shops and am waiting for a response. Shop A in particular, I outlined four different instances where I felt as if I was inconveniencing their staff by daring to show up and wanting to buy things. The sad thing is, all these instances in shop A have happened with their permanent, long-term staff. Their summer staff are very helpful, chatty and courteous.

But, as of tuesday, I have decided to take my business to the next town. It's going to add some time to my journey there, but if that means I can shop in peace without being told I'm keeping someone back from their break, I'm willing to go those few extra miles. I will still continue to use the bank, the chemist and the spa closer by. Their customer service is always excellent, and once I find I'm being treated well, I will return time and time again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I won't lie to you, as much as I love summertime, this right here is my favourite time of the year. It's not cold yet, but you can feel it lurking in the background. Like today, it's +18 and (kinda) sunny, a nice mild day, in Ireland this classes as summer weather. But there is a definite feel of the autumn just around the corner. Just venture outside at night and you feel it. Fresh, cool, earthy. It's there. It's on its way.

This, to me, means a roaring fire, candles, comfort food and red wine. I tend to turn inwards, spend a lot of time inside my head. Summer for me is the time to go out, spend time with your friends, make the most of the long evenings and not worry about not getting enough sleep. Autumn is me-time. It's cosy time.

Saying that, I'm not a complete hermit just yet. Last Monday was the last Monday the majority of us would be around for a night out before heading back to college. Sure, there's a good gang of us staying put, but we wanted to make sure we got one night out with all of us there. Our lovely local, Paddy Coyne's pub started doing food a few weeks back, and having heard great things about the food there, it was an obvious choice. Obvious choice because that's where we spend our Monday nights anyway.

Through word-of-mouth 11 of us gathered around the long table. The food was great, well priced and in generous portions. Haddock, chicken and steak dotted around the table, a lot of sampling went on and the general verdict was that it was indeed very delicious. They somehow talked us into having dessert as well (really twisted our collective arm), and in the interest of getting the big picture, we ordered all three available. Chocolate orange mousse, Baileys cheesecake and fruit crumble. Needless to say, we were stuffed.

Evening continued out in the beer garden until 1am with conversations ranging from cannibalism to the Rose of Tralee competition to hairy men. After doing a killer week at work, it was the perfect ending, especially as I was safe in the knowledge I didn't need to get up early the next day; something I took full advantage of the next day and didn't get up until 11.30. It was bliss.

Seeing as I only took one day off last week, I'm being spoiled by three days off this week. Today is day number three. Day one I went to the hairdresser and went to see my ever-expanding friend Marjo who's juggling an energetic two-year old while housing a new arrival in her belly. Day two was spent with Mr S, lounging around, running a few errands and general "stuff". Today is my day. I plan to watch DVDs, drink coffee, cook some pork cacciatore and possibly open a bottle of wine in the evening.

More meaningful posts to follow.