My bloody Valentines

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding 'no' to my Val's gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Irish Examiner February 11, 2012

By Dave Kenny

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of St Valentine’s Day. It’s the patter of thousands of feet stampeding across garage forecourts to buy anorexic flowers. It’s the swell of minor chords on the radio. The squelch of self-conscious snogging and the gentle flop of cards on doormats.

It’s the furious twanging of Cupid’s bow. And the furious twanging of knicker elastic too (if those chocs and roses pay off). It’s a day of teddy bears and pink roses. It’s a day of … unutterable barf.

I detest Valentine’s Day and all its phoniness. My wife’s not a fan either. Not that I would ever gamble on her changing her mind about it. Each year I make her a card and allow her out of the kitchen for a glass of wine, before she does the washing up. (Only joking, missus.)

It’s a marketing construction, like Mother’s, Father’s, Grandparents’ and Crème Egg Day. It’s what’s known as a ‘scripted holiday’, based on what couples are ‘supposed’ to do if they truly love each other.

It’s all about ostentatious displays of affection: flower-laden women comparing the size of their bouquet to the women at the next table… men doing ‘romantic’ things they think will earn them points with their partners. I once knew a wally who proposed to his girlfriend over the intercom on a flight from Rome on Val’s Day. This was despite the fact that they had become engaged three months earlier…

Thanks to Hallmark, young lovers’ expectations are higher than a giraffe’s sphincter on February 14. Every spotty, hormonal teenager dreams that this will be the year when a genuine card arrives. Not one from their mum or granny. That this will be the year that they find their Soulmate. It never is.

I had a schoolfriend who was so embarrassed about never getting a card that he once sent one to himself. It was obvious it was from him because he had really distinctive handwriting. We used to joke that he’d go on an imaginary date, only he was afraid that he’d stand himself up.

If you’re dateless and feeling sorry for yourself this Valentine’s, cheer up. You’re actually luckier than you think. A 2004 study (Morse and Neuberg) discovered that couples were 2.55 times more likely to break up around Valentine’s Day compared with any other month.

Another study (Jessen and Jessen, 1999), showed that cases of suicides increase after February 14 because it triggers serious relationship disappointments. See? Staying in alone in front of Fair City doesn’t sound so bleak now, does it?

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the night if you’re single and looking for a relationship.

1: Drink yourself semi-comatose.

2: Rent War of the Roses, Kramer Versus Kramer, Sleeping with the Enemy and Fatal Attraction from Xtravision.

3: Men: spend the day with your parents and picture yourself in 20 years time.

4: Women: reflect on the fact that most murders are committed by the husband.

I still get a cold sweat when I remember some of my own pre-marital Valentine’s Day Massacres. One of the worst was spent doing a solo gig in McDonald’s. I was dateless and agreed to sing romantic songs to lovelorn punters as they munched on Big Mac’s and tonsil-wrestled. My wages were a tenner and as many Chicken McNuggets as I could eat. (It was the 80s. I needed the money.)

My worst experience was on Val’s Day 1996, when I was trying to impress my future wife with dinner in our village’s swankiest restaurant. I was working part-time after the closure of the Irish Press and living with my parents. Before leaving the house, I’d had a row with my mother, probably about leaving the toilet seat up. Big mistake.

After a nice romantic meal, under a heart-shaped balloon, I called for the bill to discover that I had forgotten my cheque book. I rang home and left a message on the answering machine. Five long minutes ticked by. Then another 20. People came and went. I noticed Pat Kenny arriving with his wife and being presented with a bottle of wine. Nice to be famous, I thought.

Eventually, my mother stormed into the restaurant.

“Here’s your bloody cheque book,” she said at the top of her voice, flinging it on the table. The room went silent.

“That stupid woman on the door,” she fumed, “wouldn’t take it from me. She made me come in here dressed like … this.” It was at this point that I realised that my mother was wearing her pyjamas and slippers. Furry ones. I had got her out of bed. People started to snigger.

