"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men"
I am the manager of The White Moose Cafe and Charleville Lodge in Dublin, Ireland. I believe that you only live once. I believe that life should be enjoyed. I don't see the point in whinging and moaning. I see myself as someone who speaks the truth. The truth doesn't seem to suit everybody's agenda, so I am labelled with the term 'controversial'.
Rape is one of the most heinous crimes that exist. I cannot begin to imagine how horrific it must be and completely understand how a survivor of rape would be indelibly scarred for life. I know this might sound like stating the obvious, but given the current climate in which we live, stating the obvious is often necessary.
Over the past number of days, I have been labelled some pretty vicious words such as “pro-rape” and “supporter of rape” all because I had an opinion about not having an opinion. My café and I have been the target of a hate campaign of negative reviews, vicious vitriol and worrying displays of both irrational and illegal behaviour. People have told me they’ll get great entertainment the day “I top myself” and that the reason for my “hatred towards women” is because I never received skin to skin contact as a new-born. Stating the obvious again, but for the record, I do not hate women. I just hate women who think everybody hates women.
I am not looking for sympathy by writing what I did in the last paragraph, I am simply highlighting to you the lows to which the human race is capable of stooping. I have said it before and I’ll say it until the day I’m six foot under (or cremated, I haven’t made that decision yet – maybe I should!), I much prefer dogs to humans. As Mark Twain once said, the more I get to know people, the more I love my dog.
Last Thursday, 4 men were found not guilty of the rape of a girl in Belfast. That very day, I noticed a hashtag trending on Twitter entitled #IBelieveHer. Thousands upon thousands of people were supporting the girl, without knowing the ins and outs of the case, without hearing any of the evidence studied by jury, and most importantly, without being present on the night of the incident.
When I saw this, I immediately thought that people were simply jumping on a hashtag and blindly believing something for which they had no evidence. I thought this was wrong. I then released this tweet:
I’m not going to say I believe or disbelieve her because I don’t know enough about the case to form an opinion and I’m certainly not jumping on a hashtag because it’s trending.
The next day I was lying in bed and saw a video of hundreds if not thousands of people standing on O’Connell Street with placards reading the same hashtag #IBelieveHer. This angered me. Whatever about writing something on Twitter based on emotion rather than on fact, but to stand in the middle of Dublin’s main thoroughfare shouting the words “I stand with her” when we don’t even know her name, never mind the exact minutiae of the evidence heard in a court of law for which a not-guilty verdict was arrived at, is, in my humble opinion, behaviour that I can only describe as ‘deluded’.
To say you believe in something for which you have no evidence is, to me, no less and no more than saying you believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or God. Those of you who know me will know I am an atheist AKA a realist. I believe in things that I know are true. I believe in things for which I have solid evidence. I don’t believe in God as I have no proof of his/her/zir/hir/its existence.
Having seen the IBelieveHer protests on O’Connell street, I decided to write the following tweet, after which the world went up in fucking flames.
Let me just reiterate, at no point during this saga did I ever say I disbelieved the girl. Despite the fact that a jury of 12 arrived at a unanimous decision that the 4 men were not guilty, this didn’t make me side with them. I remained neutral at all times. The only people I called out were those who were blindly believing in something for which they did not possess the full facts.
When I sent the #IBelieveInSanta Tweet, the reaction was as hate-filled as it was immediate. Despite that my joke was simply about those blindly following the herd like gullible sheep, everyone was making out that the girl was the target of my joke. I never once said anything derogatory towards that girl (or any girls). I simply called out those who took a side on a case they were not familiar with in full detail. My biggest crime was the fact that I thought people were not in a position to judge, and I was essentially lambasted for having an opinion about not having an opinion.
Jason, my partner, was one of the many people who were not happy about my Santa tweet. That afternoon, he explained to me the rationale behind his disagreement. When I initially saw the protesters on O’Connell Street, I assumed that it was all about THAT particular case. It was one day after the verdict, so I presumed the ‘her’ in ‘IBelieveHer’ was the lady who had just lost her case in Belfast. It turns out I was wrong.
What I didn’t understand is that the rally was not simply about ‘her’, but about any rape survivors who never got justice. Those of you who follow our Snapchat will remember the argument Jason and I had that afternoon. While I admit this argument made for uncomfortable viewing, I think it was an important one, not just for me, but for anyone else who didn’t understand that the rally had a much wider reach than the Belfast case. I apologised on both Snapchat and Instagram to anyone who was offended by my Tweet.
I can totally understand how people might be annoyed by something they read online. I realise how each person can react differently to something that upsets them. I admire people that challenge you in a civil manner about your opinion. I worry greatly, however, about the small but ever so present section of society that doesn’t engage in conversation with you but wants to simply shut you down in order that their voice is heard. For the purpose of this post, I am not going to call them the radical left, leftists, left-wing radical ideologues or anything like that, I’m simply going to refer to them as loo las.
When I say ‘shut you down’ I mean it literally as well as figuratively. After my admittedly insensitive and wrong tweet, I saw evidence of this. The number of 1 star, negative reviews written on our café was overwhelming. Hundreds of people chose to damage the reputation of our café by spewing hate about it. They had complete disregard for the fact that the café provides employment for 22 people. That it puts bread and milk on the table of the families of our employees. They don’t care about any of this. They see something online that they don’t agree with and respond with hate-filled online reviews. This is not civil discourse. This is not reasoned debate. This is anarchic behaviour.
Some high profile individuals decided to weigh in with their own version of hate. Some in the form of requesting people to boycott us, others in the form of simply uttering expletives, one girl, in particular, a journalist, took it upon herself to come into the café and tell our customers why they should not be eating there because she disagreed with something I wrote online. I’d like to be able to think of a very intellectual word to describe this, but I can’t. The only words that come to mind are ‘fucked up’.
It gets more worrying than this though. In a tweet below, we see a certain girl ask another well-known celebrity why he is liking the original tweet. This demonstrates that not only are we not allowed to have an opinion about not having an opinion, but we are not allowed to like other people’s opinions about not having opinions. Opinions are totally fine when they are in line with ‘mine’, but when someone else has an opinion, not like ‘mine’, it’s not ok, and ‘you’ mustn’t like it either. The last time I checked, this type of behaviour was known as fascism.
I have heard of Amanda Brunker before, but know little about her. I think she is on TV from time to time, but still don’t know exactly what she does and certainly wouldn’t put her in the category of ‘people affecting positive change on the world’ or ‘people working for the greater good of humanity’.
Above we have another would-be ‘influencer’ of the millennial generation who, rather than engaging in rational debate, wants to again ‘shut us down’ by getting his followers to report us. From seeing this type of behaviour I would be inclined to worry about his generation, but the fact that he didn’t achieve his goal of getting us reported would suggest that the vast majority of his followers did not follow through on his request. This would restore my faith in his generation. There are, without doubt, some millennials who still have some sense.
While the cafe did lose some of its following, the numbers lost was in or around 0.6%. This would suggest that the loo la brigade represent less than 1% of the population which is a heartening figure. If we have managed to spare ourselves of this small number of people from ever visiting the cafe, I am happy.
Despite the outpouring of vitriol following the tweet, the amount of support was overwhelming. I received hundreds of messages from people saying they agree with me 100%. The interesting thing about these messages is that they were all sent to me privately. This is the main point of this post. People will say things in private that they are not willing to say publicly. They are afraid to speak their mind. They will betray their inner feelings in order to suit the agenda of loo las who will shut them down if their opinion does not suit theirs. This is sad. This is wrong.
I would go a step further than this. I would say that people will actually lie in public forums for fear of taking the wrong side of the loo las. It’s not the internet that has made us spineless. It’s not Twitter that has made us not want to speak our mind. It’s the loo las that inhabit the internet and Twitter specifically. They have made us want to suppress our thoughts. They’ve rendered ordinary decent folk voiceless.
We see evidence of this in both Brexit and Trump. Nobody thought Trump would win. How could he? The loo las call him a ‘misogynist’, a ‘racist’ and a ‘bigot’ and guess what, the man wins the presidency of the USA. No one knew he was going to win because everyone was afraid to say they’d vote for him for fear of the loo la brigade ripping them apart. The silent vote won Brexit too. Maybe if the loo las had engaged in a reasoned debate the outcome would have been more reasonable.
In the case of George Hook, I believe what he said was wrong, but I’m also aware that he is a man in his 80’s and of a different generation. I would think my granny would have also said something like he did. George lost his job, not as a result of what he said, but because of the loo la brigade. The sponsors pulled out of Newstalk, not because of what George said, but because of the loo la brigade.
I have no doubt that if I were working for a company other than my own, I would have been fired after sending that Tweet. I have no doubt that the equivalent of the sponsors pulling out would have happened here too. Again not because what I said was any different to what the vast majority of people were thinking, but because of the loo las.
I fear for the human race. The loo las are the very first people to label others as bullies, but the reality is that this is exactly what they are. They bully people into submission for not having an opinion in line with theirs. They call you vile names. They try to shut you down and don’t care who gets in their way, even if it means people may lose their jobs. They are, by their very nature, the ultimate bullies.
We need to stay strong. We need to stand up for ourselves. We need to HAVE opinions, even if they are opinions about not having opinions, and certainly if they differ from those of the loo las. We need to speak our mind and not let anyone bully us into submission. Otherwise, the human race is frankly fucked.
When I was in town on Friday night, I met a number of people and talked to them about the insensitive tweet. Some people agreed with the sentiment of the tweet, others disagreed. I was in many ways happier to speak to those who disagreed as this would allow me to find out their reasons why they weren’t happy. I appreciated their opinion and we had what can only be described as a civil discussion. I learnt from these people how insensitive the tweet was. I learnt from these people why I was wrong. I learnt absolutely nothing from the people telling their followers to boycott us, from the people barging into the café screaming to our customers about why they shouldn’t eat with us or from the people who said they’d laugh the day I kill myself.
