With “friends” like these…

You are Facebook friends with Jack. You’ve never met in the flesh, you connected because you had a mutual friend, or maybe you got talking in a group you both belonged to and discovered you had mutual interests. One day, you open Facebook and on your timeline it tells you Jack liked this:

I think blacks are awesome. I have one in my toolshed, next to my lawnmower.

If you’re anything like me, you would see that Jack liked a “joke” that is excruciatingly callous about the history of slavery, that expresses the view black people are not human, that celebrates and condones racism. I understand enough about white privilege to realise joking about such issues is like Marie Antoinette criticising starving masses from the isolation of her opulence. Clearly, our hypothetical Jack is ignorant and lacks enough higher brain function to feel empathy.

So when this morning I opened Facebook and saw a “friend” had liked this:


…I unfriended him. I didn’t unfriend him because I think he’s a misogynyst, but because he is clearly either ignorant of the extent of the suffering, persecution, bias, violence and objectification women endure around the world every single day (with gay women experiencing even more intense suffering), or he is aware but lacking in the necessary higher brain function that would enable him to empathise enough to be repelled by a “joke” like that.

And if for a second you think: “Oh, but we’re laughing at the idiot who thinks that way, who can’t make a distinction between relationships and pornography, who doesn’t have a clue,” do me a favour and THINK HARDER. When we portray haters as clowns, we portray them as harmless. There are few more dangerous, enabling things we can do.


Cycling… Gah!

In other news. Marshaling at a cycling race can be terrible.

These cyclists woosh past at hair-raising speeds. The roads were closed to traffic along the cycling course. You’d think pedestrians would, for the most part, see the barriers, the Gardai (police) and high-visibility-vest-clad marshals and realise maybe they should be careful crossing the street. And do it quickly.

You’d be wrong.

For the most part, people needing to cross the street were good about it, but there always has to be a few nuts in the fruitcake. I suspect I might be too anal about this, as I am in such awe of the racing cyclists. But even taking my overly developed respect for the race into account, there were a few complete idiots out there last night.

One guy seemed to have a few drinks in him already. He ignored my warning that there was a group of cyclists coming really fast. Instead of waiting just ten, twenty seconds for them to pass, he staggered across the street in a small gap between one clump of cyclists and another. From where I stood, it looked like a close thing.

Another who stands out in my memory was a woman in a dress that had aspired to be a shirt before it changed careers. Its cousin would be the skirt that applied for a job as a belt, but was considered a tad too wide. (I am trying to say the dress was very short.) She tottered across the street on heels that had been stilts in a previous life. I watched, heart in mouth, the whirr of approaching cyclists in my ears as they came down the alley before the S-bend where I stood. I know there was probably a bigger gap between her making it to the pavement and the next group of bikes zooming past than it seemed to me, but from my harassed point of view she only just made it.

Other things I did was to chat enthusiastically to a taxi driver, with a big disclaimer that my knowledge of this sport is woeful; give directions to several people; and help one pair to find the nearest hotel.

That felt good. I remembered a day long ago, when only a spit away from where I was last night someone asked me to direct them somewhere. I grinned and said: “I suppose I need only speak for you to understand why you’re asking the wrong person.” Hearing the accent, they laughed and moved on to find a local. I felt a bit odd, because I realised the guy probably thought I was a tourist like him. I almost ran after him to say I lived in Dundalk, it was just…

Now I’m a local, and it feels good to be part of this town as much as any foreigner can be so. Wel, I’m at least local enough to be able to tell people how to get to where they need to go in Dundalk.

Most of the time.

An Honest Answer

This was written around 14 March 2010.

“So,” he said, “what do you think of all this stuff?”  He gestured to the display of nutritional supplements for serious athletes.

I hesitated.  How do I put into words my neurotic, stupid, probably mistaken and likely insulting impression that the triathlon community looks at me with a slightly puzzled expression?  I think it waits for me to give up my silly notion to enter this prestigious world, and go away.  “I don’t even know where to begin with all this stuff,” I said, meaning more than the nutritional supplements, but he didn’t need to know that.

“It’s all just common sense,” he said, and I felt a tiny little bit better.

However, I was not completely fooled.  This casual statement sounded very much like the responses to my tentative questions to determine whether triathlons would be a good idea for me.  ‘Just stick a bit of swimming and running onto that and you’ll be all right,’ someone had said on the forum when I laid out my history of touring cycling.

Ha.  A bit of swimming and running.  And what, Sir, made you forget about core strength training, about swimming stroke drills (do I even call that the right thing?), about brick sessions and practicing transitions?

‘Best place to start,’ another added, ‘is to join the local triathlon club.’  So let’s look into what that means, being a member of the club: Continue reading

View from the Rear Part One

This all started with a bread board.  I stood behind a group of exceptional humans as I contemplated the fact.  They were special because they were all made from bone, sinew, and muscle.  Especially muscle.  Fat?  Nah.  Fat cells disintegrated on contact with these people.  I got thinner just standing near them.  My cycling shorts and running shoes were little more than a disguise: I was an impostor here.  My cotton tee shirt came closer to the truth, bearing the legend: “Pete Puma’s Super Intelligence Serum – favoured by morons everywhere”.

I can’t say for sure what went through their heads as we waited for the ‘start’ signal that would mark the beginning of the race, but I can guess.  I’m sure it was serious stuff, like a mental visualisation of them running the 3.2km course through the rural paths near Dundalk where the race took place, making a smooth change from runners to cycling shoes, pedalling hard and efficiently through the 17km cycling leg, then repeating the 3.2km run and finishing strong.  Maybe some were thinking of the person they wanted to beat this time, pictured themselves passing him or her and crossing that magic finish line first.

I’m not entirely sure if anyone else was pondering the profound influence of bread boards.

Continue reading