She stormed off (silently, as she was wearing slippers) and I melted into my chair. My date had a murderous look in her eye. One that clearly indicated where she was going to shove the heart-shaped balloon.

The following day, a friend asked if we had enjoyed the bottle of  Chateauneuf du Pape he had secretly ordered for us. I told him we hadn’t received it.

“I left it in your name: Kenny,” he said. The penny dropped (this was pre-Euro).

Pat Kenny, if you’re reading this… you owe me a bottle of wine.


I crowd-sourced some Valentine’s Day Massacres from Twitter and beyond. Thanks to all who replied:

‘I was pregnant when my boyfriend decided to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. I was feeling really sick but agreed to go for dinner.

‘After the starter, he pushed a ring box across the table. I told him to take it away. He looked shocked but didn’t move. I told him again, but still he didn’t move – and I threw up across the table all over the box. The couple at the next table had ordered blue cheese and the smell was too much for me.’ Jane from Waterford.

‘My boyfriend decided to put a romantic ad in the Irish Press on February 14, inviting me out on a date. The problem was that the date was a ‘couple of flagons of cider down the pier in Dun Laoghaire’. He even used my full name.

‘I still don’t know why I married him.’ Gillian, Dublin.

‘In 1985, I was living in New York and a new boyfriend asked me out to a Mexican restaurant. The weather was awful: snow everywhere. We both drank too many Margheritas and I wound up with sauce all over my face. Never eat tacos on a first date.’ Sinead B, Killiney.

‘It was 1990 and I was still in school and broke. It had been raining all day and I went out to buy a card and a teddy bear for my new girlfriend.  I stepped off the bus near her house and got covered in muck by a lorry. On the way up her driveway, I slipped into the flowerbed and got stuck in a rosebush. Worse still, her dog used that flowerbed as a toilet.

‘Her mum answered the door. I was covered in scratches, muck and crap, carrying a teddy bear that looked like it had been mauled by an alsation. She wasn’t impressed and drove me to the doctor’s to get a tetanus injection. I never saw her daughter again.” Robbie, north Cork.

‘I was married for three years and my wife didn’t get me a card. Instead, she gave me a selection of cream cakes. I’m lactose intolerant and get quite ill when I eat dairy products. The thing is: she knew it. We’re not together any more…’ Daragh R, Tipperary.

‘It was Valentine’s Day 1988 and I was on a first date in an Indian restaurant. After coffee, my girlfriend began rubbing her nose. I asked her if she needed  a hanky. She said, “No, but you do”. I had had the world’s biggest ‘gangly’ hanging out of my nose all through dinner.’ Gareth, Monaghan.

‘My ex sent me our divorce papers by registered post. They arrived on… Valentine’s Day. I thought it was hilarious. I had definitely moved on.’ Ann C, Wexford.

“When I was 10, my parents broke the news on Val’s Day that they were getting divorced. As excuses go, it’s one of the best for getting out of doing stuff on February 14.” C-D.

‘Last year, I went on a blind date. Over dinner, my new friend told me that he’s a black belt in karate. I said I’m not a very sporty type of girl, but I’d like to learn a martial art.

‘He got up from the table and started showing me some moves. Before I knew what was happening, he had me in what he called a ‘Cobra Chokehold’. 

“This year, I’m staying home. Alone.”