If anything comes out of this whole saga, I think it’s something positive. Dialogue has begun. People now realise that the rallies were more than just about that one case, but more about every survivor of rape who did not get a fair trial or who are scared to bring the case to court for fear of losing and being labelled a liar. I am glad that this conversation has begun and I’d like to think that it can be had without resorting to hate-filled commentary and pettiness.
You may think I hate the people who labelled me names or tried to get others to boycott us. The reality is I don’t. I know we’re all capable of mistakes. I know we fuck up. Yesterday we buried our friend Niamh who passed away with cancer at the age of 20. Niamh taught me a number of invaluable lessons and one of them was to not hate anyone. Don’t label anyone with hate, just forget it and move on. Life really is too short. We shouldn’t be spending it hating others. We should focus on the good in people.
In my opinion, it is wrong to take a side on an argument we know little about
The rally was not simply about that one case, but rape survivors all over Ireland
No positive change will come from anarchy
People can be extremely vicious
When people say “we had enough information from the media to be able to form our own conclusion about the case”, never forget the journalist that barged her way into our cafe and shouted at our customers
Loo las need to calm down and be more respectful of the views of others
We need to speak our mind and stop being afraid to do so
Civil discourse is needed when it comes to issues like this
Don’t hate anyone, life is too short for that shit
It was the morning of Tuesday 16th January 2018. I was checking up on emails in bed. Most of them were the usual boring shite one would expect to see in the email account of a hotel manager, but one email, in particular, stood out to me. Not because it was addressed to me, but because of its content.
The email started with the words ‘hi there’. When you read an email entitled ‘hi there’, you immediately feel a little neglected. You immediately feel that this person doesn’t care much for you. You feel that this person may not even know your name. It would appear that the sender has simply included you in a copy and paste email to many different recipients, not making you feel in any way ‘special’ at all. Suffice to say that the email didn’t get off to the best start.
The email writer then proceeded to brag about how great she was, how popular she was. If her lack of care about who she was writing to wasn’t enough, the ‘me, me, me’ style of writing that ensued suggested that not only was the addressee of the email non-existent, but there was a particularly strong chance that no other human being on planet earth existed, other than the emailer.
Most normal people would now exit the email function on their phone, get up and have a shower, or maybe put on a Nespresso to brew, but not me. I was amused. Greatly amused. I didn’t think it possible that somebody as self-centred as the emailer walked the face of the earth. How wrong was I.
I kept reading. The writer then went on to advise that she was coming to Dublin for 4 nights just before Valentine’s Day. Why wouldn’t she? Dublin is a beautiful city. She continued to say that she noticed our hotel and thought it was “stunning”. When I read this word, I immediately smelt bullshit. We run a 3-star budget lodge. People have called it “nice” and “grand” and maybe even “good value”. On the odd occasion, people even refer to it as a “shithole”, but never in the 24 years that we have owned this building have I ever once heard it described as “stunning”. I am not ashamed to say this. It’s fact.
At this point, I thought the email couldn’t get any worse. I mean, how could it? The writer then advised that she’d like to feature us in her videos. Again, this was of no real consequence to me, seeing as ‘we’ were no more and no less than any of the many other Dublin hotels she had spammed. She didn’t want to feature ‘us’ at all, she wanted to feature whatever hotel (if any) was gullible enough to believe that a ‘hi there’ email was actually addressed to them. It was, however, the next few words which made my blood boil.
She would do these videos in return for ‘free accommodation’. When I read these two words, a whirlwind of emotions ran through my mind and a cacophony of expletives emanated from my oral cavity.
A girl who has the gall to send a non-personalised email to a hotel she has done no research on is now looking for a free stay from said accommodation provider. I momentarily put myself in her shoes to see if I could come to some form of rational conclusion in my mind as to what she had done. However, I couldn’t find one. In fact, I couldn’t even begin to understand how any decent human being could be able to do something as shameful and cringe-worthy (in equal measure) as she had just done. Has this girl got no self-respect? Has she no shame? Where the fuck is her dignity?
When I took my shower that morning, I wasn’t singing my usual rendition of ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush in my best falsetto voice, it was much more along the lines of ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’ by Nat King Cole.
I was hemming and hawing as to whether I would write a public response to this girl on the Facebook page, and after an internal debate in my head which lasted at least a full nanosecond, I arrived at the words ‘yes I will’.
Before I shared her email, I needed to make sure none of her information was showing. I screenshotted the email and then cropped it to omit the sender’s details. I then edited the screenshot by scribbling out the personal details, using my fingers as a pen. I had to go over each word twice or three times to ensure full opacity. Once I was happy that I could not make out any of her personal data on the phone, I saved the edited changes and then began to write my reply.
Please note the following (and for the purpose of emphasis, I am both emboldening and capitalising the words):
AT THE TIME OF POSTING MY REPLY, I HAD NO IDEA THAT ANY DETAILS IN THE IMAGE COULD BE REVEALED IF THE IMAGE WAS DOCTORED IN ANY WAY.
In case you aren’t one of the 450 million people who’ve already read my reply, here it is:
Unsurprisingly, there was a huge and immediate reaction to this post. I knew there’d be. I know that the vast majority of people on this planet work very hard for a living and would take issue with a self-entitled, self-proclaimed social media influencer with delusions of grandeur looking to blag a free room for 4 nights. I knew that people would be outraged, on so many levels.
We have a chronic homeless crisis in this country at the moment. There are people living on the streets every single night of the week who would give their right arm to have shelter for one night, never mind a ‘stunning’ hotel for four. This was going to be massive. The internet was on fire. All because of my public reply.
At this point, I think it’s important to note one thing. AT NO POINT THROUGHOUT THIS WHOLE DEBACLE HAVE I EVER MENTIONED THE NAME OF THIS PARTICULAR SOCIAL INFLUENCER. Not on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, PornHub, Grindr or anywhere else. I have never mentioned her name to my family, my friends, my dogs, the cat across the road who torments my dogs, my therapist, my alcohol anonymous colleagues, NOBODY. Indeed, I have made a point of not mentioning her once. For the purpose of this bog post, I will be referring to this girl as SMI (Social Media Influencer).
I was in my car with Jason and our three children (Renko, Rocky and Disney) driving up to boarding kennels before we headed off to Amsterdam the next day for our 3-year anniversary, and my phone started to rattle furiously. People were sharing a video with me that SMI had just posted to her YouTube page. Jason started watching the video, and after about three minutes I told him to switch it off. Not because of what she was saying, but because of the number of fucking edits in the video. During the first 3 minutes we watched, there must have been at least 120 jump edits.
Apart from the fact that I was more worried about the girls editing skills than I was her actual response, it was clear to me that this girl’s intention was to draw everyone’s attention to the story. Don’t forget, I hadn’t outed anyone so presumably the purpose of this edited-into-oblivion video was to out herself. In many ways, she was right to do this. At the end of the day, YouTube pays her money for the video views she gets. This was a controversial video full of amateur dramatics and tears. This was going to be a real money-maker.
I had no issue with SMI capitalising on the controversy. After all, she has to make money some way and this was a far more inventive way of getting views than putting on tight pants and shaking her bottom on camera (which apparently is what she usually does). My issue was with her supporters and fellow SMIs. They were now bombarding my business with false 1-star reviews in their droves. A lot of these people were ‘influencers’ themselves. When you are a self-proclaimed influencer and you leave a fake review of a business, isn’t it reasonable to assume that those over whom you exert your influence will be influenced to do the same?
But it’s not just the leaving of fake-reviews by influencers that calls into question the integrity of influencer marketing. SMI’s original proposal already did that quite effectively. If I had caved in to SMI and granted her request by giving her the free room, would her review have been fair? Would it have been biased on the basis that she wasn’t paying anything? Where is the transparency there for either those she influences and/or Joe Public?
It’s All About Reach
Businesses right across the globe are constantly looking for innovative ways to get their brand out to the world. They pay digital marketing agencies huge fees to obtain a decent reach. A respectable reach is only possible if their content is truly unique and appealing, and this is something you don’t see very often.
In the past, I have used various different crises to make a name for ourselves. We’ve battled entitled vegans, people with make-believe diseases such as gluten intolerance, half of Brazil who got lost in translation, breastfeeding mums who didn’t get the joke and, on this occasion, the bloggers. The bloggers were an absolutely ideal portion of society to tackle. Why? Because of the size of their reach.
Each blogger, whether you agree with the content they put forward or not, has a reach. If you can manage to piss them off, they will display their annoyance to their following in the form of talking to them about your business. Whether what they say is positive or negative doesnt really matter. In 6 weeks time their followers won’t remember why we’re ‘such monsters’, all they’lI remember is our name. I am kicking myself for not thinking of bloggers up until now.
I have always said that the most ideal reaction to a social media post is where you get a 50/50 split i.e. 50% of people agreeing with you and 50% of people fucking hating you. This gets two armies of people fighting over you and all you have to do is sit back and watch while the cash register takings grow. Unfortunately for me, #bloggergate was more of a 90/10 split. However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. The very fact that the 90% was so impassioned in their fight against freeloaders, and because the 10% had an audience they could ‘influence’ to fight on their behalf, this had all the hallmarks of being one hell of a battle. This was a shit storm of unprecedented proportions. It was fucking awesome.
When things would seem to be too one-sided, I’d lob in a post to keep the fighting going. To ignite the flame. To enrage the fury. My first poke came in the form of an official apology for not thinking of bloggers up until now. This really upset them. It resulted in some really horrible commentary. In other words, it was a huge success.
The bloggers lost their shit, but not all of them. Just the useless ones. I like to divide bloggers into two very distinctive groups. The PIBs and the AIBs. The PIB is the ‘Professional Influencer Brigade’. These are people who have a huge following, they don’t go begging to brands, brands come to them, they have ‘real’ influence on people and, most importantly, they are good at what they do.
The AIBs or ‘Amateur Influencer Brigade’ have a smaller following, they usually become a blogger because they are incapable of doing anything else with their lives. They beg for free stuff because they either can’t afford it or are just too cheap to pay for it. They have little dignity. Little talent. Their self-respect is non-existent. Sometimes AIBs can become PIBs purely on the basis of being good-looking, but usually, it’s because they possess talent.
My fight with bloggers didn’t involve any PIBs, indeed most of the PIBs who did get involved did so purely on the basis of personal commentary. Two which come to mind are Keemstar and Philip DeFranco. The people fighting me were nearly all AIBs and any of the PIBs who did attempt to fight me will now find themselves veering towards the category of AIB, which is a shame for them. They have let themselves down (you know who I’m talking about – adventuregirl).
I don’t have an issue with PIBS, indeed, I have given PIBS free food in the past, the main reason being that they never asked for their food to be free.
The petulant, infantile outrage displayed by the AIBs got stronger and stronger. This brought the fight more and more towards the ideal 50/50 split, but unfortunately not quite. The people who didn’t agree with freeloaders still made up the majority. I had to find some way to enrage the bloggers more. How else could we do that other than to ban them from the café.
I uploaded the following post and it did have the desired effect. The bloggers were up in fucking arms.
Throughout the whole debacle, the one thing that amused me most was the fact that the bloggers didn’t think that people over 30 understood how social media works. Here I was, completely using them to help my business get worldwide publicity, for free, on social media, and I was the one who didn’t know what I was doing.
The bloggers were now really angry. The negative reviews were pouring in. We even broke TripAdvisor. People tried to hack into my Facebook page. It was all kicking off just nicely. However, the blogger ban didn’t just throw the bloggers into a state of frenzy, it (unfortunately) garnered support from pretty much the rest of the world. 50/50 was still in reach, but the high-end news outlets running stories on us weren’t really doing much to help.
Up until now some of the insignificant news outlets (like Lovin Dublin) had run pieces on us, but after the ban, the big knobs started to pick up on us. LadBible, George Takei, Daily Mail, Mashable, Imgur (the list goes on) were all running stories on us. Some PIBS started doing YouTube videos on us. While the 50/50 was still a good distance away, we were all over the fucking news, I mean EVERYWHERE.
News outlets all over the globe wanted an interview with me and all I wanted to do was get stoned. I was in Amsterdam at this stage and, when in Rome, as they say. I felt sorry for Jason. Although he was having a great time troll bashing on Twitter, we were supposed to be enjoying our 3-year anniversary in the Dam. So, we went out to an Amsterdamian café and got monged.
My favourite part by far of all the free news coverage was the fact that LadBible, who have 30 million followers, was calling our budget lodge a “luxury hotel”. This had a snowball effect. Other articles began referring to us as a ‘5-star hotel’. If that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.
Jason and I were in Madame Tussaud’s in Dam Square when a Tweet entitled “We’ve crunched the numbers on #bloggergate. Take a look and see who has benefited most from the controversy” came in. My concentration on wax-constituted humans took a momentary pause while I checked out this Tweet from Clear Story.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The article indicated that our small little 35-seater café in Phibsborough had been featured in 53 news articles in 11 countries with a potential reach of 120 million people. Yes, you read that correctly, 120 FUCKING MILLION. It goes on to advise that if we were to have spent money to advertise our business in these publications, it would have cost us over €2,000,000. We had done this without being anywhere near 50/50. The lowest we got was, I’d say, 75/25. This was unprecedented.
The article continued to point out that SMI was featured in 114 articles across 20 countries with a potential reach of 450 million people which would cost €4,300,000. While I must admit this pissed me off a little bit, as I thought the contest would have been a lot fairer, I was actually happy for SMI. Any feeling sorry for her after watching the first 3 minutes of her tear-and-edit-filled video now disappeared pretty much instantly. Not only was this girl creaming it in terms of publicity, but she was fucking beating me.
I then figured that the reason she was featured in over twice the number of articles was that a lot of these articles would have been written by fellow bloggers who would have conveniently left out a small but significant piece of information – our name. Some of the bloggers may well have understood my game.
Tears of Bloggers
Any hope of achieving the 50/50 split was now further and further away. The publicity tornado had 80-90% of people in my favour. The review rating on the Facebook page had originally gone from 4.1 to 4.0 on account of the bloggers, but the people supporting me had brought it back up to 4.7. This was not going my way.
I had to do something to reignite the fury. So, I asked Ramesh our waiter to clean down the Gluten Free Breast Milk container so I could christen it with a name more appropriate to the current fiasco, and ultimately something that might bring us closer to the elusive 50/50. After some momentary vacillation, I decided that, by the power vested in me, the container would be named “Tears of Bloggers”.
Did I leave the vegan container in the shot on purpose, you ask? Most certainly. The fact that the bloggers were not really making any ground made me think that we might need the vegans to come in to help them. A joint vegan-blogger coalition, as it were. Did this help? Nah.
The story continued to spread like wildfire. Polls were created. An MTV poll indicated that people were still massively in favour of the Moose over the Freeloader. This didn’t mean that we weren’t still getting hate. The hate coming in from the blogging community and their followers was still very significant, but against the love and support we were receiving, it was a bit like Bray Head versus Mount Everest. It was by no means ideal.
Still dumbfounded as to how much publicity SMI had got, or more aptly, how much publicity I had got her, I decided to highlight this by way of an invoice. I needed to send out the message to anybody worried about her mental health that she was doing just fine, she was laughing all the way to the bank. Her video had nearly 1.5m views at this stage. She was killing it.
Anyone who had managed to actually sit through her 17-minute video (without stabbing blunt pencils in their eyeballs as a result of the number of edits) may have jumped to the conclusion that the girl was genuinely upset. They needed to be put right. Some of them may not have understood that the ad preceding her video (that they can skip after 5 seconds) was in place to earn her money. SMI was making ‘dolla’ off the back of her amateur dramatics.
The other purpose of the invoice was to keep the story going for as long as possible. I wasn’t happy that SMI had achieved a reach of 450 million people and I a paltry 120 million. As expected, news outlets picked up on the invoice story. Articles were again written all over the world and in many different languages. This was amusing. Highly amusing. Not only was the general public gullible enough to believe that the invoice was real, but supposedly upstanding and eminent authors from publications such as the Daily Mail fell for it too. This was outstanding. Just what I wanted.
I am going to frame the invoice and place it here in the hotel for everyone to see. It’s just too good to throw in the bin. There is undoubtedly a monetary value to this piece of paper.
The Press Conference
We have done many videos in the past with various different videographers, but by far the best guy we have worked with is Gerard Walsh. He is a god when it comes to making videos. He came to me with the idea of a press conference video on Saturday afternoon, and I fucking loved it. I always believe that the best way of getting your message across is by using humour.
This has always been my modus operandi, and it seems to work. I use humour to get an underlying message across to the audience i.e. our customers. The customers are therefore conditioned to behave in a certain way when they come to our hotel or café, all thanks to humour. For example, since the time I threatened to put Valium in the juice of screaming babies, the babies have stopped screaming. Since the time I threatened to shoot vegans dead if they came into the café, the vegan entitlement has dissipated. Since the time I demanded a doctor’s note for people requiring gluten-free food, people have copped the fuck on and started eating normal food like everyone else.
A number of months before #bloggergate, Gerard and I produced a video called ‘House Of Influencers’. This was a house of cards style piss take on how social media influencers carry on. In the video, the social media influencer tries to blag free accommodation in the exact same style SMI uses 2-3 months later. I didn’t realise I had psychic powers but that’s definitely a skill I’ll be adding to the CV.
The press conference video was an ideal opportunity to use humour to highlight the reality of the whole situation while giving people a chuckle (which is what I’m all about) at the same time.
SMI’s video was growing and growing. This surprised me no end. I couldn’t believe there were actually people on this planet who could stomach a video as heavily edited without projectile vomiting onto their computer screens. But aside from people’s ability to stomach the 345,734 jump edits, one thing was certain, the money she was making on this video was growing in direct proportion to the growth in views. She wouldn’t be buying bags in Primark anymore, Louis Vuitton was putting out the red carpet for her imminent arrival.
I couldn’t allow her to capitalise on this drama without doing so myself. So, I got #bloggergate t-shirts designed and started selling them online. Of course, the object of this exercise wasn’t solely to make money, it was to spark anger in the blogging community yet again. Guess what? It worked. But not only did it spark another wave of abuse, it created the impetus which led SMI to create yet another video.
When I heard she had released a new video, another volcano of emotions erupted. The main one of which was fear, fear that this video would be edited to shit again. This new video had a very different message. Its sole purpose was to milk the cyberbullying card so that nobody could ever use it again, whilst demonising the White Moose Café and labelling us as “big bullies” in the process.
The Cyber Bullying Card
I was bullied in school. I absolutely despise bullies. However, I do believe that it is morally wrong to use the cyberbullying card as a means of generating cash. It makes light of the very worrying phenomenon that is cyberbullying, and those who are genuinely bullied (who don’t have the luxury of being able to cash in on their horrifying experience).
The minute I heard that SMI was the target of unjustified and horrible comments, I took to Twitter and asked people to lay off her. This tweet was 2 days before her ‘cyber bullying’ video.
Some of the comments the girl (who I have never once named) is getting on her Insta are horrible. I don’t condone these comments and I think it’s time people laid off her. Insult me all you like, but leave the girl alone. She fucked up. She’s learnt her lesson. The end.
In her second video, SMI was very quick to tell the world that she received death threats and that people wished cancer upon her children. If this is true, I think it’s reprehensible. However, the cynic in me can’t stop thinking that the reason SMI broadcast this message so loudly was to generate views on her YouTube video. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, SMI is making money off this controversy. The more graphic she makes her videos, the more views it will get. The more she pulls at the heartstrings, the more people will feel sorry for her. This sympathy will ultimately translate into YouTube views and therefore CASH.