One way to solve the economic crisis – get Blottoed

Sunday Tribune, 12 April

It is Easter Sunday and I bring you tidings of great joy. That’s right, ‘great joy’, for tomorrow night there will arise from our midst two new millionaires. Hallelujah. On Tuesday morning, when everyone else is glumly listening to Mourning Ireland, two lucky people will be chuckling away under their respective duvets thanks to the National Lottery’s Millionaire draw.
Have you bought a ticket? Don’t worry if you haven’t as I’ve even better news for you: I have a plan to make us all a few bob and rescue the country from the knacker’s yard. It’s this: we hold a big raffle. A VERY BIG raffle. The WORLD’S BIGGEST RAFFLE EVER, in fact.
Last Tuesday, Brian Lenihan announced that he’s buying a load of useless land and half-finished buildings on our behalf. He calls them “toxic assets”. Every day, their value is getting smaller, but someday, someone, somewhere may buy them. That’s what he’s hoping for, at any rate. My plan is, instead of leaving these “toxic assets” lying idle, we (drum roll, please)… raffle them. As this brilliant idea came to me after a few budget-free scoops, I propose to call this land Lotto, the ‘Blotto’.
Here’s how it works: Brian is blindfolded (nothing new there) and chooses one toxic deed from the pile in his office. Let’s say it’s for an unfinished street. This is then put up for the Blotto. Tickets are sold worldwide, priced at €50 each. As there are 80 million people who claim Irish ancestry, that’s a guaranteed €4bn already. Then there’s the Chinese – they love a gamble and there’s a billion of them. There’s loads of Africans too. See the potential? Some lucky Blotto player will win a (half-finished) street for €50. They can then sell it back to the developer at a reasonable price and he can finish it off using cheap Irish labour. The state, the winner and the developer all make a profit. The houses are then sold at pre-boom prices. ‘Blotto! It could be you!!’
There’s even a precedent for Blotto. In 1984, horse trainer Barney Curley raffled his Middleton Park mansion, selling 9,000 tickets at £200 each. Last October, Tony Browne from Corbally, Co Limerick, decided to do the same with his €352,000 home (he reckoned 800 tickets at €500 each would do the trick).
The authorities have played Blotto before as well. In November 2002, Cork City Council raffled 40 homes to 600 people. The pathetic state of the affordable housing scheme was highlighted when the council put the applicants’ names in a hat and offered to sell a cut-price house to the first 40 out.
But why stop with toxic assets? We could Blotto places we don’t like and are costing us money. Like the gang-ridden ‘Island’ area of Limerick where the cost of policing is outrageous. We could market it as “a disarming corner of the Shannon estuary with abundant wild life”.
Once a month, we could buy special ‘Madonna Blotto’ tickets, with the winner getting adopted by that nice old lady. Well, what’s Malawi got that Ireland hasn’t? Apart from more money, of course.
Why not Blotto the entire country? Maybe not – the Germans might win us. Any road, that’s my rescue plan. Now consider the government’s plan.
The plan is to bleed us dry with new levies and rescue their wealthy friends by buying up their “toxic” land for €90bn. Some of this land may never be eligible for planning permission. What then? Does the government plan to force permission through?
The government believes it’s “fair” to spend €90bn cleaning up their friends’ mess and then levy people on the minimum wage. That’s €18,000 a year. To put that figure in context, during the first 10 months of 2008, €23,000 was spent on serviettes and crockery at Leinster House’s catering facilities.
While we are being screwed, the drinks and racing industries are left unscathed. You can’t get a job or pay your mortgage, but you can drink yourself to death or gamble your house on the horses. That’s an interesting message to send the electorate.
Where were the incentives in this
budget? Why wasn’t VAT lowered? If even 1% was chipped off, it might have encouraged those who have money to spend it. As for jobs, if the government manages to dispose of “toxic” land, the only employment generated will be in the construction industry – the same industry that got us into this mess.
Social problems are rising and last week the gardaí said that cutbacks are hampering their ability to respond to calls for help. The government that failed to protect us from the bankers is now failing to protect us from criminals.
Brian Lenihan’s bludget is brutal in every sense of the word and, like the regime that spawned it, is utterly devoid of any original ideas. It’s the final proof that we need a National Government – fast. It makes the Blotto Plan look positively inspired.
Here’s an idea: let’s Blotto Lenihan and see how many tickets we sell. I bet we’d shift more if we Blottoed one of those paintings of bare-chested Brian Cowen.
Either way, you’re looking at the ultimate booby prize.