For the record, but not that it matters, Jason and I received death threats too, the most serious of which was last October. It was quite a stressful time for us. It involved the Gardaí (Irish Police) and there was a good 2 week period where Jason and I could go nowhere without looking over our shoulders every few minutes. The person who had made the threats was a known criminal (as opposed to a fake social media profile) and there was a bench warrant out for his arrest.
If we had played the victim in a YouTube video and informed the world that we were receiving genuine death threats, there is a fair chance the views on this video would have skyrocketed and we’d now be sitting on a nice paycheck, compliments of YouTube. Maybe we’re fools.
Despite my efforts to defend her, the media still reported that we were the bullies. They ignored the very significant fact that it was SMI herself who drew all this attention to herself and we were getting the blame. This was not the end of the world as the 50/50 split was becoming more of a reality, but I found it intriguing how it took falsehoods to achieve the ideal split.
Having made a point of defending SMI and telling people to leave her alone, there was a small part of me expecting that she would tell her followers to stop giving negative reviews and posting nasty comments on a café they had never visited before in her second video. Alas, I was wrong. I guess I shouldn’t have really expected this as it would go against the ‘me, me, me’ way of life to which this lovely lady was so accustomed. Again, I’m the bigger fool here.
SMI prides herself on being a businesswoman. She puts herself forward as being a confident person who knows exactly what she’s doing. It’s curious how all of a sudden this strong independent woman persona disappears when she is called out. One minute she is a grown-up woman, the next a little girl. I would have thought that people who live their lives in the public eye should understand the vagaries of those who inhabit public life. Humans are weird. I don’t particularly like people. I much prefer dogs. But as someone who has chosen to put myself out there for the world to consume, I understand that the shit can hit the fan. I understand that people will call me nasty names, I may even get death threats. But I refer to this as ‘par for the course’.
As the old saying goes “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. If you are not fully prepared for the harsh reality that people can be assholes, the internet is perhaps not the best place for you.
Putting things into perspective
As someone who has a significant following, I too have been offered freebies. I can’t think of one occasion where I haven’t accepted them. I have been brutally honest about how I feel about the products (much to the disappointment of the sender on occasion), but I will accept them all the same.
Whenever I stay in hotels, I will always ask for a special hotelier rate (which is the norm in the industry). Most of the time I’ll be given a preferential rate and/or a complimentary upgrade. But never, and I mean NEVER, would I EVER ask for anything for free. I just don’t have it in me.
On the evening of Thursday 25th January 2018, I received a Snapchat message which really hit home and put everything into perspective. The message was from a girl who had been recently made homeless through no fault of her own. She and her partner had checked into Charleville Lodge that evening. They paid for their room on arrival.
The girl’s message was one of thanks. She thanked Jason and I for making her laugh during dark times. Considering all that happened the week before, this struck a chord with me and brought everything home. Here is a couple who are in need of a home but want to pay for their hotel stay. It’s a bit like the situation a friend of ours is in. Her name is Niamh Flanagan. She’s living with a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma and whenever you ask her how she is, she says she “can’t complain’. She’s the brightest, bubbliest and loveliest girl we know and I am proud to say that she’s our friend.
Needless to say, we refunded the guest’s card. They had already paid for their room on arrival, but they received their money back the next day. If anybody deserved a free stay, they did.
POINTS TO NOTE
This whole fiasco indicates that there is no authenticity, honesty or transparency in influencer marketing.
I never intended to reveal her name, but as it so happens, the revealing of her name seems to have had a positive outcome financially on both parties involved.
The person or people who doctored the image I shared in order to reveal her name are responsible for outing her.
If you are a good blogger, the brands will come to you. Don’t go begging to them. Have some dignity. Play hard to get.
I must be psychic.
Using humour is a very effective method of getting an important underlying message across to customers.
SMI uses dramatics as a means of making money.
Using the cyber-bullying card as a means of ‘cashing in’ is not cool.
If you are big and bold enough to put yourself in the public eye, you are big and bold enough to take whatever nastiness comes your way on the chin.
Some people are more deserving of free accommodation than others.
P.S. The final tally on publicity gained is in. This puts the total for White Moose at €8.4m and €20.7m for she who shall not be named. You’re welcome, SMI.
See more stats, compliments of Clear Story, in this article
I don’t hide the fact that I am an alcoholic and an addict, but in recent times I’ve had to confront the notion that my addictive behaviour isn’t confined solely to drink and drugs. When an addict gives up one addiction, another is around the corner, waiting to pounce on you and consume you like a hungry lion. For me, the lion is Snapchat.
I started Snapchat in November 2016 and have been addicted to it ever since. Over the past year, we have become one of the most prolific Snapchat accounts in Ireland, with thousands of followers across the globe watching our stories on a daily basis. On Friday last, I decided to give it the boot. There would be no other way of doing this than by getting rid of my smartphone, so I bought a Tesco mobile phone for €15, with no touchscreen, no camera and no internet. Having used this phone for 6 days now, I have never been more at peace.
In my time on Snapchat, I’ve received countless messages from followers telling me that our Snapchat account is the one thing that makes them smile on dark days. I’ve had messages from women who had recently miscarried, thanking me for making them laugh again, messages from people who are so low that they cannot leave their home, thanking me for bringing light back into their lives. While I realise that our Snapchat has helped hundreds of people, there is one person it hasn’t helped, and that’s me.
Why I Need A Smartphone Hiatus
If you, like me, have an addictive personality, the chances are that you will become addicted to your smartphone too. Social media can be one of the most destructive drugs you can get your hands on these days. For an addict like me, the feeling you get when a recent photo is getting loads of likes could arguably rival the buzz of a line of coke. You feel accepted. You feel appreciated. You feel great. You don’t want this feeling to end. The more likes you get, the more you want.
When I was boozing, I could not have one pint of beer without drinking myself to the point of blacking out. With Snapchat it’s the same; I cannot upload one snap without doing about 20 minutes’ worth. This would be fine if I were a full-time Snapchatter, the problem is I have a business to run too. At work, I was on Snapchat. At home, I was on Snapchat. On holidays I was on Snapchat. Even when I was not on Snapchat, I was still ‘switched on’.
The public presence Snapchat gave us meant that we were always ‘on stage’ whether we were logged on to the insidious app, or not. With people coming up to us in public, there was a feeling that I was always performing. If someone came up to you in Grafton Street, you had to be nice to them, regardless of how shitty you were feeling. Even when we were on holidays we were still approached by people. For example, in New York City alone 8 separate people came up to us looking for photos.
Followers who come to the café for lunch would often ask for a picture with Jason and I. If we were regular Snapchatters, we could say no. However, when a follower is in the café they are no longer a follower, they’re now a customer. You can’t refuse a photo with someone who pays your wages. There’d be days where we’d take up to 30 different photos with customers. While they were all lovely, meeting and greeting people for a large proportion of the day, on top of Snapping and doing the job I’m actually paid to do, can be tiring and stressful.
Working in a hotel is a full-time job, and by that, I don’t mean 9-5 Monday to Friday. The business is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You don’t get a day off. This pressure, coupled with my Snapchat antics, meant that I rarely had a moment to myself. The continuation of my Snapchat addiction became compulsive and eventually began to interfere with my ordinary responsibilities as a hotel manager.
Duality of Existence
The duality that exists between your social media self and your actual self can be quite vicious. The two can be in conflict a lot of the time. I have always tried to be honest on Snapchat, indeed this is one of the reasons people seem to like us. However, last week when I was feeling extremely low and worthless, I took to Snapchat asking what my options were. I didn’t want to see the family GP as he would probably speak to me about rugby for 10 minutes and then ask me “so what are you here for”, expecting my ailment to be of the physical variety. As I was snapping, I was acutely aware that there’d be some followers who’d say that I was looking for attention by saying I was low. There was part of me telling myself to keep going, to keep up the honesty, and then another part of me saying “Paul what are you doing? Everyone is going to see this”. This internal conflict greatly exacerbated the whole situation.
You don’t have to be an ‘influencer’ or blogger to fall victim to this dualism. Anyone who is on Instagram is probably already enslaved in this virtual prison of two-facedness. But let me tell you this, if you are the type of person who needs to take 12 selfies in order to arrive at the one you are happy to put out on social media, at some point in your dual-existence life, you will have a fucking meltdown.
The 12th photo might be the one you look your best in, but never forget that when people meet you in real life, you don’t get 12 opportunities to introduce yourself to them. They see the ‘1st’ you. The 12th selfie is an inaccurate depiction of you and therefore not really you. Unless you have been clinically diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder, I cannot see how this duality of existence can be healthy for you, or your followers.
Vogue Williams was on the Late Late Show last Friday night. She was chatting to Ryan about how she lives with anxiety attacks; a brave and admirable move by Vogue. However, when Ryan questioned her as to why her Instagram account portrayed her as so perfect, she said that bloggers need to put their best foot forward on Instagram. In other words, bloggers need to give their followers a false impression of them. They need to make their followers believe that they are the only people in the world who have problems. Why should bloggers care if their followers feel horribly inadequate in comparison to the perfect lifestyle ‘put forward’ on Instagram?
In my mind, it is very dangerous to make your followers believe you are perfect. It can have a serious impact on their self-esteem and can often lead to depression. If bloggers care about their followers and want them to feel normal, they need to put their shitty days forward as well as their perfect days. Honesty is key, folks.
The Point of No Return
I sadly don’t own the business I run. My folks do. They are both in their seventies. My mum calls Snapchat Snapshot. She doesn’t understand it. Neither does my dad. It’s a generational thing. When my mum sees me on my phone, she presumes I’m messing. In many ways she’s right, I am messing. However, she doesn’t get that my messing translates into cash.
One doesn’t need 20/20 vision to see that the rise of business in the White Moose Café has been directly proportionate to our proliferation on Snapchat. My parents, however, seem to be wearing blinkers. They can’t attribute the café’s success to something they don’t understand. Recently my father was in a hotel in Kerry and the receptionist nervously asked him if he was ‘the dad of the White Moose Man? I follow him on Snapchat, he is a legend!”. My father replied by rolling his eyes. I wonder if the girl had asked him if he “realises his son has put his business on the world map, making it a bucket-list destination for tens of thousands of people from all over the globe, which will obviously convert into healthy profits, all the while without spending a cent”, would he still roll his eyes?
Everything I do on Snapchat is for the café. Our account is called WhiteMooseCafe, not Paul Stenson. When people see a bustling café, they expect that I am in some way profiting from its success. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am paid a very modest weekly wage. I don’t get a share of the profits depending on how much money I bring into the business. It can be a little frustrating when you’re breaking your back doing something that’s not recognised by the very people whose pockets you are lining.
Social media has been extremely successful in giving its users a brutally shallow and sad virtual existence. There is little function to it other than to gloat when on holidays and to boast about our new possessions. We live in an age where YouTubers do birthday hauls and where we are more concerned about taking a photo of our food than actually eating it. It’s a look-at-me, look-at-where-I-am, look-at-what-I-got, look-at-how-fucking-sad-I-am world we’re living in, ladies and gentlemen. Does anybody actually care that you’re eating brunch in Ranelagh with Holly and Chloe? Does anyone give a shit that you’re watching Netflix with your fucking cat? Is this really what the human race has come to? Is this how sad we really are?
Apart from everything else, we can’t be ourselves on social media. We have to be the person our friends/followers want us to be. I can’t say I like Donald Trump because my friends wouldn’t allow me to. I can’t proclaim to my friends that I’m anti-abortion as I don’t want people to unfriend me. I can’t be me. I can’t have an opinion. For the record, I don’t like Trump and I am pro-choice, but how do you know I am telling the truth?
At the moment I have 4,906 friends on Facebook. At a push, I’d say I’ve met 5% of them and under 2% have my phone number in their device. A new phone number came with my state of the art 1990’s Tesco mobile device and I made sure that a grand total of 7 people knew this number. These are the people who are closest to me. At the end of the day, they are the ones that matter. If you had a new number and had to choose a maximum of 10 people who could have your new number, you will probably find that your family features heavily in that list.
If you didn’t think that human beings were stupid until now, take one look at influencer marketing. I have often said that you can never underestimate the gullibility of the general public. That’s a phrase I will take to the grave. This whole influencer phenomenon is possibly one of the most pathetic embarrassments of modern-day society. You can become a ‘blogger’ in about 4-5 clicks of a mouse, or 2 minutes work, whatever comes first. You can then type shit about shit, with no particularly strong knowledge of the shit you’re talking about, and get followers for it, usually by buying them. You don’t even need to be qualified in the particular discipline of shit you’re talking about. If you manage to achieve a following, in other words, if you have money on your credit card, you can then get brand deals. A brand will pay you to say stuff about a particular good or service so you will do as you’re told and say it’s great. You can’t be honest when talking about the product, for honesty doth butter no parsnips. You don’t get paid for telling the truth in the influencer world, my friends.
The internet is a magnificent breeding ground for miserable cunts. It provides a social centre where that one head-wrecking neighbour on your road can congregate in packs of other gob shite neighbours. People love arguing with each other on social media. They wouldn’t dare do it in real life, but the keyboard gives them a spine. It often astonishes me how sad people can be online. They spend their lives spewing hate at each other. I also don’t get how anyone in their right mind can find satisfaction in writing a negative review of a business but put it down to the fact that these people must simply have some sort of psychological derangement. Didn’t these people’s grannies explain that “you’ll never rise up by putting others down”?
When you willfully write a negative review on a business, you are actively seeking to damage the reputation of that business. This business employs people. You are putting the jobs of these people at risk. I recently learned that reviewers can earn badges on TripAdvisor depending on the number of reviews they have written. The number of badges you possess indicates how far up through the echelons of TripAdvisor society you have travelled; an obvious and true reflection of your self-worth. Some people see the badge-gaining process as a bit of a game. They are fed up of Farmville. They need something a bit more thrilling. Why play with virtual farm animals when you can play with the livelihoods of real humans, in real jobs?
It’s a terrible shame that there isn’t a website called CustomerAdvisor.com where businesses could review their customers. In the past, I have called out a number of negative review writers on Fakebook. On each occasion, I have been asked to withdraw my response. Yes, folks. Why should businesses be allowed to respond publicly to something written publicly? That’s not on. The self-importance of the reviewer is key. It cannot be challenged under any circumstances.
Giving Up My Smartphone
My smartphone addiction wasn’t always a negative force in my life. It allowed me to get stuff for free! New glasses, a full car service, food and drink in restaurants and hotel stays (sometimes in the Presidential suite) are on the list of freebies we were given as a result of being ‘people of influence’. However, no amount of free shit will ever compensate for the freedom you get when you give up your smartphone.
I’ve never slept better since I gave my phone the P45. When I go to bed now, I sleep. There are no more distractions. No Twitter wars to worry about. No more pings at 3:30am when Mary from Mongolia messages on Instagram. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t spend 15 minutes checking emails, answering WhatsApp messages or looking at meaningless shit on Fakebook, I get straight into the shower and my day begins without delay.
The internet leaves little to the imagination. When I got rid of the smartphone, my imagination began to flourish again. I even began to write a certain blog post. I can now watch a TV programme from start to finish with no interruptions. I can focus on what’s happening in it. When I go out for dinner, I don’t bury my head in the phone, I talk to people. I engage with human beings.
At work, I can concentrate on tasks. I get shit done. Snapchat is a great way to market your business for free, but it’s at the expense of some of the more important tasks like paying wages, drawing up staff contracts, fixing toilet seats and other glamourous jobs expected of a hotel manager.
By saying goodbye to the smartphone, you’re also bidding adieu to the viscously toxic people that exist online. You are at peace. You are free. Giving up your phone allows you to live your life again. The only downside to date seems to be the boredom you experience when sitting on the pot.
By giving up my smartphone, I am not waving goodbye to social media. I still allow myself go on Fakebook or T-war-ter, but via my laptop only. By doing this I am limiting my time on social media as I don’t/can’t carry my laptop with me everywhere I go.
The phone was the toxic influence in my life. I would actually lie in bed all morning and ignore the phone if it was ringing, even if it was my own family trying to make contact. The phone was the devil and anything that emanated from it was a curse.
As it so happens, giving up the phone gives me less of a hunger to go on social media when on the laptop. It’s like when you remove sugar from your diet, over time you’ll have less of a craving for sugary foods.
If I had my way, I would concentrate purely on social media and I’d get a manager in to do the boring shit like bookkeeping, hiring staff, listening to American guests complain about why there isn’t a plug socket in the shower etc. I’d keep the people coming in and the manager would manage the place. Do you think my folks would be happy with this arrangement?
The bottom line is I need to break free from the shackles of my parents. I am a 37-year-old man. If I had my way, Charleville Lodge would be one of the quirkiest and coolest hotels in the world. I’m allowed to do some stuff, but when it comes to furthering the business, I am told ‘no – we don’t have the money’. My attitude is ‘well let’s get the money’ but my father always knows best. He is one of these people who is always right. I don’t think in my 37 years I have ever heard him utter the words ‘I am sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’. I need to break free from my parents for once and for all and do things my way.
I realise we now have a lot of fans out there who get daily entertainment from our Snapchat and I don’t want to let you down. Last Friday I said I won’t be gone forever, and that is true. I just need a little more time to sort things out and get my head back in gear. I promise you that when I’m better I will be back to you, maybe not on such a full-time basis, but I will definitely return and the ‘Best Snapchat in The World’ will make a comeback in your lives – OKAY???
For now, I’ll just have to go back to paying for stuff again, but at least my sanity will be intact.
I made several attempts to give up drink during my 17-year drinking career. Some lasted a couple of weeks, others several months. I had no quality of life when I was drinking. I could only see as far as my next binge. I’d be ‘dead’ for several days after so there was really no life on the far side of each session.
In my early thirties, I trained myself to drink every 6th week. I thought that this would give me some quality of life. I realised that when I started drinking I wasn’t able to stop so I would give myself a full week to recover and then 5 weeks of freedom between each session. This would make my life more manageable, I thought.
I always found it very difficult to tell myself “right, that’s it, I’m off booze forever”. Given that drink was a significant part of my life, I thought that a life without it, and all the badness that it brings into my life, would be impossible. I’d go into shops, see a shirt I’d like to buy and then tell myself “how can I buy that shirt if I don’t drink anymore?”.
Drinking also made my work and family life difficult. If I knew I was out next Thursday night, I couldn’t schedule business meetings on the Friday as I knew I’d be dead in the bed. If I was out on a Saturday night and my parents organised a family get together on the Sunday, I wouldn’t be able to attend.
My life was a series of ups and downs. I was able to live it in a limited fashion. I had a life up until my next binge, but my life ended momentarily after each session. There was no plain sailing on a clear path into the future. The future was obstructed. It was like a horrible obstacle course.
One day in my late twenties, my dad handed me a piece of paper with the number of an alcohol counselor on it. I initially ignored it but put it in my room somewhere. When I got back from Chernobyl and vowed to never drink again on account of what happened on my final day there, I reached into the bedroom drawer to find the man’s numbers. I arranged an initial meeting with him and ended up seeing him for at least a year. The man’s name was Dr. Ian McCabe.