A gag that’s not funny… and is a threat to democracy

Sunday Tribune, April 5

Picture this: Bertie Ahern picks up the Sunday Tribune, sees a portrait of himself in the nude on page one and immediately despatches his art dealer with a brown envelope to buy it. Bertie doesn’t want an unflattering picture of himself in the public domain. The only aras he wants the public to connect him with is the one in the Park.
Plausible? Highly. True? Unfortunately not. The preceding scenario formed a newspaper’s April Fool’s gag last week and I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell for it. That’s the thing about Bertie – you wouldn’t put anything past him. For a man who loves the limelight, he’s fiercely protective of his privacy. He doesn’t like the papers showing him up. That is probably why, under his stewardship, the VAT on newspapers rose to 13.5% – the highest in Europe (Britain has zero VAT). It probably also explains why his administration published a Privacy Bill in 2006 to curb the power of the press. Naughty press, Fianna Fáil will learn youse.
That bill was subsequently ‘parked’ to give the now year-old Press Council time to prove itself effective at dealing with media complaints. Last week, another Ahern – Dermot – announced that he is going to introduce the legislation. Why? Because “there seems to be a growing disregard for the privacy of the individual”. Note the word “seems”. According to who? Who has been calling for a privacy law? Was it Dermot Ahern himself?
Ahern knows the value of privacy. For example, the equality minister now knows it’s better to keep his views on homosexuals private. Back in 1993 he agreed with Fine Gael’s Brendan McGahon that gays were deviants. Once the press highlighted this, he was branded homophobic.
His dealings with the family of terror chief Michael McKevitt might have been kept private if the press hadn’t reported that he forwarded an email on his behalf to Michael McDowell. The press hasn’t done Ahern any favours. Could this be personal?
The new law forbids “surveillance”, “stalking/harassment” and “disclosure of documentation” – all legitimate weapons in the journalist’s armoury. Documents that can’t be published will include publicly available material from, among others, county council planning files and the Land Registry Office. Without the disclosure of such documents, the extent of planning corruption in north Dublin may never have come to light.
Without “stalking”, the documentary that led to the beef tribunal might not have been made. In that programme, journalist Susan O’Keeffe approaches beef baron Larry Goodman for a comment as he is leaving mass and pursues him until he drives off. Under the new rules, Goodman could have got an injunction and halted production. Similarily, Brendan O’Brien’s legendary “stalking” of Martin ‘The General’ Cahill might not have been aired. The print labours of Veronica Guerin would have been hampered too.
With the new restrictions, Seanie Fitz might be able to get an injunction against a newspaper revealing that he’s enjoying a nice holiday in Spain.
The new law states that invasions of privacy are justified when they’re in good faith, the public interest and fair. Sounds reasonable? It isn’t. It’s ‘Catch 22’: for an invasion of privacy to be justified, you must invade someone’s privacy to prove it. However, you can’t invade someone’s privacy because that’s not justified without proof. A reporter who is stymied by an injunction can be found to have broken the rules just because he was unable to finish his investigation.
So, again, who has asked for this privacy law? Take a guess. Last year, Dublin City University released a study which revealed that two-thirds of all privacy complaints over the past 25 years had come from public figures, chiefly politicians.
The hypocrisy at the heart of this law is staggering. In February, minister Ahern was forced to introduce new European legislation requiring telephone operators to store details of all calls made for two years. Under Irish law, they had to store them for three years. All your calls, emails and internet usage are logged by the government. How about a privacy law against that?
Ahern’s announcement last week was all the more telling because of its timing. It came just weeks after this newspaper broke the Brian Cowen portraits story. This was a clear threat to the press. It was a slap on the wrist for getting uppity and a direct attack on the fundamental right to freedom of information.
We don’t need this law. The press ombudsman is doing a good job of correcting rogue journalism. It’s independent, fast and binding. As it’s free, the public aren’t put off complaining by legal costs. That’s good for democracy, unlike privacy laws and VAT on newspapers.
This brings us back to Bertie, as it was his administration that dreamed up this nonsense. When I read the April Fool’s portrait gag about him last week, it struck me that the words ‘Ahern’ and ‘gag’ were entirely appropriate given the decision to silence the press.
Forget about Cowen: Bertie deserves to be hung in the National Gallery.
I’ll start building the scaffold…