Dr. McCabe was an ideal fit for me as he was an alcoholic himself and his own son was gay. Alcoholism and Homosexuality, and the relationship one has on the other, was a particular area of research interest for Dr. McCabe. He taught me many interesting things about the disease, such as the fact that one in three homosexuals will have problems with alcohol, but the most important thing he told me was that I, indeed, was an alcoholic.
It was two months after my last session with Dr. McCabe when I started drinking again in Spain, as mentioned in Part Three. I allowed the inner demon in my head tell me it was ok to go back drinking ‘normally’ again. You have to be ever so careful of this demon. I watch out for him every day. If I let him take over, or even get into my head, there’s a fair chance I’ll be back drinking again.
To help me stay clean this time around, I’ve been seeing a counselor by the name of Michael Murphy. Michael himself is gay and runs a psychotherapy clinic in Sandyford with his partner Terry, who is also a psychoanalyst. Michael has been absolutely excellent in helping me with more deep rooted issues such as sexual identity and social anxiety (adoption). He is the one man I will always thank for teaching me how important it is to be able to embrace how you are different to other people. He always says “it’s the individuals in this world who change it by being who they are”. Running with the herd is not something Michael taught me to do. He taught me to be me. Embrace me. Love me. Be proud of my differences. The fact that I am gay, adopted, alcoholic makes me who I am. I am no longer ashamed. I embrace it.
I have been to a few meetings in the past few years. To be honest, they never really did it for me. There is a huge emphasis on God in these meetings. I don’t believe in God. They tell you not to get too hung up on the God element, that it’s not necessarily God, it’s God how YOU perceive him. I don’t perceive God as anything. I don’t believe in him, period.
I like the sharing side of the meetings, hearing other people’s stories, but I don’t particularly like the holding hands and reciting the prayer bit at the end. I’m also not too fond of the bit in the AA Big Book where it says that people who thoroughly follow their program, who end up failing or falling off the bandwagon, have some sort of mental illness. The program doesn’t appear to be too practical and doesn’t really allow for the proverbial ‘shit happening’.
I am sure meetings have helped countless individuals over the years. I don’t think I’ll be one of them. If only there was some sort of AA that was a little less cultish and that didn’t always have to be linked to fucking God!!!
My Eye Opener
Of all the events that took place which drove me to give up drink in the past, none of them were as powerful as the one which led me to give up this time round. For the first time ever, I saw the drunk Paul for myself.
It was Sunday 31st July 2016, the café had been open one full year to the day, and we needed to celebrate. Jason and I went out for a meal that night with the intention of ending up in Bukkake, a gay club that’s on in different venues every bank holiday Sunday. It’s always a great night and always packed.
I always felt a little uneasy during the hours (days) leading up to a big night out. Sometimes I even felt a little physically ill. Maybe this is because I’d know I was going to get completely wasted and then my life was going to end temporarily. It was possibly a nervous reaction. It was almost as if my body was feeding me a tiny taste of what was to come, and giving me a chance to turn the night down.
I don’t remember any of Bukkake that night. I am told by Jason that I fell about three times in the club, that I went missing and came back with my top off and that no taxi would take us home. My top being off would suggest that I took pills when I went missing and that I was overheating.
We managed to get a rickshaw back to the hotel. The rickshaw driver and Jason helped me over to one of the outside benches in the front garden. Jason left me there to go inside to get some water. When he went in, an American guest came outside for a cigarette. As I was sitting on the bench, I collapsed to the side. The American guest ran over to help me back up. She couldn’t lift me up herself. Jason came out and helped her lift me back up.
If you think about it, ladies and gentlemen, there is something very wrong with a guest of a hotel having to help up the owner/manager off the ground due to his intoxication.
The reason I can recount the last few details so clearly is not because I have any memory of the night. It’s because I saw it for myself. As some of you may know, I have a pretty advanced CCTV application on my phone which gives extremely clear images, both in real time and playback. I saw everything that happened in the front garden that night. Being helped by the rickshaw guy, falling, being helped up by the guest and then brought home by Jason. This was my real eye opener. This was my real wake up call. There is no going back from this. It was an app that saved me.
Where Do I Get My Strength?
Giving up drink is not easy. Sitting around with a group of people on a night out is not fun. Here are some of the things that helped me to get this far.
Don’t Drink For Today
Telling yourself you can never drink ever again is extremely hard and you’ll be less likely to stick to your sobriety if you have this mindset. That’s why I never see it that way. I think in the moment. In the day. For today I’m not going to have a drink.
Get Strength From Others
When I think about a life without drink, I sometimes get down, then I think of all the amazing people who are also in the same boat who have done so well in life. Gabriel Byrne, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hardy, Chris Martin; these are all people who don’t drink. And look at them now! I could sit for hours listening to Gabriel Byrne on his alcoholism and depression. The man gives me immense strength. He is a personal hero of mine. So articulate. So solid. Such a legend.
I also think of people like Pat Phelan from Cork who is an alcoholic himself but founded a multi million dollar business once he gave up drink. People like Pat also give me huge strength.
Swap Your Addiction For Something More Productive
If you are an addict, there is a fair chance you can put your addictive personality to good use. Look at what happened with me. I gave up drink and some months later I took up Snapchat. The Best Snapchat in the world never existed while I was drinking.
Love Yourself For Who You Are
Remember that the drinking you is not the real you. Drink made me a different person. I was an asshole on drink. I now embrace myself as I am. I am the real me. The honest me. Not the fake fucker you would meet on a night out. A life without drink will make you a truer, much more honest, nicer person.
Keep A Diary
I find it easier to stay off drink if I put it in some form of time frame. My last drink was 31st July 2016, meaning I’ll be one-year clean tomorrow. On the 31st of next month I’ll be 13 months and so on and so forth. Always remember the date of your last drink. It will help you remember how far you have come and how awesome you are.
Get Yourself A Dog
My three doggies help me every day. They are my buddies. When I’m feeling down they put me at my ease. Walking your dogs is a great way to clear the head.
Remember The Clear Path
Remember, a life without booze is a clear path life. You can see ahead into the future, with no ups and downs, no obstructions. You’ll be hangover free. You’ll be able to conquer the world.
Shut Up The Inner Demon
The reality of the situation is that the disease may creep back into my life at any point but the key is to keep those inner demons at bay. They will always try to convince you why one drink is not bad for you. Why you could go back to being a ‘controlled’ drinker. On the night of the 98fm Best of Dublin awards, where we won our first ever award, I was so tempted to have one or two. I was nearly going to let the demons win, but Jason stopped me.
You need support, whether it’s an AA meeting, a counselor, your best friend, your family, or whatever. Get the support you need.
Write About Your Experiences
I don’t do AA meetings, but writing this bog provided a great outlet for me and was a great source of therapy. If I ever find myself in trouble again, I will be able to read back on this for strength.
Thanks for reading
I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read my story on drink. I set out to write it with the intention of helping people who might find themselves in the same situation as me, and the feedback has been incredible. The number of messages I am receiving on a daily basis from readers who tell me I have helped them and/or their nearest and dearest is overwhelming and humbling. Thank you to you guys. You don’t know it but you are all giving me an incredible strength to carry on too.
Thank you to my family for supporting me so much over the years. I’m sorry you have had to put up with some of the things that have happened but thank you for being there for me throughout it all.
Thank you to Jason, my wonderful boyfriend for being there for me too. You have seen first-hand how the disease has made every effort to destroy me but you have helped me battle it off by being there for me at my side. Thank you for all the love and support you have given me.
Having given up drink, I have no problems in my life anymore. I could be in trouble with the Data Protection Commissioner, I could have the Guards banging down my door, I could be the subject of an abusive cyber attack by thousands of vegans, the hotel could even go up in flames, but do you know what? I’d still have no problems.
People often tell me that they think I’m fearless when they see me do the things I do online. In many ways, they’re right, I am fearless. Once drink is gone from my life, I have no fears anymore.
People often tell me that there was some underlying reason for my excessive boozing. Maybe they’re right. If there were reasons why I needed to escape, I can only really think of two that might apply. Sexuality and Social Anxiety.
I was never really proud of being gay. In fact, you could probably say that I was always quite ashamed. For example, even to this day I would struggle to hold Jason’s hand in public. I’m not one bit proud of this.
I went to a private, all boys, rugby-playing school. You could not be gay in an all boy’s school. You’d be bullied to a pulp. I guess this is why I don’t necessarily come across as gay. I had to conceal it for 12 years of school. Being straight-acting comes easily to me.
Sometimes I wish I were a ‘Julian Clary’ kind of gay. If I were overtly camp, I’d never need to ‘come out’ to anyone. They’d already know. Unfortunately that’s not the case and ‘coming out’ is not just a once-off obstacle I had to overcome one winter’s Sunday afternoon sitting around the fire with my family, it’s an ongoing, never-ending process. Every single new person I meet (who doesn’t know me) would (probably) think I’m straight.
I never came out as such to my parents. I didn’t have the strength. My sister, Elaine, did the coming out for me. I am the only boy in a three-kid family. I have a fairly sharp memory and I remember my dad telling me how I was the only kid capable of carrying on the Stenson name into the future. I also remember him speaking of a gay man in a derogatory tone of voice one night we were in Spain on a family holiday.
Given dad’s expectation for me to bequeath the Stenson name to future generations, and his intolerance of homosexuality, I always procrastinated when it came to the big ‘coming out’ day. I was also able to construct a very robust heterosexual ‘shell’ around me. The shell was so solid that not even my closest friends were able to see through it.
However, as Freud would tell you, life is all about sex. Everyone needs a bit of ‘who’s your father’. Even priests. While I dabbled in the world of heterosexual sex, it never really did it for me. I needed my sexual partner to have meat and two veg. What better way to crack the shell? Break a bottle on it. A bottle of booze.
In my early to mid-twenties I would go out with friends on the piss, with the intention of cracking the shell. I would be out with my mates, having the craic, dancing away, loving life, but when I reached a certain level of ossification, I’d become Casper the ghost. I’d disappear.
My disappearing would mean I’d have reached a sufficient level of drunkenness to have the courage to walk into a venue where there’d be gays. It started off in venues that were gay-friendly or that would host weekly gay nights. If you were seen coming out of a bar that is usually straight, you wouldn’t be found out.
Then, in time, I graduated onto ‘pure’ gay bars and clubs. It became a regular thing. Every night I’d go out, I’d disappear. It was a sexually thrilling experience. Dangerously thrilling and highly addictive. A bit like the feeling you get when someone tells you that you can’t do something, and you do it, multiplied by a thousand.
Looking back on this practice which dominated most of my early twenties, I can’t help but think that this was actually quite dangerous. I’d be going into bars, half cut, talking to complete strangers, putting myself out there, for anyone to do with what they will, but most importantly, I was embarrassing the shit out of myself. I’d be ‘that guy’ hounding everyone, falling all over the place, saying things I shouldn’t, and always on my own.
On social media I come across as an extroverted, confident and sociable kind of guy. The reality of the situation is that I am hugely shy and have always had significant issues with social anxiety. In a group of people, I usually find it very difficult to converse. I will cower away in the corner and let everyone else speak. I’ll observe everything but say nothing.
Jason and I are asked for photos on a regular basis these days, and it is not at all uncommon for people to tell me two things when they meet me. (a) I’m a lot shorter than they expected and (b) I’m a hell of a lot quieter in real life. I sometimes feel people are a little let down when they meet me in person. They probably expect me to shout ‘OKAY’ at them and dance around the place like a madman.
The Paul you see on the Snapchat is me, but it’s an amplified version of me. I think it’s vitally important for people to be themselves online. Honesty is key to doing well. No one likes the online influencer who is gorgeously made up every day with the bedroom looking as perfect as the body 24/7. People see through that shit. It’s fake. People can much rather relate to influencers who have their good days and bad. Those who have their struggles. Their worries. It humanises the whole experience.
I guess I’m a bit of a performer at heart. Indeed, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Not hotel management. Fuck that shit. I seem to have this strange ability to ‘turn it on’ when the camera goes on. I am a different person while still being me.
Drink had the same effect on me as the camera. It ‘turned me on’ too. In fact, given my acute shyness, I needed drink to be able to engage in conversations on nights out. I also needed it to numb my anxiety. Especially in gay bars. Gay bars, while they are said to be safe havens for gay people, with no fear of judgement, they are actually the most judgemental venues you will ever enter. There is a huge emphasis on looks on the gay scene. You’re often judged on what you’re wearing, what shape your body is in, who you hang out with and so on before you even open your mouth. It’s an extremely bitch-eat-bitch environment.
I liked going to gay bars in my late twenties to early thirties, but needed to be locked before I went in. This is not just because I’d be ashamed to be seen walking into a gay bar, but because of the superficiality and fakeness of the gay scene in general. You’d be standing there chatting with your mates but your internal dialogue would be going ninety. Who’s looking at me? How do I look? Is my tummy sticking out in this shirt? Is my hair ok? I need another drink … would be phrases going through your mind all night until you silence the voice inside your head with liquor.
Working in hotels was also a huge driver to drink for me. Given how certain customers can carry on in hotels, you’d need a few stiff ones just to be able to do your job. Especially in five star hotels and definitely when the customers themselves have drink onboard. Hotel guests often think they can be as much of an asshole as they want to waiters, because at the end of the day, you work in hospitality. Hospitality is about being warm and friendly. Smiling is what you’re paid to do. No matter how rude the guest is, you will smile. You will take so much shit, because that’s your job.
Finally, I often wonder if my adoption has anything to do with my social anxiety. As a kid I would stand at the bus stop on my way home from school and, as a double decker bus would pull in with a full upper deck of faces looking down, I’d always think to myself that there’s a distinct possibility that my ‘real’ mother could be one of those faces. Or maybe my sibling? Maybe a birth cousin? Is there someone on that bus who thinks I look very similar to them? The same would happen when walking in busy places. Grafton street for example was difficult. I’d always walk on one side or the other. I’d never walk down the centre.
The Final Part of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted on Sunday
My fourth year placement wasn’t as liberal as my time in Switzerland. It was in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin so I was living at home with my folks. Weed was not an option so I had to settle for drink. I always much preferred weed. After a joint I was in a good place. I didn’t need drink. The highness I reached was very satisfying. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother going to the bar if I had smoked a joint on a night out. My ideal mix would be 3 pints, then a joint. If no joint was available, I’d keeping drinking until I reached the same level of high I’d get from the mix. In other words I’d black out.
One evening during my fourth year placement I went out for drinks with mates. A friend of ours had momentarily come home from America. I fancied her. I was actually kind of obsessed with her. Her awesomeness intimidated me to the point that I’d have to be pissed drunk in order to be able to even talk to her. I’d be speechless around her otherwise. That was a very long night. A night of extremely heavy drinking. I got home at about 4:30am and needed to report for duty in the hotel at 5:30am. I somehow managed to order a taxi to pick me up at 5:15am.
I decided not to go to bed when I got home. Instead, I just laid on the couch for the 45 minutes available to me. I fell unconscious and was awoken by the taxi driver calling my phone. I didn’t have time to have a shower and was just as drunk when I woke up from my mere forty winks as I was when I got home from town.
When I got into work I put on my uniform, grabbed my pager and staggered up to the Private Dining department where I was supervisor. This was probably one of the most unenjoyable jobs I have ever had in my life. It was boring as hell and oftentimes demeaning. Private Dining was effectively conference and banqueting, but because it was a 5-star hotel, such common words couldn’t possibly be used to describe the department. They were by no means pompous enough.
There were about 8 different Private Dining rooms. Only when functions were taking place in these rooms were there any humans to be seen in them (apart from the staff). For a large part of your day, you’d be setting tables, polishing glassware, folding napkins, all in empty rooms. Some of the staff were good craic, but others were just plain fucking boring.
When guests would enter these rooms, there was always a fair chance they’d be people of the wanking variety. In 5 star hotels, you have two types of guests. Those with money and those who pretend to have money. Interestingly enough, those with money are usually very pleasant. For example, Liam Neeson would come into the room, shake your hand and treat you like a person. He was one of my favourite guests.
Guests who pretended to have money would be the pricks who’d click their fingers at you. They were in the hotel to ‘be seen’. They wanted to ‘be seen’ to have money. They want to ‘be seen’ to be important. In actual fact all they ended up ‘being seen’ to be was complete wank stains.
On that morning we had a group of American guests coming in for a private breakfast at 6am. There were only about 15 of them, but every single one of them was a head-wrecking arsehole. The coffee wasn’t hot enough. The buffet didn’t have enough sausages. They wanted cream instead of milk. Sweetener instead of sugar. Nothing was right for them. The worst part of it all was; they never fucking left. I was still steaming drunk and urgently needed to help myself to the Full Irish breakfast buffet, but I couldn’t. They were still all sitting there, shiteing on about kissing some rock in Blarney. Between their incessant complaining, their continued inability to leave the room so I could gorge on sausages and bacon, and the significant amount of intoxicating liquor still circulating around my bloodstream, I decided “I’ve had enough”. I threw my pager on the desk, staggered back down to the locker room, took off my uniform and walked out of the job. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t have given a flying fuck. I walked down to Grafton Street and got my own Full Irish in Bewley’s.
After breakfast, I got on the 46A bus and headed for RTE to find a real job, but that’s another bog entry entirely. When I returned to my house, sobriety kicked in. A realisation of “what have I just done” hit home hard. I hid in my bed. My parents weren’t home. My phone had died as I hadn’t been able to charge it the night before. As it charged and life returned to the device, there were notifications by the second. The phone wouldn’t stop beeping. My voicemail was full to capacity with calls from various levels of management in the hotel. The house phone was ringing intermittently too. I wasn’t going to answer it obviously. I didn’t want to deal with the world. I couldn’t face the music.
I heard my mum come through the front door but didn’t alert her to my being in the house. Soon after she returned, the phone rang. My mom answered. She was in the hallway so I could vaguely hear what she was saying. I remember the words “no, Paul is not here, he’s at work” followed by, “he’s not at work?…what do you mean?… he got a taxi to work this morning…”.
Then I heard my mother coming up the stairs. I didn’t know what to do. She was going to come through the bedroom door and whoever she was speaking to was still on the other end of the handset. She peered into the room, to her surprise she saw me lying in the bed. She proceeded to hand me the phone, to which I responded, non-verbally, with body language which, if translated into written words, would read “no, no, no…I’m not here…tell her I’m not here…PLEASE MOM”.
My mom was both confused and worried in equal measure. She didn’t have a clue what was going on. So, in the absence of knowing what to do, she all but threw the phone in my direction. I couldn’t possibly answer, I was too ashamed, so, I did what I felt was the right thing at the time, I pressed the end call button. My mum tried to establish what the hell she had just witnessed. I couldn’t tell her. I went back to sleep and covered my head from the world.
This all happened on a Friday, I spent the whole day and night in bed. On the Saturday afternoon, I surfaced but was still full of guilt and shame. I couldn’t leave the room, never mind the house. I was not due back to work until the Sunday but hadn’t made contact with the hotel since walking out. On the third day I rose again (in accordance with the scriptures) and built up the courage to call the hotel to tell them I’d be ok to come back to work that morning.
When I rang, I asked to speak to my manager. She wasn’t there. Instead, the Food and Beverage manager answered. I decided to play it casually, not to mention, or perhaps somehow play down the anarchic event that took place merely two days prior. I said something along the lines of “hello Marianne, it’s Paul here, eh…just to confirm my shift starts at 11 today?”. The F&B Manager replied along the lines of, “Paul I think it’s best if you come in to talk to HR tomorrow”.
As you can probably guess, I was fired from my job the next day. Below is the actual report the hotel had written on the incident.
This wouldn’t have been such a major deal if it had been a standard, full time job, but don’t forget, this was my fourth year college placement. I was representing the Shannon College of Hotel Management. My dismissal would need to be communicated to the college. I wrote to the college telling them I had been let go and they summoned me to a meeting in Shannon. I drove down for a meeting with the director and deputy director of the college. As I had let down the college in an act of such gross misconduct, I was suspended from the college for a year. I was advised that I could appeal the decision to the disciplinary sub-committee of the College Board.
I’ll never forget one question the director posed during that meeting. He asked me if I “had a problem with alcohol”. He said he had been made aware of the ‘various cocktails’ I would drink on a night out in Shannon Knights. How would he have known about this? I’ll never know the answer to that question. Of course I strongly refuted the claim that I had a drink problem.
I could handle being fired from The Merrion, but the news of my suspension did not sit well with me. I wanted to graduate with my mates. I couldn’t be left behind to graduate with a different year. I thought I’d be in a stronger position to appeal the suspension decision if I were reinstated in The Merrion so I wrote a cute, hand-written letter to the General Manager of the hotel apologising for my behaviour and asking for my job back. After various meetings in which the management established that I wasn’t a total head case, they gave me a second chance. How wrong were they (about the head case bit).
The main condition of my reinstatement was that I’d be located as far away from other human beings as possible. I was stationed in the switchboard office which was a room the size of a coffin located in the basement of the hotel. There was little to no human contact. I had to answer phones. All day. I liked it, but it was boring as fuck. However, as I needed to prove myself, I did the best job possible and within three weeks I was moved up to the reception desk as receptionist where I was nearly fired again for carrying out a 999 prank call a matter of weeks later.
After a disciplinary sub committee hearing in the college, the board decided that my suspension would be lifted subject to my fulfilling a number of criteria. I’d have to pay €300 to a charity. I’d need to receive 8 weeks of counselling. I’d need to have a squeaky clean file in the Merrion until the end of my placement. I’d need to make regular calls to the Head of Hotel Management letting her know that I was behaving myself. I felt a bit like a criminal signing on at the Garda station every week. There were one or two other conditions that slip my mind, but no matter what they asked me to do, I did it. I really wanted to graduate with my classmates and nothing would stop me.
As part of our degree, we had to submit a thesis in August of the following year in advance of graduation in November. There was a very strict deadline. It needed to have physically arrived at the college no later than 6pm on Friday 21st August. Even if you had posted it before the deadline, but it didn’t arrive until the Monday, it would not be accepted and you would not be able to graduate.
I did what Paul does best. I procrastinated. I left it a whole year to do the thesis and started a few days before the deadline. I was getting a couple of thousand words done a day but left a fair chunk until the very last day. I had an appointment with the thesis centre to have it bound at 11am on the Friday and then a friend was going to drive down to Shannon with a number of theses to hand in just before the deadline. I was up all night on the Thursday working away on the thesis and must have written a good ten thousand words in that one sitting. At about 7am I had no more than an hour’s work to do. The content was there. It was now just a matter of formatting it all. At that point there were many different windows open on my computer. Most of them were MS word documents from which I was copying and pasting. To tidy up my work space, I proceeded to close down the unnecessary windows. I got myself into a rhythm of pressing the X then clicking no when asked if I wanted to save my work. Pressing the X, then no. The X, then no. X, then no.
When it came to my most recent draft, which contained over 50% of the thesis, what do you think I did? I pressed X, then no. I had not saved my work since the night before and in two clicks of a mouse, I lost both my thesis, and my ticket to graduate with my classmates.
Part Five of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow
I had a number of wake up calls during my drinking career. While some of them drove me to abstain from drink, sometimes for months, others didn’t yield the same results.
The Leather Chair
I was out drinking in town one night in my mid-twenties (I think). On this night I didn’t manage to secure an after party as the point of being compos mentis had past long before I exited the night club, so I ended up back in my family home in Terenure. I imagine I was probably helped into a taxi and subsequently into my house as I wasn’t capable of making the journey up to my bedroom. I ended up sleeping on a leather couch in the breakfast room that night. Surprisingly my mom and dad, who were upstairs, slept through my undoubtedly noisy return home.
My memories of the next morning will haunt me forever. As I had drunk to the point of not being able to move, I hadn’t been able to make the bathroom during the night. I woke up with my trousers around my ankles. The leather chair under my semi-naked body was covered in faeces.
I had consumed so much alcohol the night before that it wasn’t my body clock that woke me up, it was my father. All I can remember is seeing my dad stand in front of me, in a state of shock. He was visibly upset. This sight will stay with me for the rest of my days.
I can remember him raising his voice at me. I think it was because he was panicking that my mum would soon come down and witness the sight he had just seen. A shouting match ensued. I can’t remember the exact content of our exchange, but I can remember one sentence I shouted at dad as I was going up the stairs to my room. That sentence, that I can still hear me saying to this day, was “can you not see I have a fucking problem, man?”.
I would love to say that I cleaned up the chair that morning, but I didn’t. My dad had to do it. I headed up to bed to hide from the world. I stayed there for at least three days. This was the type of person I was when alcohol existed in my life. A horrible, shamefully selfish person.
A group of ten of us from the Rathgar & Rathmines musical society went to Chernobyl to volunteer for a weekend in April of 2011 and raise money for Chernobyl Children International. While it was one of the saddest experiences of my life, it was strangely one of the most uplifting too.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Chernobyl, it’s a city in the Ukraine that endured a chronic nuclear catastrophe when a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in 1986. The accident released radiation 200 times greater than that released by both atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Radioactive wastes continue to poison the environment and affect genetics of the people who live there. Thousands of children are born with serious physical disabilities.
Children who are born with such disabilities in Chernobyl are placed in orphanages. They are unwanted. We visited one such orphanage in a place called Vesnova which is in Belarus, outside the exclusion zone. It was a very cold institution and I don’t mean physically cold. The care assistants were, paradoxically, very careless. They’d show very little compassion when working with the kids. They would provide basic care. They’d ‘shovel’ food into the children’s mouths. They’d change their nappies, not when they needed to be changed, but at nappy-changing time. It was all very industrial, almost like a bell would ring at 6pm and all the kids would have to be fed (sometimes by force) their gruel within a 10-minute timeframe, then their nappies would have to be changed, en masse, at 6:30pm, whether the kids needed it or not. The workers resembled people you’d see operating a production line in a factory rather than people who were caring for disabled kids in an orphanage.
Every time a group of volunteers came to visit the orphanage, the kid’s lives would change momentarily. They would be in their element. For a few days, they would be loved. I’ll never forget seeing their faces light up when we arrived. It was heart-warming and acutely saddening, all at once.
While we were in the orphanage we weren’t allowed to take showers as there was a possibility that the water would be contaminated. This is the water the orphans drank every day. The orphanage was divided into various different wards according to the children’s ages. We visited each ward every day and sang songs for the kids collectively and then split up to hang out with the kids individually.
Ward 1 was particularly tough for me as it was home to the youngest orphans. It contained babies with deformities who were lying in cots. They were too young to speak. They had their full lives ahead of them. You would walk into a room containing maybe 20 cots, and there wouldn’t be a care assistant to be seen. Babies lying in their cots, most of them crying, others sleeping, in the presence of many other babies, but for all intents and purposes, alone.
The upstairs wards were a little more ‘fun’ in that there were orphans in their early teens. They were doing what all teenagers would do; mess. You could have the craic with these guys. Throw balls around, dance. We threw a disco for them on the Saturday we were there.
My favourite ward, however, was Ward 5. It was here I met my little buddy, Nastia. It is quite common for volunteers to develop a bond with one particular orphan, and for me it was Nastia. She reminded me a bit of me. Very cheeky. Very bold. I do not remember a minute of the time I spent with her where she didn’t have a smile from ear to ear. She used to smack me in the face. It was hilarious.
We stayed in rooms that were allocated for visitors. There was a communal bungalow where the volunteers would gather every evening. What do you think us Irish got up to after the kids went to bed? All I’ll say is games of chess were not part of the agenda.
Given our current location, the vodka was flowing as if it were on tap. We would have drink-fueled sing songs each night, but on our last night in particular we (I) overdid it completely. While I didn’t want to leave the bed the next morning, I had to. I wasn’t at home in my cosy bed where I could hide away from the world for days on end.
We were leaving for Minsk later that day but had an hour or two with the kids that morning. We were sitting in ward 5, very hungover, and a young lad reached out to me. I picked him up and sat him on my knee. I guess the kids must have realised that their time with us was limited and it was coming towards an end. I’ll never forget the next few minutes. I was sitting there with this helpless, severely deformed, young orphan, with little or no prospect of a good life on my lap, and all I could think about was my hangover. There was something not right. In fact this was very wrong. In a moment where I should have been giving all the love in me to this poor child, I allowed alcohol to interfere.
We left the orphanage that day and I didn’t have a drop of alcohol for 14 months. Those 14 months were unreal. The best months of my life. He doesn’t realise it, and for all I know he may no longer be with us, but I owe those 14 months clean to that poor boy.
Unfortunately the disease crept back into my life. I was in Spain with my folks in June 2012 and decided that I had ‘done my time’ and that I could now go back drinking normally. On that evening I did. I drank a few beers. I enjoyed them. I didn’t get wasted. The problem was that I had ‘broken the seal’ and I was back drinking. The next weekend I went out in Dublin, this time with my friends. Again I tried my newfound skill of ‘controlled drinking’ and ended up blacking out. This behaviour continued again for years. The old Paul was back.
Tomorrow I will discuss one of the highlights of my drinking career; being fired from The Merrion Hotel on my fourth year placement, creating huge embarrassment for the Shannon College of Hotel Management, my family and myself. You can probably guess what the root cause of my dismissal was.
Part Four of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow